Whenever companies take into consideration buying a LMS for the first time or replacing the old one, there is an overwhelming amount of details to take into consideration.
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Providers will go the extra mile to present numerous features and make their product sound like the obvious choice. This doesn’t make it any easier on decision makers who have to figure out what features are truly important and which will make no difference whatsoever.
The selection process definitely is a lengthy one and should include representatives of all who will be involved in using the LMS. However, the first step should be figuring out which of the three main types of learning systems is most suitable to meet the business needs.
Here are some of the highlights and soft spots of each.
Proprietary LMS software is developed and also property of a company that doesn’t give users or administrators the possibility to make adjustments, alter the code that structures the software or decide what features should be included and what features are better left out. It is a closed system as far as the organisation is concerned but it comes with some advantages:
- Since the product is built by learning professionals, it is efficient and reliable;
- It’s easy to find customer reviews of the product and take those under advisement;
- In order to be competitive on the market the product will have to use top technology;
- Such systems come with warranty, technical support and service agreements;
Even though the above mentioned perks sound pretty good, there are reasons organisations may chose otherwise:
- Cost. Being designed by a company that hires trained professionals and also has to make profit, proprietary LMS can be rather expensive especially for organisations with fewer employees;
- Any adjustments or fixes that have to made will take some time since the proprietary company will have to address them;
- Technological advancements are very rapid and a proprietary LMS can become obsolete rather fast;
- The same changes might determine the designing company to discontinue a certain LMS thus forcing users to buy a new one;
Usually they are the product of innovative individuals or teams who seek to make a relevant change in the industry. The driving idea is to centre the system around the learner instead of the technology. Apart from the obvious flexibility, there are other notable advantages to choosing this version:
- It’s easier to get than the proprietary kind since it comes without numerous contract clauses and licence agreements;
- It can be constantly updated and improved;
- It’s rather friendly to the user and can be easily set-up without expert help;
- Has fewer restrictions that institutional systems;
There are, of course, things to list on the ‘minus’ side:
- Even though accessing it may be free, resources still have to be spent for creating and curating content and helping users access it;
- There is no accountability if it proves ineffective or if something goes wrong;
- There may arise security and privacy issues;
- The capacity of an open-source LMS is usually not big enough to sustain large enrolment.
The cloud-based alternative
This is not a system in the classic sense of the word. Rather it’s a number of combined internet-based tools, services and apps that are easily accessible to all users and can be used for learning in the corporate environment. These may even include networking sites and social media. The advantages of choosing this path for organisational learning are:
- Access to a number of tools that people are already familiar with and enjoy using;
- The cost is lower than the alternatives;
- It is learner-centric and focused on activity;
- Has the largest pallet of tools for learning and greatest degree of accessibility.
On the downside:
- Too much variety can lead to loss of focus – the learner may get lost if there are too many options or waste a lot of time trying to figure out the workings of different tools;
- Data security – there are still vendors that don’t comply with the latest security standards and don’t have the latest security certifications; but there are also vendors that are up-to-date with everything related to online safety and offer secure systems;
- Free usually includes a lot of advertising which might prove detrimental to learning.
All things considered
When choosing the right LMS, it’s not a question of which is superior to the others but of which fits best the needs (and budget) of the organisation. All stakeholders should have a say in the final choice and a debate about it can only be constructive.
The thing to keep in mind is that even though the technological advancements are incredible, no company can afford to change its LMS every other year. The choice has to be one that will be relevant for the foreseeable future.
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Graham is the CEO and Founder of CYPHER LEARNING and NEO. He is a serial entrepreneur, e-learning enthusiast, published author and educator.