Tuesday, 17 February 2015

What's the best LMS on a low budget?

When it comes to a Learning Management System (or LMS) I often get asked which is the best one. Fortunately this is an easy answer for me; to put it simply there isn't one and anyone who tells you otherwise is too subjective.  The reason for this is simply that there are soooo many of them and they all offer different features and ways of doing things that some people love and some people don't. There are certainly some very good LMSs and some very poor ones and most that fit somewhere between the two posts.  The real catch is that which LMS will work best for you will depend on your organisation and the way you intend to use it.

For example, if you're an organisation that only really trains when it comes to compliance and just need to report on those standards and that's that, then you don't want to be picking an overly complex LMS. You need a cloud based simple solution that hits the mark in terms of looking good and having simple straight forward functionality that works.  Maybe a Litmos type cloud based deal would be best for you, but there again what if you have those needs and ten thousand staff using the system? That changes things up a little because now you're going to find that simple cloud based option is causing your costs to fly up on a per user licensing model so suddenly that's off the table and you're looking at hosted options or hosting yourself which can simply be a nightmare.

Budget changes everything doesn't it?  There's some great LMSs out there if you have plenty to spend.  A relative new comer to the scene is Growth Engineering Academy LMS and their gamification based LMS which is very cool - but you not only need the budget to get the system you're also going to need an ongoing budget to produce and use the elearning you'll put on it and that's a challenge.  You've also got top-end systems like the very highly rated ExpertusOne, again a nice swish user interface (or UI) and bags of features - but for small organisations?  Probably out of your budget.

So lets set some parameters, let's say you've got no more than about $600US per month to spend and you can't afford the several thousands (or tens of thousands of dollars) that are required to get the setup in place... then what?  Can you still get an LMS that will do what you want it to?  The answer is almost certainly, there's still a good selection of very decent systems out there and available to you, most can be turned on and set-up instantly or within a day or two and are hosted somewhere that you don't have to worry about.

Open source is a good option if you have some IT abilities but has tended to be limiting for lay people as the set up can be a trifle complicated both initially and to maintain.  A good option for you might be an Open Cloud though - where some providers host you a cloud environment of open source software.  There are numerous advantages of this sort of model I've talked about before, but put simply you can get high-end performance at low cost. eFront is one such LMS.  There offering is a great LMS that comes in a couple of versions and is open source.  It's not free (there's a difference) but with technical people a great option, they also offer a hosted version.  It's $10k per annum which pushes our budget a little, but everything's taken care of and if you can afford that it's an option really worth considering.  Another option is the enormously successful Totara LMS that builds upon Moodle and gives it a business edge.  I've used this more extensively than any other LMS because of my former role so I've got an idea of just how capable it can be but hosting is a big deal.  Totara do offer a cloud version of their system which comes in somewhere around $5k per annum (pricing details no longer on the website unfortunately) which represents great value for the full enterprise version.  If you're talking open source you have to nod your head to Moodle too.
You can get a Moodle system hosted for you from around $100 a month and it's expandable to your heart's content (your hosting costs will rise at some point but not like other systems).  Don't host it yourself, get an expert to do it for you but if you're on the ultimate budget and have a lot of users look no further.  The caveat on Moodle is that it can be tricky to administer, you'll want to use a plugin here and there too to make it really sing so you may need to hold a little budget back for the help you may need.

Of course if you're in the cloud then it doesn't need to be open source does it?  Litmos is an easy to use option from $99 to $600 depending on users.  One of the best systems around is also fairly affordable in the cloud.  Docebo looks and feels like a high-cost LMS but actually offers some really good cloud models that make it affordable enough for small-mid sized organisations too.  The option for up to 500 users is under $600 per month and as low as $230 a month if you only have 25 users.  If it's swish you're after with bags of features at a good price this is often a good fit.
Another system that's come on leaps and bounds to battle some of the best is LearnUpon.  It's not as pretty as Docebo but has some nice features and is good value with $99 a month getting you up to 100 users.  It feels sturdy and reliable rather than exciting but I think it's a good option for those sitting in the few hundred user range and a bit daunted by the whole scene. The 500 user option is only $400 a month so certainly worth a look.  I also think TalentLMS will suit some of you and it's pricing is similar to LearnUpon and starts around $100 a month.

So is that it? No, I believe the latest count on LMSs that are readily available is approaching four figures and certainly there's some damn good ones in there not mentioned.  The trick is matching your needs with the key features of the LMS (and I haven't even got heavily into that here - it's too big a topic).  I'm sure there's a few LMS vendors who want to add their pitch to this and that's fine, I'm always happy to take a look at your LMS too if you want me to and add it on.

Again, this is neither a definitive list or an 'expert' opinion on what's out there, just some experience and someone happy to work it out with you.

Feel free to hit me up if you want some help and advice on your journey :)

For example: Eliademy did just that.  It's an open source solution that has a MOOC type feel to it rather than a Moodle type feel which will work well for some users for sure.  They offer a free base level which includes some authoring and quiz tools, but for most businesses the premium cloud service is another open SaaS (or open cloud) example that can work.  It's priced exactly per user rather than bands and is 1 Euro per user - that puts it under $600 for 500 users and gives you another option - the good news with open source solutions is there's likely to be a good growth of the product moving forwards :)