6 things to consider when choosing an LMS
If you’re reading this article then you’re probably thinking about establishing a Learning Management System – LMS for short – or switching to a different one for your educational institution or company. The huge range of available software solutions make it difficult to make the right decision.
The requirements can be quite diverse and so are the different Learning Management Systems. However, there are a few traits that you should always look out for.
This little guide helps you decide which one to use.
01. Range of functions
Your LMS doesn’t need to offer all possible options that exist. What matters is that if offers those features that you truly need and that it does those things well.
Make a checklist of functions you require and compare your list of favorite LMS candidates against this checklist.
It’s important that you can communicate your knowledge in the best way possible. For interactive learning the SCORM and H5P have become the de facto standards. Your LMS should offer these options.
In order to test your learner’s knowledge your LMS should offer tests that allow you to define the questions in your desired form.
Apart from questions with single and multiple choice answers there are a few other popular question types, such as “Select missing words”, “Free text” or “Drag and drop”.
An important aspect of the range of functions: How do learners get onto your platform? Can they self-register? Can an administrator upload users? Does the platform offer single sign-on, so that users that are maintained in a different system, such as CAS (Central Authentication Service) or Windows Active Directory via LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) automatically get logged in, so they don’t have to remember yet another set of access credentials for your platform?
Roles and Permissions
Naturally every LMS will offer different roles with varying permissions:
- Administrators who maintain the platform and have access to everything
- Trainers who operate the courses
- Learners who complete their courses
Make sure that your LMS offers the option to create new roles and edit existing ones. Maybe you want to restrict the content types that your trainers may create. Or maybe learners should only be able to see the courses that they’re enrolled in?
If you operate an international platform, you’ll require an LMS that supports as many languages as possible. Learners should have the possibility to choose from a range of available languages. Also, ideally, you as an administrator should have the possibility to edit texts of the platform in case you might want to change some of the default texts.
Themes define the appearance of your LMS. Some LMS only allow you to define certain colours and exchange the logo whereas others can be heavily customized with the help of so-called theme plug-ins that enable you to change any aspect of the design.
If you want your LMS to reflect your corporate design and fit in well with your digital presence on other platforms such as website, intranet and so on, you should make sure that your LMS is flexible in regard to the design.
Despite the huge variety of software, you’ll hardly find the tailor-made LMS for your organisation “out-of-the-box”. But there’s also a solution for that because many Learning Management Systems allow you to expand or modify them. And that’s important in case the requirements of your organisation change over time.
Therefore, you should put emphasis on finding an LMS that is built on a flexible and well-documented plug-in architecture that allows to modify and expand the LMS by including plug-ins.
You should also check if there are freely available plug-ins for the LMS. Especially open-source systems shine in this point and often provide an official website with a big offer of plug-ins for the LMS.
If your organisation requires a feature that’s not available, plug-ins can be developed for that. Should you be dependent on a software provider for that you’ll benefit from having a popular LMS with which many developers are familiar. For exotic solutions and niche products on the other hand it will be difficult to find experts who can support you with that.
Tip: If you decide to use Moodle, you’ll find an overview of free plugins on https://moodle.org/plugins, where you can filter by category. Should you not find the desired feature, we can make an offer for a customized solution for you. Contact us for an informal conversation.
Let’s change the perspective for a moment. An LMS is a tool that needs to be used by many different employees. For this wide usage it should be easily accessible. Therefore, you should pay attention to an intuitive usability and a good documentation. Ideally the LMS should offer a demo-website on which you can get to know and test the LMS from the perspective of different roles (trainer, learner, admin). If this is not the case then there should at least be some videos that showcase the system in detail.
In any case, take a short glance at the documentation to get a first impression. A good documentation should be up to date, available in multiple languages, comprehensive and well structured.
Also make sure that the LMS is responsive, meaning it should be equally well to handle on different devices. Smartphones and tablets are constantly gaining importance in the world of e-learning!
Tip: Moodle offers two demo platforms which can be explored from the perspective of different roles (https://moodle.org/demo). To get an impression of how expandable Moodle is and how much a Moodle platform can differ from a default installation, have a look at our reference project Tyre Trade Management (TTM) for the Continental AG, awarded with the eLearning Journal award 2020.
People who set up an LMS will usually want to use it for a few years. Therefore, it’s important that there will still be updates for quite a while.
Security updates on the one hand but also updates to keep the system up to date with the current state of technology and modern standards.
It’s not entirely possible to predict how long a piece of software will still be developed and maintained by its producers but there are a few cues that help to estimate it:
- By whom is it being developed? Is it a small company? If so, this increases the risk that the software won’t be developed for very much longer. The company might go bankrupt, important developers might leave the company or the main business area of the company might shift. But if the software is made by a big software company or large community, there’s a better chance that the LMS will still be developed for many years.
- How long does the LMS exist yet? If it’s still quite young, then it’s difficult to guess if it will become popular enough to be kept alive. There are many start-ups with good ideas but about 80% of all start-ups fail (not just restricted to the LMS market).
- How popular is the LMS? If there are many websites that use the LMS then this means that there are probably also enough funds going into the further development of the software, no matter if it’s a commercial or open-source solution. The commercial solutions are funded by the licence costs, open-source solutions by donations, merchandising, workshops and partner programs.
Hacker attacks can have serious consequences: a damaged image, data theft, and/or financial damage. Therefore, it’s important that the developers of the LMS take security seriously.
Do the developers of the LMS have an own security team? Search results for “(name of LMS) security team” can give some insight on this. Otherwise have a look at the official website to see if you can find some information on this topic.
Are there frequent updates? Check when the LMS was last updated. Good and reliable software should usually get updated rather often. Not just to add new features but also to optimise the stability and security of the software.
Also look out for the so-called “release notes” for the LMS. If you can find them, you should be able to see if there’ve been regular updates in the past.
Does the documentation for developers have guidelines regarding security? Especially if third parties can contribute to the LMS by developing plug-ins, the documentations should explain the most important points that are necessary to keep in mind when developing for this LMS.
Is there a release plan that shows for how long there will be security updates for which version? There’s often an LTS version, short for Long Term Support. This is a version with a longer period of guaranteed software updates for the future. The release plan tells you how long which version gets supported by the release of new updates.
In the end the price needs to fit into your budget.
Commercial products offer a variety of licence models.
If you only have few learners, you might want to consider an LMS that charges you per user and month.
Should you want to get lots of learners onto your platform then it will most likely be cheaper to pick a license model that doesn’t charge you per user but per platform instead.
Open-source Learning Management Systems are free. But that doesn’t mean that they have less to offer. Some open-source LMS can certainly compete with their commercial competitors or even offer possibilities that you will only find in very few commercial systems.
Narrow down your options by restricting yourself to the established Learning Managment Systems that have already been developed for a few years. Due to the long development time, they will offer a big range of functions and have left their “teething problems” behind. If you opt for one of the popular LMS you’ll have a large selection of software providers to choose from to help you establish your LMS.
We at ICON have decided to use Moodle and have had a good experience with it for many years. Moodle is currently the most popular open-source LMS and is quite popular here at ICON due to its big range of functions, great documentation, and ease of expandability.
Therefore we highly recommend to take Moodle into consideration. You will also learn more about Moodle in an upcoming blog article.
Would you like further individual advice on Learning Management Systems?
Please do contact us. We look forward to hearing from you.