How to choose the best LMS: the ultimate three-stage process



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18 mins


The learning management system (LMS) marketplace is brimming with a variety of vendors and systems to suit every need — from LXP to LMS solutions, and everything in between. But how can you ensure you’re getting the best LMS for your organisation’s needs — especially since ‘best’ is subjective? Ciphr’s experts share their insights to help you cut through the noise of the LMS selection process

What is the best LMS system?

The key to choosing the best LMS is selecting one that satisfies (or even exceeds) the needs of various stakeholders within your organisation, offers the right set of features and functionalities, and is backed by the right support team, who will ultimately help you to deliver and embed your solution.

The best LMS, simply put, is the one that checks the most boxes on your requirements list. It’s a tall order, but with the right plan of action, you can approach your LMS selection process with confidence.

In this blog, we’ll guide you through three key areas to consider when you’re on the market for an LMS, including:

Drawing up your list of requirements: what makes an LMS the best solution for you?

  • Consider your stakeholders
  • What does your LMS need to deliver?

Dealing with vendors: how to compare the market

  • What to expect: the steps to LMS procurement
  • Eight questions to ask LMS vendors

Decisions, decisions, decisions: essential features and functionalities

  • LMS vs LXP – which is best?
  • Your learning toolkit – features to focus on

Drawing up your list of requirements: what makes an LMS the best solution for you?

The first step to choosing your learning management system is to get an understanding of the needs it must satisfy; ie, conducting a thorough consideration of your stakeholders’ requirements. 

Your LMS needs to support various groups of individuals, from the employees who’ll be using it to complete training activities through to the executive team seeking a return on investment (ROI) from their investment. Here are the five key stakeholders who would ordinarily be involved in a system selection project, and insight into the functionality they may be looking for:

Discover: Seven objections to investing in learning and development platforms (with exceptional counterarguments) >

1. Executive team

In order to create a motivated, engaged, and productive workforce, executives want to be confident that their teams are aware of and working hard to close the skills and performance gaps within their departments. They’ll also want to see a clear return on investment (ROI) for the LMS.

Providing on-demand access to the latest data on talent gaps, the voluntary and mandatory training courses being taken by employees, and employee learning pathways, will help the executive team understand the business impact of their investment. 

2. HR department

An LMS that delivers personalised digital learning content can help create a motivated and empowered workforce who want to learn and gain new skills. Candidates are actively looking for organisations that encourage and support professional development, and HR teams want a learning management platform that allows them to facilitate this. 

HR teams will need an LMS with in-built skills gap analysis functionality that helps them understand which departments and employees need to develop specific skills; they can then use this data to guide their people strategy. HR teams can also use the LMS to create and distribute workplace training programmes that will have a meaningful business impact, and run customised reports detailing learner progress.

All of the feature-rich functionality aside, HR teams also want a reliable solution for compliance training, especially in highly regulated industries. The right LMS will not only deliver this, but will also help HR teams to ensure compliance training is completed on time, every time, with convenient, customisable, and trackable automated reminders and notifications.

3. Employees

Workers want the opportunity to upskill and progress in their career, and they need an engaging, user-friendly LMS that’s packed with relevant content to achieve their goals. Many employees will also want on-demand access to digital learning content, presented in a way that’s consistent with the employer’s brand. The right LMS will also enable blended e learning – removing the boundaries between face-to-face learning and eLearning — and create a seamless learning experience that will keep employees coming back.

4. Line managers

Management training is a vital part of succession planning and leadership skills development. However, line managers will be looking for a solution that supports them in upskilling their direct reports and strengthening the pool of ‘interchangeable skills’ in their department. So, they’ll need a learning platform that sheds light on where their employees are struggling, where they may need to improve their skills, and tracks the impact of training interventions.

The right LMS will give managers access to customised dashboards containing employee training records, reviews, and development plans that are vital for monitoring the progress and potential roadblocks of each employee.

Line managers will benefit from the practical functionality of the right LMS, but they’ll also be empowering their staff to lead their own learning journeys. An empowered team is likely to be more engaged and more eager to learn (contributing to your learning culture), and want to stay in your organisation for longer.

5. The L&D department

This is probably the team that’s leading the search for the best LMS for your organisation. Perhaps more so than any other stakeholder, the L&D team needs a learning system that seamlessly and reliably helps them deliver a range of learning activities, provides robust reporting and analytics, and is easy to navigate. 

L&D teams also need to ensure the LMS is compatible with your HR software.  This is where a supporting team of experts makes all the difference; rather than focusing only on the technology, L&D teams – regardless of their size — should work closely with their LMS provider to ensure a successful integration.

Being able to exchange user data with the HR system is a logical step, eliminating the need to manually set up, modify, and delete records. Single sign-on (SSO) via the HR system means users can switch from the HR system to the LMS with one click, without needing to re-enter their credentials. Integrated HR and LMS setups can help L&D teams easily access the most accurate and up-to-date people data, and ensure the right people have access to the best content for their needs. Automated reporting functionality — along with automated workflows including reminders, instructions and notifications — will also save valuable time.

With a thorough understanding of the requirements of each of your stakeholders, the next consideration is what exactly you need your LMS to deliver. It’s vital to separate the wants from the needs at this stage, which can be tricky but will stand you in good stead when you assess the market.

What do you need your LMS to deliver?

It can be challenging to pinpoint what you need your LMS to do, especially if you haven’t used or implemented one before. These five questions will help you discover the capabilities your future LMS should have:

What’s the purpose of your training programmes – mandatory or developmental?

Take a closer look at the purpose of your workplace training programmes — are they weighted towards mandatory activities (such as compliance training, health and safety, and GDPR training) or are they focused on development needs (perhaps including leadership and management training, soft skills development, or even broader digital upskilling)?

Do you want to allow your employees the freedom to explore learning opportunities and decide their own paths, or will you have a more prescriptive programme of formal training that everyone must complete?

Depending on your organisation’s goals, an LMS might be all you need to deliver and manage your mandatory learning. If your organisation has a bigger focus on development and self-directed learning, you may be ready to take the next step and consider a feature-rich, configurable LMS or LMS/LXP hybrid platform.

Do you want to gamify the experience with engagement and rewards?

Personalised learning pathways promote learner engagement by providing timely, relevant learning in line with defined goals. The option to share bespoke courses – as well as curate content, or find resources within an off-the-shelf learning library – will enable the delivery of these workplace training programmes to meet individuals’ specific needs and motivate them to embrace learning.

Gamified learning can also help motivate learners; badges and reward points celebrate and acknowledge achievements, leaderboards spark healthy competition, and, ultimately, employees are encouraged to value learning.

If engagement and gamification are priorities for you organisation, an LXP or LMS/LXP hybrid solution may be the best option.

What content types should it be able to deliver?

Your LMS should support a range of media to deliver blended learning and allow you to provide various content formats to suit different learning styles and preferences.

You may also want to consider whether you need to include off-the-shelf eLearning content, or if you’ll be developing your own bespoke content.

Can it support talent management and succession planning?

Skills gap analysis tools help you identify knowledge and talent gaps, understand where employees need further development, and deliver targeted, relevant learning content to support succession planning activities. This can be a vital tool to help employees be the best they can be in their role, to prepare themselves for their next career move, or to highlight under-utilised talent.

Can it integrate with your HR system and deliver robust reporting?

Accurate user data within your LMS is the foundation of a good user experience (consider the effect it would have if a former salesperson continued to receive sales-related learning content after moving to a customer service role, for example).

Integrating your LMS with your HR platform can improve collaboration between HR and L&D teams, and will ensure staff data is accurate without the need for tedious manual updates. Integrations between your LMS and HR system further enhance reporting capabilities – offering insights on the impact a learning programme has on outcomes such as employee engagement, absence, or health and safety, for example.

Equipped with a practical understanding of the needs of your key stakeholders, and a list of your needs, you’re now ready to start dealing with LMS vendors.

Dealing with vendors: what to expect from the process, and how to compare the market

Faced with dozens of LMS systems to assess, knowing what to expect – and what questions to ask your potential LMS vendor – can help simplify and speed along your decision-making process.

The steps to procuring an LMS can differ, based on a variety of factors. These five steps will help you anticipate and prepare for the process:

What to expect from the LMS procurement process

  1. Define your stakeholder requirements and collate them in a single, easy-to-reference document. This is a vital step that sets up you, the customer, for success. Even a broad scope of the essential functions you need your LMS to perform will suffice. You’ll have completed this aspect in the previous stage, along with your list of what you need your LMS to deliver
  1. Review the market: use tools and websites such as eLearning Industry, your LinkedIn network, Capterra, and Fosway to browse reviews and testimonials. Events such as Learning Technologies Conference and Exhibition are a great opportunity to see the software in action, and get to know the team behind the brand (a vital part of the success of your LMS implementation)
  1. Shortlist vendors and arrange detailed demos. You’ll have prepared your list of needs, which you can use as a starting point to give the LMS vendor a clear idea of the goals they need to help you achieve. Your vendor will have the opportunity to showcase how their solution can address your challenges and support your requirements, and you’ll get a glimpse into the culture of your potential LMS provider
  1. Include key stakeholders in the process to maximise buy-in, right from the beginning. Engaging and involving decision-makers early in the process will help to avoid potential issues with sign-off down the line. Starting from drawing up their requirements, to including them in demonstrations and prompting them for feedback, their feedback throughout the process can help tremendously
  1. Look for the right ‘fit’ — product, pricing, and culture fit, that is. It’s important to source the right LMS platform at the right price, but for it to be a long-term success, you need to have a great relationship with the team responsible for implementing and supporting your solution. Look for expertise, experience, and a commitment to delivering the solution you need. Also consider which of your internal teams will need specialist support, and who might fulfil that need

Eight questions to ask your LMS vendor

New system rollouts take time, consideration, and planning. Once you’ve shortlisted your vendors, pose the following questions to your LMS vendor to get an idea of whether or not they might be the right provider, for you.

1. How scalable is the learning management system?

For a growing organisation, it’s important to know that the LMS can scale with you – simply, flexibly, and affordably – as you take on more employees.

2. Does it support and provide blended learning?

The rise of blended learning is a growing trend, and your LMS needs to be able to accommodate it. With more hybrid and remote workers than ever before, the ability to deliver learning both online and in-person adds a layer of value for all stakeholders.

3. Does the software help us easily track learning?

Key stakeholders want to be able to track employees’ learning and discover areas in which the workforce can improve. Sophisticated reporting and analytics functionality provides the data that decision-makers want to see, and that managers and L&D teams need to support them in continuing to offer relevant learning opportunities.

4. Can we automate workflows with the LMS?

Discover if the LMS can boost your organisation’s efficiency by automating workflows – and find out the depth of this functionality. Which tasks and processes can be automated, and which can’t? Is automation built-in as a part of the system, or would you need to pay for additional  customisation work?

5. Is it mobile-optimised?

Find out if learners are able to access the LMS platform and learning content, live or on demand, from their mobile devices. Which operating systems are supported, is the display and functionality consistent across mobile and tablet, and does the mobile learning experience measure up to the desktop experience? User experience can make or break the success of employee engagement, so pay close attention to this one.

6. What is your implementation process?

This will give you a good idea of how long the system setup will take, and what’s required to move it along. Typically, implementation can take anywhere from a few months to a year, depending on the complexity and customisation it requires. The availability of an internal resource can help support this timeline, along with having stakeholder buy-in from the start. It helps to set these expectations early on, so agree to an expected timeline with your potential vendor sooner rather than later.

7. What support services do you offer?

Ask if there are any associated costs for customer or technology support services, and what the support services include. As your needs evolve, your technology will need to keep pace. There may be a difference in pricing depending on the level of support services, so consider how much you may need this ongoing support and whether the extra cost adds value to you.

8. What is your pricing structure?

Request a pricing outline that includes setup costs and training fees, and ask if discounts are available. You might want to ask for a pricing breakdown to see if there are inclusions that offer less value to you, or where you can allocate more budget if you need additional support or services. You can also help future budgeting by asking for annual price increase brackets. These questions will help you discover if the LMS partner fits within your budget, and whether you’re getting the most value from your spend.

Decisions, decisions, decisions: essential features and functionalities

Once you have defined your stakeholder requirements, the functionality you need your LMS to deliver, and asked your potential vendors those all-important questions, you can start to explore the features that will help you achieve strategic objectives you might not have considered.

‘The art of the possible’ elevates your LMS selection process by helping you to consider the future of your organisation and the role your learning tech can play in helping you realise it. You might not want to implement these plans immediately, but knowing upfront what your chosen LMS can and can’t deliver is important.

The ‘learning toolkit’ below shares the most important features to consider, and enquire about during your demo:

LMS vs LXP – which is best?

Ask your LMS vendor if they consider their system to be more of a learning management system (LMS) or a learner experience platform (LXP). Below is a brief overview of the key differences between an LMS and an LXP:

Learning management system

  • Administration of learning
  • Ability to select and assign content
  • Ability to track and assess learner progress
  • Sophisticated reporting functions
  • Mandatory training – such as compliance and employee onboarding

Learner experience platform

  • Empowers learners to take ownership of development
  • Learners can seek out knowledge from various sources
  • Social learning opportunities
  • Personalises the experience based on skills gaps, training history, preferences etc
  • ‘Netflix of learning’

LMS overview

An LMS focuses on the ‘push’ approach to learning, and the administration behind it. Learning management systems will typically have a suite of administrative tools to help L&D teams manage learning programmes, select and assign content, and assess learners’ progress. They are often used to deliver mandatory training such as compliance, induction and onboarding programmes, and policy training.

LXP overview

An LXP is all about learner experience – it enables learners to take ownership of their development, and explore various learning sources including content libraries, external sources, and in-house knowledge networks. Learner experience platforms offer a ‘pull’ approach to learning by facilitating more personalised content delivery and empowering employees to take ownership of their development.

It also provides learners with a personalised experience based on skills gaps, preferences, and historical training activity. The interface has a consumer-oriented look and feel – think of Netflix and the popularity of its recommendations – driving engagement and promoting an inquisitive approach to learning.

So, which is better? It depends on what you are trying to achieve, so defining those requirements upfront is a must when it comes to assessing the market.

If you find yourself stuck between the functions and capabilities of these two platform types, you may want to consider a hybrid solution LMS/LXP. Every organisation will have some level of mandatory/compliance training, and there needs to be a way to manage this effectively. However, for organisations that want to cultivate a culture of learning and improve employees’ engagement with learning, a hybrid system is often the most helpful option. Ultimately, finding a system that can help you scale and evolve your training offering — no matter what stage your L&D strategy is at — is key.

Your learning toolkit – features to focus on

To ensure the perfect mix of functional and aesthetic features, these 10 items should be considered non-negotiables for your LMS:

1. Intuitive user interface

  • Easy to use, regardless of technical abilities
  • Accessible anywhere, anytime, across a range of device and browsers

2. Self-service tools

  • Empowers learners to take control of their learning, creating a ‘pull’ to professional development

3. Blended learning – supports a range of media

  • Delivers various content formats
  • Delivers formats that suit different learning styles and preferences

4. Personalised visual learning paths

  • Higher relevance that engages learners
  • Is aligned with goals – organisational and individual

5. Gamification

  • Intrinsically rewarding and motivating
  • Leaderboards promote healthy competition

6. Skills gap analysis

  • Identify skills gaps and deliver learning to improve employee performance or upskill learners ready for their next career move

7. Social learning

  • Knowledge-sharing through discussion groups and knowledge bases

8. Reporting and real-time dashboards

  • Accurate, real-time data tracks learner progress and completion rates
  • Illustrates impact of learning and ROI
  • Identifies employees who may be struggling
  • Informs and steers L&D strategies

9. Automated workflows and admin tasks

  • Key driver for procurement
  • Automate historically paper-based admin
  • Automate time-consuming tasks, such as classroom-based learning bookings, and reminders
  • Monitor compliance
  • Free up valuable time to allow L&D teams to focus on strategic objectives

10. Integration with HRIS platforms

  • Vital for a good user experience
  • Ensures correct access level within the LMS
  • Helps to improve collaboration between HR and L&D teams
  • Removes the need for manual data entry, improving data accuracy and saving time

Eager to explore LMS platforms?

Ciphr LMS combines the best of LMS and LXP functionality to create and deliver engaging learning experiences, backed by sophisticated analysis and automation tools. Why not book a demo or download our brochure to get a deeper understanding of the potential behind the right LMS?

This article was first published on – a Ciphr Company.