Learning management systems (LMSs) are often used as a hosting space for learning content like eLearning courses, virtual instructor-led trainings, videos, and PDFs with the ability to track learner engagement and completion, but there are enough variables that you will want to do your homework before you start shopping.

There are hundreds of LMSs on the market currently, with many offering similar features. So, how can you choose the best one for your needs? Whether you’re looking for your first LMS or you want to replace your current LMS, there are a few steps to follow to ensure you select a solution that meets both your administrative back-end needs as well as the needs of your learners.

This article covers the following steps for choosing and implementing an LMS.

  • Understand learner requirements.
  • Determine technical requirements.
  • Map system architecture.
  • Create a data plan.
  • Test a proof of concept.
  • Design a communication plan.
  • Document processes.
  • Three, two, one… launch!

Step 1: Understand Learner Requirements

Who are your learners? Do you need an LMS so your internal employees can take required compliance courses? Do you need a platform for your external customers and prospects to learn more about the products you offer? Do you need a blended LMS that offers both? For any situation, identifying your learners’ needs will help you choose the best LMS for your use case.

Step 2: Determine Technical Requirements

This step may be the most time-consuming and difficult, but it can alleviate headaches later on and save you from signing a contract for a platform that may not work for you.

To begin, start asking questions like: How will your learners log in to the LMS so their activity can be tracked? What are the reporting expectations from your stakeholders? How much manual work will need to be done by you or your team? And, what capacity do you have to accommodate the manual processes?

Step 3: Map System Architecture

By mapping out how you will organize your content and who will be able to see which materials and when, the initial design and maintenance processes will be easier for you, your administrative team, your internal information technology (IT) team (if applicable), and the LMS vendor who usually helps you configure and launch your platform. Begin by thinking about the learner journey and common learner use cases; will you host mandatory content where learners are already enrolled, will learners have to search for the content they want, will keywords or tags be useful? It may be beneficial to involve a user experience (UX) or user interface (UI) designer at this stage to provide design guidance and user testing.

Step 4: Create a Data Plan

While this step may seem premature, a bit of future planning is beneficial to you and your team: You’ll thank yourself later! There is a lot of data that will be collected by your LMS, such as: learners creating an account, learners logging in, learners enrolling into a course or learning plan, learners beginning a course, learners completing a course or learning plan, and learners being awarded a certificate, just to name a few.

If you choose to enable a learning record store (LRS) database alongside your LMS, you’ll have access to even more advanced data like which buttons learners clicked or how long they were on each page of an eLearning course. You’ll want to figure out who wants to see the learner activity data your LMS will collect (usually, it’s stakeholders) and how you’ll distribute it to them. Some LMS platforms offer scheduled auto-run reports, but you may opt to synthesize the data and deliver it through an internal newsletter or slide deck, whatever works best for your organization.

Step 5: Test a Proof of Concept

Once you have learner and technical requirements gathered, a map of how you’ll organize the content, and a plan for collecting and delivering data, you can take this information to LMS vendors and explored if their platform will meet your needs. Vendors will typically provide you with platform demonstrations, documentation, and use case examples; this is your time to ask in-depth questions about how their platform operates and how users will access the platform, single sign-on is highly recommended. Once you have chosen one or two LMS platforms that seem like a good fit, the next step is to test out the platform yourself. This stage is called proof of concept (POC) and it will help you determine whether your ideas on paper translate to the actual platform. The LMS vendor should set you up with a testing area and guide you through this process while also giving you and your team time to explore and solicit feedback from your intended learners. While each LMS vendor is different, most times an agreement needs to be signed before the POC can begin and occasionally there is a small cost associated with this testing phase.

Step 6: Design a Communication Plan

Once the proof of concept testing has been successful, you’ll finalize your LMS vendor selection, sign any contacts needed, then you’ll get a rough estimate of the time needed to configure your LMS. It’s time to plan the launch, design a communication plan, and to figure out what collateral you’ll use in the communication. You may want video demos of the platform, an email to specific user groups like managers or customer representatives, or a written PDF guide to using the platform as a learner complete with screenshots. Communication is especially important if you are replacing an LMS and there is a new URL or a different access method.

Step 7: Document Processes

If you are replacing an LMS, you’ll need to migrate learning content, learners and learner achievements over to your new LMS. Once the content is in place on the new LMS, you’ll need to create a plan for when that content needs to be updated (with small changes) or when it undergoes a major upgrade (larger changes). Document these archival and maintenance processes for you and your administrators to refer back to as needed. It’s also helpful to document support standards, ticket templates and any other processes your team will adopt as you encounter new situations.

Step 8: 3, 2, 1…Launch!

Count down to launch day and don’t forget to plan for bumps along the way. No LMS launch is ever completely smooth, but by planning for future content updates and upgrades, determining learner and technical requirements, considering learner journeys, creating a data plan, and documenting your processes, you’ll set yourself up for success.

Your LMS vendor should support you through the launch and they are typically available if you encounter any issues.

Congratulations on choosing and launching your LMS!