With a large global staff working in over 70 countries joined by thousands of new volunteers each year, Habitat for Humanity International’s learning needs led us to join LINGOs as a founding member back in 2005 and begin leveraging the IntraLearn LMS that comes with our Level 2 membership. The system served our early needs well, but over time our motivated learners have been giving the LMS a bigger and bigger work out. At times registering up to 200 new users each month, we realized that we were ready to leverage LINGOs’ SCORM Dispatch capabilities to implement a new LMS that would provide learners with differentiated access privileges for self-enrollment and immediate access to learning resources, along with additional automation for both our users and learning managers. Recognizing the need for a new LMS is the easy part. With around 500 LMS vendors out there, choosing one can feel like wandering through a forest searching for the perfect tree.
Here are five resources that I found very useful during this selection process and that I would recommend to anyone else facing the same challenge.
1. Start with your organization’s needs and requirements
In three or four bullet points, describe the top issues that the organization is experiencing with the current system and restate those as a summary of your top needs. This short, high-level summary was very useful throughout the selection process to communicate with various stakeholders, to define the requirements, and to make the final selection. I’ll continue to use it as we move into implementation.
After you have summarized the needs, document the requirements. The requirements are the specific features and functionality that the new system should include. This will be more detailed than the needs summary and it will take longer to finalize. You’ll have to distinguish which requirements are absolute ‘must-haves’ and which are ‘wants.’ Use the needs summary along with input from key stakeholders to do this.
Send the requirements to the vendors you are interested in and ask them to use these to plan a demonstration of their systems. Then, make sure their demonstrations cover these requirements. Most vendors I worked with were happy to have the requirements but I was surprised that a couple ignored them completely until I pushed them! This said a lot to me about what those vendors would be like to work with.
2. Talk to other LMS users and administrators
Choosing a new LMS for your organization can feel daunting if you’ve never done it before – or even if you have. You can gain a lot of confidence and knowledge by reaching out to others who have been there. Think about all of the contacts you have available to you through your LINGOs membership, other learning providers for your organization, and your own personal and professional contacts. Everyone I contacted was more than willing to share their experiences with me.
Create a list of questions that you would ask each contact while listening for whatever additional information they might offer. Every organization has their own unique needs and resources, and it will be important to know what those differences are to frame their input in context. I found it helpful to learn how various organizations were staffed to support the LMS and if they had renewed the contract with their vendor yet. Through these contacts I learned that one vendor raised their price 25% after the original three-year contract was up.
3. Attend conferences and webinars
Using our LINGO’s member benefit to the eLearning Guild, I was among one of the 1,800 attendees and 69 suppliers at the DevLearn conference in 2011. I did not talk to all 1800 attendees, but I certainly tried! In each conversation I mentioned Habitat’s search for an LMS and picked as many brains as I could for experiences and suggestions.
At the DevLearn conference, I attended a useful session titled “The ABCs of selecting an LMS” delivered by Mike Baker and Stacy Lindenberg of First Citizens Bank. Among other great tips they shared, I picked up the idea to ask one of the LMS vendors to provide me with a well-known industry report on learning management systems, which normally costs about $1,500.
Throughout the selection process I attended any and all free webinars that touched on the topic of Learning Management Systems. These were offered by organizations like the eLearning Guild, Brandon Hall Group, and TrainingIndustry.com. It was through one of these webinars that I discovered the vendor that we ultimately chose.
4. Partner with your Information Technology Department
Your IT department may not be familiar with Learning Management Systems, but they know how to work with software vendors and they know the ins and outs of implementing systems within your organization. At the beginning of our selection process, we were assigned a terrific IT resource who attended vendor demonstrations with me, asked technical questions related to systems integration, and guided us through the contract review. He also helped navigate some of the internal relationships with key stakeholders.
5. Leverage the LMS vendors
Finally, don’t forget to leverage the vendors you are talking to for whatever resources they can provide! As I mentioned previously, this was how we were able to obtain an otherwise costly industry report. Three things that you should absolutely ask a vendor to provide are:
- A demonstration of their system that shows how it will meet your requirements.
- An informal and initial pricing estimate (you don’t need a formal price quote until you’ve narrowed down the top 1-3 vendors, but knowing how they structure their pricing and the range is useful in the early stages).
- A ‘sandbox’ environment – basically an account that allows you to access their system to test your requirements, test the SCORM Dispatch packages, and try out your user scenarios.
If you find yourself lucky enough to be in the position to select a new LMS for your organization, I hope the five resources above are as useful to you as they were to me. For those of you wondering which vendor we ultimately selected, it was the Intellum Exceed system. Check them out as part of your search, but remember that your organization’s requirements will determine which system is best for you.
 You can access many resources from conferences, even if you don’t attend! For example, you can access backchannel resources from DevLearn here.