The field of LMS offerings is dynamic, competitive and possibly confusing. Each year, Training Industry, Inc. recognizes the Top 20 providers and another 21 on the watchlist. Many more are not even on the lists! How can you compare them all fairly?

Think through your feature checklist. What are your “must-haves”? What are your “nice-to-haves”? Assess your learning needs today, and think about the strategic direction of your company. How will your needs change in the future? Use the list below to create your own comparison checklist, and consider four categories: administrative features, learner engagement features, features for both and “beyond LMS” features.

Administrative Features

How many administrators will you have? What are their skillsets when it comes to technology? How much time will they have to dedicate to launching this new LMS? What about its ongoing management? Use this checklist to survey their needs and expectations.

  • Content management: Is it easy to create groups, find and assign courses, and create deadlines and due dates?
  • Content options: Does your LMS vendor offer off-the-shelf courses? Can it create custom content for you? Is it mapped to competencies?
  • Authoring tool: Is it included, or does it cost extra?
  • Classroom scheduling: Can you create courses (instructor-led or virtual) with multiple sessions, allow users to enroll, and track attendance?
  • Automated reporting: Is it easy to set up and schedule reports to email?
  • Data security: Are data encrypted? What does the LMS record? Where is it stored?
  • Student materials storage: What file formats are accepted?
  • SCORM compliant: Yes or no?
  • Data import/export: Is it an easy process?
  • Surveys: Does the LMS include a survey tool?
  • Exam editor: Can you create your own assessment and change the scoring?

Learner Engagement Features

One of the top challenges for talent development professionals is to get employees to make time for training. Once you finally get them to your platform, it has to be easy for them to find the courses they need and to navigate around the system. You want them to spend their time learning skills, not learning how to use the training platform!

  • Mobile-ready: Is it accessible on any device? Mobile accessibility should be a must-have for everyone.
  • Training reinforcement: Does it include exams, follow-up quizzes and email notifications in the days, weeks and months following a course completion?
  • Social learning: Is it included, or is there an additional charge?
  • Self-directed learning: Can learners search for and take courses on their own?

Features for both Administrators and Learners

Some aspects of the user interface apply to both audiences. Your administrators are learners, too. Everyone expects software to be intuitive and easy to use. How many clicks does it take to find what you want?

  • Intuitive user interface: Is it easy to navigate without a lot of training?
  • Intuitive course catalog search: Is it easy to find the courses you want? Do the search results return titles that make sense in the context of the search term?
  • Personalization: Can you customize the dashboard with widgets and content? Is it an intuitive process to “click and drag”? Can you brand the site with your logo, custom images and welcome messages?

Beyond LMS Features

People often become so wrapped up in the project at hand, their immediate needs and their list of features that they forget to ask vendors about other key topics that will affect their success.

  • Support: Does the LMS vendor charge extra for implementation support? What about ongoing training and support throughout your contract? Are you assigned a support person or account manager, or do you call into a large call center or submit a ticket to a help desk?
  • Vision for the future: Can the LMS grow with you? Is your vendor open to your ideas and suggestions? Are there additional charges for adding features later in the contract?
  • Hidden costs: You don’t want to be blindsided in year three of a contract with a surprise price hike when you go over some limit that was mentioned in the fine print of the contract. Maybe it’s related to storage, adding a new feature or going over a limit of support requests; make sure you know ahead of time.

This checklist should help you with your search for a learning partner. Choose the items that are most important to you and your organization, and create your own comparison checklist. It may even help your procurement or purchasing department. Your vendor conversations shouldn’t just be price conversations. They shouldn’t just be tactical conversations about price. They should be about your learning objectives and the features and functionality that will help you achieve them.