I spend a lot of time researching and using Learning Management Systems (LMS) and course authoring tools. I work primarily with small businesses that usually cannot justify spending thousands of dollars per year on an LMS, so I’m constantly looking for good, cost-effective platforms that small business owners and managers can easily use without a lot of training.
I’ve put together a running score of how tools measure up against each other according to 10 criteria that I believe to be crucial for small businesses looking to create online courses.
- Can someone who has minimal or no instructional design/developer experience use it? Since I work with small businesses that usually do not have an instructional designer or developer on staff, it’s important that whatever solution they choose is one that they can actually use.
- Can you award certificates to users? Awarding certificates is a helpful way to get people more motivated to complete all components of a course. Not every course platform offers this possibility, and while it may not be a deal breaker for some, it’s extremely helpful to have this option.
- Is it SCORM/Tin Can compliant? While this may not be super important to most small businesses, if you plan on scaling your business enough that you’ll need a full-scale training program, you’re going to want your courses in a platform that track data in a way that’s actually useful.
- Can you track users? Tracking users is a fundamental component of any LMS, but some tools will only give you that option if you’re paying for a subscription.
- Does it offer an easy way to monetize your courses? If you’re a small business looking to package and sell your expertise as an ecourse, then you’re going to want to create that course in a platform that’s easy to monetize. Not every LMS offers this.
- For a business with 25 or fewer employees, how cost-effective is the full paid version? With almost any LMS, you’ll pay by number of users, among other variables. If the cost per year totaled less than $500, the LMS gets 1 point; between $500 and $1000, .5 points, and over $1000, 0 points.
- Is it customizable to your organization’s branding? For many people (especially if you want to sell your courses) branding capability is crucial.
- Is it pretty to look at and/or fun to use? Again, this might not be very important to some people, but since we’re talking about possibly selling your courses to customers, and at the very least having non-instructional designers use it, then visual appeal and fun are pretty important.
- Are there a variety of activities? No one (not your customers and not your employees) wants to see the same thing over and over again. Offering a variety of learning activities in your course means your participants are more likely to be engaged with the content.
- Is there a free version? This is its own separate category because I think it’s important for small businesses to be able to test these tools out for long enough to be able to make a sound decision about purchasing a subscription.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, since I am only including LMSs that I believe are helpful and accessible to small businesses. Many solutions are only built for organizations with a minimum of 250 employees, which put them out of the running.
I’ve been putting together this list for a while, and add a new platform after I get the chance to try it out. You’ll notice that TalentLMS is the clear winner here with 9 points out of 10—it’s because of that score that I chose to become a TalentLMS affiliate (this means that if you sign up for a paid account using this link then I get a percentage of what you end up paying at no extra cost to you). If you don’t want to sign up using my affiliate link you can use this link or just Google TalentLMS.
Of course, I’m always open to trying new platforms! If you know of one that’s affordable and accessible to small businesses that I haven’t listed here, please share in the comments!