Why it’s hard to find an LMS

It’s been several weeks since my last blog post about my LMS search. The search moves ever so slowly. I can’t say I’ve learned anything new about LMSs, but I am increasingly surprised by how much they cost. I am seriously considering building my own. Why would I pay tens of thousands of dollars year after year for something I can build myself? Time is the only valid reason – I don’t really have the time.

Shopping for an LMS is nothing like shopping for eLearning development tools. For example, if you want to compare software recording tools it’s pretty easy. You go to the various web sites, download trial versions and compare prices. Shopping for an LMS is not that easy.

I’ve found three areas that make it hard to find an LMS: they don’t all post pricing online, they don’t all have trials available, and the feature sets vary greatly.

Price – As a rule of thumb, if the price is not on the web site it’s going to cost a lot. Vendors want you to contact them for the price so they can get your email address and phone number so they can make person-to-person contact. I understand that, but I prefer to contact you when I am ready. I research online because I don’t want to talk to sales people until I am ready. Putting your prices online saves me time and saves you time. If your product is out of my budget, then you don’t have to waste time calling or emailing me.

(Side Rant – don’t hide your phone number on caller ID. I will not answer the phone unless I can see who is calling, and I might just delete the voice mail without listening to it. I consider it a professional courtesy to show your phone number on caller ID.)

Trials – Several vendors do give you free trials, which I greatly appreciate. I can’t imagine why any vendor would not offer a free trial. Webinars can give an adequate overview, but I want to get in and poke around myself. I don’t make any major purchase without some kind of test drive, large software purchases should be no exception.

Feature Sets – Most LMSs cover the basics pretty well (course tracking, user management, reports, and catalog management), but they can differ greatly once you get past the basics. Don’t let this get in your way. Before you start talking to sales reps, nail down your requirements. If you know exactly what you need, you can easily weed out products that offer too much. Keep in mind that you will pay for all those features, even if you don’t use them. I’ve seen incredibly robust LMSs that have awesome features that I would love to have, except that I don’t really need all the features. If you don’t need it, don’t pay for it.  You have to find the LMS that meets your requirements without too many extras you don’t need.

And don’t be afraid to tell the sales rep that their product is too robust.  You have to be honest with them; even if they don’t get the sale they will appreciate your honesty. Tell them up front what is most important to you and don’t get distracted by bells and whistles. You have to compare products based on how well they meet your requirements, not on the features they offer.