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9 February 2023

The Ultimate Buyer’s Guide to Learning Management Systems

Jonny McAlister

Jonny McAlister

Head of Customer Experience

Everything you need to think about when buying an LMS

Buying an LMS can be a painstaking process. A learning management system is a considerable investment for any organisation. It will be used by the vast majority, if not all of the people within your organisation. Stakeholders in various different roles are likely to have their input or at least have opinions on the finished product.

For all those reasons, it’s something that requires a great deal of careful consideration. It’s also something that it’s much better to get right the first time.

We’ve put together this Ultimate Buyer’s Guide to Learning Management Systems to signpost the key considerations that will result in a successful LMS. The starting points for your brief, and therefore your starting point for buying an LMS, will be:

  • What do I need the LMS to do?
  • What do my learners want our LMS to do?
  • What is my budget?

Let’s dive into the details of those key aspects of your LMS buying decision.


What do you need your LMS to do? What sort of learning experiences do you want for your users? What features and functionality do you need in order to be able to achieve that?

As we’ve already mentioned, there’s a playoff here between functionality and budget. It’s one in which the budget will ultimately have the upper hand. Nonetheless, you need to have a wish list of features, ideally broken down by priority. 

Our philosophy is always that the technology must adapt to meet your requirements. Never the other way around.

Ask the audience

We’re firm believers in letting your learners guide you towards the LMS they want. Some of the ways in which we do this include:

  • Focus groups comprising a cross-section of different types of your LMS users
  • A/B testing on different features and functionality
  • Exposing learners to different situations and learning what they expect the LMS to do

Your LMS will ultimately rely upon the engagement of your learners, so make sure it incorporates what they want and need.

Interrogate your brief

This is an area in which we’re often told we add a lot of value for our customers, but you’re welcome to start the process without us. Challenge and second-guess every aspect of your brief. Why do you need that feature? What is its purpose? Can the same results be achieved in a better way?


Future-proofing your LMS is a good way of protecting and boosting your initial investment. An LMS that grows and adapts with your organisation and new technologies will be a far better purchase in the long term.

Important factors here are:

  • How are LMS upgrades and updates handled?
  • Will any customisations need to be redone when you upgrade?
  • What is the roadmap for potential LMS platforms you’re considering?


Whether it’s for your own information, key stakeholders or external auditors, being able to quickly access data from your LMS is a huge benefit. As such, it’s also an important consideration at the buying stage.

Handy features to look out for include:

  • The option to create customised automated reports
  • The ability to send different reports to different audiences (ideally automatically)
  • Easy replication of similar reports across different teams, departments and divisions
  • Visual representation of critical data, across multiple sources, to supporting quick decision-making


Another key consideration during the buying process is how your learners will access your LMS. This includes factors such as:

  • User provisioning
  • Enrolment
  • Accessibility

User provisioning

Getting your users up and running on your LMS can be time-consuming. During the buying process, you need to think about how you want to get people onto your platform. The end goal is to make it as easy as possible for users to access your LMS. Integrating with other platforms, your HR system and utilising single sign-on are some options.


Once your users are signed up to your LMS, you’ll also need to get them enrolled on learning pathways. For that you’ll need an enrolment strategy, which could involve direct or self-directed involvement. You’ll need to make sure your prospective LMS is equipped to enrol your learners in the way you want to. Ideally, this will involve as much automation as possible. 


Getting the learners onto your LMS, onto the right courses and continually assigned the right learning has traditionally been a laborious process. Automation has changed that. By opting for an LMS that syncs with your HR system and allows you to create dynamic rules, you can easily onboard new users, deliver learning pathways based on user roles or other factors, and automatically assign compliance training for recertification.


Those same dynamic rules can also be used to add an engaging element of personalisation to your LMS. Learning pathways based on career goals or professional interests, targeted promotion of relevant courses, and skills-based content are a handful of examples of how this can be achieved.


Your LMS needs to be something from which all of your learners can benefit. Give careful consideration as to what standards of accessibility will be achieved by a new LMS.


How will your LMS be hosted? The choice here is really between opting for a self-hosted LMS or managed hosting.

Self-hosted LMS

An experienced IT team might feel more comfortable self-hosting an LMS. After the initial capital expenditure, self-hosting is likely to be cheaper in the long term. Of course, this is dependent on the cost of people and time not outweighing the savings.

It’s also worth noting that hosting an LMS is different than hosting a website, so it’s important to make sure your technical team is aware of the quirks and special considerations associated with LMS hosting.

Managed hosting

With managed hosting, your LMS is hosted by someone else (ideally an experienced LMS hosting company). That means you don’t have to worry about the technicalities of hosting the platform and can focus on other things.

Managed hosting means: 

  • Less capital investment in servers and a data centre 
  • Lower energy bills, more floor space and less hassle
  • Easing your IT team’s workload (especially if they’re not LMS specialists) 
  • Admin like server monitoring, anti-virus protection, backups, maintenance and support is taken off your plate


There is no doubt that budget is a key factor — perhaps the most important factor — when investing in an LMS. You might know exactly what you want your LMS to do and what your users need, but that counts for very little if you don’t have the budget in place to make it happen.

How much should I spend on an LMS?

That’s the impossible question. The cost of your LMS will be impacted by factors such as:

  • The level of functionality required
  • The level of customisation needed, if any
  • The number of users
  • The amount of storage
  • The hosting requirements

In that way, buying an LMS is no different than clothing, cars and property. The higher the spec and the greater the level of customisation, the more it will cost. Based on everything we’ve discussed so far, you can start to build a picture of the financial benefits of an LMS that delivers precisely what your organisation needs. Measuring the return you can expect will help to put a possible budget into context.

Measuring return on investment

Yes, your budget could dictate what’s achievable when buying an LMS. But a £5,000 LMS that doesn’t actually do what you need can ultimately be more expensive than a £50,000 LMS that cuts £250,000 off your annual training costs.

To achieve a budget that delivers value and the functionality you require, you need to create a strong business case for your LMS. That means thinking about how you will measure the impact of your LMS

A happy medium

As a middle way to that dilemma we created Spark, a platform that works with Moodle LMS , Moodle Workplace and Totara Learn. By incorporating a high level of configuration and the option to add on frequently requested custom add-ons plus custom development, Spark delivers a bespoke LMS without the need to blow your entire budget on a custom LMS user experience.


Taking everything we’ve looked at so far into consideration, an important part of the LMS buying process is to consider what success looks like. What does a good outcome to your buying process look like? That might factor in some of the things we’ve already touched on, like:

  • Staying within budget
  • Providing specific functionality
  • Driving engagement levels
  • Delivering a return on investment

Think about how you will measure ROI and other successes. For example, you could track:

  • Increased productivity or improved learner performance
  • Working hours saved
  • Time or money saved on administrative work or course creation
  • Increased sign-ups, enrolments or engagement

At this stage, you can start to think about the best platform and technology for your requirements.


Inevitably, the critical stage of the LMS buying process is deciding on a platform. So, how do you choose the right LMS for your organisation?

There is no shortage of options on the market, ranging from traditional licensed software to open source options. We’ve been building online learning platforms since 2005. We are not tied to any specific software and will always guide customers towards the technology that makes most sense for their requirements.

Having supported and built more than 1,100 platforms, we’re yet to see a situation where a traditional software licensing agreement was the best route for a customer. In our experience, open source always offers greater flexibility, affordability and scalability. For that reason, we’re going to focus this LMS buyer’s guide on the three open-source platforms we use most regularly:

  • Totara Learn
  • Moodle LMS
  • Moodle Workplace

Totara Learn

Totara Learn is a flexible enterprise LMS made to help you upskill your workforce. Its key features include:

Easy compliance management

Boost your compliance levels with tools, programs and pathways that help to stay on top of mandatory training. This includes scheduled reminders to those who have not yet completed required tasks. 

On-the-go offline and blended learning

Totara Learn serves as a hub to manage online, offline and blended learning. Features include an event booking management system, attendance tracking, waitlists, room management and sign-up sheets. A native mobile app ensures learners can access your LMS anytime, on any device.

Organisational hierarchy

Mirror even complex structures to get the right learning to the right people. Assign learning to specific groups; limit access to sensitive information and create team dashboards for line managers. Multi-tenancy allows you to create isolated environments for different departments, divisions, partners, customers and other groups.

Comprehensive reporting tools

Create custom reports to pinpoint the data that matters to your organisation. Reporting tools can be easily used to track learner performance, increase compliance, and monitor skills gaps.

Personalised learning pathways

Create pathways for different roles, skill sets, and experience levels. Get the right learning to the right people at the right time for a smoother learning experience and less time-consuming admin.

 Moodle LMS

Moodle LMS is a highly customisable and widely trusted open source LMS. Its key features include:

Open source flexibility

Build upon and customise a tried and tested core platform to create an LMS that’s tailored to your organisation. Use plugins and extensions — many of which are created by Moodle’s vibrant development community — to add features and functionality.

Native app and offline sync

Let your learners learn at a time and place that suits them. The native Moodle App brings your LMS to any device. With offline sync, users can complete learning even if they don’t have an internet connection.

Measure and manage learner development

Get the insights and analytics you need to track how each of your learners is progressing. With custom reporting, you can get the data you need from Moodle LMS to be able to analyse performance, make targeted interventions and provide extra support.

Collaborative learning experiences

Share knowledge throughout your organisation with a suite of tools to help you to achieve this. Features include forums (including private replies from administrators), user-to-user messaging, group messaging, live chat and peer-based assessment.  

Easy accessibility 

Welcome all of your learners to Moodle LMS thanks to an integrated accessibility checker for your courses, WCAG 2.1 AA compliance, and more than 100 languages available.

Moodle Workplace

Moodle Workplace is a corporate LMS with Moodle LMS functionality, plus extra functionality to support employee learning, onboarding, and compliance training. Its features include:

Personalised training pathways

Save admin time by automatically assigning learning to individuals or teams based on rules you set. 

Multi-tenancy architecture

Create individual learning environments for different parts of your organisation. Develop customised areas of your LMS for customers, different divisions or subsidiaries, so that the look, feel and learning is tailored to the audience.

Time-saving automation

Use rule-based automation to make managing your LMS easier. Enable automated enrolment, compliance training and a wide range of functionality based on defined user roles and hierarchies.

Replicate your structure

Mirror your organisation’s hierarchy to easily assign roles, management responsibilities, and security permissions to each user. Ensure all of your learners have access to the right information in a way that follows your structure and reporting lines.

Powerful reporting

An advanced custom report builder allows you to easily build almost any metric into a one-off or regular report. This increases the level of insight you’re able to get into your learning and development, with reports fully shareable across different tenancies.

Start your LMS buying process

We hope you find this buyer’s guide useful as you start to plan your new learning management system. As we noted at the outset, progressing your buying journey will really depend on being able to determine:

  1. What do you need from an LMS?
  2. What do your learners need from an LMS?
  3. What financing is available to best meet these criteria?

The points raised are there to guide your thinking as you find the answers to these questions. If you’ve got any feedback or questions about anything you’ve read, feel free to get in touch.



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