5 Mistakes to Avoid when Comparing eLearning Platforms

Sarah Flesher

With literally hundreds of eLearning platforms to choose from, how do you choose the right one, and ensure you don't come to regret your decision?

The correct eLearning platform will help your organization transfer the knowledge and skills necessary to ensure a competent and empowered workforce. It's a vital part of your training program, but according to a recent study, 26% of people are dissatisfied with their eLearning platform. How does this happen? The research and selection process that forms the basis of this major investment decision can be challenging, even more so when you make some common mistakes.

This article will explore the five most common mistakes made when comparing eLearning platforms, and how to avoid them.

1. Bypassing the Needs Analysis

You have decided that your organization needs an eLearning platform to take your training to the next level. With that goal in mind, it's tempting to jump right into the search, see what's out there, and start trying out your options.

What's the harm in seeing what eLearning companies have to offer? Well, if you do this before completing a thorough needs analysis, you could end up with the equivalent of a beautiful leather jacket that's two sizes too small; great for someone, but a terrible fit for you.

A needs analysis is undertaken to identify where knowledge or skills need improvement, or where they are missing entirely. Identifying these knowledge gaps will help you discover:

  • Problems or shortcomings with your current training program

  • New training requirements due to policy or equipment changes

  • Current strengths, so that you know what is already working well

  • New opportunities for training

According to David Hill, when searching for an LMS, you should consider such factors as:

  • What functionality and content you will need

  • Who your primary users will be

  • If the LMS will cater to different learning preferences

You can't know where you want to go before you have a clear picture of where you are right now -- don't skip the needs analysis! Remember, selecting an eLearning platform is a months-long process. You shouldn't be afraid to spend the time where it can really help you.

2. Creating an Unrealistic Budget

As part of your needs analysis, you should consider your business requirements, which includes determining your budget.

Obviously, budgeting is an important part of this process, and you may think that creating a budget that has buy-in from the appropriate stakeholders is all you need to do to avoid this pitfall.

But this isn't necessarily the case, as hidden fees can easily add up. In fact, people spend, on average, 59% more than they expect on their LMS.

As you investigate different eLearning platforms, make sure you inquire about:

  • Number of users and administrators - Will you be charged for concurrent users or all users created in the LMS? Is there a way to archive user data to help manage costs? Is there a restriction on the number of administrators you can have?

  • Level of support - Are support costs, such as implementation or consulting fees, clearly identified?

  • Additional fees - Is there a hosting fee? Are there potential costs associated with integrating the platform with your existing systems? Is there a fee for administrator training?

  • Contract term and cancellation policy -  Can you pay monthly? Will you be penalized if you break your contract?

3. Leaving Must-Have LMS Features Undefined

You've done your needs analysis, and have identified where an eLearning platform can best benefit your organization - now you're ready to search, right? Well, not quite.

Moving directly to an eLearning vendor comparison will lead to mistake number three, leaving your must-have LMS features undefined.

You may have an idea of what you want in an eLearning platform, but to make sure you make the right decision, it is necessary to sit down and consider your specific needs and how a learning management system could best fill them. Consider such features as:

  • Integration - How will the platform work with your existing system?

  • Ease of use - How easy is it for a user to access? An administrator?

  • Functionality - Can the platform support blended learning? Gamification? Mobile learning?

  • Reporting capabilities - How do you measure training effectiveness and ROI?

There are so many more features to consider. Check out Learning Management Systems Comparison Checklist of Features to find a list of features that you can use to compare LMS vendors.

Use lists like this to determine not only a list of must-have features, but also your nice to have list. Once you have done that, you can start comparing different eLearning platforms, but be sure you don't make mistake number four.

4. Underestimating the Importance of Free Trials

A free trial is your chance to explore an eLearning platform in greater detail, and make sure it will be the right fit for your organization. Remember,  you need to do more during this step than just make sure your list of must-have features is captured.

In order to take full advantage of the free trial as you compare LMS vendors, remember to:

  • Create a trial program and try uploading different learning items, such as PDFs, sample online courses (if you have them), and sample quizzes, to get a sense both of how easy the program is to use, and if it can meet your training needs.

  • Take advantage of sales calls and use them to make the free trial work for you; speaking with the vendor will allow you to build a relationship, and determine if they are someone you want to do business with.

  • Explore the technical capabilities of the platform and ensure the program you are working with not only is compatible with your computer, but also provides the speed and security you need.

5. Forgetting about Reports and Analytics

Reports and analytics are one of the must-have capabilities of your eLearning platform. According to the LMS Trends 2015 report from Brandon Hall Group, reporting is the best and worst of LMS solutions.

Measuring the effectiveness of the eLearning platform you choose allows you to prove return on investment (ROI) to your key stakeholders, which can encourage further investment into a training program.

Moreover, the right reports and analytics give you "the power to continually improve your online training strategy and personalize online training initiatives."

In addition, effective reporting lets you know if knowledge transfer is happening as you intend, if you are meeting your learning objectives, and where changes to your training program may be needed. Ensure you look for a learning platform that can meet your reporting needs. Look for one that:

  • Provides customizable reports

  • Allows you to export reports to your chosen program

  • Produces reports that are easy to read

For more information on effective reporting check out "Five Secrets of Effective Reporting".

Conclusion

This article has discussed the top 5 mistakes you should avoid when comparing eLearning platforms in order to ensure your selection process goes smoothly, and results in a platform that best suits the needs of your organization.

Once you've found the right eLearning platform, what makes your LMS implementation successful? Check out the Easy Guide to Successful LMS Implementation eBook to ensure your implementation is a success.


Sarah Flesher

Sarah is an Instructional Designer at BaseCorp Learning Systems and is currently completing a PhD in Educational Technology. Her research focuses on implementing competency-based learning systems in all types of organizations. When she doesn't have her nose in a book you can find her at the gym, on the ice, on the ski hill, drinking wine or in a coffee shop … with her nose in a book.