Buying an LMS is a significant decision because it impacts the entire training strategy of an organization as well as the learning of its employees. So, it is only advisable that the decision to buy a particular LMS must be well-informed and well-thought.
Whether you are a first-time LMS user or an LMS veteran looking to switch over to a new one, it’s best to ‘try out’ the new software before actually investing in it for the long term. One way of approaching this is to ask for a demo from the vendor. Great move! But this route of getting information about the LMS before making an informed decision may be time- and effort-intensive, both on your part and the vendor’s too. But as we all know, to see is one but to do it oneself is another. So even with the detailed walkthrough that you may have of the LMS in question, you wouldn’t have played around with the system yourself!
This is where the concept of an LMS sandbox comes into picture. An LMS sandbox, that has become easier to set up with the advent of the cloud system, saves a lot of hassle in the LMS buying decision for both the buyer as well as the seller.
But before we go ahead, let us understand what an LMS sandbox is after all.
You know how we try out testers before buying our favourite perfumes. An LMS sandbox is something similar. It is like a testing ground that gives a hands-on demo environment for prospective customers who want to get an actual look and feel of the LMS before they decide to invest in it.
In this post, we talk about an LMS sandbox from the buyer’s perspective. For a buyer, a “sandbox” can mean many things. It could mean asking for direct access to the LMS to look around. It could also mean permission for a formal testing plan for selection. Or even looking for a paid ‘proof-of-concept’.
If you are a buyer looking at making an informed decision about buying an LMS, here are the top 6 tips that will help you deal with the whole sandbox idea with more dexterity.
1. Understand if you want a Traditional LMS or an Instant Free Trial
Let’s understand both these concepts first. Traditionally, organizations have been following a linear path while buying an LMS. It goes something like this: define requirements, identify the vendor, ask for preliminary demos, zero in on vendor, RFP, review prices, ask for use case scenarios, gather references, analyse sandbox, and make the final decision. But with the birth of the cloud came in a compressed version of this system. On the other hand, in the instant free trial process, buyers can self set up a “free trial” area, or the “sandbox”, which gives them immediate access (‘immediate’ being the key word) to the Learning Management System. They find out how the LMS works through a mix of on-demand/ embedded video tutorials, hand-holding guides, digital documentation, and Tech Support. When the trial expires (typically in 2-4 weeks), those who choose to move forward can either pay for future access and continue using the same instance of the LMS or can get in touch with the company and initiate the buying process (that may or may not include a detailed demo step), depending on the process followed by the LMS vendor.
While there are no hard and fast rules about deciding which method to adopt, it is up to the buyer to determine which process works the best for him/ her. That said, a free trial is the go-to approach in almost all cases, whether as a first LMS or for a company with a diverse and dispersed stakeholders or for businesses that depend on an LMS as a business advantage/ key enabler.
2. Establish Goals and Success Criteria
It’s critical to establish success criteria and goals for the sandbox much before the sandbox is created. Quite simply because, if you haven’t decided on why you need the sandbox/trial, there are chances that it may not be used at all. So before you actually take the decision for a sandbox, think of these aspects:
- What features/functions need to be tested? (Think what key objectives/ pain areas the LMS will be addressing)
- Who needs to test these features? (Define your target audience – the Learners, the Admins, the Instructors, etc.)
- How will you know success when you see it? And failure? (You may want to list and prioritize your LMS requirements. A tick off on x number of requirements could mean success, while the opposite could indicate failure)
3. Treat the Sandbox as a Project
Unless you set deadlines for the sandbox trial, it may not yield the results you are looking at. It helps to set a timeline to assessing prospective solutions — including a kickoff session, a check-in call, and a final debrief with each vendor. Also, set a target time for individual team members to review each solution and specify the capabilities you want them to assess.
4. Concentrate on Only One or Two Vendors
Before thinking of opting for a sandbox, filter the vendors and zero in on a couple of vendors that you are seriously considering. Too many cooks do spoil the broth! Save the sandbox only for these vendors instead of using it as a process to qualify all vendors. Carry out some advance research by studying independent buying guides, defining your requirements, conducting vendor demonstrations, and requesting proposals.
5. Get a Demo
While most Free Self Setup Trials are full-featured, there might be some that restrict access to certain areas/ features/ functionalities of the LMS. In these cases, or even beyond these, it helps to request for a detailed demo of the system. After all, the more you know about the system, the better decision-making you can exercise on its purchase.
6. Set Up a Rating System
For all the functions and features that you are looking at testing, you can set up a rating system on a scale of 1 to 5 with comments for every reviewer to use. This helps because you have some data to make comparisons with and go for a steadfast decision.
Every LMS buyer has the right to know what he is investing in, especially since it is a seminal decision. This is why cloud-based LMS vendors are offering buyers a sandbox access as a response. But before that, as a buyer, you need to know what you want to accomplish and why. Once that is in place, your sandbox experience can be a powerful way to influence your buying decision. And one that pays off too!
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