Every LMS buyer faces challenges, but global LMS buyers have the roughest road of all. Why? How can you move through the complexity and make a viable choice?
Why Is It So Tough to Choose a Global LMS?
Let’s start with the basics. There are now hundreds and hundreds of LMS vendors in the learning technology space. The further you go from the United States, the more learning technology vendors don’t use the term “LMS” to describe their product, even though they include much (or all) of the same functionality you’ll find in an LMS. This blurs the lines of differentiation and makes the buying process more complex.
There are several other important wrinkles in this landscape. The broader, global “learning platform” market has many specialized verticals based on intended business use — including employee, customer, student, member or commercial training applications. Each of these verticals offer further specialization based on the level of service vendors provide to set-up, deploy and support new customers. This can range from hands-off, do-it-yourself options to full-blown white glove treatment.
Keep in mind that with the rise of the cloud LMS and machine “translation”, almost all learning platform providers claim they are global. However, global LMS requirements are not universal and there are various levels of globalization.
If your training organization serves a geographically diverse audience, you’re likely dealing with thorny issues specific to where you do business. Overlooking any one of these criteria can totally derail a global LMS purchase late in the buying cycle. Even worse, it can lead you to choose a platform that fails to deliver during deployment and rollout. I’ve seen it and it’s not pretty.
Same Rules Apply
As with any learning technology purchase, it’s up to the buyer, not the seller, to pick the right solution. Every buyer must find a way to narrow the field of choices– or risk vendor analysis paralysis and poor partner selection. A buyer’s best bet is to identify and document precisely what they need in a global learning platform and then use this template to qualify and just as importantly, disqualify, potential vendors.
Questions to Help You Choose Wisely
To help you avoid the pain and cost of choosing the wrong learning platform and instead focus on qualified vendors, we’ve mapped out the following guidelines. Every global learning scenario is unique, you should expect to tailor your requirements to your organization’s needs and you can start by considering these key questions:
- Will you deliver LMS functionality and content to a global audience in one language — or in multiple languages?
- Will multiple global training organizations use the LMS simultaneously?
- In what countries are your learning audiences located?
- What kind of relationship do these audiences have with your organization? Are they employees, customers, partners, organization members or unidentified training prospects?
- Will you sell training content or services in one or more countries?
- What kind of compliance issues must you address in your target locations?
For each of these questions, consider the following factors to help define your organization’s global learning platform requirements.
Top 10 Global Learning Platform Buying Challenges
1) Support for Desired Languages
An LMS vendor does not translate content directly, but instead translates all the labels, menus, notifications and documentation in the LMS. It’s up to the buying organization to translate their own content although some vendors offer this as a service. No LMS vendor offers all 3000+ languages spoken in the world today. Therefore, it’s critical to identify required languages that map to your primary audiences. Depending on the vendor, the cost to add and maintain new languages can be expensive.
2) Translations vs. Localizations
Translations are word-for-word conversion of content from one language to another (for example English to Spanish). This function is often automated through Google machine translation, at no or low cost to LMS vendors. Localizations are translations completed by native speakers. They incorporate cultural and regional nuances, grammar and speech patterns and are often costly for LMS vendors to implement and maintain. However, localizations dramatically increase content coherency, user adoption, learner retention and overall success. True global vendors usually take the localization approach.
3) Native Language Implementation and Customer Support
It’s great to seek a global learning platform with required localizations or maybe even translations. However, relying on foreign implementation and support staff who don’t speak your team’s language is often an unnecessary hurdle. Instead, look for LMS vendors with local professional service experts (either employees or business partners) to ensure smooth communications throughout implementation, deployment, early-stage adoption and beyond.
4) Time Zone Management
Time zone management is deceptively difficult – especially when it comes to mandatory compliance or continuing educations requirements. Are the LMS clock and mandatory due dates based on the location of a learner, administrator or regulatory body? If the deployment includes multiple regional data centers, how does that affect time zone management and workflow? It is important to outline your workflow requirements and verify a vendor’s ability to support those specifications.
5) Security and Data Standards and Regulations
Privacy rules and regulations are different in each nation. For countries where learning audiences are located, it is absolutely essential to know what data can be stored, as well as how and where it can be stored, because misuse of global learning data can lead to regulatory violations, fines and even criminal indictment. Finding a vendor with the appropriate level of experience in managing LMS data and content for your target areas of the world should be considered mission-critical.
6) Cloud vs. Hosted vs. On-Premise Deployment
A by-product of complying with national data security standards is the need to deploy the LMS in various hosting solutions. Over the past decade, many LMS vendors moved to the cloud (for example through Amazon ) so they have data center options in multiple regions. However, some international LMS buyers still prefer on-premise or dedicated hosting environments for extra security. In many cases multiple deployments are required to work in tandem globally. If your organization has mandatory deployment requirements, get them on the table early to save time, effort and money in the selection process.
7) Managing Multiple Training Organizations and Audiences
Global LMS vendors rely on the concept of “domains” to manage multiple audiences. In other words, they set-up unique regions on the LMS — each with its own secure area. This area may house unique content, or share content with “mother”, “sister” or “child” domains. Each domain typically requires primary language localization, workflow configurations, integrations, notifications and reports. Other organizations prefer to manage a separate LMS for each business group they support. However, this results in higher licensing, maintenance and hosting costs and it lacks overall organizational transparency and reporting. It’s important for buyers to document how similar or dissimilar their unique audiences are to determine the level of domain configuration required for success.
8) Global Learning Ecosystem Consistency
Many global learning platforms are not 100% global. In other words, global capacity is not available for all modules or areas in their application. For example, mobile apps or other extensions may not be localized or even translated. It is a smart buying practice to verify the global “readiness” of all LMS components with vendors — especially functionality you intend to leverage at launch and in the near future.
9) Multiple Points of Integration
International organizations grow through mergers and acquisitions, as well as organically. With each acquisition brings new training departments, business regions, global LMS requirements and existing technology. In an ideal world, each organization standardizes on LMS, HR, SSO and CRM systems of record. However, in reality, consolidation is always in flux, and it happens over time. This means you’re aiming at a multi-faceted moving target when you invest in a global LMS. It’s important to document the current/expected state of your infrastructure, so you can verify that LMS integrations will help your platform accomplish the same thing in various parts of the world.
10) Supporting Multiple Currencies and Taxation
Selling content or training services globally requires a special set of functionality and vendor experience. Every country, province or state has unique tax regulations. For example, there may be no sales tax for learners in one country, x% in EU and y% in Colombia. Additionally, the requirement of supporting multiple currencies and exchange rate management is often required. Keeping within the regulation guidelines, collecting taxes and paying them to appropriate organizations is serious stuff. A learning technology buyer is well served to not be the test client for a learning tech vendor’s global expansion.
If you’ve read this far, I’m sure you agree, finding a global LMS is tough. There is no silver-bullet “global LMS” that is ideal for all scenarios. Many of today’s LMS solutions, hosted in the cloud, are able to deliver content globally. But they fall short if you introduce multiple languages and locations to the equation. Your response to each of the 10 challenges outlined will build requirements that should lead you to the best platforms for your needs. The responsibility rests on your shoulders to identify your requirements and use them effectively when qualifying potential vendors.
If you want to discuss this directly, contact me, and we can set-up a free preliminary consultation.
Thanks for reading!
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