Selecting the Right LMS: 2 Critical Decisions

illustration of a news article

A recent Academic Impressions survey found that one third of academics are unhappy with their current learning management system (LMS), and over a third are unhappy with their institution’s process for selecting an LMS. In September, we asked Thomas Cavanagh to respond to the findings; he offered two brief checklists (which you can review here) for selecting the right LMS.

In a recent online training, Cavanagh expanded on these checklists and walked through the crucial steps in selecting the right LMS for your institution. As the University of Central Florida’s associate vice president of distributed learning, Cavanagh and his team recently underwent a rigorous LMS review and selection process, including external consultations, vendor demos, comparative feature checklists, pricing, etc.

Here is a little of what he had to say about weighing the merits of two key decisions early in the process.

Decision 1: Commercial vs. Open Source

Here is Cavanagh’s quick list of pros and cons for both options.


When considering the open source route, here are the advantages:

  • Implementation and updates are under your control
  • Free license
  • Management can be handled by an outside vendor

Here are the disadvantages:

  • Updates and maintenance are an additional expense (including staff salaries)
  • Unlike with the commercial option, there is no dedicated R&D


The advantages:

  • Advanced features will be continually updated by R&D teams
  • Dedicated support

The disadvantages:

  • Typically more expensive
  • Updates are vendor-driven

Decision 2: Self-Hosted vs. Vendor-Hosted

Each option entails several critical considerations, and you will want to give thought to these early in the selection process.

For example, when evaluating whether to host the LMS internally, ask:

  • Do you have the necessary hardware and software?
  • Do you have the necessary staff?
  • Can you budget for updates/maintenance?

When considering whether to use a vendor, ask:

  • Do you have the annual budget?
  • Can you relinquish the control you would have over a self-hosted system?
  • Can you be confident in the performance of a vendor-hosted system?


“There are many technical and logistical considerations that matter in selecting an LMS, but the most fundamental point is to ensure that the system is one that will support teaching and learning at your institution. All LMS decisions should be driven by teaching and learning.”
Tom Cavanagh, University of Central Florida

You may also be interested in our article with Thomas Cavanagh, “2 Checklists: Selecting the Right LMS.”

Additional Resources

Included with a registration for our prerecorded online training Selecting the Right LMS with Thomas Cavanagh, participants will receive two resources that will help in properly vetting platforms.

1. A comprehensive LMS evaluation checklist that can be sent to vendors for completion or used by your LMS evaluation teams and faculty participants. The checklist specifically covers:

  • Functionality of LMS software for developers and instructors (course template, mobility, social media integration, third-party test management, etc.
  • Third-Party integration
  • Level of professional services required (training and client support)
  • Functionality of LMS for administrations (security, accessibility, institutional reporting tools, SIS integration, etc.)

2. Charts that provide a comparison of tools in Webcourses at the University of Central Florida (Blackboard Vista) to those available in the three LMS platforms—Canvas, Desire2Learn, and Blackboard Learn 9.1.

If interested, sign up here for this online training and the supplemental resources.