The library at Alexandria was mythical. The books and scrolls upon its shelves comprised the greatest collection of human knowledge ever assembled. No single person could hope to read through all of its pages in a dozen lifetimes.
Fast forward a few thousand years to the age of computers, the internet, and the World Wide Web.
We now have access to more information than ever before in the history of humankind, and it’s more useful than we ever imagined. With a few words typed into a search engine, we can filter out the extraneous information and find exactly what we need: A recipe for Cuban beans and rice, directions for installing a new alternator in a 1971 Corvette, or firsthand accounts of Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition. Card catalogues and encyclopedias have been replaced by a vast digital library.
Paper manuals and business documentation have also been replaced by digital products. Videos, Wikis, help topics, eLearning content, forums, blogs, SharePoint sites, and more.
That’s why Learning Management Systems (LMS) have become so critical to efficient distribution of information and knowledge among modern businesses and organizations. Without an accurate way for employees and learners to search for and find the specific information they need, productivity, profit, and employee satisfaction all decline.
There are dozens of proven LMS products on the market, ranging from free to very expensive. There isn’t a single best LMS, but there is a best one for you and your organization. Here are a few tips to help you find the right match.
5 Things To Remember When Selecting An LMS
Point 1: Keep it Simple and User Friendly
A Learning and Content Management System is just what it sounds like. It allows you to manage and organize your learning and knowledge content on the web. You or your developers will still have to create and maintain the content, as well as determine how it should be organized. The LMS just helps you put it in a place where the right people can find the right information at the right time. Given that, your LMS should be easy to use, both for your content developers and your end users.
It sounds like a simple and obvious thing, but many LMS implementations aren’t as simple and straightforward as they should be. Here’s the simplicity test: Can your least tech-savvy user find the content he needs without any assistance or instructions? Even the most fully-featured LMS product should be configurable so that the answer is, “Yes!”
Point 2: Look at Comparable References
Of course, it’s important to get references and look at other organizations’ deployments of any LMS that you’re considering. But make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. Just because another company’s LMS looks slick and works well for them doesn’t mean it will work well for you.
Referrals are always important and talking to other users about their highs and lows is critical, but don’t forget to specifically look for references that have a similar need.
The reference lists often read like the who’s who of a vendor’s client list, and you can be sure that the installations will be first-rate. But, if you’re a medium-sized service company looking to deploy materials for your field technicians and call center workers and all of the references are Fortune 500 companies managing complex implementation projects . . . you may want to ask for additional referrals.
Point 3: Not too Big, Not too Small
While it sounds a bit Goldilocks, your LMS solution shouldn’t be too big, and it shouldn’t be too small. Instead, it should be just right.
Some of the LMS providers with the largest number of clients are open source and free. While that sounds wonderful, they may not have the support and client resources you need. Often, open source solutions rely on community members to develop extensions, plugins, and provide support via forums and wikis. If you have the technical knowledge and resources to work through the rough spots, it might be fine.
On the other hand, you should be honest about your ability to self-diagnose and resolve issues. Small vendors often provide excellent support and assistance, but their products usually don’t have the same potential for expansion and growth. They may have a smaller selection of extensions and plug-ins, or they may not be prepared to grow at the same rate that you are.
Point 4: Don’t be Afraid to Color Outside the Lines
With a bit of creativity, you can find excellent Learning Management Systems in the strangest places. Platforms that are immediately dismissed as possibilities can be elegant, simple solutions.
Consider WordPress. Most people think of it as a simple blogging platform, but the huge number of themes, simple customization process, and wide variety of plugins, widgets, and extensions have turned it into a remarkably functional LMS solution. Granted, you may run into the challenges posed by the community-support model from point 3, but if you have the capacity and resources to look in the hidden corners, the best solution might be found a few steps off the beaten path.
Point 5: Plan for the Present and the Future
The number of features and options in the various LMS products can be overwhelming. To determine which LMS features are really best for your organization, ask three direct questions: Where are we now, where do we want to go, and how do we want to get there?
You may be focused on deploying internal documentation from within your firewall today, but will you be expanding your LMS needs to include clients outside the firewall in the future? Will you need user authentication, forum features, or e-commerce solutions? Think about the possibilities for the future before you make a selection based purely on where you are today. You certainly don’t want to be forced to upgrade your system 12 months out!
Getting to the Point
It all boils down to this: developing the best documentation and training in the world won’t help you if your users can’t find and use it efficiently. Too many organizations invest time, money, and resources in creating vast amounts of information, then dump it all in one, giant repository that is impossible to navigate efficiently.
An investment in an LMS is key to organizing and deploying knowledge to your employees and users. Take the time to evaluate what you need today, what you’ll need tomorrow, and how your users will access and interact with the information. An effective and thoughtful LMS implementation is a significant aid to knowledge and performance. A poor LMS implementation, on the other hand, is a massive setback.