The learning management system (LMS) is a type of software used by training administrators, instructional designers, instructors and learners to register, track and monitor learning activity. While the LMS has evolved over the years, it is still a core platform for learning in any organization. Choosing the right LMS for the organization is, therefore, an important responsibility of the training manager – as is making sure the implementation process goes smoothly.

Picking the LMS

What should you look for in an LMS, and who should be involved in selecting it? At the beginning of the process, determine your learning strategy and goals. “Otherwise,” says Jennifer Hawkins, CPTM, technical training manager at University Clinical Health in Tennessee, “you cannot select an LMS that will meet your learning needs.” Conduct a needs analysis for both learners and managers so you ensure you meet their often unique needs, adds Brady Sutton, CPTM, training team leader at the Renewable Energy Group.

Once you understand your goals, use the following recommendations for the next steps.

Cost

Cost will always be an important factor, especially in organizations where the training budget is tight. But even if you are a nonprofit organization and cost is a driving factor of your LMS selection, it’s still important to consider the learning goals of your organization, according to Hawkins.

In addition, Matthew Prager, CPTM, a FEMA training official, recommends looking not just at the initial cost but also life cycle cost. “If, over the life cycle of the system, the costs are reasonable and you can show a good solid return on investment in using that system, then that makes it a good candidate.”

Functionality

Depending on your organizations’ learning goals and needs, you may be looking for a number of different capabilities, including:

  • Reporting capabilities
  • Versioning
  • Financial functions (if users must pay for courses, for example)
  • Assessment capabilities
  • The ability to decentralize administration
  • Specific course and curriculum development and delivery functions
  • The ability to manage training facilities
  • User training

In addition, the LMS should be easy to use and administer. It’s also important to work with your IT team so you have a clear idea of what your organization will require in terms of architecture.

The Selection Team

“Involve all of your stakeholders,” says Prager. “Bring all those people to the table so that (a) they help you define your requirements, (b) they know the project is happening and (c) it starts to build buy-in for the LMS.”

Those stakeholders might include the acquisition or procurement officer, instructional designers and trainers, IT and cybersecurity personnel, a business executive, and the program directors or managers from the departments that sponsor and/or develop training.

Managing the Change

“In change management,” says Prager, “communication is really the key. You have to engage your stakeholders and your ultimate users and let them know what’s coming down the road.” Give them project updates and demonstrations of the platform, offer Q&A sessions, and tell them the positive impact the new platform will have on them and on the business. From a technical standpoint, make sure all users know the timeframe when they won’t have access to the system, so they can plan accordingly, says Prager.

“Identify potential advocates (and those who may offer resistance!) and enlist them as your champions,” Sutton recommends. “Everyone is flattered to be asked to be an expert, and they can help set the correct tone.”

Hawkins says her LMS vendor provided marketing materials to distribute throughout the organization. In addition, her team visited each location to share information, answer questions and make sure everything is working correctly. She follows up these visits at “an annual push [to promote the LMS] every year [during] our regulatory required training.”

When you have deskless employees, Hawkins adds, “there is not a lot of time for them to engage by themselves trying to drive their own learning.” In that case, it’s important to have “a continued touchpoint of not just automatically giving them the information but helping them explore that on their own, and you have to get out there and talk to them … not once, but twice, three times. It has to be a continued, ongoing discussion” so they remember they have that learning available to them.

“We are a widespread manufacturing organization,” says Sutton, “so I targeted ‘superusers’ at our sites: typically admins, but others who are fairly computer-savvy.” His company created dummy accounts so these employees could practice using the LMS and then offered open sessions for the rest of the staff, referring them to the experts at their locations if they had questions or if the training team was unavailable. He also provided sessions for supervisors to introduce them to the LMS’ management features.

Managing the Vendor Relationship

When shopping for an LMS, it’s important to ask for user testimonies and prioritize vendors that have got reputations among buyers, says Sutton. Ask for a demo or sandbox first, and “try to arrange payment terms” so that you don’t pay the full amount until you are fully satisfied.

Even after the purchase, “you have to be really engaged in the vendor relationship,” Hawkins says. Give the vendor feedback, especially when learners are having difficulties. “I think a lot of times in vendor relationships, people feel that they just sit back and let the vendor drive things,” but as the customer, you can – and should – drive the relationship. Hawkins has a standing meeting, regardless of whether there’s a specific issue to discuss, to ask questions like, “What are they doing as a company? Where are they trying to go? What projects are in the works for them?” That way, she says, “I can better understand down the road what their goals are and if they’re going to be able to address our gaps.”

Choosing an LMS, and then managing its adoption and use as well as your relationship with the vendor, is a significant undertaking and core responsibility of the training manager. But with some strategic thinking and planning, you can ensure a smooth implementation and engaged learners.

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