Learning Management System (LMS) Features vs. Usability

One of the major LMS providers recently declared that their system has over 700 features.  Clearly, they feel that offering all these features provides them with a competitive advantage.  From a sales and marketing standpoint, they may be right as 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 LMSs, probably not.

Excessive features make LMSs more complex, increasing the users’ and administrators’ learning curve.  They also tend to require additional clicks to accomplish even the most basic tasks, thereby increasing the administrative effort required to configure and maintain them.  Excessive features also tend to increase licensing and maintenance costs.  It takes a lot of time and money to create all those features and the vendors need to recoup their costs through higher licensing fees.  And with hundreds of features, you can be pretty sure that something is not going to work when there is an update to Internet Explorer, Safari or Chrome.  Maybe that’s why studies show that most companies are unhappy with their current LMS.  In fact, a recent study from the Brandon Hall Group found that 27% of respondents flat out hated 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 its own 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 the 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

Some other commonly used functions include:

  • support for Instructor-led Training (ILT)
  • user email notifications
  • reports that can be automatically generated and emailed
  • eCommerce

So if you are in the market for a LMS, I encourage you to take a step back from the check-the-box mentality and ask yourself “What features does my organization really need?”  Then, once you narrow down the list of features to what you really need, place a strong emphasis on usability.  After all, your new LMS should increase productivity, not frustration.

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