The learning and training needs are unique to every organization and so are their requirements from an LMS. Therefore, irrespective of whether you are opting for a commercial LMS or an Open Source LMS, you still have to get some amount of customization done. There is a popular perception that customization might be expensive when it comes to Open Source LMS. However, the same might be applicable even in case of proprietary LMS if there has not been clear scope agreement with LMS vendor before customization.
Here are some aspects that you need to keep in mind when going in for customization – be it proprietary or open source LMS.
Document your LMS requirements
There is a lot of pre-work that is involved before selecting any LMS. You need to assess your training requirements. A core team consisting of LMS administrators and LMS users should discuss about the functionalities that they need in an LMS (certification, regulatory compliance, course structure) and form a matrix of the essential features and desired features in an LMS. You can compare them with those offered by LMS vendors. Most LMSs come with lots of features that you may not use. Understanding what you need will help you choose an LMS that is closest to your requirements. If you are not clear about what you want and get carried away with each customization opportunity suggested by the vendor, it can prove to be costly in the long run as you might be paying for features you may not require or use.
Remember that customization should be a one-time effort
Customization should be a one-time effort which can be updated with simple configuration change that does not require rewriting codes. As long as you are clear about your requirements, customization should not really pose any problem – either technically or monetarily. Future enhancements can be done based on new training requirements or any changes that take place in training workflows. Otherwise you can use the LMS as it is. This is applicable to both Commercial and non-commercial LMSs. The customization cost in terms of new features will be onetime for open source LMS but for commercial LMSs it will be licensed or module based which can be costly in the long run.
Have clear LMS support terms and conditions
Customization will reduce time and complexity for LMS activities as it caters to your unique needs. However, you need to ensure that once customization is done by the LMS vendor, it should be properly tested and documented. Code commenting will help developers to understand the customization. This makes it easy to upgrade the LMS in future. It does not require much support from LMS vendor once the customization is done in the LMS. Users just need to use the feature. All you need to ensure is that you have a clear scope and agreement with LMS vendor on these issues before customization. I read online a compliant by one user who had taken a proprietary LMS. A support resource was provided to the customer to help them maximize on LMS functionality usage but the resource was withdrawn to reduce costs. The customer didn’t have any in-house expert who could effectively communicate with the vendor in their language. As the needs of the customer changed with time, they had no option but to go in for other vendor options. These issues can be avoided with clear documentation and long-term service agreement. Again, long term service agreement with proprietary vendors might prove to be expensive. You might have to factor the same beforehand.
To sum up, when you choose an LMS – be it open source or commercial LMS, you need to factor the total cost of ownership – not just the initial set up costs. Take into consideration the product in toto, its functionality vis-à-vis your requirements and the maintenance costs. Take also into account the internal human resources you have as well as the extent of your dependence on the vendor and the related costs involved in managing the LMS.