How to identify and evaluate your LMS needs
Imagine you're building a home. The most important part of your project is going to be the foundation - if you don't get that right, you can choose as many beautiful finishes as you want; your project still won't be a success. Think of your learning management system as the foundation of your training program. Choosing the right one will result in a success, but choosing the wrong one could be disastrous.
This article will explain how to identify and evaluate your LMS needs to ensure you make the correct decision and lay the proper foundation for your learning program.
1. Create a Needs Assessment
When shopping for LMSs, the best way to begin is to properly identify your needs.
Create a training needs assessment that will help you not only identify where your current training program has knowledge or skill gaps, but also provide you with a tangible solution for closing those gaps.
To conduct a needs assessment, assemble a team of people invested in the decision-making process, and:
- Determine the current scope of your training program: No matter your organization, some form of training will always be a necessity.
- Identify your organizational structure: You want to ensure you choose a product that works for the size of your organization, can handle your growth trajectory, and will integrate well with your existing systems
- Define your business requirements: Business requirements are the critical decisions that must be made in order to successfully meet your objectives.
- Determine your key stakeholders: Stakeholders will either be instrumental in making the final decision, or key players in allowing you to take full advantage of whatever LMS you choose.
Your analysis of the answers you get from these (and other!) questions will provide you with a direction for your training program.
It will also reveal what your greatest needs are, and which features will be most valuable. Of course, these most-needed features will differ depending on your specific requirements. Check out Christopher Pappas's 99 LMS features that you can use to compare LMS Vendors.
2. Prioritize Your LMS Needs
Now that you have identified some of the most common needs that will arise as you develop your training needs analysis, the next step is to evaluate them, and determine which are most important to your organization.
Remember, it is important to distinguish between your must-have and nice-to-have features for a few reasons.
First, having more features than you need can adversely affect your bottom line. Everyone is working with a budget, so you need to ensure that you choose an LMS that comes with what you really need, while also meeting your price point.
Second, introducing a new LMS can be challenging; sometimes it is best to keep your software as simple as possible to ensure that your learners will actually start using it. This can mean focusing on a few key features rather than inundating your users with everything at once.
This is a decision you will need to make, but sometimes it helps to focus on your top two or three features, with the understanding that you can build from there as your users become more comfortable with the system.
3. How Do You Evaluate Your Needs?
If you've decided that you would like to evaluate your needs, and rate them as must-have or nice-to-have, you may be wondering how best to accomplish this.
Let's look at the common features described above, in the context of which factors are most important to you.
*If you're concerned about Future Growth, a must-have feature is Scalability*.
If you want to ensure your LMS can expand (and contract!) to meet the future needs of your organization, you will want to focus on scalability.
Scalability means your LMS should have the ability to handle and organize a large amount of data, while "keeping good quality, usability, flexibility and granularity." Sure, your organization may currently only need a training program for 100 local workers. If future growth is on the horizon, and it usually is, why not make sure your LMS can also handle 10,000+ global learners?
Ease of scalability determines whether or not your chosen LMS can grow with your organization and adapt to evolving business needs.
*If you're concerned about Flexibility, a must-have feature is Mobile Learning*.
Mobile devices are an ideal platform for delivering concise and engaging learning content in various formats to learners as most learners are familiar and comfortable with devices such as tablets and smartphones.
If your chief concern is allowing learners to learn on their own terms, and choose how they wish to take their training, then you should make sure your LMS can deliver non-traditional training methods, such as podcasts, bite-sized learning, videos, document uploads and forums.
Additionally, as workplace demographics shift, mobile learning, or mLearning, has become increasingly popular - make sure the LMS you choose can deliver what your learners want.
*If you're concerned about ROI, a must-have feature is Reporting Capabilities*.
Your LMS should provide a comprehensive list of both standard and customizable reports. Having access to the right reports, and knowing how to analyse the resulting data, allows you to "continually improve your online training strategy and personalize online training initiatives". Types of reports that may interest you include:
- Activity reports
- Learning completion reports
- Detailed report by user/by course
- Learner satisfaction ratings
- Test item details reports
- Order details/summary (eCommerce) reports
The right reporting options allow you to determine and measure the effectiveness of your training program. Proving ROI, or return on investment, is a great way to show the value of your investment; make sure that you have the report features you need in order to do this.
*If you're concerned about Global Marketplace, a must-have feature is eCommerce*.
eCommerce capabilities allow you to sell your courseware to individuals outside your organization. Ensure that potential customers have a way to place their orders, make payments and easily access and use their purchase.
Look for an LMS that features a rich storefront and eCommerce system that allows you to easily configure it to offer learning products for sale, integrate with shipping and other suppliers, support cross-promotion and offer extensive and flexible discount code functionality.
If you're looking to expand to the global marketplace, ensure the LMS you choose features a variety of payment options, and is secure enough to trust with the sensitive information that comes from doing business over the internet.
This article has outlined the importance of a training needs analysis, but, more than that, it has helped identify some common LMS features you will be looking for, and attempted to show you how to begin evaluating which of these will be most important to your organization. Hopefully these tips will help you build the strong foundation you need to make your training program a success!
LMS Buying Guide
Learn the steps to follow in order to find an LMS that best suits your unique needs!
Sarah is an Instructional Designer at BaseCorp Learning Systems and is currently completing a PhD in Educational Technology. Her research focuses on implementing competency-based learning systems in all types of organizations. When she doesn't have her nose in a book you can find her at the gym, on the ice, on the ski hill, drinking wine or in a coffee shop … with her nose in a book.