Published On: August 17, 2017By
LMS selection can seem like a gamble. But consultant John Leh says it's wise to trust a proven process

It happens at least once a week.  I bump into LinkedIn posts from learning professionals who are overwhelmed by LMS challenges.  Often, these posts attract dozens of responses from LMS vendors, each claiming they offer the best solution, based on the incredibly detailed information provided in the original 1-sentence post.  What’s an LMS owner to do?

Many are frustrated with the limitations of their current learning infrastructure.  They’ve hit a wall with features that don’t accomplish what a vendor promised.  They can’t get sufficient assistance from customer support.  Or they’ve given up entirely on their system of record, but don’t know how to choose a better solution from among hundreds that might work.

It shouldn’t have to be this way.  No one should have to post random SOS alerts on social forums, hoping someone will toss them an LMS lifeline.  But what’s the alternative?  Roll the dice?  Spin the wheel?

New LMS Realities

If you read our blog, listen to our podcasts or attend our webinars, you know the LMS world is vastly different now than it was 10 years ago.  You also know why and how the cloud has forever changed the LMS landscape for the better, from a buyer’s point of view.

Previously, before a multitude of specialized solutions burst onto the scene, LMS choices were limited to a handful of “one-size-fits-all” vendors. What if your organization had a unique business use case?  You were forced to shoehorn your needs into a traditional multi-purpose system or cobble together your own solution.  Either way, the outcome was less than ideal, but better than Excel.  You got what you got, and lived with the results.  And for many organizations, it wasn’t pretty.  No wonder learning professionals began to hate their LMS!

But fortunately, in less than a decade LMS options have made major strides.  Now a new breed of LMS is ready for mobile, social and gamification at scale.  What’s more, most of these solutions are designed and developed for specific business uses and learner audiences.  That means you have a good chance of finding a learning platform that fits your particular needs.

Regardless, a startling number of organizations still rely on the LMS they’ve had for years.  No matter how badly they may want to upgrade to a cloud LMS, they continue to hold back.  Rather than taking their chances on a solution designed to improve engagement and business results, they remain tied financially and contractually to their historical learning infrastructure.

Are You Stuck With Your LMS?

Try this quick assessment.  Do any of these describe your organization?

  • You purchased your LMS before 2012 (probably for reasons no one remembers)
  • You are a small or medium-sized business that is paying for an oversized SAP, Oracle, SumTotal, Saba or Cornerstone LMS and feel like plankton in an ocean of priorities
  • You are an association or commercial training company limping along with a graying, semi-custom open source solution and multiple manual workarounds
  • You pay “annual support and maintenance” fees but continue to use an older version of LMS software because upgrade costs are prohibitive
  • You periodically activate and deactivate users to stay under the license count, trying to minimize costs

If you answered “yes” to any of these, there is hope.  You may feel stuck, but you don’t need to stay in that predicament.  In fact, I bet you could select and deploy a relevant cloud LMS sooner than you imagine.

How Do You Find the Ideal LMS?

In the past, the challenge in choosing an LMS focused mostly on how much time and money it would take to bend one of a few well-known systems to your will.  Now with literally hundreds and hundreds of LMS variations, it’s about how to find a very specific needle in an ever-expanding haystack.

So, who can you trust to point you in the right direction?

You can ask around.  Well-meaning colleagues can be helpful.  However, unless they know your organization’s unique circumstances and priorities, even the most knowledgeable people are only taking shots in the dark.

In my experience, the best results aren’t based on someone else’s opinion.  Instead, they come from relying on a proven process.  For example, let’s take a look at what has worked for organizations I’ve guided through LMS selection projects.

LMS Selection Success: 6 Proven Steps

1) Carefully Audit Current Usage

LMS vendors have vastly different licensing models.  To find the right option, you need a crystal clear understanding of your organization’s current and anticipated usage.  Some relevant questions to explore:

  • How does your current LMS charge for usage? (Named users? Registrations?)
  • How many active users do you serve?
  • How many inactive learners do you serve?
  • What are your usage patterns?
  • How frequently do users access the LMS?
  • How does your organization use the LMS?
  • How are your active users and usage rates expected to grow?

2) Calculate and Compare Current/Future Costs

One of the easiest ways to replace your LMS is to identify relevant solutions that provide more value at a lower price point, including one-time setup fees.  If your approach is methodical and coherent, it’s easy to get budget authorization.

  • How much are you currently spending?
  • What was the total expense with your LMS vendor in each of the past two years? If possible, calculate costs per category.  For example, how much did you spend annually on your LMS license, support, content, hosting or other services?
  • What do you anticipate spending for this solution next year?
  • Based on your growth estimates, what will you spend per year over the next three years?

Once you develop a short list of replacement candidates, you can consider how their costs compare with this baseline.

3) Document High-Level Requirements

There are 700+ learning technology vendors today, many of whom offer specialized solutions.  Differentiation often starts with the target learning audience — employees, extended enterprise (customers, sales channel, contract workforce), academic institutions, association memberscontinuing education or commercial training.

All facets of the vendor solution – functional use cases, pricing and license models, implementation and setup services, integrations, as well as support services – are designed to win a particular type of customer, often in a particular industry.  By carefully mapping your requirements along these same dimensions, you can quickly and easily screen vendors.

4) Identify a Handful of Qualified Solutions

With your requirements and usage patterns in hand, identifying qualified vendors moves from a popularity contest to a methodical selection process.  At this stage, it’s appropriate to consider recommendations from industry blogs, research reports, professional colleagues and consultants.  Of course, with so many possibilities, qualifying vendors yourself can be time-consuming, costly and confusing.  That’s why organizations often ask LMS selection specialists like me to help narrow the field.

5) Solicit Demos, Proposals and Customer References

After verbally confirming requirements with each vendor, get a demo that aligns with your requirements.  If all goes well, request a proposal based on current and future usage, as well as estimated costs to migrate from your current system.  At this pre-budget stage, high-level pricing is good.  The goal is to get low and high estimates from 3-4 LMS vendor candidates and compare them with your current total cost of ownership.

6) Test-Drive Each Finalist

Seeing is believing.  And the best way to see if an LMS will really work in your situation is to test the solution with a working prototype or free trial.  Create a test plan that includes real or sample courses and data.  Give stakeholders (administrators, managers and end users) an opportunity to interact with the system and offer specific feedback.  Be sure to allocate sufficient time for this phase of the process.  Believe me, no one has ever said, “I wish we spent less time with hands-on evaluation before we made our final decision.”


Once you compare your current LMS expenses with pricing estimates from qualified vendors, it should quickly become apparent whether you can afford the switch to a new LMS.  If so, you are ready to take your case up the ladder for budget approval.  Armed with this analysis and insight from the test-drive phase, you should have a strong sense of how your organization will benefit from each option.  Even if for some reason you discover that switching isn’t cost-effective for your organization, you will understand why and feel better about your current situation.

Choosing the best LMS may seem intimidating.  It may even be the reason why your organization sticks with a less-than-ideal status quo.  But it’s probably easier than you think if you trust a proven process — and even easier, if I lend you an experienced, fiercely independent hand.

Interested?  Reach out!  I’m happy to schedule 30 minutes on the phone or Skype to learn about your LMS situation and determine what level of service (if any) I’d recommend to help you move toward a better solution.

Thanks for reading!

Want more insights? Replay the webinar!

Choosing Your Next LMS: How to Kickstart the Process with an Independent Consultant

In a complex market packed with 700+ possible solutions, how can you be sure your next learning platform will work for your organization? What kind of functionality is essential? Do you know what’s available? What budget parameters makes sense? How can you avoid overpaying? Do you even know if an LMS is the best solution?

Where should you start?

Before making your next move, why not tap into the knowledge and experience of a successful independent learning technology consultant? Join John Leh, CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning as he tackles today’s trickiest LMS buyer challenges:

  • How to make sense of today’s expansive LMS landscape
  • How to determine if you can afford a new LMS
  • Why requirements definition is essential to sort through the learning tech “specialist” market
  • How to narrow your options from 700+ vendors to a qualified shortlist
  • When and how to use an RFP (or not)

Replay the webinar now!

Need Proven LMS Selection Guidance?

Looking for a learning platform that truly fits your organization’s needs?  We’re here to help!  Submit the form below to schedule a free preliminary consultation at your convenience.

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About the Author: John Leh

John Leh is CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning and the Talented Learning Center. John is a fiercely independent consultant, blogger, podcaster, speaker and educator who helps organizations select and implement learning technology strategies, primarily for extended enterprise applications. His advice is based upon more than 25+years of learning-tech industry experience, serving as a trusted LMS selection and sales adviser to hundreds of learning organizations with a total technology spend of more than $100+ million and growing. John would love to connect with you on Twitter or on LinkedIn.

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