The Road to LMS Selection: Advice and Lessons Learned

By Alyssa Gibson, American Alliance of Orthopaedic Executives (AAOE)

Over the summer, my association, AAOE, embarked on the journey of selecting a new Learning Management System (LMS) – a road often fraught with seemingly-endless calls and demos (where you come to discover that the Request for Proposal you so carefully crafted may or may not have been reviewed or understood), proposals that test the limits of your budget (especially for a small staff like ours), and the ultimate, nail-biting decision that can feel like a giant leap of faith. Four months later, we are now in the process of onboarding and launching our new LMS, and while I can’t claim to be an LMS selection expert, I am sharing some of my lessons learned along the way.

Be as detailed as possible in your RFP.

This is an important one, as it’s your opportunity to set the stage before you ever get on a phone call with a salesperson. Don’t assume that anything is obvious or included in each LMS, because you’ll be kicking yourself further down the road when you’re in the onboarding stage and discover it’s not available.

I strongly suggest meeting with key staff members who have experience with your current LMS or who interact frequently with members. Schedule a brainstorming session where they share each and every pain point, opportunity, and requirement they’re aware of. Encourage them to think outside the box and share ideas even if they aren’t certain there’s an LMS that has it. This is your opportunity to make those dreams happen!

In your RFP, you may consider distinguishing between absolute make or break requirements versus your wish list, explaining that companies who can meet both will be more highly considered.

Also remember to include deadlines for their response, in addition to your own deadline for making a decision.

Include key staff members throughout the entire process.

Unless you’re a one-person staff, this is not a project that you want to take on yourself – not because you can’t do it yourself, but because you probably shouldn’t.

As alluded to above, there are so many minute details that go into the setup of an LMS, and you want others on your calls and reviewing your proposals to bring their perspective and expertise. While you don’t necessarily need them on every initial call or demo while you’re weeding through the long list of companies responding to your RFP, it is probably a good idea to have them on your final demos when you’ve narrowed it down to your top two or three.

I included our CEO who brings her years of association management expertise and historical knowledge of our membership and past Learning Management Systems, our Director of Membership who works closely with members and understands their needs and pain points, and our Manager of Operations who could speak to our financial and reporting needs.

Consider including volunteers and members in the review process.

This one can be a little tricky to navigate, so you have to consider whether it’s the right approach for your association. We didn’t include members in the LMS selection process, but recently had a few key volunteers review a workflow that we’re implementing in the LMS we selected. It ended up being a great opportunity to get their feedback and make sure we’re going in the right direction.

If you do involve members in the selection or implementation process, I would recommend having a very solid, thought-out product or workflow to show them. If you involve them too early and give them too many options, you could end up down a rabbit hole. Make sure you have a very focused ask so that you’re truly getting the feedback you need.

The end result for us was overall positive feedback and confirmation that we’re hitting the mark, as well as a great added feature we hadn’t thought of!

Understand that it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

At the end of this process, you want an LMS that will be the best fit for your association. Getting to the LMS decision can be long and, at times, frustrating if you’re struggling to find what you’re looking for. Have patience and remember your goal. Even if it takes a little longer to find the right LMS, it will be worth it at the end to provide a platform that meets your members’ needs. After all, you want this LMS to stick so that you’re not going through this process a year later!

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