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Looking under the hood of the LMS

Choosing the right LMS for your organization is no easy task. Apart from the fact that there are so many options and versions, you usually have to also be mindful of budget and think for the long term.

This is rather difficult since the speed with which things change and technology evolves are both astounding.

I’ve talked before about what to look for in a learning management system, what questions to ask and how to plan the selection process.

This article is looking at what you should be wary about when getting ready to purchase an LMS.

Looking under the hood of the LMS

Just as it often happens in the case of used cars, the vendors might just try to make their products sound more competitive than they actually are while something fishy lies under the hood.

Here are some possible alarm signals.

An overwhelming focus on features

Just as it happens in the case of vehicles that have an amazing paint job and leather seats while the engine sounds like an injured whale, there is a tendency to exaggerate with the number of buttons, tabs and links in an LMS that doesn’t have quality programming behind it.

One might believe it does everything imaginable and then goes to do the laundry and cook a steak dinner.

As flashy as such a presentation would be, it is important to try and get a glimpse of the team who is behind such an exhaustive program. They are the ones you should put your faith in to make all of those functions (or at least the small fraction you’ll actually need) work and deliver what they have promised.

It’s best to look for the company’s history and get some recommendations from their existing customers. If everything looks and sounds legit, you can proceed with the assessment.

Course completion tracking will not cut it

A decade ago, having an app that could track all learner progress, generate some reports and possibly a few quizzes might have been mind-blowingly effective. Today, however, you need a lot more than that from your organization’s LMS.

The evolution of Big Data and xAPI technology makes it possible for these systems to get a realistic image of user behavior and preferences as well as map out learning gaps, pain points and learning opportunities.

Read more: Building a learning ecosystem that works with xAPI

It’s true that now you can have multiple platforms but since it is obvious that the future is all about making things simpler, going for an LMS that does not integrate or can later add such software means wasting money and energy.

User experience is mainly about simplicity

I’m back to the multitude of functions issue, probably because it made my life as an instructional designer very hard a few years back when I had to use such a program in the company I was working for.

It’s pointless to add on features just because there is a slim chance someone might need them at some remote point in time.

Usability is not to be assessed in theory but by engaging actual end users. They are the best judges of what works for them and what doesn’t.

So, choosing a certain product just because it has everything and believing that will result in all users being satisfied is like ordering an immense pizza with all possible toppings on it and expecting the vegetarians, the vegans, the meat lovers and the eternal dieters to be all happy about eating it.

Pricing may be full of surprises

I’m not going to state that LMS retailers would be intentionally dishonest about how much things cost. It is, however, a very common marketing technique to state only the minimal basic price and then keep adding on for every supplementary service or function that the customer requires.

And then there is the question of updates and maintenance, both of the utmost importance when it comes to a learning management system.

Read more: Hidden costs of an LMS: What to expect

So, in order to avoid rather unpleasant surprises along the way (or immediately after the contract is signed), make sure you ask specifically what each item costs. And get than in writing, on a signed contract lest you should find yourself way over budget before you’ve had time to blink.

Since we are on the subject of money, it is a good idea to have an assessment done on the financial standing of the vendor in order to feel certain they are still going to be on the market in the foreseeable future.

Wrapping it all up

If in the case of buying a used car you have to check that the miles on it are real, there is not dubiously colored smoke coming out of the exhaust and the direction system is in good shape, when buying a (new) LMS you need to be mindful of the aspects I have mentioned above. It’s not a sign of distrust but a healthy interest in the wellbeing of your organizational learning.