What is a Learning Management System?
Organizational leaders have realized that in order to sustain a more knowledgeable and productive workforce, employee learning must be an ongoing focus.
Choosing the right learning management system (LMS) can help achieve this goal. There are certain benefits and features that an LMS can offer that will make corporate learning more effective.
- What is an LMS?
- Types of Learning Management Systems (LMS)
- What Does an LMS Do?
- LMS Features
- Benefits of LMS
- How to Select the Best LMS for Your Organization?
What is an LMS?
Think of a learning management system as technology that can improve learning, make it faster, productive, cost-effective, and what is more important - trackable.
The most basic LMS contains a core functional platform that enables administrators to upload learning content, deliver lessons to students, serving notifications, and share data with authorized users.
An LMS most often operates inside of a web-browser, behind a secure sign-on process. This gives all students and instructors easy access to courses on-the-go, while administrators and leaders can monitor student progress and make improvements.
Types of Learning Management Systems (LMS)
There are several types of learning management systems that organizations can choose from, check the comparison list:
- Enterprise vs. Individual
- Free vs. Commercial
- SaaS vs. Licensed Product
- Cloud-based vs. On-premise
- Built-in Authoring Tools or Pre-Written CMS
#1: Enterprise vs. Individual
Enterprise grade learning solution
At the highest level, an enterprise learning solution is generally customized for a large company of 500 or more employees.
It’s highly scalable and can be designed to grow with the company and as new courses are added. Oftentimes, an enterprise LMS has a huge list of built-in features to fulfill any needs that may be required.
An individual or small organizational LMS may offer few or all the features available, but limits them to what an individual course producer may need.
However, this can serve the small organization or individual person to produce various learning materials.
Often LMS providers offer different subscription plans to fulfill different needs, so a small organization can utilize the LMS for its needs, and for an appropriate price.
#2: Free vs. Commercial
There are also dozens of free, open-source elearning products for individuals to build courses for their learners. Anyone who has knowledge can deploy it and create a course that can be accessed via an e-learning environment.
Many free LMS also offer advanced levels and a big list of available features. The main problem of a free LMS is that they don't have the level of support that some users are accustomed to.
You need to know how to deploy it or hire a specialist for that. Platform updates will require your attention and time, and do not always go smoothly.
A commercial product is designed to be used by any organization, a college or university, or another educational primary organization.
It’s generally easy to deploy and it has 24/7 support. It also comes with a price tag depending on the level of required features.
Mostly commercial platforms need frequent updating, but they also provide an increasing list of available features, so you always will be using the most modern hi-tech e-learning solution.
#3: SaaS vs. Licensed Product
Perhaps the most popular model for an LMS, is the service as a software (SaaS) model.
It’s a ready-out-of-the- box solution that’s easy to deploy. Usually its Cloud-based, and includes frequent free upgrades.
While it can be somewhat limited in customization, an SaaS LMS is perfect for the organization that’s growing because it’s scalable over time.
Technical support is generally included for the entire use period.
A licensed learning management system can offer the ultimate in customization, customer support, and reliability for users.
It is more flexible and built to each customer’s specifications, which may take some time. It can be installed on a cloud server or on-premise.
Implementation can happen when the organization chooses, but updates may take more time.
The largest cost is the user license, however, licensed products win in a long distance, especially if they are implemented as a cloud-based solution. This makes the cost of ownership and cost per user significantly lower as compared to SaaS solutions. Support can be limited by time or included as a premium paid add-on.
#4: Cloud-based vs. On-premise
A cloud-based LMS is hosted on a secure off-site server and allows users to access the product using a variety of computers and mobile devices, even offline using an app.
It can include many of the most popular features that learners expect.
A cloud-based LMS is much more scalable as compared to an installed version.
Built as a stand-alone product, the on-premise LMS is a licensed product built and installed to the organization’s specifications on the server of their choice.
It can be limiting, on a big scale you have to use several servers.
A cloud-based installation can be more cost-effective in some cases.
On-premise installation maintains user and corporate data on a highly secure basis.
Modern LMS takes into consideration the existing software and systems that the organization has in place, then blends in with them for a seamless user experience.
Integration involves connecting the LMS with other compatible products to enhance the learner experience.
Of course, the organization may choose to keep the learning management system completely separate from all other systems and products.
However, this disables some of the opportunities that this integration can involve.
#6: Built-in Authoring Tools or Pre-Written CMS
Built-in Authoring Tools
Most modern LMS includes content authoring tools or supports The Experience API/xAPI (or SCORM) standard and allows developers to upload already created courses and lessons from authoring tools or LCMS/CMS.
In general, courseware developers prefer having access to built-in authoring tools that enable full course creation and revisions.
In most cases, even pre-authored content can be included and new modules, exercises, learning documents, assessments, and more can be integrated.
Often confused with LMS, a content management system (CMS) is a different product.
However, a CMS can be used to house some learning materials and project documentation.
It can also be a good place for L&D teams to work out course design well ahead of the roll out of real courses.
However, it is no substitute for an LMS. Pre-written course lessons can be developed here and imported into the LMS at a later date.
What Does an LMS Do?
The LMS should be able to:
- Provide learning experiences that are adapted to individual learners
- Make it easy for instructors to make notes and changes
- Give instructors and students the opportunity for online collaboration
- Integrate common tools such as calendars, word processors, and more
- Create a corporate culture-sensitive, branded presence for learners
- Include insights into user progress through built-in analytics
- Be able to scale globally as the organization grows
The modern learning management system often has built-in tools and resources that help administrators to develop course lessons, activities, and assessments. Administrators can assign new user credentials and schedule courses to be completed. They can also track learner progress with reporting features.
A good LMS helps to make learning interesting, engaging learners so they take a more active role in their own development. An LMS should be simple to access and use in order to encourage learners to participate. The design of the LMS should be friendly in appearance and functionality -- based on user requirements.
Most of the learning management software that is available today has features that appeal to different segments of the user population. For example, a K-12 platform will be vastly different than a corporate adult learning product.
An online learning management system, which is often referred to as e-learning or virtual learning, can provide the greatest features as well as cost savings. It’s important that organizations carefully choose the right elearning software features for their long-term needs.
Learning Management System features may include:
- A central user portal for all users, administrators, and course creators to securely login and complete tasks.
- Experience API (Tin Can API) compliant content management system built-in for authoring content and adding elements.
- LMS training system that involves event management and scheduling capabilities that direct users through specific learning plans.
- Certificates, learning badges, and profiles that learners can share to prove their knowledge.
- Automated test scoring and performance management systems based on user behaviors.
- Live classroom and webinar environments for remote instructors and students, client presentations and more.
- Technical and course development support, including built-in tutorials and lesson plans.
This is not an exhaustive list of the many features that a LMS can offer your organization. Keep in mind that artificial intelligence (AI) and automation will be an essential feature for the next generation of LMS.
Companies that are concerned with tracking the performance of employees will also want to understand how learning impacts the productivity of employees, by tapping into rich analytics. Connecting learning with performance will increase as companies need to see a clear connection between business metrics and real business goals.
Benefits of LMS
Using a learning management system can provide many benefits for your organization. The ultimate goal is ensuring that all learners are treated to an experience that honors their learning style. However, at the same time, companies must justify the costs and time invested in this effort.
Key Benefits of Learning Management Systems Software
As a whole, learning management systems help to streamline learning activities in any organization.
The general benefits of learning management systems include:
- Access learning on the go
Easy accessibility via any mobile device to capture opportunities for learning
- Flexibility in learning pathways
Ability to set up specific learning pathways for students and training plans for adults
- Use a variety of learning materials
Bringing together learning materials from a wide range of sources, from MOOCs to user-shared materials
- Analyze learning patterns
Analytics that provide a progress report of every user and proof of knowledge
- Learning Automation
Automation of many learning processes, including scheduling, invitations, and follow-up support
Advantages of LMS Systems for Business
Each business will have different objectives and reasons for choosing an LMS system for internal training.
There are generally several layers of LMS use within businesses, including: employee onboarding and job training, customer education, and professional leadership development.
All of these areas may approach the use of the LMS in a unique way, with courses and learning content design aimed at each group.
Many times, due to globalization, an LMS may be the only option because traditional Instructor-led training (ILT) does not reach all employees where they live and work.
Some of the benefits of LMS systems for business versus other learning formats can include, but are not limited to:
- Secure corporate training
Secure sign-on for keeping corporate training and processes private only to those who need access
- Fast compliance training
Faster and more streamlined employee compliance training with annual proof of completion
Cost savings over other formats of training due to less travel, no outside paid trainers, etc.
- Equal training for all subsidiaries
Consistency of learning materials and concepts across multiple worksites and regions
- Continuous employee development
Improved employee performance with regular access to learning and skill building
- Adaptability of learning materials
Ability to adapt and align training efforts to the organizational needs over time
- Find the most effective learning activities
Employee progress through structured learning can be monitored and incentivized
- Compliant to private information policies
Security of user private information and course progress within the LMS
Benefits of LMS in Education
If the learning management system is to be used as part of any other educational program, for example a K-12 environment, a college or university, or another level of training; there are many advantages of choosing an LMS over instructor-led training.
The use of technology in the classroom has led to a wave of more LMS in education. Today’s learner has many more opportunities to grasp important concepts with a focus on their individual learning style.
In Finland, for example, phenomenal-based learning brings concepts and real life applications of learning together. An interactive and responsive LMS can facilitate this more modern format of learning in any educational setting.
The advantages of LMS in any educational setting can include:
- Teachers can use established pedagogical models to deliver more personalized lessons and increase the engagement level of students
- Students respond well to micro-learning and the LMS is a perfect platform for facilitating this format of learning
- Students can learn on their own via computers, laptops, and mobile devices to keep learning alive 24/7
- An LMS increases the flexibility and creativity of the learning materials, which enhances the student experience and encourages shared collaboration
- Student progression through lessons and assessments becomes more self-driven -- tapping into the natural way humans learn
- Artificial intelligence and automation make administration of learning materials easier for instructors, freeing up their time for other teaching opportunities
How to Select the Best LMS for Your Organization?
Now that you have a good overview of what a learning management system is and the various benefits and features offered, it’s important to understand how to choose the best LMS for your organizational purposes.
#1 Measurable results
Investing in a learning management software for your organization often comes down to how quickly you can measure real results. If it’s for business purposes, for example to train employees, being able to quickly and effectively produce high levels of proficiency matters.
These results should be displayed for users (as in completion rates, steps towards goals) as well as administrators in terms of completed modules, scores, and the connection to corporate objectives.
#2 Accessibility and User-friendly Design
A major issue that can make or break a learning management system is when there are accessibility issues for users. The sign-on process should be simple and secure. The home screen should be intuitive and include the information that a user needs to start completing courses.
In addition, tools such as AI and chatbots can enable learners to search for and find new course suggestions matched to their interests. This is especially important when working with younger people or multi-generational learners who may not be accustomed to the latest formats.
Fonts and layout of content should be in a user-friendly design, and all text needs to be translatable to other language types and 508 compliant.
Today, learners need to be able to take their learning on-the-go. Therefore a multi-device LMS can ensure that learners can access their courses and pick up where they've left off anytime it suits them.
With a vast majority of the population accessing the Internet via mobile devices now worldwide, the LMS you choose must be able to work well on a variety of operational systems, browsers, and screen sizes.
#4 Secure data management
When an organization wants to develop and manage courses, a secure LMS platform is a must. Not only is course data proprietary in nature, but the information of all users needs to be protected.
Only select an LMS that has a single sign-on process (SSO) and maintains information behind added layers of security linked to user privileges. This is especially important when using a cloud-based server to house data.
#5 Support response and training
Before deciding on the best LMS for your organization, consider that there will be times when live customer support will be needed. This often happens during implementation and integration phases, but it can arise anytime.
New users will also need access to tutorials on how to use the learning management product.
Ask about support for after hours for those who may be using it in other time zones.
Final Thoughts on LMS
Evaluating an LMS takes deep analysis of all the features and benefits each one provides. This is a difficult decision because it’s something that will require a long term commitment.
Look for an LMS that is built with the future in mind.
This should be evident from reading through the description of the product, and learning more about the company and where it’s headed.
Gather information from client testimonials as well as awards that the company has received.
Find out what the leadership team’s background is and what they are passionate about in the learning industry.
All of the above information should help you make a case for selecting and investing in a reputable learning management system for your organization's needs.