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Try Before You Buy: Evaluating an LMS

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Try Before You Buy: Evaluating an LMS

Any software infrastructure purchase is a significant investment.  Beyond the financial investment, you’ll spend time configuring, deploying, and maintaining the system.  This article provides a few simple tips that will help LMS buyers confidently choose the top LMS for their learning environment.
 
There are several steps to selecting the best LMS for your needs. This article focuses on the hands-on evaluation process.  Evaluation is the “test drive” step in the buying process.  During the evaluation buyers should get a real sense of how the product will operate after implementation.
 
For a complete guide to buying an LMS, please download our complimentary whitepaper:

Steps to Launch your LMS

Evaluating an LMS - Process
 
  1. Identify Requirements Understand all of the requirements from all of your stakeholders. Also identify nice to have features and must have features in case you need to make some trade offs.
  2. Research Solutions  Online reviews and vendor marketing can provide the initial information required to create a short list of viable candidates. This step includes opening discussions with Vendors and a Demonstration if their product appears to be a good fit.
  3. Hands-On Evaluation Take your time to user test as many of your requirements as possible. This is the most critical phase in understanding if the LMS will be a good fit for your organization.
  4. Negotiation & Purchase Work with your Vendor to understand their pricing model and if their licensing model can accomadate your needs cost effectively.
  5. Implementation & Go Live This is where the Vendors can really help you get off on the right foot, or suddenly become hard to contact. Before you buy, try to evaluate your Vendor as well as their solution.


Vendor Demonstration

Live demonstrations offer the opportunity to ask direct questions and see specific use cases that are not clearly explained by online resources. This is a good way to prepare for your Evaluation.
 
Before attending a Live Demonstration, you should have a list of questions that you want answered.  Demonstrations are opportunities to get expert input from vendor reps and to see if the LMS can deliver the functionality most important to your organization.  Prepare questions that make these requirements clear to the vendor and invite detailed answers.
 
Consider the following two questions:
 
“Does your LMS support blended learning?”
“Would you be able to show me how your LMS manages blended learning?”
 
The second question will elicit a more thorough response and demonstration. Knowing that a feature is available is not as useful as seeing how the feature actually works.


Hands-On Evaluation

Preparation

Careful preparation before your evaluation will save time and produce more reliable findings. Preparation includes creating an evaluation plan and gathering all the assets that you’ll need to fully test the Learning Management System.
 
LMS Evaluation Plan
The evaluation plan is a roadmap for testing the LMS. The plan can be as simple as an LMS evaluation checklist of features to test, or it can be a set of fully described learning scenarios. Following the plan will save time by providing a clear set of steps to follow which prevent the evaluator from missing important details along the way.
 
LMS Training
Your evaluation will be more efficient if you have a good understanding of the LMS feature set.  The Accord Academy is an online training library with video tutorials that is freely available to all potential clients.  There is also a robust Knowledgebase with complete Admin Guides. In addition, Accord will assign a dedicated Solutions Engineer to provide overview training and answer any specific questions you may have. Evaluators will face fewer challenges during the evaluation period if they take full advantage of these training opportunities.
 
Evaluation Assets
There are several assets that will be necessary during the evaluation process.  Collect these assets before beginning the formal evaluation to help ensure a smooth execution.

  1. User List  Part of the evaluation process will include populating the LMS with users.  Using real user names and information will make it easier to create training scenarios that approximate the final implementation while conducting the evaluation.  Prepare your list of user names and their profile properties in a spreadsheet format provided by the vendor in preparation for bulk import of your users.
  2. Sample Content The distribution and management of content is at the heart of most Learning Management Systems.  Collect sample content that is representative of the types of content used during actual training.  The Accord LMS supports SCORM, hosted video, streaming video, PowerPoint presentations, PDF files, Office documents, Google Documents, Instructor Led Training, webinars, and more.
  3. Training Scenarios  It is helpful if the evaluation includes realistic training scenarios.  For example, you may require all managers to complete required compliance training within 90 days and then repeat the training every year.  The training scenario will include information on who will be trained, what training will they take, and when will they need to complete the training.


Starting the Evaluation

After completing the preparatory steps, the evaluator is now ready to conduct a hands on evaluation of the Learning Management System.  The evaluation plan will provide the overall guidelines. At a minimum it should include the following.
 
Assemble a Sample Course
Use the sample content to create some realistic Learning Paths and Courses.  Consider including prerequisites, quizzes, surveys, and certificates.  Try to use all of the features that will be required in your production training implementation.
 
Create and Populate Sample Teams
There are many ways to apply a hierarchical Team model.  Teams are groupings of learners.  The Teams can represent geographic locations, departments, or even different learner cohorts. Verify that the LMS supports a Team structure that suits your organization.  With the Teams in place, upload the previously prepared user file into one or more Teams.  Test for learner self-registration and individual learner creation if specified in the evaluation plan.
 
The Accord LMS supports unlimited LMS administrator types based on Team membership with very granular control over content and learner domain access. Depending on the size of your organization, you may want to create and then login as different administrator types to understand how you can both share and segregate different Teams and domains of content and learners between your administrators.
 
Enroll Learners in Content
Once the evaluation LMS has content and learners, it is time to enroll the learners into some courses.  There may be several approaches to enrolling learners.  The evaluation plan will highlight which enrollment features are most important to you.  Typically, there will be manual enrollments and some form of group enrollment.  More sophisticated implementations will provide automatic enrollment based on learner profiles, teams, or prior completions all of which the Accord LMS supports.  Testing renewals is often critical for compliance training or recurring professional certifications.
 
Ask for Help
Vendors understand that clients evaluating their systems are not software experts.  Don’t hesitate to contact the vendor for support whenever something is unclear.  The evaluation period is not only a time to evaluate the software.  It is also a great time to evaluate the vendor’s customer support responsiveness.  How the vendor responds to inquiries during the evaluation period can be a bellwether of the care that they’ll provide after the sale.  Now is the time to put them to the test.
 

Concluding the Evaluation

Once the evaluation is complete, document the findings and report to all interested stakeholders.  A real understanding of what the system can accomplish will enable your team to evaluate the strengths and limitations of the LMS in terms of features, cost and the confidence you have that the vendor will provide the support you need to be successful.
 
If you’re in the market for a new Learning Management System, please contact the Accord sales team.  Accord offers one of the most powerful and affordable Learning Management Systems on the market today.  We’d be happy to discuss your project and, if you’d like, help you evaluate the Accord LMS.
 
 

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