While looking through the multitude of learning management system (LMS) vendors, you’ve probably noticed some offer free trials. Why don’t all LMS vendors offer these free trials? The answer is: not all LMSs are created equal and not all are built for the free trial model. There are a few similarities between the free trial vendors and those that offer more advanced trials via a Sandbox and even Proof of Concept, but there are also many differences.
We’ll dive into all three so you can know what those differences are and be able to choose which fits your needs.
The LMS Free Trial
Anyone that gives their name and email address (and maybe a few more pieces of information) can gain access to a Free Trial LMS vendor’s system. This allows admins to get a feel for how the system looks and functions, while also being able to preview the various features of that particular software.
Having instant access to an LMS for trial purposes can be very attractive, but here are some things to take into consideration if you sign up for one of these trials:
- They’re Limited: In functionality, in features, and in support. These systems are meant to appeal to a wide range of training and learning needs so the systems are built to reflect that.
- Self-Help: The good and bad thing about these easy-to-use systems is most of the work can be completed by you, and in fact it’ll have to be since support is limited to resource guides and knowledge bases. Admins are on their own as far as implementation and figuring out how to use the system goes (unless you want to pay extra for email support, and even more for phone support).
For most first-time LMS buyers with simplified training needs, no data migrations or custom integrations, these types of LMS solutions are pretty great and will fit their needs perfectly. However, this usually isn’t the case for second/third/fourth-time LMS buyers. For these repeat buyers, a more complex system is likely needed and you’ll be given access to a Sandbox environment instead of an instant-access free trial. John Leh, Lead Analyst of Talented Learning, wrote a great post about this exact topic.
The LMS Sandbox
An LMS Sandbox is a true working model of a feature-rich LMS. Oftentimes, these Sandboxes are given later on in the buying cycle as opposed to the very beginning like a free trial. There are other differences as well:
- More Features and Functionality: The LMSs that assign Sandbox environments to prospective clients typically have more features and functionality than the typical Free Trial LMS. This means the LMS (and therefore the Sandbox) can handle more complex training needs.
- Vendor Support and Assistance: Because Sandboxes can be pretty feature-rich, most vendors offer more hands-on assistance and support as opposed to the self-help seen with LMS free trial options. Vendors who offer Sandboxes may also do a dedicated training session in order to show you how to perform certain functions within the LMS in addition to the standard self-help documents and guides.
- Branded and Semi-Configured: Branding plays an important role in training adoption and continuity, and your LMS is no different. When you first log-in to an LMS Sandbox, you’ll notice the environment has most likely already been branded with your company logo, colors, etc. It may also be slightly configured to your particular training needs with specific features enabled, a generic training course or two included, etc. In no way is this meant to simulate your exact system, but it does give admins a better idea of how the system can look, function and change without having to build it all yourself as you would with an free trial LMS.
The LMS Proof of Concept
Want to see a working version of an LMS with your courses, groups of users, branding, etc.? Some vendors may offer to create a Proof of Concept rendition of your learning system. These may or may not be free of charge, but for those businesses that want to see an LMS with their content performing and functioning as it was if it were pretty much their actual LMS, this is a great option. They come:
- Fully Customized: The branding and configuration of a Proof of Concept LMS are even more customized than that of the Sandbox. Here, there may be some customization of not only banners and color schemes but also content managed areas within the system that are branded. A variety of settings may also be configured to your needs.
- Uploaded with Your Own Content: That’s right. In this type of LMS preview, many vendors will actually upload some of your own content into the system so you can get a feel for how it will look, how users will progress through and complete training, and all the steps and reporting that follow.
- Uploaded With Your Users: Now, this most likely won’t include all of your users if you have a large user count, but enough will be uploaded for you to get a strong sense of how the LMS functions and whether users are a fan of the interface and its usability.
- Vendor Support and Assistance: You’ll also receive plenty of vendor support and assistance during a Proof of Concept trial as well. Considering this is a pretty close version of what you’ll expect with a fully implemented LMS, vendors at this stage will be making sure you know how to navigate through and adjust the system.
Each of these trial options has their own pros and cons. For simple training needs a Free Trial LMS will most likely be the perfect fit while a more feature-rich system may be too much. Alternatively, repeat LMS buyers will most likely find a Free Trial LMS unsuited for their more complex training needs and should look to vendors with a Sandbox or Proof of Concept option.
Take some time to evaluate your organization’s particular needs to see which would work best for you.