If you’re searching for a learning management system (LMS) for the first time, chances are you’re overwhelmed by your choices. Your primary goal is to identify the system that best meets the needs of your organization. What then are the unique needs of your organization and what are the key functional, technical and service requirements that must be met? It’s important that you take the time to identify these needs before being swayed by what’s available in the marketplace.
Basic Functions of an LMS
A LMS helps you manage the administration, delivery, tracking and reporting of instructor-led classes, eLearning courses and other learning programs. The LMS automates manual entry work, saves time, and enables you to organize your content, data, and learner groups. Reports can be run to measure data and help you keep your training initiatives on track.
Not all LMSs are Created Equal
Many LMSs come equipped with learning content management functionality whereby select users can create, store, manage and reuse learning assets and learning content. These systems are considered LMSs with authoring capabilities. Some LMSs need to be installed on premise; others are available via a SaaS model, or software-as- a-service. An LMS can be open source, or seemingly free to use, but these also tend to be difficult to manage technically and they do require customization. This is just a small sampling of LMS varieties; just so you understand how important it is to identify your needs before shopping!
What about the Content?
Some LMSs come equipped with their own authoring tool that may include testing and assessment capabilities whereas others have simple PowerPoint upload capabilities. If an LMS is labeled as content neutral, it typically means that any type of learning content can be uploaded into the system; such as AICC or SCORM compliant courses, video files, pdf documents, etc. It makes no difference what authoring tool was used to create the content; all content should be easily uploaded into the LMS.
Not That Content The Preloaded Content!
There are also many LMS vendors that offer content libraries with their systems. In fact, these content libraries can be offered at a reduced price or even free. Some content is very specific in nature while others offer generalized content. While at first this may appear to be of better value, just like LMSs, not all content is created equal. Content can vary in quality, length and overall appeal. This content is also generic in the sense that it isn’t developed exclusively for your organization; it’s developed for any organization. That doesn’t necessarily help you to differentiate your organization, does it? Your training needs aren’t exactly the same as your competitors or customers are they?
What’s More Important – Technology or Content?
As a new LMS buyer, you don’t want to get too caught up in the content craze. Remember, your goal is to purchase an LMS to meet your functional, technical and service requirements for administering your learning and development programs. Yes, you may be able to save some money in content development or content purchasing costs if the LMS that you choose comes with a content library, but at the end of the day, it’s the LMS that provides the technology to author, develop, or launch that content, track that content, and report on that content.
Maybe the content you’re considering is quite good, but the LMS and support is not. Would this be a worthy investment? Would you want to take on that risk? An LMS and the service and support that comes with it is the foundation by which your learning and development programs will reside so you’ll want to make sure to find an LMS that is best matched with your most important needs. Yes, there is a time and a place to use 3rd party content, but maybe it shouldn’t be used as a purchasing decision for technology.
Susan Distasio | eLearning Industry Crusader | ePath Learning, Inc.
About the Author: Susan Distasio is an eLearning Industry Crusader focused on advocating for advancement and change in the eLearning and professional development industry. An avid seeker of knowledge and continuous improvement, Susan is happy to share her research, observations, and thoughts regarding “all things related to learning and development.” When she’s not out on the learning crusade, Susan can be found with the wind in her hair riding her Harley or simply enjoying life with her husband Steve and her Siamese cat named Elvis, as well as with family and friends.