Selecting an LMS/LRS
There are over 600 different systems available - so how can you decide on one? The whitepapers written on how an organisation can methodically approach acquiring an LMS often results in a very costly process. This article is for small to medium-sized organisations that are looking for an LMS/LRS.
The Challenge: Finding the right one
You need an LMS/LRS and there are many choices! The cost and feature range of the various systems are extensive. You need to decide what you need and how much budget you have. While that may sound simplistic, the challenge is that you don't know what you don't know. If you never had an LMS/LRS, how can you know what you need? There two major considerations: features, and cost.
Your Budget: Set an annual budget
As a smaller organisation, this is probably your biggest concern. For most systems there is an annual expense, so you must assess your annual budget. Most providers that focus on small to medium-sized organisations offer their product as a Software as a Service (SaaS) solution, while others offer an installed solution. The cost for a SaaS solution will usually be based on your number of users. As the number of users increases your overall costs will also rise though your cost per user may decrease. In general, you should never need to pay more than $5/month per user. A general rule of thumb is that if you have 500 or less users, a SaaS solution is normally your most cost effective choice. At the 500 user level, your solution should not be more than $2/month per user.
Comet is offered as an installed solution for "free" with no limit on the number of users or number of courses included.
The Features: Determine the feature criteria
You now have to decide on the features you need. It is necessary to understand that no two systems are alike, and that you may want to start to measure the "value proposition" using the cost versus the included features. There are many "low cost" products available, but the range of features within each can be quite different. Determine the features you desire and then rank them in order of importance. This will be important when you begin to contact providers, as they will better understand what is most important to you.
Don't buy more than you need
The relationship between price and feature set is not linear. When they start to investigate features there can be a tendency for organisations to want all the "bells and whistles". It is important to be judicious about what you really need. Not only may the price grow exponentially, but so too will the complexity and usability (or lack thereof) of the system. We have heard about organisations who dislike their system because it is expensive, very complex and with many features they never use.
Just an LMS/LRS or more
Are you looking for just an LMS/LRS or do you need something more? While most large scale, complex systems are used in large organisations a number of medium-sized organisations may also desire some of these features.
Complex systems will do much more than just learning management. Some may refer to this type of system as "Enterprise". Enterprise typically means that the system is incorporated across your enterprise (and not that it has enterprise features). These complex systems may have Talent Management, Career Plan Management, Physical Resource Management, Certification Management, Data Analytics... They will also offer all the features of most standard systems.
Comet does not provide talent management... It instead provides all the easy-to-use features you need to host, deliver, and track e-Learning.
This is the ability to track and report on what that has happened. In general, you are looking for flexibility with your reporting capabilities. Many systems offer a set of report templates, with a limited ability to generate others. Make sure that you can export the report in a common format so that you can use it in other applications, eg MS Excel. Some systems will have advanced delivery options like automatic subscriptions where your report can be sent to you directly on a reoccurring scheduled basis. Find a reporting system that lets you make the reports you want and lets you get them delivered the way you need.
Comet offers a set of full-featured report templates for content status and results.
While a few authoring tools will allow you to create a certificate in a lesson, many do not. Even if they do, the system may not have access to these certificates, or can report on the award of them. If your current training situation depends on the issuing and tracking of certificates, make sure that this is an included feature within the system (not the course authoring tool).
Comet cannot automatically generate certificates.
There are several content standards that an system will support. The original standard for computer or Web-based training is considered to be AICC. While it is rare that new courses are published to this older standard, you may have legacy courses where you need your LMS to support it. The primary standard currently is SCORM (Shareable Content Object Reference Model) and "every" LMS supports this standard. There are two main versions, which are 1.2 and 2004, and not all systems support both. SCORM 2004 gives you more flexibility in your lesson, so all things being equal, an LMS that is compatible with both SCORM versions will give you more options in deploying and reporting for your courseware. The final standard is an up and coming new standard called "Experience API or xAPI" (originally known as Tin Can). While many of the course authoring tools have incorporated this new standard, most providers are still in the process of incorporating this standard (if they will) into their products. At a minimum, make sure that your system is at least SCORM 1.2 compliant. If the system you are looking at has a built in SCORM compliant course authoring tool, make sure that it creates and can export SCORM compliant lessons. This will be important should you ever decide to change to a different LMS and want to take your courses with you.
CometComet is compatible with SCORM 1.2, SCORM 2004, and Tin Can (xAPI).
Do you want to sell your courseware online within the system? If so, you will require a built in eCommerce system or API connection that allows connection to an external one. You will want the ability to purchase single courses as well as groups of courses. They may also offer coupon codes, which is a plus if you plan to offer discounts and promotions.
Comet can be integrated with PayPal and/or can use coupons to allow for self user-registration and enrolment.
Are your users categorised in any way? Do you need them to be in one or multiple groups? Do you need reporting and management permissions attached to these groups? Managing users by groups is a more advanced feature in a sustem, but you will find it to be a time saver down. While there are not as many systems that support groups, it would probably be worth your time to concentrate on those which do. For those that do utilise group features, find out how much automation can be done within that group structure (automatic reports, enrollments, permissions, etc.) Grouping can be complex, so it is usually the easiest just to explain your scenario to a prospective provider, and have them explain how their system will accomplish it.
Comet allows for the creation of groups of users that can, for example, be bulk enrolled into a course.
Some systems allow a lot of flexibility with branding the site, while others have very little that you can change. This feature is known as branding which allows a organisation to customise the look and feel of the system. On average, most organisations want their learning portal to reflect their branding, so make sure that you find a system you can configure to look the way you want.
Comet allows for branding.
Many people don't think about permissions when searching for a system, but this overlooked feature may be critical to effective management. You should want as many configurable permissions as you can get. Configurable permissions will allow you to create specific targeted management scenarios, eg admin 1234 can have admin and reporting rights for group ABC. Permissions is the mechanism that allows which users to do what. Look for systems that allow you to set the levels of your admins.
Besides one administrator (or "owner" - someone with full access to all sections) Comet allows for trainers. A trainer is the same as an adminstrator except that their access to the various sections of Comet is configurable.
Several functions in a system can be automated, and the more that is automated, the less you will need to do manually. Automatically triggered features to look for include email notifications, course enrollments, group membership, permission assignment, certificate awarding, and report subscriptions.
Comet includes some automation. For example, emails can be sent to users when they are added to the system and/or enrolled in a course.
Do you have the need to connect your system to another application such as your HR system? If so, make sure that your system has the ability to do so. A few may have built-in direct connections to the specific application you have, so this will usually be accomplished via a configurable API in the system. Most API's will allow an external program to pass information to your system, like using single user Sign-In. They will also let your application request information, like user records. For systems that can be installed behind your firewall, your system may also have the ability to directly connect to an LDAP like Active Directory. If you have a specific external integration need, make sure that you discuss this in detail with your proposed providers.
Comet cannot connect with or integrate with other applications.
Content Delivery/Management – Synchronous or Asynchronous or both
Most people use a system for asynchronous delivery of online courseware. If you only plan to sell your courses online, this is the only feature you need and virtually all systems do this. Many organisations however would like to incorporate all their training into one system, which will include synchronous training like classroom or web meetings. If synchronous training events are important to you, make sure that you find the system that support those events. Synchronous training may not be able to be as automated as asynchronous, as now you have live instructors involved in the process. Check that the system can schedule live events, and get them on your calendar since they are day and time dependent.
Comet supports asynchronous delivery of courseware. It also allows for what it refers to as "external activities". An external activity is anything that cannot be automatically recorded - a trainer is required to manually update status.
These features that may also be of interest to you:
Comet was built to the principles of responsive design so that it should work fine on any device from mobile to desktop. Currently it only supports English though those with HTML knowledge should be able to customise it to another langauge. It supports self-registration and enrollment using a coupon system.
Finding a provider
With a budget and a list of features that you desire, and all you need to do is match your criteria with a short list of providers. This part is unfortunately difficult as there isn't a simple list of systems, price and features. Most resort to a simple search to locate potential systmes. If you use several descriptive words like "low cost" or "ecommerce" or "small business" in conjunction with your LMS/LRS wording, you may get closer. Many providers list their products on third party software sites like:
Social sites like LinkedIn will usually have discussions if you have subscribed to eLearning groups. Blogs are also a good source, and one of the better eLearning blogs is Craig Weiss's E-Learning 24/7 blog.
Speak with your short list of providers
If you have found 2 or 3 providers that fit your needs, begin to connect with these providers to develop an understanding of their product. Your goal is to qualify the Lsystem. Some providers will offer you a free trial, which is a great idea as you can get a true feel for how intuitive, easy and powerful the system is.
Schedule a live demo
Ask for a live demo if you don't want to spend the time trying to learning the system. Perhaps Get a live demo and rundown from the provider, and then get the free trial to hit the ground running. You may actually decide after the demo that the system is no longer appropriate to your needs. If you do get the demo, or if you can't do something in the trial , contact the provider get clarification. Never assume a system can't do what you want just because you couldn't figure out how to do it.
Do a pilot via a free trial
The live demo went great and they showed you how they can meet your requirements and you got a good feel for the system. There is still one more very important stage – the pilot. This is the time to get a free trial and to work out all the details and put the system through its paces. You should try to simulate your actual usage scenarios. This process is not just to test the system, but is an opportunity to work out your processes and workflow to ensure everything meets your needs and works as expected. The provider can be a resource in this phase and be able to assist you by advising on best practices on process and techniques. They after all know the system better than anyone and are in the best position to make sure you are optimising your use of the system. Ideally, the provider can give you with a free trial account that will allow you to upload and test your courses, establish your branding, test roles and permissions, email notifications, enrollments rules and automation, establish workflow, reports, etc. After the pilot there should be no surprises left to discover and the only task left is to scale it up and go live.
Evaluate the provider's support
The product's features are of course very important, but do not under estimate the importance of the provider themselves and their ability and willingness to support you after the purchase. Poor quality support that is unresponsive and generally unhelpful can be the demise of a successful implementation. Does the provider provide the support or has it been off-shored to a 3rd party provider. It can also be very important to have an account representative that you have an ongoing relationship with. Not that this person is involved with every communication you may have, but someone that knows your history and can oversee the relationship.
Formalise the purchase:
You have your final 2 or 3 choices, so it's time to pick one. It is common, especially for larger organisations, to want to go through a formal Request for Proposal (RFP) process as part of their system acquisition. This process, on the surface seems to make sense as you certainly want to do your due diligence, however, the process can have some unintended consequences that you should be aware of. Specifically, it can take a provider several days of effort to prepare a formal proposal for you. Consequently, the only providers that will invest such an effort are the ones with larger more expensive systems that can cover those costs. You may therefore inadvertently, and unnecessarily, exclude the lower cost value based systems. Because of the associated costs, it seems that many of providers will not participate in formal RFP procurements.
If you have not done this already, consider an abbreviated process where you supply your final providers with a list of your requirements along with a very clear explanation of what your must-have requirements are versus the nice-to-have features. This list will allow providers to self-qualify themselves by evaluating how well they meet your most important requirements and determine if they are a good fit. Also instead of a long formal written response (which can be very misleading and left up to a lot of interpretation) you should instead schedule a live demo and ask the provider to show you how they meet your most important requirements. This process will give you a much more accurate assessment of their system and how it works. For example, sometimes whether or not a system meets a given requirement requires more than a yes or no response, because some "yes's" are much more complicated to achieve than others. Understand the details of how they satisfy that requirement or even how they may suggest an alternative approach.
When evaluating a large set of systems, efficiency is the key. Know in advance what you want to spend and which features you need. Search to find the systems that meet those needs (you don't need to find every single system that meets them). There are many systems available so you should be able to find several to meet your needs. With a short list, work with those providers to understand their products. Once you have completely qualified the product you are ready to make a purchase. You can then make a purchase knowing that you've done your homework.
Our hope is that, after you do your research, you see the merits of our system.