You’re about to invest in a spanking-new learning management system (LMS) to get a handle on everything happening in all the training courses your employees are taking. What a relief it will be! You watch LMS demonstrations online and are wowed by the features of the systems you can buy. You will be able to monitor how many people are taking your training, whether ornery trainees have failed to complete courses, and more.

We don’t want to kill your optimism, but we do want to offer some advice that will help you choose a LMS that meets your needs – one that you won’t need to replace in a year or two.

First, look at real usability.

Most people decide to buy one LMS over another after watching appealing demos on the websites of the companies that are selling them. They look great, but some are difficult and frustrating to the user and the administrator. That discourages use. To avoid this pitfall, have a small number of people in your organization test the LMS before you buy it. Ask them to give you their opinions of how easy it is to use.

Second, consider formats.

You want an LMS that accepts and works with courses in standardized SCORM or xAPI formats. Why? Because if you decide to switch to another LMS later, you will be able to easily move your current courses. Another plus is that SCORM and xAPI courses will be tracked more accurately by your LMS. Those formats are industry standards.

Third, don’t be seduced by features you don’t need.

Here are two examples. First, forums offer a place where trainees can ask questions, share ideas and connect about the courses they are taking. They seem like a great extra, but our experience tells us otherwise. If only a few people post comments, it creates the impression that nobody is taking the course and no one cares. When people post questions, they often do not return to see whether anyone has responded. Even when the course is over, old questions tend to remain on the forum indefinitely. Years later, people might still be receiving notifications if somebody responds to a question they posted when taking the course. Our advice? If people want to discuss a training issue, let them do so on a different piece of technology, like on your company intranet.

Second, badging that is tied to courses is ineffective. People look at badging and think it’s fantastic. It’s gamification, and that’s hot now. Trainees will be motivated to earn badges and see them grow, right? But there are problems. First, the only people who see their progress toward earning badges are the learners themselves. Second, the real motivation to take training courses should be to learn what they teach, not to earn badges. In our opinion, it’s much better to look for systems and courses that lead to certification. Then, learners earn a certificate for what they have learned, talk about it in job reviews and post it on their walls.

Fourth, make sure you’ll have useful reports.

If the reports the system generates are hard to understand, that’s a problem. An even bigger concern is whether the reports offer a simple, one-click way to communicate to learners who have not completed courses. For example, your LMS should not only let you see the names of the people who have not completed a course, but it should offer a way to email or text them to say, “Get going!”

Your system should also let you specify and track key performance metrics against course completions and certifications. After taking training, for example, are your employees making fewer mistakes, making bigger sales or engaging in other behaviors that you wanted your training to achieve? You’re already measuring before and after training to determine whether your training has provided real value. Why not track those metrics within your LMS, too?