Here we offer advice on how to choose an LMS provider, with details of some top elearning software and information on leading companies that offer expert services in developing and managing them.
Are you looking for a smart, cost-effective way of training your team or allowing your students to learn online? Do you need a versatile LMS (Learning Management System) that will take care of registration, task assignment and progress tracking? The global eLearning industry is huge and getting bigger, expected to reach $325 billion by 2025.
That means there are a ton of options available and it can be hard to choose an LMS that will be right for your company. So how do you find a provider that will tick all the boxes for your business?
There are thousands of eLearning companies out there, offering different systems with a varying amount of features, from gamification and social learning, to advanced customisation and analytics. The best way to choose an LMS is to establish your company goals and decide exactly what you’re aiming to get out of your investment.
This will depend on a number of variables, including the nature of your business, your audience (and how tech-savvy they are), your budget and need for flexibility. To shed a little light on the subject, here are a few tips on how to choose an LMS provider in 2017.
What’s Your LMS For?
If you want to get the best value for money and optimum results, you’ll need an LMS that includes all the features you’re looking for. Let’s say you run a remote company and your staff work over different time zones. Being able to login from anywhere used to be a major advantage of an LMS; today it’s a bare minimum requirement.
If your learners are busy professionals that need to learn on the go, make sure your LMS provider allows for mobile access. Even if your employees are all under one roof, they may want to extend their learning to their home hours or brush up on some skills on the way to work.
So, beyond an LMS that allows users to access from anywhere on any device, what else are you trying to achieve? Depending on your budget and size of operations, your goals will be unique to your company. Even a one-man (or woman) band or skeleton team should have a clear idea of what they expect from their LMS.
Try sitting down with your department leaders, or asking individual team members about what they would like to see in your LMS. What kind of learning activities would they prefer and how technically competent are your eLearners?
Remember that not everyone learns at the same pace or in the same way, since there are different learning styles. The best LMS for your team could be the one that gives you the most flexibility and control to adjust the course according to your learner, rather than one packed with features you aren’t going to use.
What Features Are Important To You?
Speaking of features, in 2017, there are now many that you can expect to find in a typical LMS, but they may not all be attractive or relevant to you. Ease of use and progress tracking should come as standard, but will your users benefit from mobile access or social learning? Are they likely to be receptive to an interactive learning strategy?
Do you want to stir up healthy competition in your sales team, or are you delivering an academic master’s course online? What kind of budget and technical resources do you have access to? Would they enjoy tinkering with an open source LMS? Or do you need a turnkey provider that takes care of company training from start to finish?
LMS Features Checklist
Here is an initial LMS features checklist based on the latest, commonly-discussed functionalities.
Your immediate instinct when hearing about gamification may be that it’s an unnecessary distraction, or even a hindrance to learning. But, in 2017 it’s becoming a top feature of an LMS and a great way to encourage your distracted, overworked audience to reach their learning goals. Gamification might not be a feature you want to include in an academic institution, but if your company is comprised of busy adults with many tasks, it’s a great way to expedite learning and encourage progress.
Will your course be turned into an online version of Mario Bros.? No. It’s more of a way to get your learners hooked on the programme. Look for an LMS that includes leadership boards, as this is especially useful in competitive sales training, firing up participants to do better that their peers. Rewards are also good incentives, such as collecting tokens and points. It might sound simplistic, but gamification has been proven to make eLearning more engaging. It also provides a sense of compensation for the work put in.
According to a report by Talented Learning, the top LMS social learning features include content share, learner ratings, chat, Q&A and content recommendation. Most LMS have incorporated interactive social features, such as forums and collaboration centers. But advanced social learning features allow your users to login conveniently through an integrated social interface, get access to real time feedback and chat, and ask questions and share progress easily with their peers.
You’ll also have the perfect opportunity to monitor conversations around your LMS and see what content is working and what isn’t, while promoting your business on social at the same time.
Ever since the invention of the API, compatibility problems are becoming a thing of the past. The average business uses around 16 marketing technology platforms. That’s before considering accounting programmes, or your HR system, maybe even your CRM. Easy integration of your LMS will remove significant headaches.
Taking away the issue of separate login and an extra username and password, be sure that your LMS comes with an API. This will allow your eLearning platform to fit in easily, with as little disruption as possible, facilitating learning on the job.
Advanced reporting capabilities and powerful analytics are vital in measuring your training success. Your LMS should allow you to pull up clear reports that are easy to read at a glance. See how many hours your participants are dedicating to your training, the areas that they’re finding challenging and the ones they work better at.
Beyond simple stats about course completion and pass and fail rates, your LMS should be able to help you assess your ROI. You’ll also get a taste for the popularity and utility of certain features. For example, is the social learning capability helpful or being underused? How active is the chat and sharing? What kind of results are you seeing from gamification? Powerful analytics allow you to customise your course to your learners.
Easy content management is a basic and necessary feature of any LMS. However, not all LMS or content management systems are created equal. So when the time comes to choose an LMS, ask yourself a few questions. Does it support international eLearning standards, like SCORM and Tin Can/xAPI? Can you upload existing training documents and assets, and link to web content hosted outside the LMS?
What’s the learning path like? Is it logical, achievable and effective? Is it well structured and helps your learners complete their goals? Can learning materials be shared between courses and how easy is it to manage and use?
Support for Mobile Learning
Can your learners access the LMS easily on-the-go from their favourite handheld? Does it have responsive design and is broken down into smaller units, with content that’s easy to study on a mobile? Reading a 20-page text on a 4-inch screen is not conducive to mobile learning. Short units, a logical user experience and bite-sized pieces of content work well for this platform.
Blended learning is the most effective way of training your participants not only in the theory, but getting a chance to practice it in real life. This means that if you need your workers to be very hands-on, such as medical professionals or firefighters, blended learning is an absolute must from your LMS.
Not all your learning will be online, so your LMS should support offline learning as well. This means that capabilities like registering for courses and seminars, combining of online and offline learning (for example, feedback and training sessions after practical activities), and tracking of external qualifications should all be included.
Free LMS Trial
Choosing an LMS that’s right for your company is vital to the success of your business, so look for an LMS provider that allows you a free trial first. These days, that usually comes as standard. It’s worth really testing out the system rather than working off a recommendation. Not every business is the same and your objectives may vary from the next person’s. Taking a free trial will lower the risk of choosing an unsuitable LMS and help you understand which features you’re likely to need.
Try to think of your LMS as a tool to accomplish what you need today as well as what you’re likely to want in the future. As long as your LMS has an API for integration, combining it with other training tools should be easy. But can you upgrade easily on the package you choose? How many learners can you add to the system at the same time? Can this number be added to or subtracted from as needed? Can you pick certain features a la carte, and is your LMS scalable to reflect your company growth?
Level of Customer Support
Remember that your LMS is a learning platform and learners have a lot of questions! Not just about the content provided, but technical issues and installation guidance. When you choose an LMS, consider the level of support the provider gives. Can they guide you through setup and smooth out glitches? Or are you left to your own devices? Do your learners get access to round-the-clock attention, or will they hear back by email ticket in 24 hours? What level of help do you need?
Proprietary or Open Source LMS?
Whether you choose a proprietary or open source LMS will depend partly on your budget and the technical abilities of your training administrators. Open source can be a great alternative and save you money on your LMS as the platform itself is free to download and customise. Learning platforms like Moodle offer large open source communities that can be of immense value for your staff in terms of online advice and support.
As well as the Moodle HQ staff, developers worldwide are constantly adding to the core platform with new plugins, add-ons and security enhancements so that it evolves in line with the needs of modern education and training.
One of the main benefits of an open source LMS is future-proofing. Even if you engage the services of a professional Moodle development company, if you want to change provider because you’re not happy with their service or cost, you don’t need to change your LMS as well – another developer or IT support company can simply pick up where they left.
It’s wise to be aware that a “free” learning platform does incur costs in terms of internal resources to maintain, update and provide support. If you’re looking for a turnkey LMS that provides a high level of support and low level of technical knowledge, you may want to opt for a proprietary LMS.
Most LMS providers charge monthly and you can select the one that’s right for you according to your budget and business size. Also, many LMS providers also include “active user” pricing, which means that if an employee takes a leave of absence, you can deactivate their account temporarily and set up a new user.
Top LMS Providers
Depending on the features you seek, level of support and so on, the top LMS provider will depend on you. However, here are some of the most popular companies in the LMS market today, along with a brief look at their products and features.
An official Moodle Partner
If you do go down the open source route, then Moodle is the world’s most popular LMS with over 100 million learners using it. To help prospective Moodle users choose an LMS provider with genuine expertise with this platform, they endorse a small number of Certified Service Providers, known as Moodle Partners, who can be find worldwide, developing the system in many different languages.
The largest, most globally present of these Moodle Partners is MoodleRooms, who have bases in Australia, Brazil, Columbia, France, Germany, Spain, Japan, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, the United Kingdom and the USA.
Absorb – USA
The Absorb LMS is managing to make a name for itself, earning the PCMag Editor’s Choice award for its superior interface, mobile support and over 20 different language localised versions. You get features galore with Absorb, including integrated ecommerce, social learning, mobile support and gamification. You can also add optional contests, polls, surveys and contests, and you’ll get excellent attention and content.
Absorb is probably out of reach for small companies on a low budget, as monthly fees aren’t cheap and there’s also an initial one-time setup fee. But if you’re a multinational, multilingual concern, this is a great product for a great price that will allow for endless customisation.
The Academy LMS – UK
A scalable, customisable and effective LMS with a sleek design and endless list of features, from gamification and localisation to classroom management; The Academy LMS is an excellent choice for your business. Named the UK’s best LMS by eLearning expert, author and creator of elearninfo.org, you’ll get a modern interface, fun learning experience and awesome gamification features. Also on the list are social learning, regular updates and responsive support.
The focus of The Academy LMS is on learning through gamification, so if you’re not convinced this will benefit your audience, this may not be the LMS for you. Take it for a test drive before committing; there’s no one-off fee and prices are accessible for most size businesses.
Paradiso Solutions – India
Consistently ranked among the top three cloud LMS in the world, Paradiso Solutions is a Silicon Valley favourite, with an established base in India. Servicing diverse verticals, from IT and retail to finance and education, you’ll get over 100 integration possibilities, 75+ language localisations, blended learning, mobile compatibility and sophisticated gamification, among many other features.
This LMS is perfect for corporations, educational institutions and training centres, and is highly customisable to your needs. You’ll get a free trial period, as well as accessible monthly pricing that lets you pay per user, putting Paradiso within reach of even the smallest company.
LearnUpon – Australia
The Australian eLearning market is particularly strong and playing a major role in the expansion of the global eLearning industry. Leading the charge are LMS providers, LearnUpon, with a robust LMS platform that’s scalable and reliable, with superior customer service and support.
You’ll get a wide variety of course content, mobile learning, gamification, ecommerce possibilities and advanced analytics. Prices are within reach of firms of most sizes and LearnUpon is one of the fastest growing LMS providers today, backed by a team with over 25 years’ experience in eLearning.
Esus – Ireland
Esus LMS offers an end-to-end solution, providing SCORM compliant courses that are tailored to individual customers. Just like any quality LMS in 2017, you’ll get most of the desirable features, including blended learning, mobile support and (you guessed it), gamification.
With clients including Heineken, Pepsi and Novartis, Esus is making a name for itself with its innovative and tailored solutions. As a highly bespoke LMS provider, you’ll need to contact Esus for a quote, however, think high-end, rather than bootstrap startup.
As you can see, choosing the right LMS for your company isn’t always easy, so try to establish what you want to get out of it first. Think about the types of learners you’re working with, the depth and complexity of course content, your audience’s tech-savvy and ability to work independently; and whether they’ll benefit from certain features like gamification and social or mobile learning.
Once you have a good idea of your goals and your minimum requirements, start trying out a demo or two from a top LMS provider, or select one whose values, pricing and level of support meet your needs. With so much focus on quality, customer-driven solutions and ease of use in 2017, it’s never been easier to choose an LMS to help drive your company vision forward.