Even if you’re a seasoned L&D professional, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the choices when considering buying or replacing an LMS (learning management system). After all, the LMS market is among the fastest-growing — and least well-defined — segments in human capital management software. Joshua Kim, of Dartmouth and Georgetown Universities, wrote in Inside Higher Ed that estimates of the size of the LMS market ranged from $555 million to $5.2 billion.

According to Brandon Hall Group’s 2016 “Learning Technology Trends Survey,” 44 percent of companies that had learning technology said they were looking to replace their solution by 2018. The top reason for replacement was the need for a better user experience. Other factors that help explain LMS dissatisfaction include limited content types and formats, lack of vendor support, poor reporting analytics, too many costly features no one uses, and learning that fails to go beyond skills and capabilities.

Whatever your reasons for considering replacing or buying your first LMS, history tells us you’re more likely to have a successful outcome if you’re aware of four hazards in the process.

1. The Burden of Choice in a Vast Marketplace

The introduction of software as a service (SaaS) enabled LMS vendors to offer the same platform to each of their customers via the web. Training managers can now choose from a dizzying array of bells and whistles and a range of pricing options. At least six other trends further explain the explosion in the enterprise LMS market:

  • The advent of the five-generation workforce and the need to appeal to each group
  • A better understanding of how learning works and how to use it, not to deliver training, but to engage and motivate employees and enrich organizational culture
  • The increasing awareness of the benefits of supporting the extended enterprise
  • The transformational move away from on-site, classroom-based learning to delivering learning anywhere, anytime, on any device
  • The movement toward viewing learning as a benefit that extends beyond employees’ current role or title to delivering knowledge they’ll carry with them forever
  • Improved LMS reporting and analytics to help show the ROI of learning

The bottom line is that it truly is a wide-open, buyer-beware market.

2. The Sticker-shock Moment

The price of an LMS can range from free to off the charts. You may be surprised at the price differences when you start comparing them — for example, when you assess the cost and value of a fully curated learning experience versus an LMS that has a content repository with no functionality. To make sense of the cost, structure your evaluation process to compare vendors apples-to-apples, and determine how well each one aligns with your learning needs, desired outcomes and budget. Most importantly, you want to compare vendors on your terms and buy the best platform for the best price.

The cost of any individual platform will make more sense, and the process will be less daunting, if you know how to compare:

  • Annual license models
  • Implementation and setup costs
  • Total cost of ownership

The total cost of ownership (TOC) for your LMS will also be affected by the cost of relevant content, so you also should know how to compare your content options. Customized, tailor-made content is great (maybe critical) if you have unique or specific learning needs. However, it’s more expensive than ready-made, off-the-shelf content, which may still suit your needs. You can also develop your own customized content. Though this approach may be less expensive than paying a vendor, you’ll need to factor in the internal costs for the person or team who will design and create your new content.

3. Managing Expectations, Gaining Mass Adoption and Having a Smooth Conversion

Selecting the right LMS is one thing. Making it work in your organization is another. Here are three tips to help.

First, have a solid goal in mind. The LMS implementation goal is often the same as the reason for buying an LMS (e.g., “to improve internal training” or, “to sell learning materials”). But implementation is an animal unto itself and requires involving your core implementation team to define a clear goal and determine how to measure the project’s success.

Second, create an actionable plan. Review the vendor’s implementation template as a starting point to create your own project plan and timeline. Have a set plan to keep the project going in the right direction and help you schedule and allocate resources for each step.

Finally, commit to resources and communication. While creating your detailed project plan and timeline, take the time to assign resources to every task necessary to complete each implementation step. Because an LMS implementation has many moving parts that can involve a lot of people, it’s important to keep communication front and center. To keep everyone on the same page, create and document a communication plan to reference throughout the project.

4. Using LMS Tools for Maximum Effectiveness versus Focusing Solely on the Business Objectives

Too often, an LMS is intended to meet the needs of learning administrators, not learners. Yes, you need to connect learning with business goals, but your LMS should include tools to take you beyond that, while at the same time preventing your learning and development programs from focusing on the wrong things or being too narrowly focused.

Your learning solution should help your business achieve results through e-learning that will educate, engage and empower your employees, not focus only on improving their skills or capabilities. Trends in enterprise learning today are leading toward knowledge that helps companies grow, achieve organizational and employee goals, and foster an appreciation of lifelong learning.