August 20th, 2020 LearnDash

Feature bloat has killed many an LMS. Don’t let it distract you from the essentials.

Many educators, when they’re looking for an LMS, are attracted to platforms that boast an exhaustive list of features, from user forums to video hosting to advanced interactive features. There’s an obvious appeal to these solutions. If you find the perfect platform that can do everything, you no longer need to shop around for other solutions!

But there’s a hidden downside to all-in-one LMSs, which too many users may fail to recognize until they’ve already fallen for the trap: feature bloat. The more features an LMS piles on, the worse those features become. That extensive list of capabilities turns out to be perfunctory, with each feature barely accomplishing its purpose.

This is a major problem for many hosted LMSs, which we’ve discussed in the past, but it is not limited to them. And it’s very discouraging to users who need many of these features but are being let down by performance. What are you going to do if you need a high performance feature that isn’t offered by your LMS of choice?

The key is to find an LMS that plays well with others. These platforms give you the foundation you need to start your course, but the flexibility to incorporate other services that better fit your needs. Let’s take a look at the top five reasons you should prioritize flexibility in your search for an LMS.

1. Core features aren’t neglected in the favor of trends.

A good LMS should pay attention to the industry and make adjustments accordingly, but that shouldn’t mean abandoning essential offerings in pursuit of the latest fad. Features should only be dropped when they becomes out of date, and new ones should only be added if they make strategic sense.

Instead, far too many all-in-one platforms will add each and every new thing as it comes along, while failing to enrich and develop the services they already have. In essence, they’re abandoning their current users to try to attract new ones. That’s not how an LMS should operate.

2. Support isn’t stretched too thin.

The more features an LMS adds, the more training their support team needs to understand them in order to be effective. Additionally, more features usually means more support requests as users run into trouble implementing them on their sites. As a result, more features can quickly overwhelm a support team, leading to longer service delays.

Conversely, an LMS that hasn’t fallen prey to feature bloat can offer a support team who are better equipped to handle requests when they come in.

3. Users aren’t paying for features they don’t need.

The biggest disadvantage to an all-in-one LMS comes down to cost. Developing and supporting new features is expensive, which is why a good LMS will be selective in which ones they offer. The more features a platform purports to deliver, the more they will have to charge for the design, development, and support of those features. The costs associated with feature bloat then roll over to the users, very few of whom are likely to be using more than a fraction of the full feature list.

A lean LMS with fewer features but plenty of integration options gives customers more freedom to only pay for what they’re using.

4. Users have the flexibility to choose their own integrations.

Speaking of integrations, one of the biggest problems with built-in features is that so many other, better tools already exist. For instance, we’ve had pre-sales leads ask why we don’t offer video hosting. The answer is first and foremost that video hosting is a business in and of itself. Offering it with our LMS would be like adding on a whole new product to our existing services.

But a more important reason is because many of our users are already loyal to a video host—and for good reason. Companies that offer this as a dedicated service have spent years developing their product, with the result that they have experience with use cases we haven’t even imagined. Whatever we create wouldn’t be as good, and it would leave our users stuck with another wasteful and expensive feature.

5. The LMS doesn’t become bogged down in complexity.

Finally, the more features an LMS includes, the more these features will add to the complexity of the platform. The result is a cumbersome and decidedly unfriendly user experience.

A flexible LMS will offer a user-friendly interface that can be combined with other plugins as needed. The result is a more customized backend that offers users exactly the tools they need, without having to navigate through all the bloat.

The an all-in-one LMS isn’t a feature—it’s a bug.

The bottom line here is that less is more. An LMS that focuses on creating the best learning platform possible—and leaving all the other bells and whistles to specialized services—will leave its users in a more advantageous position than one that tries to be the end-all-and-be-all for its users.

That’s our philosophy at LearnDash. We would rather keep our focus on the core learning functions that help our users deliver their courses, because that’s what we do best. This is also the ecosystem that WordPress was built for. Having the freedom to build your course from an array of plugins that match your needs is far superior to being locked in to a system that charges you more for inferior features and support.

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