How to Make an LMS Free Trial Work for You

LMS free trial

If you’re in the process of selecting a learning management system (LMS), you’ll have seen banners encouraging you to ‘Start your LMS free trial’ on almost every vendor website. If you’ve hovered over that button, you’ve reason to think twice.

An LMS free trial is a crucial part of the LMS selection process. You can’t select a learning management system without properly testing it. But the timing of an LMS free trial also matters. Many vendors will be inflexible about how long the trial lasts so you need to make the time you’re allocated work for you.

As an account manager at LearnUpon, I speak to prospective customers about how to make the most of their free trial every day. In this post, I’ll share key insights on how to use an LMS free trial to ensure you select the best LMS for your company.

How to Make an LMS Free Trial Work for You

Before you start an LMS free trial

To make the best use of your LMS free trial, treat it as a pilot of the LMS you’ll eventually select. I call this the ‘proof of concept‘ stage. Before your selection begins, define a project team that covers how the LMS will work in your organization. Assign individual users the roles of managers, admins, and learners to fully test each LMS. Brief team members about the process, your expectations, and the outputs you need to make your selection.

Before you start a trial, preliminary research should help shortlist 4-5 appropriate platforms. As each platform is trialed, your team should measure performance closely against your requirements. By the end of the trial, you must be ready to rule a platform in or out. Selection may now hinge on how feedback from each trial compares against the other shortlisted platforms in your list.

It’s also important to schedule LMS free trials in the right sequence. That sequence may depend on the length of time each LMS vendor allows for a trial and the expected duration of your selection process. You should expect some vendors to be inflexible about expiry dates. At LearnUpon, we’re open to extensions in certain circumstances because we appreciate that each organization’s selection process is different.

What to bring to an LMS free trial

A free trial shouldn’t mean simply opening up a system and clicking a few buttons. To have value, an LMS trial must simulate your real training environment as closely as possible. To do so, there are a number of resources you must gather.

If you’re selecting your company’s first LMS, a trial will be less realistic. In that case, base it as closely as possible on your requirements. Before you start a trial, create workflows that reflect how you expect the LMS to operate. Populate those workflows with dummy users and courses to get a realistic sense of how the training platform will function day to day.

If you already have an LMS, a free trial can be more realistic. You’ll have sample user details and course content that you can upload to mimic training processes. In this scenario, it’s important to simulate, not just how training currently works, but how you would like it to work for you or your organization.

Gathering the following documents will help make a free trial an accurate and actionable part of your LMS selection process:

  • Requirements: An exhaustive list of requirements is the foundation of an effective LMS selection process. Every LMS free trial you conduct must be rigorous enough to ensure that the system is measured against all requirements. Requirements can also act as a set of scoring criteria. Allocate responsibility for vetting individual requirements to the most relevant member of your team.
  • Scoring criteria: Requirements shouldn’t carry equal weight. Instead, they should be carefully prioritized so you can assess and compare learning management systems on the same terms. All team members involved in trialing an LMS should score the same set of requirements for assessment later.
  • Use cases and workflows: These documents help to simulate how the system should and can work in your organization.
  • Proper courses: Adding realistic content and working through a simulation of your training processes will offer the most realistic sense of user experience.
  • Proper user setup: Add a viable volume of test users to every LMS that you trial. Users should be organized in ways that reflect your company’s structure, processes, and channels of communication. For example, you could group users by department, job role or both with the relevant manager assigned to that group.
  • Logos and brand guidelines: You should brand the learning portal so that it reflects the look and feel of your organization’s other platforms and materials. That will also help team members to assess systems on the same terms and avoid being distracted by cosmetic differences between platforms.

Talk to the vendor

Some prospective customers are reluctant to speak to LMS vendors, fearing a sales pitch. But that’s a mistake. There are a number of ways you should expect a vendor to help you make an independent assessment of the ability of their LMS to serve your needs. If a vendor makes contact during an LMS free trial, take advantage of the opportunity to request materials that can inform your selection:

  • Case Studies from existing customers in similar industries or with similar use cases
  • Customer Testimonials
  • Customer Reviews
  • Customer References
  • API & Technical Documentation
  • Product Roadmap

Most of these documents – case studies, references, reviews, and testimonials – are useful for assessing a vendor’s reputation and experience in your industry. Technical documentation and a product roadmap will help you to determine, not just what the LMS looks like now, but what it will become.

It would be a mistake to dismiss a vendor based on the absence of a feature that’s scheduled for release. Technical team members can help evaluate each learning management system’s API and other technical capabilities. This will be critical if you need to customize the LMS to meet your most specific requirements.

A vendor’s product roadmap will indicate how you can expect the LMS to keep pace with a rapidly evolving Learning & Development landscape. Comparing product roadmaps between vendors will provide a sense of the relative scale of their ambition, innovation, and investment in development.

Do a demo during your LMS free trial

A product demo is the other main tool LMS vendors usually offer prospective customers to help them make their selection. It’s essential to get a demo of all shortlisted platforms. But the timing of the demo should also be carefully considered.

Before scheduling a demo, your team should have spent 2-3 hours testing the platform. That will give them enough time to get a feel for how the LMS works and assemble questions before diving in deeper to test its suitability.

The first phase of your LMS free trial should be dedicated to exploring the platform’s features. A basic understanding of how the LMS works will allow you to use the demo wisely. The demo is your main opportunity to consult an expert about how the platform fits your use case. The questions you ask will help ensure your team hasn’t made false assumptions about the platform. A demo is an opportunity to discuss any doubts with an expert.

If a feature or requirement is critically important, ask the LMS demonstrator how the platform measures up. Just because you haven’t seen a feature, don’t assume it isn’t there. If you do, you risk ruling out the best platform based on an oversight.

For example, LearnUpon’s multiple price plans mean that not all features are enabled by default during a free trial. If a prospective customer assumes that something like Instructor-Led-Training or learning paths aren’t available, they risk dismissing a platform based on a misconception.

Test the vendor

During every LMS free trial, remember that you’re not just testing the LMS itself. Your assessment of the quality of the trial and demo should inform your assessment.

It’s difficult to have confidence in a vendor that doesn’t provide a thoroughly helpful experience. But if a provider is generous with their time and expertise, you can feel confident returning to your free trial to conclude evaluation. The breadth and depth of answers offered to technical and commercial questions is an indication of the strength of their team and investment in resources.

It’s also essential to properly test customer support before a trial concludes. First test how support works within the platform itself. Submit requests based on problems and pain points you have already experienced or anticipate.

Keep a record of response times and how satisfied you are with the support your team receives. Pay attention to automated responses and superficial answers that indicate a vendor isn’t really dedicated to customer support.

And finally, consider what a willingness to be flexible reveals about a vendor. Rigidness about processes and timelines should raise concerns as to what you can expect as a customer. At LearnUpon, flexibility is very important to us.

After a trial ends, your portal remains intact so it can be reactivated if you need to return to it later in your selection process. If you were to go with LearnUpon as your LMS, we’ll immediately deploy your portal so the work you’ve done during your LMS free trial is retained for future use. This means you’ll get a head start, allowing a smooth transition and efficient launch.