And we’re still looking for that LMS…

It’s been a long and busy 10 months since my last blog post with lots of ups and downs, celebrations and sorrows, accomplishments and let downs. Some of these I’ll get around to telling because I want to share what I’ve learned, good and bad. One of the things I would put in the “let downs” list is I have not locked down an LMS. To be honest, I didn’t spend that much time looking for an LMS in the last year; it’s just been a busy year.

I thought I had found an LMS with ClickCourse, but I realized I needed something that can manage classroom and online training for both customers and employees. Instead of looking at vendors, we spent a lot of time scoping and documenting requirements, and when all was said and done we had a long list of requirements. Coming up with the requirements forced us to look at what we really do as training developers and managers, and in many cases caused us to question why we did certain things. It helped focus on the main goals of an LMS and how an LMS will help us do our jobs better. With that renewed focus we are in a better place to make a decision, a decision based on business goals.

That’s an important point, because it applies to what we do as course developers and where we should always start – the goal. Every training and learning initiative should have a clear goal. It sounds obvious, but it something that’s easy to forget and brush aside.  A lot of courses get created because something new comes along or some policy gets handed down, but that doesn’t mean the training is divorced from business goals. If you’re training isn’t clearly tied to a business goal, you need to go back to square one and figure it out. If there is no goal, don’t waste your time on training.

The goal should be tangible, tied to business outcomes, and communicated to stakeholders. Communicating how the training ties directly to a business goal can be the key to the success of your training, and the initiative it supports. In many cases it’s pretty easy, which makes it easy to overlook.

Many businesses implement new systems or applications to improve efficiency, then roll out training to all employees. The training goal shouldn’t be training the new system, it should be improving efficiency and maximizing return on investment of the new system. In most cases, you don’t want to teach all aspects of a new system to every employee, you want to teach each group the specific processes and features they need. The overall goal will be supported by the training objectives for each group.

Yes, this is training design basics. In the block diagram for ADDIE defining goals is the first step, but one thing I’ve learned over the last year is that it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of the basics and not take the obvious for granted.

In my search for an LMS I’ve clearly defined my goals. Those goals guided the process of defining requirements and prioritizing the requirements. I’m still looking, but have a clear picture of what I need and how it will help reach business goals.

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The Great LMS Selection Adventure

Well, lucky me finally convinced people that we need an LMS. Now I just need to figure out which one will work best for us. About a year ago I started down this same path, but the project was put on hold. I’ve been in touch with one vendor from my earlier list, but I have a sneaking suspicion the landscaped has changed in the last year.

At the eLearning Guild Annual Gathering I was surprised by how few LMS vendors were there. I figured there would be a bunch of companies promoting their products. Maybe most vendors have hit a saturation point where they are living off the support/upgrade/maintenance agreements. Based on my research, ongoing support adds up to a lot of money, which is why I’m comparing prices over five years. Some LMSs have a relatively low initial cost, but high support costs. Others have high initial cost, but low year-to-year costs. Some are just downright outrageously expensive no matter how you look at it.

I’ve started doing my homework, starting with the eLearning Guild’s Learning Management Systems 2008 report and their 382 Tips on the Selection of an LMS. Both are great resources. I’ve been coming up with requirements based on our current processes and what can save us time. Requirements are tough to define. You can base them on what you currently do, but some things always fall through the cracks. Just today I came across Tracy Hamilton’s post My 300th post is a call for LMS Help which deals with managing classroom training in a LMS. She has some interesting issues with scheduling that I would have never considered. (Thanks Tracy!)

Then you have to consider what is possible, not just what you currently do. “What if…” scenarios can hold the keys to future efficiencies. Just imagine if about 5 years ago the record labels had asked “What if we embrace this peer-to-peer stuff?” how different the music industry would be today. I don’t want to miss future opportunities.

Then there is the money to consider. Last year I told a vendor that 90% of LMSs do 90% of what I need them to, so the biggest factor in selection is cost. If an LMS saves me $20K over five years but doesn’t have a couple of minor features, I’m going to save some money. Sorry, but that’s reality. Money matters most to me in this decision.

In my current search I’ve looked at seriously at Inquisiq, talked with the folks at SyberWorks, and looked into ClickCourse.  I have a list with a few others that I’m going to look into. So far, I like Inquisic because they put their prices on their web site and allow you to quickly setup up a trial, without spamming you. ClickCourse is in my budget, but I’m not sure it will handle the classroom training. I’ll be posting more as look at other vendors.

At this point I don’t want vendors contacting me. If you’re not a salesperson and you want to recommend an LMS, please leave a comment or email me directly. My email is in the right nav bar. I give a lot of weight to peer recommendations. On second thought, if you’re a salesperson with an LMS that costs less than $10,000 for the first year for 2000+ learners, you can contact me. I like hosted solutions because my IT group is busy with Office 2007 upgrades.