Six Steps To Selecting Your Next Learning Management System
Strike a Balance Between Need and In-Depth Analysis
There are hundreds of learning management systems in today’s market, so you need a strategy for determining which LMS is going to meet your organization’s current and future learning needs best. By taking a step-by-step process, which you document, you will be able to chart how your decision-making evolved and the specific reasons for choosing a particular vendor as your LMS provider. You can use these insights to make your case for final approval, secure budgetary sign-off, and evangelize the new LMS and its provider across your entire organization.
The tried-and-tested six-step framework we present here is a suggested leading practice to help guide your organization in selecting a new LMS. By putting in a fair amount of work at the start of the selection process, you’re likely to move smoothly through the later stages of the evaluation. You may opt to work through one step at a time, or you may find that some of the steps overlap with each other.
Given the urgency for LMS implementation, perhaps driven by compliance needs, your organization may want to move quickly through the selection process. Some organizations opt for agile selection cycles less centered on a set of rigid technical requirements and more focused on understanding all users’ needs and how they each interact with an LMS.
STEP 1 - CREATE A COMPELLING LMS BUSINESS CASE AND ALIGN STAKEHOLDERS
For many organizations, compliance will be your key driver for deciding to purchase a new LMS. Issues with your current LMS may have put elements of employee training related to regulatory or industry certifications at risk of falling out of compliance and incurring penalties. If this is the case, your business case is pretty clear-cut - you need a new LMS to address risk related to your learning program.
Alternatively, your current LMS may be outdated, highly customized, ineffective, inefficient, or may itself face an uncertain future in the wake of market consolidation. Or all situations may apply.
It’s worth noting that the catalyst for some organizations to take a hard look at their current LMS is overwhelming negative results from a survey of their learners around the world. Polling learners and learning professionals across your organization for their input on what’s working and what’s not working in their learning experiences can be a great way to kick start the process to choose a new LMS.
The first formal step in your selection journey is to determine the primary reason or driver for a move away from your incumbent LMS solution. You also want to decide on one or several specific benefits you hope to gain. These quantitative and qualitative benefits can be a mix of learning-related and business-related positives.
The two sets of answers - pain points with the current LMS and expected benefits from a new LMS - will form the basis of a compelling business case. Some of the questions to arrive at those answers will be:
What is the number-one issue with our current LMS?
- What can’t our learners and learning managers do at present that they need to do?
- What is our primary goal for learning at our organization? What is the top benefit we hope to gain in moving to a new LMS?
- When do we expect or need to realize a return on investment with the new LMS?
- How can we quantify ROI? Time, cost savings, number of concurrent learners, etc.
- How will our business benefit? Increase in employee hiring, performance, retention, etc.
The audience for these questions will be representatives from the stakeholder communities directly impacted by a change in your LMS. These stakeholders will include learners, learning managers, other HR colleagues, executives with final budget authority, and those in IT who need to validate the security of the selected LMS and address any system integration requirements that may arise.
Early in your planning, you’ll want to agree on a timeline for when the team or teams meet and the purpose of each checkpoint. The structure for your evaluation team is also important. For example, you could choose a central steering committee plus functional-specific workgroups. Be sure you have an executive sponsor and clearly articulate who will be involved in the final decision-making process.
STEP 2 - COLLECT AND PRIORITIZE YOUR LMS NEEDS
You may want to dig into your current LMS to review process and data inputs, process and data outputs, and identify the users of those workflows. In this examination, you can gain a clear sense of what’s working effectively, where the current bottlenecks lie, and how you might redesign processes to resolve those issues. If you’re moving away from an outdated, stand-alone, and highly customized LMS which is difficult to maintain, it might be less beneficial to devote a lot of time to this gap-fit analysis since the challenges are clearly understood.
Next, you’ll want to develop a list of high-level requirements for your new LMS by working in collaboration with your stakeholders. You may choose to interview stakeholders to create the requirements document or encourage them to create their own lists, which can then be combined into a single requirements document ready for prioritization.
In listing high-level requirements, you want to go into as much detail as possible about what you want the new LMS to do from a functional and technical perspective. You may also include other success criteria for the LMS project, such as price, implementation time, and any specifics about your technology environment.
You then want to work with the stakeholders to agree on four to six high-level essential requirements, must-haves for your organization, meaning any LMS provider you consider would need to support these requirements.
Along with the must-have requirements, organizations will determine some nice-to-have functionalities, which might not immediately be deployed, but point the way to future learning plans. Social learning, gamification, e-commerce, and extended learning might fall into the nice-to-have category, with the latter two capabilities of interest to organizations with a longer-term goal of providing learning to external communities such as partners, franchises, and customers.
STEP 3 - RESEARCH LMS PROVIDERS (LONG-LIST)
As you start researching potential LMS providers, you can also take the opportunity to re-acquaint yourself with the LMS market as a whole. It may have been several years since your organization seriously evaluated an LMS, and a lot may have changed, including LMS vendor consolidation and the emergence of new LMS providers.
Much of what you’ll hear will add to your perceptions of individual LMS providers in terms of their technical strengths and weaknesses, how they treat their customers and partners, and if there are any concerns about the provider’s continued viability or commitment to the LMS market.
During this step, some organizations may choose to develop a request for information (RFI) and circulate it to their long list of between eight and ten LMS vendors. Based on the responses, you’ll be able to narrow down your choices to a shortlist of three to five LMS vendors.
STEP 4 - DETAIL YOUR LMS REQUIREMENTS (RFP)
Your high-level requirements documentation, together with any process documentation you’ve created, will form the basis for your request for proposal (RFP). Together with your stakeholders, you can now collaborate on detailing all of the requirements and selection criteria you plan to use to evaluate and compare LMS providers. A typical way to organize your LMS requirements is by functional or process area and to assign each requirement a level of importance - from must-have/critical through important, but not currently essential to nice-to-have or optional. If you plan to deploy your new LMS in phases, also include in which phase each requirement is likely to be needed.
You should also work with your stakeholders to define between four and six high-level LMS use-case scenarios or stories. Each scenario should contain a detailed step-by-step description of how a specific LMS user - an individual learner or a learning manager - executes or plans to execute a particular learning process, including the objective of the process, any preconditions around the process, and what your organization considers to be a successful outcome of the process.
Typically, you’ll draw the scenarios from your must-have or essential high-level requirements, like a use case based on compliance or content curation or scalability. You may also create a scenario around any complicated learning processes, perhaps one with a specific type of industry certification or a process that relies on one or more integrations with other systems.
During this step, you’ll also work on documenting your technical requirements with other stakeholders, particularly those with IT, cybersecurity, and risk responsibilities. Together, you’ll determine your deployment model of choice, your plans for content and learning history data migration, and questions you may have for LMS providers related to security, uptime, performance, and risk as well as integrations, implementation, upgrades, and support.
You’re now ready to put together the RFP. Be sure to include the elements identified below before sending the RFP to LMS vendors for consideration. RFP reviews can be time-consuming, so you’ll want to limit vendor participation to 3-5 vendors who you feel are most likely to meet your needs.
Submission information (due date and format for RFP response)
LMS project overview (include information on any upcoming interrelated HR projects)
Description of your organization, size, industry served, number of employees, etc.
Your organization’s current and future goals for learning.
The LMS provider’s services, including training, support, and key partners.
Insight into the profiles and needs of your current and future learners.
LMS project scope including phases of deployment.
Desired timeline for the project including milestones and any deadlines.
Payment terms and ballpark estimated LMS budget.
Questions from your stakeholders
(e.g., When will a certain promised feature become available?)
Your detailed LMS functional and technical requirements, and selection criteria.
Your use-case scenarios to which the LMS provider should suggest detailed responses.
Profile from the LMS provider regarding history, headcount, number of customers, etc.
The LMS provider’s experience, skills, LMS solution, customer references, and LMS product roadmaps.
Evaluation process from RFP receipt through to selecting a winning LMS provider.
STEP 5 - EVALUATE LMS PROVIDERS (SHORTLIST)
Once you’ve received the responses to your RFP from the LMS providers, set aside time to review the submissions and to score them. How carefully a provider responds to your RFP may give you a good sense of the kind of long-time partner they might prove to be. That said, you may come away from your scoring with little clear differentiation between your shortlisted LMS vendors and how they answer your functional and technical requirements and selection criteria. This is where the use-case scenarios can prove particularly helpful since these stories represent your organization’s specific needs.
Decide on a subset of your stakeholders, which represents all the major interested parties - learners, learning professionals, HR, and IT - and work through the responses. Before scoring each response, make sure that everyone fully understands the scoring system and any weighting that you’re applying to each criterion.
Your scorecard should consider both written RFP responses and signals about your partnership with the vendor including their responsiveness and communications with the committee.
After scoring the RFP responses, you’ll next decide which LMS providers to invite to an in-person or online demonstration.
Consider how best to structure each demo and whether it might make sense to have more than one session. If your stakeholder audience has a mix of technology skills, it may be useful to have the LMS provider give separate demonstrations: one higher-level to the less technical audience, and another that’s highly interactive so your technology experts can pose all of their questions.
Hold pre-demo calls with each of your chosen LMS providers to let them know what the stakeholders at your organization are expecting from the demos and list the roles and expertise of those who will be participating. Distribute demonstration scorecards to your stakeholders and again explain the scoring and any weighting of particular sections.
STEP 6 - SELECT YOUR LMS PROVIDER
After you’ve held the LMS provider demonstrations, reconvene the stakeholders, and present the results of the RFP and demo scorecards to the group. Gather any additional anecdotal feedback on each evaluated vendor. Ideally, there should be one LMS vendor that stands out as the best fit for your organization’s functional and technical needs and gives a general sense that they’ll be the best partner for you.
This may be the best time, as you’re finalizing your decision, to contact the customer references the LMS provider offered in their RFP. You’ll want to talk to customers who have successfully implemented the LMS solution in the last two years and who have some similarity to your organization.
You should now have all of the information you need to decide on your LMS provider. As you make your case to the budget holders, you can present a compelling business case for a new LMS and all the reasons why you and the other stakeholders have chosen this particular provider. Include the information relating to the runner-up in your evaluation, especially if this was a close decision.
Not sure how to build a business case?
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
DON'T FORGET TO FUTURE-PROOF YOUR LMS DECISION
As you finalize the contract with your chosen LMS provider, make sure that you clarify what’s going to happen after the sale is closed. Take the time to review the proposed timeline for implementation and go-live, how you’ll move from your existing solution to the new LMS, and the training schedule to make sure learners and learning professionals are ready to use the new LMS as soon as it’s deployed. Ensure that the LMS provider has a way to deliver on new features and that they will keep you continually up to date on their roadmap plans and other innovations. You want to be confident that your new LMS is going to support both your organization’s current learning requirements and those yet- to-be-fully-defined future needs.
If you’re not already doing so, you’ll want to start tracking a variety of analytics on your old system, for instance:
- The number of learning hours per employee per month.
- The average daily number of concurrent users on the LMS.
- The number of courses completed per month.
- The percentage of courses started but not completed.
You want to be able to demonstrate to the budget holders that moving to the new LMS has significantly boosted these kinds of metrics. As you go live with the new LMS, you can start tracking an array of additional analytics. You also want to keep an eye on metrics that are less easy to measure but which you can tie to improvements in learning, such as increases in employee retention and loyalty.
With your new LMS, you’re much better positioned to build a learning ecosystem and establish a culture of learning across your organization so that learning is available at any time, anywhere, and via any device. Your investment in a modern, central, and agile LMS is a direct investment in your employees, the future success and development of those individuals, and your business as a whole.