Learning Management Systems: Features, Usability, and Hosting

A major Learning Management System (LMS) provider recently declared that their system has more than 700 features. Clearly, they feel that offering so many features is a competitive advantage.

From a sales and marketing standpoint, they may be right. Buyers tend to like systems that offer a lot of “check the box” functionality. After all, more is better, right? Well, in the case of an LMS, maybe not.  Excessive features may not just go unused. They likely drive up costs, increase complexity, undermine the user experience, and increase conflicts as supporting applications, such as browsers, are updated.

Let’s face it: Excessive features increase the vendor’s cost to develop and maintain the application, thereby driving up the licensing and maintenance costs. It takes a lot of time and money to create all those features, and vendors need to recoup their costs through higher licensing fees.

Excessive features also make an LMS more complex, increasing users’ and administrators’ learning curve. Additionally, it requires extra clicks to accomplish even the most basic tasks, thereby increasing the administrative effort required to configure and maintain the LMS.

And with hundreds of features, there is a high probability something won’t work on a new version of Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox or Safari.  Seeing that at least one of these browsers releases an update every month, that’s 12 times a year you could run into a conflict.

Maybe that’s why a lot of companies are unhappy with their current LMS. In fact, a recent study from the Brandon Hall Group found that 27% of respondents flat-out hate their LMS.

So what is the right blend between LMS functionality and usability? Unfortunately, there is no hard-and-fast rule, as each organization has unique learning management needs. However, there are some key functions pretty much every organization needs. They include:

  • Branding options to customize the look of the LMS
  • Support for SCORM elearning standards
  • Training rules to automate course assignments
  • Training due dates and refresher dates
  • Course catalog functionality for elective courses
  • User grouping ability to manage assignments, course catalog access, and reporting
  • Flexible administrator and reporting permissions
  • Comprehensive reporting tools

Other commonly used functions include:

  • Support for Instructor-led Training (ILT)
  • User email notifications
  • Automatically generated and emailed reports
  • Ecommerce

If you’re in the market for an LMS, take a step back from the “check the box” mentality and ask yourself, “Which features does my organization really need?” Once you narrow down the list, place a strong emphasis on usability. After all, your new LMS should increase productivity, not frustration.

Why License a Hosted LMS Solution?

There has been tremendous growth in hosted LMS solutions over the past few years. Sometimes referred to as Software as a Service (SaaS) or Application Service Provider (ASP) agreement, a hosted LMS provides the right to use an application hosted by the vendor and accessed via the Internet, rather than licensing the application and installing it on local servers. The advantages of a hosted LMS solution include:

  • Reduced upfront costs
  • Accelerated speed of implementation
  • Immediate access to the most recent version of the application
  • Limited, if any, demands on the organization’s IT resources

The last point is often the biggest driver behind selecting a hosted LMS. To non-techies, installing and maintaining an LMS may sound easy, but it can be costly and time consuming. For instance, installing an LMS may require:

  • A separate server to house the LMS or, at a minimum, reconfiguring an existing server
  • Installing and maintaining a backup server and support protocols
  • Licensing and installing additional software to support the LMS, such as an SQL database, ISS, backup software, etc.

In addition, installing and maintaining an LMS also requires a significant commitment of IT hours to:

  • Install and configure the server, application, and supporting software
  • Reconfigure firewall and security software to support the LMS for internal and external users
  • Install patches and software updates
  • Provide technical support and troubleshooting

With a hosted solution, the vendor takes care of these IT issues, allowing internal IT resources to concentrate on your organization’s existing technology infrastructure. In our experience at LeanForward, it’s a major reason why more than 85% of our clients choose our hosted LMS solution.

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