How to Choose a Learning Management System That Works for You

June 16, 2020

If you’re developing online training or planning to deliver your courses or workshops online, then you need a way for your learners to access those courses. This is where a Learning Management System (LMS) comes in – it's how and where you deliver your content. But how do you choose the best LMS for your needs, especially as they can be costly? What does your LMS need to do? Read on to find out. 

What is a Learning Management System (LMS)? 

When you create online courses, you need a way to create that content and a place to host and deliver it. An LMS is the software you use to deliver your online course content, and as importantly, it’s where learners access and interact with that content. LMS platforms also help you track learner progress and learner engagement.

While some LMS platforms have built-in functionality to allow you to create your courses right in them, rather than using third party software, this isn’t the case for all LMS platforms. When you look at costs, budgets, and benefits, you’ll need to be clear on whether the LMS you’re looking to purchase can do this or not. Remember, you want to ensure you can both build and deliver your courses.   

What are some common LMS’s and how do they work?

Without getting too technical, it’s worth knowing that there are several types of LMS to choose from. The two main types are:  

  • Self-hosted Open Source
  • Cloud-based (or SaaS)

Both of these have their benefits and drawbacks. Your choice depends on the size of your organization, your target audience, technical expertise, and other factors. 

Self-hosted Open Source LMS Platforms
If you choose a self-hosted Open Source LMS, you have control over the system and can modify it as you like. Many users prefer this type of LMS platform because it allows for full customization, creative control, and branding. 

Along with these benefits come some significant responsibilities, however. You’re responsible for your own LMS security, updates, and maintenance. That said, you’re not necessarily entirely on your own! Professional eLearning support packages are available from some vendors and can be a great way to reap the benefits of an Open Source LMS without the risks of doing it entirely on your own. For example, PathWise solutions offers a Support Package for clients to help maintain their LMS platforms. 

Self-hosted Open Source LMS platforms are often lower in cost than other types, because they don’t require an initial purchase or a subscription like for cloud-based LMS platforms (more below). This can make it easier to budget and manage your training costs. Some examples of self-hosted LMS platforms include Moodle, LearnDash, and Open edX

Screenshot of LearnDash LMS website home page

Cloud-based (SaaS) LMS Platforms
Software as a Service or SaaS refers to any cloud-based software. Unlike a self-hosted LMS that you have to install and manage, with SaaS LMS platforms, the software vendor is the one who delivers the LMS software over the internet to users and maintains the system, taking care of updates and security. Users access the LMS by signing in through their web browser, and they don’t need to install any software on their devices. Examples of SaaS LMS’s include D2L Brightspace Cloud, Docebo, Adobe Captivate Prime, and Tovuti

One of the down sides of a SaaS LMS is that it can be limited in terms of customization and branding, so you need to consider how much this might impact your objectives and evaluate your options carefully. A key benefit of a SaaS LMS, however, is that it tends to be very easy to set up and is low maintenance.

As mentioned, compared to self-hosted LMS platforms, most SaaS LMS platforms work on a monthly or annual subscription model, typically based on the number of users your LMS has. These per-seat costs can add up over time, especially if your user base increases. 

How do you choose the LMS that will work for you?

Before you invest in an LMS, beyond having a clear budget, it’s important to know

  • The scope of your training
  • Who it’s for (internal or external learners, for example)
  • How many courses you’ll be delivering
  • How many users you’ll serve
  • What special features you require (e.g., eCommerce capabilities, the ability to manage face-to-face learning as well as eLearning, integration with an external Customer Relationship Management system)
  • Your “must have” features vs. “nice to have” features

You’ll need to do your homework, and “try before you buy.” Most LMS providers offer free trials and demos, so you can experiment and see whether the LMS will work for you. It’s worth involving all teams in making the decision, too; not just IT folks, but also those who will use the LMS most often. Being clear on what you need will help you make the right decision from the start. 

What LMS does PathWise Solutions use?

Because our goal is to be technology agnostic, PathWise’s focus is on choosing an LMS that works best for each client’s unique needs. For example, some of our clients need a website as well as an LMS, as was the case for the EnterpRISEing Youth project we worked on for Rise Asset Development. For this project, we built a Wordpress website and then used the LearnDash LMS to create and integrate a robust, interactive course and to allow for the addition of future courses. We did the same for LandlordBC, IPOANS, and many other clients. We also use Moodle and other LMS platforms – both SaaS and self-hosted – depending on what best serves our client.

LandLordBC course page from LMS and website-1

Ultimately, choosing an LMS comes down to your needs, your learner’s needs, your technical capabilities, and your future plans. If you’re still not sure what option will be best for you, please get in touch with us. We can help assess your LMS needs and provide potential options that will best suit your training goals and intended outcomes.