Learning Management Systems
How to buy an LMS: Selection and last steps
With your list of requirements out of the way, let’s continue in getting that LMS in place. It is now time for the actual selection and purchasing. This is the fun part where you get to explore, investigate and compare!
Note: This is part 3 of 3 on how to buy an LMS. Part 1 can be found here: How to buy an LMS: First steps and part 2 can be found here: How to buy an LMS: The big, big list of LMS requirements.
Let’s get a list of LMSs that you can select from. Do that by a simple search for LMSs and start exploring! Below is a short list of various systems to get you started; It is by no means a complete list nor a list of the best/biggest ones: Absorb, AcademyLMS, Accord, Axonify, Brightspace, Captivate, Docebo, Edubrite, Efront, Expertus, Learnupon, Litmos, Looop, MatrixLMS, Mindflash, Paradiso, Priima, SuccessFactors, Sumtotal, TalentLMS, VowelLMS.
Have an initial look at their respective webpages to see if the system seems to be appropriate for your needs. For example, if you’re looking for a system that is quick to work with then you can likely discard the systems focusing on enterprises. If it is published, then you can also have a look at the pricing to see if it is within your budget. Also have a look at screenshots and videos of the system to check if seems to be what you are looking for. Based on this try to reduce the list down to a handful of alternatives, for example 5 to 10.
Find your favourites
Now it is time to get the list down to a very manageable number, like 3–5 ones. I suggest you do this by checking for webinars showcasing the system more in-depth or asking for a short (30 minutes) meeting with the vendor to get a feel of their system. Often, vendors prefer to have a discussion meeting first and would rather show a full-blown demo only at a later stage. However, I explain that I just want to get to know their system a little as a first look. If you don’t know it already, then make sure to get a ballpark pricing from the vendor, so you know if the price is at all within your budget (is the cost per month 500, 5000 or 50000?). With this at hand create a shortlist from your favourites and start the comparison process.
Send an RFP
Note: Sending an RFP can be made very standardised and complex. Below is described a pretty simple model, but as pointed out earlier, it can be made a lot more formalised.
You may or may not be familiar with RFx-processes but it can be made pretty simple really: Explain your organisation needs, who will be using the system, your identified use cases, other wishes, your timeline and attach your list of requirements. Send that over to your shortlist of vendors and ask for a proposal back containing pricing, implementation, system overview and answers to your questions/requirements. Keep the list of vendors you send the RFP to short to save both their and your time.
The vendors you’ve sent to should now start working with you to ask follow-up questions and answer your list of requirements. A good advice here is to listen to the vendors: They might challenge you on your requirements and make suggestions on how it could otherwise work. You have a great opportunity to learn when your vendors challenge you. Of course it might be them trying to get you not to notice shortfalls in their solution, but it could very well be them giving good advice on what might work better.
Once you have your answers from your suppliers you can continue with comparisons of their offers. You can do a requirement comparison by copy-pasting all your received requirements from your vendors into one unified spreadsheet. Use some spreadsheet-fu to score your vendors according to your priorities and you should be able to get an overview. Also look at their written proposals to understand what their overall proposal is and what is included in their offer versus at an extra cost. Things to look at here are for example implementation timelines, storage space and limitations imposed.
Get to know your answers
Based on the RFP-answers you receive you should be able to find 1–3 favourites that stand out from the rest. These are the ones you start investigating more deeply. Make sure you understand the proposals given by these vendors. Read the proposals carefully and investigate published information thoroughly (sometimes you’re able to login to a demo-system directly from their webpage). Go through their answers and make sure that you agree with the answers given as sometimes a vendor will have understood your requirement in a different way or answered wildly optimistically. It might be good to schedule a meeting with the vendor in question where you ask for clarifications on points you aren’t able to verify or that you disagree with.
Investigate your top list
Ask for reference customers (preferably with the same use-case as you have) and get in touch with those to see what they think of the system. Ask how they are using the system, what unexpected sides there were to it (both good and bad) and their pros/cons. I’ve also looked at user forums, review sites, etc. to find customers who aren’t listed as references and politely asked those if they’re willing to share their experiences. So far if you get the right person, they’re usually happy to provide their take on the system.
You can also read review sites such as Capterra, G2 and Gartner Peer Insights to find published reviews of LMS-systems (always sort on most recent, not “Most helpful”, etc for a bigger chance of quality reviews). These of course need to be taken with a grain of salt as you don’t know who is writing nor if there was an incentive (even if there is no direct incentive a current customer may not dare to write a bad review of an LMS they are dependent on out of fear of poorer treatment).
Get a PoC
Finally, once you have a system selected that you think is the one you want to select then ask for a proof of concept. The proof of concept should be based on your user stories and enable you to see exactly how these are carried out. Sometimes vendors are reluctant to let you click the buttons yourself in these demos, but would rather showcase it. Don’t be afraid to take control yourself so that you can really try the system and how it feels. Also ask other stakeholders who will use the system to try it and get their feedback.
If you’re happy with everything so far, then it is on to negotiations (or fixed pricing in some cases) about contract terms and prices. Once the contract is signed, make sure to give feedback to those LMSs that were not selected on which one you chose and why.
Then it is on to implementation, change management and adoption! But that is another story :-) Good luck with your search! I’d be happy to read your comments or experiences.
Images from https://ls.graphics/illustrations, thank you!