Important steps when looking for a new Learning platform.

In recent times, I am seeing more and more requests on LinkedIn that look something like this:

“Our company is looking to utilize a cloud-based Learning Management System (LMS) for remote learning/training and I was wondering if anyone has any experience with this type of platform? If so, can you recommend any particular provider(s), and/or have any advice on the subject?”

This will generate a lot of responses – mainly from vendors and consultants, which will likely overwhelm you and leave you none the wiser as to whether the solution being offered is the right one for your organisation! The following steps, which should be taken before you approach your network, will help you to make a more informed choice.

Before I start though, here’s what you need to know about me:

  1. I am not employed by any Learning Technology Vendor.
  2. I am not a consultant looking for new clients.
  3. I am however someone who has been implementing and managing such systems for 20 years.

1. What is the business problem you are trying to solve?

Not all organisations will have he same issues and so a learning platform that works for company A will not always be the right choice for company B. Some typical use cases that will affect your platform choices include:

  1. Compliance – yes, we all have this but requirements vary between industries. (Pharma for example is very different to Financial Services)
  2. Training as a revenue stream
  3. Managing Customer and Partner training – do you need controlled access to courses that contain sensitive IP? Are you in an industry that is subject to Export controls? Does the platform need to help you manage Partner programs?
  4. What is in your organisation’s 5 year plan that you need to consider now to future proof your investment in a new learning platform?
  5. How is success measured in your organisation? What data do you need to capture to enable you to prove that training has led to behaviour change, improved customer satisfaction, increases in pipeline and sales etc? This is an often forgotten aspect – reporting needs should be understood at the start of the journey and not be considered as a Day 2 activity.

This may seem an obvious question but it can influence your platform choice. As an example, if your key business problem is increasing sales revenue, your main audience may well be sales and pre-sales folks. And these people live on a day to day basis in CRM systems such as SFDC. The ability of your learning platform to deliver content contextually direct into a SFDC opportunity then becomes an important differentiator between the available platform solutions.

If you are wanting to include social/collaborative learning as part of the solution, it is important to recognise what tools your audience will already be using. In the example above, they will be very active in SFDC Chatter. Other audiences, may well be more active in the organisation’s existing tools such as MS Teams.

Understanding where a new platform will fit into the wider organisation IT eco-system is vital and knowing your audience and where they “live” from a systems perspective is valuable in choosing the right solution.

2. Who is the audience?

This may seem an obvious question but it can influence your platform choice. As an example, if your key business problem is increasing sales revenue, your main audience may well be sales and pre-sales folks. And these people live on a day to day basis in CRM systems such as SFDC. The ability of your learning platform to deliver content contextually direct into a SFDC opportunity then becomes an important differentiator between the available platform solutions.

If you are wanting to include social/collaborative learning as part of the solution, it is important to recognise what tools your audience will already be using. In the example above, they will be very active in SFDC Chatter. Other audiences, may well be more active in the organisation’s existing tools such as MS Teams.

Understanding where a new platform will fit into the wider organisation IT eco-system is vital and knowing your audience and where they “live” from a systems perspective is valuable in choosing the right solution.

3. Is this replacing existing tools that are not working for you?

In my opinion, there is way too much “churn” in the learning tech space – I recall Elliott Masie using the phrase “serial LMS buyers” some 15 yrs or so ago and it it has increased as the number of vendors has increased. It is important then to really understand if your current platforms really cannot meet your needs. Here’s some things that often get missed:

  1. Do you have resources in your team who really understand the product you have?
  2. Did you skip on in depth system admin training when you bought your current platform ?
  3. If your platform isn’t working with current processes, will changing the processes help? (In this context, if your current platform replaced an earlier one, you may well have processes that were deigned to work with the previous tool).
  4. The LMS is no longer the only player in your learn tech eco-system – you may also be using Skillsoft Percipio, Udemy, Linux Academy etc. Is there a bigger problem here in presenting a unified catalogue to your learners that could be solved by creating portals and using API’s to solve that problem? This issue is also covered in my various blogs on what I call “The Invisible LMS“. (Links to earlier posts are in the opening paragraph).

4. IT and Security considerations

At some stage, you will need to go through your IT team’s risk assessment process. Knowing some of their key requirements up front is also useful as it can remove vendors from your short list:

  1. If you need ecommerce, what are the approved gateways you can use? (Your org may already have one that you have to use). If the proposed vendor cannot integrate with that requirement, they are off the short list).
  2. Which Virtual Classroom tools will your org allow you to use and does the proposed vendor have integration with them?
  3. What SSO methods does your org permit and does the product support them?
  4. Can I extract all of the LMS data? If we are to move towards more business oriented reporting, we will need to analyse LMS data alongside other data such as SFDC in data warehouses or org-wide data lake.

5. HCM/HRIS/Talent eco-system

Another aspect you need to be aware of is what is in place or planned in terms of other HCM solutions – as an example, if, like many, your organisation has or is planning to move to Workday, you will find yourself under pressure at some point to consider Workday Learning. Also, if you want a more joined together Performance Management or Talent Management approach, you need to know what is already in place so that your choice of learning platform vendor takes into account integration possibilities. The choice of “Best of Breed” vs a suite based approach may have to be a pragmatic decision and the Fosway 9-Grid does now separate between suite vendors and specialist providers.

6. Vendor Selection

Before going anywhere near a vendor or to your network, there are resources you can use to guide you though the maze of vendors that are out there. My starting point would generally be the research conducted by The Fosway Group.

Fosway 9 Gridd for Learrning Platforms

Fosway are the leading HCM Analysts in EMEA and I have personally known and trust their lead analysts for learning for many years. You can also engage them to help you in a selection process: https://www.fosway.com/what-we-do/fosway-corporate-programme/

Another site that is useful is https://elearningindustry.com/directory/software-categories/learning-management-systems. This is not an analyst site but it does have a lot of filters that may help you get to a more workable list of potential vendors. Sadly, only one filter at a time can be selected so this is quite a lengthy process!

The final tool is https://www.findanlms.com/ – this site does allow multiple filters and has one of the biggest number of platforms to search.

7. I have a starting list – what do I do next?

One off the first surprises you may come across is that your existing provider is in the list! If this is the case, then you need to talk to them or to one of their partners and establish if you can indeed get it to work properly for you!

And then, it is down to desktop research – visit each vendor’s website and validate your requirements. From your initial work in identifying those requirements, decide which are total “showstoppers”. If there is a learn tech conference and exhibition you can visit, do so armed with that list and talk to them. But beware that some things you need may only be on a product roadmap!

By now, your short list will likely be a lot more manageable and you can consider approaching your network. However, don’t take the approach seen at the start of this article – identify people in the same kind off business who have the same kind of issues/requirements as you do.

Get reference customers from your final list – once again, these should be orgs with similar challenges and in in the same vertical as your own organisation. Trial access and/or proof of concepts should follow before the final decision is made.

I have though just skimmed the surface on this topic and hopefully, you can see why I believe that starting the process with an across the board post on social media is not the right way to approach such an important decision.

This article has highlighted a number of skills/knowledge/experiences that you need to have within your learning team. If this is a gap in your team, please reach out to me – I am currently available!

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