LMSs for Less Than $20,000

LMSs for Less Than $20,000

Low-Cost Options Are Perfect for Some Buyers, Not so Perfect for Others, According to the Experts When it comes to purchasing learning management systems (LMSs), the old adage “you get what you pay for” usually holds true. “The trick is finding an LMS that meets your needs,” says Ed Gipple, president of ICS Learning, “but you don’t want to buy more than what you need.” While a comparatively low-cost (less than $20,000 licensing fee per year) LMS might be right for some, those low-cost LMSs can fall short of providing all the needed bells and whistles. “You have to be careful on the low-cost alternative, because typically it’s a valuepriced entry-level solution,” notes Tim Hill, president of Blackboard’s Professional Education Division. “For $9,500 a year, you can get started on a learning system, but obviously it doesn’t have the features, functionality or scalability of a higherpriced service. It will be limited.” Larger corporations occasionally are interested in a low-cost e-learning solution, if they want to crawl before they walk before they run. But most of the buyers of less expensive LMSs are small to medium sized non-profitbusinesses (SMBs), associations and organizations. Additionally, with many large organizations (usually global) facing these troubled economic times, the financial responsibility for learning initiatives is being passed on to individual department heads, who must then allocate money from their own budgets. According to Brandon Hall Research, prices for commercial LMSs range from $499 for 500-learner licenses all the way up to $14.4 million for 100,000 learners. So it’s not difficult to see that many potential buyers don’t have the financial wherewithal or the need to purchase a robust, full-featured LMS. “Low cost usually turns off a sizable organization,” says Hill. “When learning professionals talk about price, executives are not naïve; they know price equals
feature functionality and scalability. The beauty is that a lot of the leading vendors in the marketplace have both the entry level solution and an enterprise version.” Online learning has been a major catalyst in boosting the popularity of low-cost LMSs. Indeed, many of the lower-cost LMSs available today are Internet-based
software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms. “Not a lot of people in the mid market ask to buy an LMS to manage their information and learning technology (ILT),” says Chuck Hellings, executive vice president of sales and marketing for ePath Learning. “With the development of online learning, however, that dynamic changes: not only are you managing your
ILT, but you’re changing the way you’re doing it. If the Internet is the most ubiquitous communication vehicle available, then why wouldn’t someone want to use a service that’s available on the Internet as their solution?” FEATURE OPTIONS According to Bryan Chapman, chief learning strategist for the Chapman Alliance, there’s a hierarchy of features that crosses from open-source platforms to economical platforms to full, robust, LMS platforms. Basic functions include collaborative learning and testing. Even on the low end, Moodle offers activities, resource types, question types, data-field types, graphical themes, authentication methods, enrollment methods and content filters. But many SMBs need more than that. Mid-level functions include advanced classroom management, reporting, regulatory and compliance tracking, certification, content development tools, multiple portals and language support. High-level functions include e-commerce capabilities, skill-gap analysis, advanced question types, analytics and talent management. THE OPEN-SOURCE ALTERNATIVE The demand for open-source LMSs is growing, especially among educational institutions, government entities and SMBs. Moodle has a significant user base
with 49,256 registered sites and 28,177,443 users in 2,571,855 courses. Although Moodle and other open source alternatives don’t charge for their use, they are not what you’d call free. Moodle and other open-source solutions typically have many of the features offered by big proprietary LMSs — but not all. They are modular in construction and can readily be extended by creating plug-ins for specific new functionality. Their infrastructure supports many types of plug-ins. “Open source will typically be a light version,” observes Blackboard’s Hill. “It does, however, require a staff to customize it and deploy it to your needs. It is an alternative to commercial, but how many people are running mission-critical financial systems on open source? How many are manufacturing high-quality products on open-source MRP software?” Open-source solutions still require a fair amount of expertise, in terms of configuration and setup. “Moodle has a number of very nice features,” admits Todd Premo, director of product management for GeoLearning. “But before you decide on an open-source solution, you still have to accept the balance of the costs associated with its implementation. If somebody’s looking strictly at technology — the open-source software itself, the code — I think it’s a tad shortsighted to say there’s minimal cost. Making it available to your users, hosting it, making it scalable for your audience and then further supporting it and possibly even integrating it are all things that will contribute significantly to the total cost.” Factors that should be considered by SMBs actually might work against implementing a solution like Moodle. For instance, if there’s a need to set up infrastructure, an SaaS solution might be a better alternative.With a hosted, implemented solution, there’s no learning curve for the customer, there’s no infrastructure, no cost beyond that of the subscription fee in terms of hardware and setup. You really get a chance to focus strictly on the business and configuration of the software to meet your business needs. “If you don’t have deep IT involvement in the project and you don’t have data centers involved so things can be implemented quickly, and you don’t want to worry about ramping and security and all that good stuff, then solutions like Moodle are less attractive,” Premo concludes. LOW-COST COMMERCIAL PLATFORMS “Smaller organizations often feel overlooked by LMS vendors,” observes Richard Nantel, CEO of Brandon Hall Research.  “They feel that LMS vendors target companies with large workforces and deep pockets. The truth is that there are solutions for smaller budgets.” Such lower-cost learning platforms (like those listed in the accompanying sidebar) have distinct advantages. They normally offer good technical support teams, training and documentation that you don’t get with an open-source solution. “Sure, they have fewer bells and whistles,” admits ICS’s Gipple. “But they’re easier to get up and running, so their implementation time is a lot shorter. Training time is also shorter, and — obviously — the price will be less than a full-featured LMS. So those are all potentially huge advantages.” SMBs and other potential buyers normally look to low-cost LMSs for speed to deployment, speed to adoption (as little as three weeks) and ease of use. “If they’re going to buy a value-priced solution, it had better be easy to use,” says Hill. The main disadvantage is that there may be some very specific functionality that is necessary for your organization that may not be in the system, since these lower-cost systems are not as sophisticated as more complex systems. “The markets have driven the growth of SMB to low-cost models, where applications largely configurable but not heavily customized,” notes GeoLearning’s Premo. “While there remain differences in functional features between products, they are getting smaller and smaller. Low cost is then based on support, configuration and customization options — a business model that’s been set up to provide every opportunity for standardized integrations and configurations along with the guidance from industry experts to actually make that work for your business.” A major question for companies deciding on lower-cost commercial platforms is how to build online content. “The traditional approach centralizes a group of experts — instructional designers, graphic designers, Flash developers — to build traditional online courses,” says ePath’s Helling. “The alternative is taking the rapid development approach with animated, narrated PowerPoint presentations that are uploaded as online events. In either case, you’re going to want something that allows collaboration as a Web 2.0 service can easily upload content.” For those reasons, more SMBs are migrating toward rapid development, because they don’t have the budget or infrastructure to hire specialized people to develop online content. They’re looking for a way to take classroom sessions and turn them into online content. “That’s exciting,” notes Helling, “because it delivers improved results very quickly without a lot of capital expense, and it also allows them to retool existing trainers quickly without having to hire specialized talent.” ANOTHER STEP UP “We get a lot of clients that can’t believe the functionality available for the comparatively low price,” notes ICS’s Gipple. “But in a corporate training environment, you might need more advanced reporting capability, competence management and other functions that you typically find in more expensive systems.” The truth of the matter is that a lot of a commercial platform’s final cost goes beyond the technology. “I think there are a lot of offerings that fit that bill as a low-cost solution from a lot of mainline players.When push comes to shove, they ultimately in the end become less attractive,” says GeoLearning’s Premo. “When you consider low-cost systems, the most common oversight is the overall cost of implementing and maintaining a product. The vast majority of time, when our customers do all the math and consider all the costs, the full-featured offerings are just as competitive and have a better support model.” ePath’s Hellings says there are two things to look for when selecting an LMS. Lowcost options might fall a little short in either or both, compared to their “big brothers.” They are: 1) a provider that commits to a partnership and to providing a full range of services; and 2) an ability to grow with you. “There are a lot of inexpensive solutions, but they stop at a point,” Hellings says. “Maybe they don’t manage self-study events or third-party content or instructor-led classroom events.” Adds Blackboard’s Hill: “When you go enterprise-wide, when you have 30,000 to 50,000 employees globally for training that impacts the business versus just compliance, you have to have enterprise grade software; otherwise, it’ll break all the time.” THE FUTURE Low-cost systems will not become a thing of the past. But two factors will drive their future development: 1) an increased value recognition for some of the information technology; and 2) as the younger generation becomes a more dominant force in the workplace, more demand for Web 2.0, socialtype activities and informal learning components. “Those Web 2.0 aspects will be driven into the corporate space significantly,” Gipple surmises. “A lot of them have those features today; some are even very robust and full-featured. Yet there will be both an increase in recognizing that value of that type of learning as it grows into the commercial space and the inclusion of a lot of the features of social learning in the systems offered.” Low-Cost Systems Blackboard – ProSites (www.blackboard.com)
Blatant Media e-Learning – Absorb LMS (www.absorbanywhere.com)
Element K – KnowledgeHub (www.element-k.com)
ePath Learning – ASAP (www.epathlearning.com)
GeoLearning – GeoExpress (www.geolearning.com
ICS Learning Group – Inquisiq R3 (www.icslearninggroup.com)
Inmedius – Generation 21 Enterprise (www.gen21.com)
Learn.com- LearnCenter (www.learn.com)
Learning.net – Trellis LMS (www.learning.net)
Learning Evolution – DIY LMS & Portal (www.learningevolution.com)
LearnShare – LearnShare LMS (www.learnshare.com)
MindFlash Technologies – MindFlash (www.mindflash.com)
Moodle (www.moodle.org)
NetDimensions – EKP Bronze (www.netdimensions)
OutStart – Evolution LMS (www.outstart.com)
RISC – Virtual Training Assistant (www.risc-inc.com)
Skillsoft – SkillPort (www.skillsoft.com)
SSE Learning Services – SSElearn Portal (www.sseinc.com)
Syntrio – Enterprise (www.syntrio.com)
Trivantis – CourseMill LMS (www.trivantis.com)
Upside Learning Solutions – Upside LMS (www.upsidelearning.com) LMS SHOWCASE A Few Wordsfrom ePath Learning… At ePath Learning, we believe that the success of any enterprise on-demand learning initiative depends on more than just great technology. It also requires the support and best practices of skilled professionals who have done it before with content that works and the tools to create that content. ePath Learning combines all of this into an Enterprise Learning Service — a complete service ecosystem that allows you to deploy enterprise-wide on-demand learning programs, faster, at less cost, with higher adoption rates resulting in a quicker return on investment. ePath Learning’s Services include: • ASAP – Our online integrated Learning Management Service (iLMS) combines the power of an LCMS with the features of an LMS to provide everything from a custom employee training portal to collaborative tools for creating, searching, scheduling, tracking and reporting on training and performance. • Client Service Cycle – Our 360° Client Service Cycle walks you through every stage of our service, from implementation to adoption and performance management, ensuring your learning initiative meets its goals. • Professional Services – Our award-winning instructional designers graphic artists, and media professionals have the industry expertise and best practices to support the full life-cycle of your training initiatives — from needs analysis to post-training assessments. • Shared-Success Pricing Model – Our per user, per month subscription- based pricing model adapts to your requirements — from simple online testing to comprehensive knowledge management ensuring you only pay for what you need. Whether you need to train employees, inform customers, or guarantee compliance, ePath Learning puts your learning initiatives on the ePath to success! LMS SHOWCASE Using Low Cost Tools and Ingenuity, BoatU.S  Foundation Revitalizes E-learning Platform Through the creative use of a new Web-based e-learning authoring tool, a low-cost learning management system, and full utilization of SCORM functionality, the BoatU.S. Foundation was able to overhaul and modernize its e-learning program. All this on a budget it did not originally think possible. The BoatU.S. Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose primary mission involves education and public outreach in the area of boating safety and the environment. Being a nonprofit, this mission must be accomplished on a limited budget. Its original e-learning system was becoming obsolete and unable to keep up with evolving requirements and industry standards. For example, one problem that surfaced was related to its very popular Boating Safety Course. In many states, this course is a requirement for all boaters. As e-learning courses have become more popular, many states started dictating their own sets of requirements for the content and testing within the Boating Safety Course. These state-to-state variations were driving the necessity of developing a different course for each state, which would quickly become a major effort to maintain. The ideal solution would be to develop a single course that dynamically adapts to the learner and the state they are boating in. After careful consideration of its evolving requirements, the BoatU.S. Foundation became increasingly concerned that the required complexity was going to necessitate a custom solution that would be expensive and time consuming to develop. However, after researching options and meeting with several e-learning development companies, an alternative approach began to emerge. According to Amanda Suttles, BoatU.S. Foundation program manager, “We were pleasantly surprised to find out that ICS Learning Group’s Inquisiq R3 Learning Management System, used in conjunction with Inquisiq Studio, its Web-based e-learning authoring system, was able to satisfy almost all of our requirements. The few that were not met were accomplished with a few key modifications and some ingenuity.” The Inquisiq Solution allows users to browse their course catalog and enroll in courses. Registration and payment are handled by the system’s built-in configurable registration forms, shopping cart and e-commerce engine. Once registered, users can access all their courses from their My Courses screen. The My Courses screen also lets users view and print their certificates as well as view their history and course status. Ingenuity comes in when users launch their Boating Safety Course. The LMS then uses SCORM launch data to pass the user data to the course so that it can dynamically configure itself for each individual user. This solution was ideal in that a single course is able to satisfy the needs of users in all states. Another area of concern was a desire to develop and maintain its own courses without the help of outside developers. This requires an easy to use, off-the-shelf authoring tool. However, the capabilities of a simple authoring tool are at odds with the more sophisticated needs of the Boating Safety Course, which must adapt based on the learner’s profile. Amanda Suttles, Foundation Program Manager, commented that, “All the authoring tools we looked at did have some nice features, but they did not allow us to do the more advanced things that we required. Initially, it seemed to us that ease of use was going to be mutually exclusive with our more sophisticated needs. However, as we came to learn, Inquisiq Studio did allow us to enjoy the benefits of an easy to use, feature- rich authoring tool but also had a special editing mode that exposed the underlying code. This unique capability of Inquisiq Studio allowed us to have ICS developers add custom JavaScript to specific pages that needed the more advanced functionality. The result is that we got the best of both worlds; the ease of use of an off-the-shelf authoring tool and the freedom to alter any given page and do pretty much anything you can program should it be necessary.” The Foundation will be rolling out its new system later this fall and is already planning on adding several new courses to its course list. Learn more at: www.icslearninggroup.com LMS SHOWCASE Trellis LMS Offers Best of Both Worlds- Open Source with Full Support Option Trellis LMS is based on an open source software making it from step one a cost-effective solution. Learning.net offers Trellis LMS to organizations of all sizes, hosting the software solutions for 99% of their customers. Trellis Out-of-the- Box provides a very cost-effective solution for smaller learning communities. The Trellis family of products – TrellisManage, TrellisAuthor, and TrellisTalk – offers an opportunity for larger organizations to customize a learning management system to their unique needs at the cost of what others offer off-the-shelf. WHAT MAKES LEARNING.NET UNIQUE: Their clients range in size from associations and consulting firms with a few hundred learners to corporations with 100,000+ learners. They have a solution to fit your needs and your price points. Learning.net can also create a complete custom learning management system geared to helping you achieve your specific business goals. Learning.net’s software provides a complete framework for all your learning management needs. Trellis, their trademarked system, consists of software modules for learning management, learning content management (authoring), and a built-in web seminar function. You can use as much of the system as you want to create and administer classroom courses, online synchronous and asynchronous courses, and performance support materials. With Learning.net’s Trellis LMS, you have the benefits of open-source with the full support of an experience software firm. To learn more, visit: www.learning.net. Or, email info@learning.net, or call (949) 221-8600 ext 13. The Learning.net
1500 Quail Street, Suite 370
Newport Beach, CA 92660 LMS SHOWCASE Driving Your E-learning Programs With Learning Evolution’s LMS Learning Evolution’s world-class learning management capabilities are designed to address the unique business needs of any organization. Its fully integrated learning management system (LMS) and e-learning delivery platform offers convenient online delivery of courses, tests and surveys. This full-featured LMS contains the functionality necessary to conduct online skills assessments, perform gap analysis, track training, and support corporate learning initiatives including learner registration, course delivery and learner progress. Through this LMS, organization administrators have: >> The ability to assess, track and manage all training activities in one place and have access to management reports on demand.
>> Learners can track their own progress, view test results, and verify course completion. Learning Evolution’s robust LMS offers a hosted e-learning solution to address training delivery challenges. Through a performance-based or competency-based approach, an organization can target and focus its employees’ training and development. Learning Evolution works closely with clients to help them create a performance management approach by first establishing a shared understanding of what is to be achieved. This performance- or competency-based approach allows clients to examine their business objectives and turn them into effective business practices in order to lead and develop their employees. THE LEARNING PORTAL Learning Evolution offers more than 3,500 e-learning courses that include topics important to today’s businesses including: business skills, leadership, sales, legal issues, safety and computer training. Its subscription-based pricing model makes quality e-learning an affordable option for large and mid-sized businesses with fewer than 2,500 employees. Subscribers access the learning programs for a full year, accessing as many times as necessary or desired. To learn more, visit www.learningevolution.com or call 800-783-3100 x200.

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