Avoid These 7 Common Errors When Writing an LMS RFP
Whether you are choosing your first-ever LMS, moving from a small content-management system to a full-featured enterprise LMS, or updating / upgrading your existing LMS, you are likely to issue an LMS RFP — request for proposals — to help you choose the best learning management system for your needs.
Considering the hundreds of LMS platforms to choose from, tailoring your LMS to the specific needs and goals of your organization is essential if the RPF and selection process is to result in your selection of the right LMS vendor and platform. We’ve compiled this short list of seven common errors to avoid when designing your LMS RFP, reviewing LMS proposals, and making your decision — and suggestions for what to do instead.
1. Focusing on features rather than workflows
Too often, organizations searching for an LMS are distracted and dazzled by the feature lists that vendors dangle to tempt them. But if you’ll never use many of the features, your focus on shiny, trendy, or “fun” features might lead you to choose the wrong platform.
Instead, define the specific needs of your organization. The best way to do this is by talking with stakeholders, from C-Suite level down to actual learners. A training audit — a thorough analysis of the types of training your organization has and plans to create — as well as an assessment of the environments where learners use that online training helps. Consider:
Do you need an integrated mobile app so that learners can access training anywhere?
Will you be creating curricula and learning paths for people in the same job role or on the same leadership training path?
Will you be tracking face-to-face instruction, virtual classroom training, mobile learning, social learning, and self-directed learning in addition to SCORM courses and other LMS-based training?
This analysis will help you think about workflows. If an LMS platform has a feature but actually using it is complicated or doesn’t fit with how your organization does things, the platform is not going to meet your needs. An example: The LMS allows training admins to automatically enroll learners in a curriculum of related courses. That’s great for onboarding a large number of new hires in the same job role who need the same training. But if it doesn’t allow you to set prerequisites or ensure that learners complete the basic class before attempting the advanced content, those auto enrollments could turn into a giant bottleneck that requires considerable effort from admins to manage.
Then, create a list of must-have features, and remember to focus on your learners, your admins, your environment, and, most critically, your workflows. We suggest creating three lists or “buckets”: Must-have, should have, and nice-to-have features. Prioritizing features in this way provides valuable context for vendors who respond to your LMS RFP by helping them determine whether they can meet your needs and priorities.
2. Considering the LMS in isolation
Your LMS is part of a larger online training ecosystem; it does not stand alone. That’s why considering integrations is so important when evaluating LMS proposals. Consider:
Elements of your existing talent development and management ecosystem: HRIS, licensing and certifications databases, other tools that you use to manage employee and learner records; virtual classroom platforms; social learning platforms
Future additions to your ecosystem — a learning record store or talent management platform, for example
It’s essential to know what integrations the LMS platforms you are considering already support as well as the LMS vendor’s plans for future integrations and ability and willingness to do custom integrations. Your learning management system RFP should address each of these questions separately.
3. Not planning for growth
Your LMS is likely to be with you for several years. Your RFP should consider your organization’s current needs — and factor in growth. Consider:
Will your LMS platform be able to scale up as you add learners or develop new types of training?
How does the pricing structure change as your number of learners grows? As the amount of content increases?
Do you anticipate expanding your training strategy to new kinds or new formats for training? For example, you now use training for onboarding and safety compliance, but when your customer service staff grows, you plan to add training for them as well as ongoing training for sales reps — who will need mobile training, which you don’t currently use.
Look at the pricing structure in each LMS quote to see whether the vendor charges by the number of learners, number of courses, usage, or something else. Factor in support costs, admin training, and whether the LMS vendor offers a range of support services with flexible options or locks you into an all-inclusive (and expensive) support plan. If your training needs may change, ensure that your LMS can accommodate anticipated changes by writing them into your RFP.
4. Writing your LMS request for proposal with vague requirements
If your LMS RFP stipulates that you need “ongoing support and maximum redundancy” or an “intuitive user interface” or “easy-to-use tracking and reporting abilities,” what does that really mean? Each vendor may have a different understanding of what you are asking for, and they could all be different from what you really need.
Use clear language to describe specific requirements, for example:
Automated weekly report generation and email delivery to a list of recipients
Branded user interface with customizable icons
Free training of new administrators
24x7 support; 4-hour normal response time; 1-hour response time for emergencies
Analyzing your needs to define clear, specific requirements is the first step in your learning management system RFP journey. Putting those requirements into the right format — one requirement per line item — in the actual LMS request for proposals is an essential way to conclude that journey.
Additionally, if you need your new LMS to launch by a specific date, stating that clearly up front is essential. The best LMS in the world won’t be of use to you if it will only be ready six months after a critical training deadline has passed.
5. Using an LMS vendor’s “free” LMS RFP template
“Free” templates for LMS RFPs abound. The problem is, many have been created by LMS vendors … and slanted toward the LMS features coincidentally found in their own LMS platforms.
Your LMS proposal must reflect your needs, which are unique. A generic template might be helpful in telling you what sections to include or giving you a starting point, but there’s no substitute for doing the homework to define your specific needs in your request for proposals, including:
Identifying a small set of must-have features and functionalities, along with should-haves and nice-to-haves — but not asking for every feature any LMS has ever offered
Stipulating technical and support requirements, as well as additional services, such as integrations, migration support, content creation, or customization of dashboards, that you may require
Stating your timeframe for selection, implementation, and launch
Doing this groundwork will help you narrow down your list of potential LMS vendors, the ones you invite to respond, to those most likely to suit your organization’s size, budget, and feature needs.
6. Shortlisting the wrong LMS vendors
Prior to creating your LMS RFP, do your homework. Learning management system platforms for K-12 educational organizations, higher education institutions, and corporate training are very different. The feature sets are different as the learner profile, environment, privacy concerns, and much more are vastly different for these groups.
In addition, some platforms target small organizations while others are designed for use at enterprise scale and would be overkill for a smaller company. If the LMS feature set is all you look at, you could end up with a short list of LMS vendors that are all unsuitable for your organization’s needs and budget.
7. Deciding too quickly after seeing an LMS demo
A quick look at the LMS demo is not sufficient. A serious LMS vendor should be willing to set up a “trial” account populated with “data” pertaining to a fake company in your industry — a trial that closely mimics actual use cases you need. Then, your team, including testers who are actual learners — should be able to test drive the system. Admins should spend enough time kicking the tires to see how their most common tasks and workflows look in the proposed LMS. Consider:
Ease of enrolling learners in courses, reminding them when training is due, and tracking their use and completion of training
Integrations with other tools, like the virtual classroom platform or social learning platforms your learners already use
How easily learners can browse your course library, search for specific content, enroll themselves in courses, and track their own progress
How easily admins can create, deploy, and update training courses, resources, and curated content
Some of these things may not be obvious from a short canned demo. Ask for a sandbox system. Check references, making sure that the reference organizations are similar to yours in size and needs. Take advantage of a free trial if the LMS vendor offers one.
Find out more about how to vet LMS vendors, create an eLearning proposal, and choose the right vendor and platform in “10 Questions to Ask Your LMS Vendor.” Then contact our experts today for assistance defining your needs, creating an LMS RFP, or exploring your options further.
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About the author
Pamela S. Hogle
Pam is a research junkie who enjoys sharing her eLearning expertise to help you make sense of learning science and technology. She has a knack for explaining technical solutions and providing data-driven articles and white papers that you can use to improve learner experience and create eLearning that sticks.
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