A thorough LMS sandbox testing and verification step in the buying process is exactly what you need to instill confidence that you’ve made the right choice in vendors. What is a sandbox? Is an LMS sandbox different from a free trial? Or a paid proof of concept? We’re glad you asked!
What Is an LMS Sandbox?
A sandbox is a software environment that allows full or nearly-full use of the LMS or learning system to test functionality, processes and workflows. However, it’s different from a paid proof-of-concept (POC).
An LMs sandbox is the environment the vendor has set up for your use case demonstration which you can access for a few weeks to verify key scenarios, explore features in more depth and help you make your final decision.
A POC is more advanced. It includes integrations, LMS course creation and even actual learner testing and feedback. Ideally, it’s the best way to really test a system, but it usually involves a contract, deliverables and services. Some vendors may not make a POC environment available, but most will provide a sandbox for testing.
If you are spending a significant amount of your budget on a new LMS or learning platform, take the time to do this last verification step to be absolutely certain of your choice and prevent improper vendor selection. “Do-overs” are rarely possible, and a wrong selection can have devastating consequences. Wise buyers play in an LMS sandbox!
Do I Need an LMS Sandbox?
It may be that you’ve already had an opportunity to experience one or more of your top picks in a “free trial” scenario. However, not all free trials provide complete system access.
Many vendors will turn off certain functionality or processes in their free trial, making it difficult to evaluate everything you may want to do with your LMS. You don’t want to face the dilemma of wanting to sell training content only to find your LMS has no payment integration! Additionally, free trial LMS vendors are typically only advisable for SMB and first-time buyers.
Staying out of the sandbox environment creates risks for your organization and you personally, including:
- There is a likelihood that you didn’t see everything you needed with the use case demonstration. You may still be unclear about how some processes work, or where specific functionality can be found in the system. Since you haven’t already seen it or don’t remember it, maybe it’s not there or not completely functional.
- Skipping LMS sandbox testing means proceeding with contract negotiations and implementation. You may learn in implementation that your chosen system doesn’t do exactly what you need, in exactly the way you want. That means workarounds, additional costs or just not having certain functionality that you and your organization needed.
- Moving straight to roll-out and implementation could result in learners who are dissatisfied – or worse, lost – in the processes they need to follow to achieve core tasks. That means you’ll have to train customers and other users on the training system that’s supposed to teach them… not a great way to maintain engagement or instill trust.
- Similarly, administrators might need to do manual steps to make the LMS or learning platform work the way you expected it to. This makes implementation much more expensive. If LMS sandbox testing had occurred, this gap would have been identified and addressed in advance.
How Do You Play Successfully in a Sandbox?
If you are following the steps of the Talented Learning buying process, conducting sandbox testing is easy. Since your finalists have already created customized environments in the Use Case Demonstration, just inform vendors in advance you want to test drive the LMS before signing that final contract.
Only conduct sandbox testing with the top 1 or 2 systems that are finalists for selection. Even if you arrive at only one LMS or learning system choice, it’s still advantageous to do a longer trial in a sandbox environment to validate that this system is THE ONE.
An LMS sandbox exercise should be conducted as a mini project, with goals, deliverables, measurement and timelines established in advance, and adhered to by those who will use the sandbox. Your organization’s LMS Selection Team should discuss exactly what needs to be tested and set goals around the results you expect.
Request sandbox access for several key team members, so each one can do specific administrative or learner tasks and document how easy or difficult each is. If certain processes or tasks are time-limited (“we need to upload new learner lists in 10 minutes or less”), be sure to document the time for them.
Before obtaining access to each vendor’s sandbox system, communicate your needs to them. Define the key use case scenarios that you want to test and verify.
Even if you’ve discussed these previously with the vendors, this is a good time to reiterate exactly what you need and want. Helping them understand your perspective will allow them to embrace the setup process and optimize it for your use.
Keep in mind that the vendors are eager to get to the final contract too, so making the LMS sandbox environment as close to realistic as possible will benefit them and you.