The Worst Type of Question to Ask in Your Learning Management System Request for Proposal (RFP)

I have to say, I feel really badly for the organizations that have issued some of the RFPs I’m seeing.

  • They turned to a research firm or various Web sites for a list of learning management system features
  • They copied most of these features into a RFP and sent it to vendors
  • Along with proposals, they asked for supporting documentation such as server security specifications, marketing materials, terms of service, etc.

In response to one recent request for proposal, I submitted about 150 pages of information. If the organization that issued the RFP gets ten similar responses from other providers, they’ll need to wade through about 1500 pages of material…  just to create a short list of systems to evaluate further.

(This is nuts.)Question mark made out of puzzle pieces (Some rights reserved by Horia Varlan/Flickr)

Picking a learning management system shouldn’t require an army of people just to read the RFPs and attempt to rank the systems to narrow the field down to a manageable few. A request for proposal should make the selection of technology easier, not harder.

Simply by eliminating one type of question, many of the RFPs I’m seeing would become much more efficient technology selection tools by reducing—significantly—the scope of the submitted proposals. Best of all, removing this type of commonly-asked question does away with information that provides zero value to your technology evaluation exercise.

Here’s the number one question you should remove from your RFP:

“Describe the procedure to [INSERT NAME OF TASK YOU WANT TO COMPLETE] using your learning management system.”

Why is this so bad? Let’s have a look using a specific example:

RFP QUESTION: “Describe the procedure to set up an instructor-led session using your learning management system.”

RESPONSE FROM VENDOR:

How to set up an instructor-led session in Absorb LMS:

  1. From the main Admin control panel, click the Courses menu to left
  2. Click Manage courses
  3. Click the button labelled +Add Instructor-led course
  4. Choose how your course will be categorized in the course catalog
  5. Give your new course a title
  6. Add a course description
  7. Click the “Learners can enroll and register for sessions” radio button if you wish to let learners enrol themselves in your course
  8. Click “Next.” This will take you to the tab that allows you to add a session
  9. Click “Add session”
  10. Yada
  11. Yada
  12. Yada

Let’s be honest. Does the textual procedure description above—even with the addition of screen captures—in any way help you evaluate this technology? This is like trying to describe a piece of music to someone using only words:

  • We first hear a violin playing a light, playful melody, supported by a viola and bass.
  • The melody is then repeated by a second violin. This time, the viola starts to play a counterpoint to the melody.
  • The melody is then repeated a third time. This time, horns and bassoons join in.
  • etc.

(Surely you’ve all recognized this as the opening to the first movement of Beethoven’s 6th symphony.)

Asking for textual descriptions of how a feature works is the worst type of question to ask in your learning management system request for proposal. This question type is, however, exactly what you should be asking in live demos of the software. Seeing features demonstrated, and trying the features in a trial account, will very quickly help you select the right learning management system.