Business of Learning: Four Considerations Before You Buy Your Next LMS

Business of Learning: Four Considerations Before You Buy Your Next LMS

Do Your Homework Before You Commit To A Direction, And Determine How You Want To Invest Your Staff’s Time.

Acquiring a new learning or talent management system is still part of this year’s agenda for nearly half of our readers. Reasons include first-time acquisitions, consolidations of multiple systems, the need for expanded functionality, and similar organizational needs. Here are a few of the broader issues that seem to come up when a new LMS or TMS acquisition is considered.


Tere is a rapid and growing trend toward cloud-based LMS (or SaaS) solutions in most enterprises. “SaaS” means “sofware as a service,” and “cloud” means that your LMS application and databases usually reside at the vendor’s site. “Usually” simply means that hybrid solutions are always available, especially when custom elements are involved.

According to vendor and user data, more than half of all new installations are now cloud- or SaaS-based. Some vendors are reporting that cloud solutions represent as much as 75 percent of their new business. Here are some of the reasons for the trend:

>> Speed of Implementation – What used to take an average of six months or more has now been shortened to three weeks, as a result of vendor-hosted services. Much of this is done via “wizards” that step users through the implementation process.

>> Maintenance and Update Services – It’s not unusual to see an on   premise
installation fall as much as two years behind in application of new patches and system updates. With a cloud/SaaS solution, the vendors provide those updates and patches on behalf of their clients. Tus, SaaS eliminates getting locked into an old and unsupported release.

But probably the most beneficial aspect of these services is less visible until users actually face an upgrade. To explain, a move to a new version of an LMS may also require a move to a newer version of the database platform used by a vendor. Tus, it might be necessary for your entire enterprise to move to a newer version of Oracle in order to install the latest LMS release. Good luck, if IT has that in next year’s budget. In the cloud/SaaS version, that’s the vendor’s problem — not yours.

>> Accommodations for Scaling – Many learning organizations experience a “busy season,” where student registrations peak for any number of reasons. Before SaaS/Cloud, you needed to ensure that you had the total computer and sofware resources available to handle those peak situations. Tose resources would remain a permanent part of your installation — including support and maintenance resources. Tat’s not the case in a cloud/SaaS scenario.

Many vendors have also changed their pricing models from the per-seat or user subscription models in order to accommodate these variations in training loads. Instead of having to pay for your “worstcaseload scenario,” some vendors are now charging by the number of class registrations. So if your load varies from 1,000 to 10,000 people trying to register for classes, your costs also change.

>> Other Considerations – Tere are quite a few other items that come packaged in the cloud/SaaS solutions, from global cloud capabilities, complete with multiple secure data centers around the world, to easy conversion of content — one of the largest headaches in an LMS implementation.


Although the line between a learning management system (LMS) and a talent management system (TMS) has blurred considerably, it’s important to note that they each had different beginnings. An LMS was originally designed to handle the administration, documentation, tracking and reporting of training programs, classroom and online events, e-learning programs, and training content. A TMS had its genesis in a slightly different arena: addressing the “four pillars” of talent management (recruitment, performance management, learning and development, compensation management).

Most vendors have not only evolved these initial definitions considerably, they have also tried to overlap the functionality between an LMS and a TMS. Just know that these are not necessarily interchangeable terms when you start your search.


Open-source sofware, which is generally free, permits users to study, change, improve and, at times, even redistribute the sofware. Open-source sofware is very ofen developed in a public, collaborative manner. Examples include the following:

>> ATutor (

>> Moodle (

>> Claroline (

>> Dokeos (

>> TCExam (

>> ILIAS (

>> OLAT (

>> Sakai Project (

>> EFront (

So why doesn’t everyone use an open-source LMS? Generally, it’s because they consume the same level of resources that an on-premise implementation requires, plus a healthy dose of source-code maintenance if you want to add or change functionality. All of these issues cost money in the form of staff salaries, IT consulting and computer resources. Do your homework before you commit to a direction and determine how you want to invest your staff’s time; it may cost you more than a proprietary system that comes relatively headache-free.


Technology is truly pushing us into new learning frontiers. There has been a real explosion in social learning features — blogs and wikis, peer rating of content, tagging and book-marking, team calendars, private messaging,  and media sharing to name just a few.  If  you  think  you’ll be  including  some  of  this functionality, I did an article in our January/February 2012 issue on the specifications for a social learning system.

There is much more to discuss when it comes to acquiring an LMS/TMS, so I hope you’ll join me at the Enterprise Learning! Conference in September. For detailed information on the Learning & Talent Systems track, visit:

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