3 Main Options For Choosing An LMS
When you’re looking to develop a great online learning program with a new Learning Management System (LMS), it pays to start with the fundamentals by looking at the broad options available. Each organization has its own specific needs, likely number of users, timeframes for implementation, and budget. The combination of these factors and more will inform which approach is best for your needs. Here we’ll explore the pros and cons of 3 different routes and look at the types of organizations most likely to benefit from each.
The 3 main options for choosing an LMS are:
- Building your own
- Buying an “off-the-shelf” solution
- Using a managed, open-source solution
Choosing the right route at the start or your eLearning journey will save you time, money, and headaches further down the line. So, let’s dive in to understand more about each option.
1. Building Your Own LMS
If you’re looking for a completely bespoke LMS to meet the unique learning needs in your organization, the most obvious answer may be to build your own in-house. However, before choosing to undertake a large-scale software development project, it’s important to understand both the upsides and the drawbacks.
5 Pros And Cons Of Building Your Own LMS
- You won’t have to compromise on the features you need.
- You can get a fully customized (and branded!) learning experience.
- You’ll never have to pay for the parts you don’t need.
- You’ll have full control over any future upgrades or updates.
- You won’t have to rely on another company’s software.
- You’ll need to make a substantial financial commitment.
- You may have to invest thousands of man-hours and training in its development.
- You’ll be on your own when it comes to fixing problems or adding new tech.
- You’ll eventually (and repeatedly) need to upgrade and improve it.
- You may need to train or hire people if you don’t have the knowledge or capacity in-house.
While this route could give you an LMS perfectly suited to your organizational needs, it’s likely to require and a big investment in both time and money—but, how big?
How Much Does It Cost To Build Your Own LMS?
If someone asked you how much it would cost to build a city, you’d need to ask a whole range of questions to get anywhere near an answer. Developing bespoke software is not dissimilar! Here are some of the questions you’ll need to answer:
- How many learners are you likely to have now (and in the future)?
- Do you have the right servers and system infrastructure to host your new LMS?
- What types of training do you want to deliver and to which groups?
- Do you have internal developers with proven experience in building eLearning platforms?
- How will user testing be conducted and the feedback used to shape system development?
Finding the answers to these questions and more means having an experienced project manager in-house, preferably with experience of managing large scale software development projects. Organization and experience are key because software projects have a habit of throwing up unwanted challenges.
An off-the-shelf Learning Management System is a commercial product. It needs to appeal to as many different companies as possible with one single package. But when you develop your own LMS from scratch, you can focus on the functions and features your company needs.
On paper, it all sounds great. You can get every feature your company needs without spending any time or money on the extra bits you don’t need. But there’s a catch, you’re going to be limited by the abilities and experience of the teams building your system.
5 Technical Challenges To Building LMS Features
- Creating integrations to link each part of your software
- Developing the security features you need to protect your data
- Migrating huge amounts of data—without errors or loss of compatibility
- Making your new system multi-platform and mobile-friendly
- Future-proofing the core structure—so it’s expandable and scalable
It’s easy to take these features for granted when you buy a commercial LMS. But unless you already have a hardcore team of developers on call, it’s going to take a serious amount of time and money to get these advanced features working properly if you decide to build your own.
A self-built LMS could be right for your organization if you:
- Have plenty of spare cash to invest.
- Aren’t in a rush to get your LMS online.
- Have complex, specific training needs that aren’t covered by other systems.
- Need full independence and ownership over your eLearning platform.
- Don’t expect your training needs to change much over time.
- You are able to keep reinvesting in upgrades and improvements.
2. Buying An Off-The-Shelf LMS
If you’re looking for an LMS on a more affordable budget and your organization does not have highly specialized training needs, there are other eLearning solutions available. With a ready-made, off-the-shelf LMS you can get your eLearning program up and running in a shorter timeframe with a fraction of the staff resources you would need if building your own.
5 Pros And Cons Of Off-The-Shelf LMS Software
- You’ll pay less compared to building your own LMS.
- Faster implementation—the system comes ready to go.
- You’ll get continual security updates, improvements, and technical support.
- You’ll get the knowledge and experience of a community of other users.
- You might find an LMS that’s tailor-made for your industry.
- You might not get every feature you wanted.
- You’ll probably be paying for some features that you don’t need.
- You’ll have to adapt to any changes the developer makes.
- There may be limitations in how much it can be customized.
- As your organization adds new users costs may increase.
How Much Does It Cost To Buy An LMS?
As you’d expect, there’s a great range of different prices and packages when you buy an off-the-shelf LMS, and understanding whether you are getting value for money is not straightforward. Each software vendor has their own prices and may structure those prices in different ways. There are several different pricing models (and some vendors use a mix of more than one).
5 Common Pricing Models For An Off-The-Shelf LMS
- Perpetual license: a one-time up-front cost (anywhere from £500 to £20,000 plus)
- Pay-per-user: a flat charge for each learner that uses the LMS (usually around £1 to £5 per person per month, with lower rates for larger companies)
- Subscription: a set license fee that gives you access for a time period, either monthly or annually (anywhere from £50 to £200 per month)
- Pay-per-course: learners pay for access to each course (or for enrolling in a course)
- Quote-based pricing: where the LMS vendor creates a custom fee for each individual company
So pricing can be a little confusing. Crucially, you need to speak to vendors who are transparent about their pricing, itemizing everything so you are clear on how much you are paying for each element of the LMS so you can compare like-for-like with other vendors.
While an off-the-shelf solution will surely be far cheaper than building your own, the cost can still be substantial. Other than cost considerations, perhaps the biggest question is: Will an off-the-shelf solution do what you need it to? The answer is, it depends.
Most off-the-shelf LMS solutions are:
- Designed for mainstream use
Most vendors will have developed their software to appeal to as many clients as possible, meaning that basic functionality to create and deliver course content will be included. However, the more specialized your own requirements, the less likely they are to be included.
- Less customizable than “open-source” solutions
An off-the-shelf LMS is a rigid, self-contained product. It will be “closed-source,” which means the code is owned by the vendor. While some basic customization may be possible, you’ll largely be stuck with the developers’ designs, functionality, and user interface.
So if customization and branding are one of the top priorities for your company’s new LMS, you’ll need to think carefully before buying a ready-made learning solution.
An off-the-shelf LMS could be right for your organization if:
- Your eLearning program is relatively standard.
- You don’t need to customize the platform or apply your own organization’s branding.
- You are happy to adapt to any changes the vendors apply to the software.
- You can find a vendor with experience in providing solutions for your industry.
If your needs aren’t complex—or you’re lucky enough to find a business learning solution made specifically for your industry—buying an LMS could be the best fit for your company.
3. A Managed, Open-Source Solution
So far, we’ve been looking at things from two distinct angles: building your own LMS or buying an off-the-shelf solution. But no matter which way you choose to go, getting an LMS is only the beginning.
A new Learning Management System is a permanent part of your business. And whether you build it or buy it, it’s going to need more than just a successful launch to keep it going over the years. Think long term and ask yourself whether you have the in-house team to maintain, develop, adapt, and grow your LMS as business needs change. After the heavy investment you’ve made, you’ll be looking for a system with longevity.
There is a third way that provides the best of both worlds: a managed, open-source Learning Management System.
What’s An Open-Source Learning Management System?
Open-source is a form of software where anyone can view or change the “source code” behind it. That means you can take a well-known LMS, like Totara or Moodle, and customize the way it looks and works to fit the exact needs of your company.
6 Advantages Of A Managed, Open-Source LMS
- True flexibility: all of the customization and branding you’d get from building your own LMS and help to make it happen.
- Ongoing training and support: some Totara or Moodle partners offer unlimited support, something missing from the build and buy options we’ve covered.
- Security and reliability: the level you get with an off-the-shelf LMS (with a global community of developers constantly improving the open-source software).
- Speedy installation: the same easy access and fast time-to-market as a ready-made LMS.
- Hosting included: it’s sometimes easy to forget that LMS hosting is essential. Some companies include high-quality hosting as part of their core product offering.
- Lower cost: because open-source platforms are freely available, when working with a company that will help you install, manage, update, and host your site, you will only pay for those services. This means you could get an LMS for a fraction of the cost of a self-built or off-the-shelf platform.
In other words, a managed, open-source LMS gives you the best of both worlds: the flexibility of a customizable system and the stability of a trusted partner to help you manage your new software, and all for substantially less money than a self-built or off-the-shelf solution.
We hope this article has given you enough insight to take the best route for managing your organization’s eLearning program.