I Need an LMS. Where Do I Start?

If you need an LMS, where do you start? The process of picking a Learning Management System (LMS) can feel overwhelming. Let these resources guide you.

If you’re just starting the process of selecting and implementing a new Learning Management System (LMS), the process can feel a little overwhelming. This is especially true for organizations who don’t currently have an LMS and are starting completely from scratch.

I often see organizations struggle to even identify what questions they should be asking. They “don’t know what they don’t know.” Unfortunately, failing to sufficiently analyze your needs and identify your use cases can result in a very expensive and time-consuming mistake. After all, the process often takes a year or more, and the systems themselves can be quite costly. Use these resources to guide you when you need an LMS.

I need an LMS. Where do I start? (blue maze with red question mark at the center)

Process Overview and Needs Analysis

These resources provide an overview of the LMS selection process and help identify what questions you should be asking.

Several years ago, the team I worked with presented on our process for selecting and implementing an LMS. It may be easier to read the text in full screen view. (If you’re reading this post in email or in a feed reader, you may need to view the presentation on Slideshare.)

Templates and Checklists

  • The Must-Have LMS Checklist for New Buyers: The initial list at the top of this post is often where people start, with SCORM, quizzing, and reporting. The problem is that these features are nearly ubiquitous, so it doesn’t help you narrow your choices. The second half of this article, the “Nice to Haves,” will help you think more about how you will use your LMS. Which of those nice-to-have features are actually critical for you, and which ones can you skip?
  • David Glow created a fantastic Excel template for evaluating LMSs several years ago. You can identify your requirements, then send this to vendors to have them show how they meet your needs.
  • The LMS RFP Template from E-Learning 24/7 is another option with a small list of features you might consider.
  • Five Tips and an RFP Template: Choosing the Right LMS is another article from Learning Solutions Magazine with tips for selecting the right LMS. Even if you don’t plan to do a formal RFP, this template can help you think about questions you should be asking.

LMS Options

After you read the articles above and have made good progress on your needs analysis, you can start narrowing down the list of choices. With over 800 LMSs on the market, you have to start narrowing down the list quickly.

Usability Testing

Usability testing isn’t necessarily a required step in selecting an LMS, but I recommend it, especially for medium to large organizations. Small scale usability testing with 5-10 users will give you a significant amount of information without requiring immense investment of time or money. This can be especially helpful if you’re down to 2 choices with no clear winner.

Change Management

Don’t forget change management! You can run into a surprising amount of resistance to an LMS; it can mean big changes in how people work and learn. I gave a presentation on “Why an LMS” for one client as part of their change management plan. (As before, email and RSS readers may want to view this on Slideshare.)

Your Questions?

Like many of my blog posts, this one started as the answer to a question I’d heard from several people. I love great questions, so ask me yours in the comments.

Originally published 5/14/2015. Last updated 5/14/2020.

3 thoughts on “I Need an LMS. Where Do I Start?

  1. Indeed Christy choosing an appropriate LMS may be quite overwhelming as the market is full of various solutions. To me it’s the matter of knowing ‘what’ and ‘how’ – what are our requirements (regarding e.g. pricing, our employees expectations, its features) and how will we use the tool (e.g. on a large scale or not, often or rarely). When it comes to the companies the basic issue to be considered is the possibility of saving money (of course sparing time and energy – the two you’ve mentioned – can’t be skipped).

    1. John, I completely agree that considering time and energy saved is critical to the consideration. You can install out-of-the box Moodle in an afternoon on cheap hosting, and obviously the LMS itself is free. Sometimes, that really is a perfectly fine solution, but I see too many organizations jumping right to that without really thinking about if Moodle will meet their needs without customization. By the time you’re paying for customization, administration, and maintenance, you often would be better off with one of the less expensive (but not free) hosted LMSs.
      I once got a frantic call from someone who had already signed a contract with a Moodle partner, only to discover after the contract was signed that the necessary customizations would take months past their planned launch date. To their credit, they had a fairly thorough requirements list. Unfortunately, Moodle only met about half their requirements out of the box. They needed massive customization to do event management and other tasks. They should never have selected Moodle; other systems would have been a better fit and cheaper (in resources and time) in the long run. They never seriously considered any systems other than Moodle though. They short circuited their search and didn’t even look for anything else. Some of that is the fault of the Moodle partner, who completely oversold them on their customization timeline. Part of the problem was they had an unreasonable timeline to start (another problem I see often–people think they can do the whole process in 2 months or less). It was just a bad situation all around, and one that could have been avoided.

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