Buying a learning system? 5 top things to consider

16 March 2022 by Fiona Leteney

Every organization is unique and so is every platform, which means that what works for one company is not necessarily ideal for another. This makes the procurement of a learning system a challenge. And the stakes are high because, according to Fosway’s Digital Learning Realities research, 51% of L&D teams think their current learning platforms are not fit for the modern workforce.

The research also shows that 92% of learning teams believe the digital learning experience is a priority and critical for the future success of their L&D team. As organizations look to support hybrid working and the mix of remote and in-person learning it requires, so L&D teams must ensure they invest in the platform that is right for their organization and its needs.

 

1. Your budget

The first consideration is your available budget. Be clear exactly what the costs are. At Fosway, we look at the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of a platform over its lifetime. TCO considers much more than the annual licence fees, taking in the full lifecycle cost of acquiring, implementing, and operating the solution. Understanding the full range of internal and external costs associated with purchasing a learning system is key to ensuring there aren’t any hidden surprises in the procurement process.

If you only have the budget for one system and are referring to, or gaining inspiration from, the Fosway 9-Grid™ for Learning Systems, you will need a learning suite, not a specialist. We define suites and specialists as follows:

  • Learning System Suites are platforms supporting and integrating a broad range of traditional and next-gen learning approaches, a ‘one-stop shop’ for modern learning.
  • Learning System Specialists focus on specific areas of capability with a disruptive, high impact agenda. Specialists will rarely be the only learning system in an organization.

The other important consideration when budgeting for a new learning system is to be crystal clear on your required features versus the features provided by the system, something we discuss in the next point. You don’t want to pay for features you don’t need.

 

2. Your requirements

Every vendor on the Fosway 9-Grid™ for Learning Systems is passionate about the capabilities of their platform. But not all systems are alike and each one has its unique selling points and its blind spots. Your job as a buyer is to find the one that most closely fits your needs without it being more feature-rich, flexible, or complex than you require at your stage of maturity.

Most systems will tick many of the boxes on an RFP document, however, how they do it will differ depending on their primary focus. Therefore, identify your most important use-cases and ensure you see a demo of them from the perspective of learners, managers and administrators.

 

3. Your culture

The cultural fit between a vendor and client can have a huge impact on the success of implementation so think about the relationship as a partnership from the outset. Don’t allow the procurement process to derail this by pushing for so much discount that there is no appetite for goodwill.

If you are a relatively small organization working with a large supplier with multiple customers, you could be perceived as a small fish in a large pond. As a result, you could have very little influence on the product roadmap and find yourself paying for any additional support you might need. If you are not mature in your use of learning systems and online learning, having a partner to support your every step will be very important for your success.

Other aspects of cultural fit to consider include the look and feel of the platform and even the vendor’s values or way of working. A legal or engineering firm that wants a ‘serious’ system to get on with the business of learning is a very different proposition to a retailer with a young shop floor workforce looking for fun features and gamification. That’s why a shortlist will be different even if the list of the functional requirements is the same.

 

4. Your data

Data and data flow are often the last factors to be considered when buying a new learning system and yet ensuring the data is clean and from the right source is crucial for the future success of the system.

When considering the data capability of a platform consider how much data you need from the system and how well it tracks data. Consider whether the data can be moved around the ecosystem with ease and which system will be your ‘system of record’ for learning.

Learning technology is an ecosystem with many components, systems and sources of learning content and resources. The capability to share and transfer data smoothly is, therefore, a key requirement. It might be important that the learning needs to be accessible from wherever the employee spends their working day, not just by going to a separate ‘learning place-to-go’.

Vendors will rightly say that APIs solve this problem, but building integrations require integrators, i.e. developers and other experienced people to build and maintain them. In a complex company, that is expensive and non-trivial. In smaller companies, it is impossible as they lack the resources and budgets to develop their own integrations.

When it comes to reporting and analytics, plan for the future but start small, deal with your immediate needs and nail those first, then ‘go deep’ into measuring the impact of learning on business.

 

5. Your content

The final consideration is content. An empty learning system is of no help, so understand what the business needs first and then explore the various types of content providers. These include off-the-shelf libraries, bespoke third-party content developers, inhouse developers and user-generated content.

Many buyers are actively looking for system providers with pre-stocked content libraries with high-quality learning ‘out of the box’. Vendors are expanding their content marketplaces and providing access to content bundles, curation tools and content suites.

However, simple authoring tools available as part of learning systems are also on the rise which means L&D teams have a great opportunity to expand capacity and deliver more for the business by using internal experts to create company-specific content.

 

Final thoughts

So there are my five considerations when looking to procure a learning system. I hope that in future iterations of our Digital Learning Realities research we see a significant increase in L&D teams saying that their learning platforms are fit for the modern workforce.

This article was written by Fiona Leteney from Fosway Group. Find out more about the Fosway 9-Grid™ for Learning Systems and read the full report here. You can contact Fiona via @fionaleteney or @fosway on Twitter and LinkedIn.

 

On-demand webinar: A practical guide to learning solutions

Fiona Leteney, Senior Analyst at Fosway Group, and Jon Brydges, Senior Product Manager at Learning Pool discuss:

  • The key differences between LMS, LXP, suites and specialists
  • The trends and challenges of developing solutions that fit the hybrid working model
  • Key success factors for building a learning ecosystem

Watch now

Fiona Leteney
Senior Analyst at Fosway Group

Fiona has worked in the learning technology market since 2000, gaining a wealth of experience by either selling, implementing or managing learning solutions in a corporate context.

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