If you’re just beginning to investigate online training, you may have run across the term learning management system, which is often shortened to LMS. A learning management system, along with eLearning courses, is central to online training.
In this article, we’ll introduce you to the learning management system, explain what it is, discuss key features and benefits, and give you some tips for learning even more.
A learning management system is a web-based software application that’s used to manage and administer training programs for companies, educational institutions, professional organizations, and more.
In the past, organizations would have an LMS solution installed on their own network server, but these days it’s much more common to use cloud-based learning management systems. Cloud-based LMS solutions are much simpler and quicker to set up and update and are also generally easier for users (admins and learners) to access. Customers typically license the use of the LMS on a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model, paying for a certain number of user licenses on a recurrent basis, such as monthly or yearly.
There are many—hundreds, in fact—of learning management systems on the market.
In general, those hundreds of learning management systems can be grouped into either of two categories:
An academic LMS is just what it sounds like—a learning management system used to teach students at academic institutions such as schools and universities. A few well-known academic learning management systems include Blackboard and Canvas.
Corporate learning management systems are what corporations and other businesses use to train employees. This includes common training needs such as onboarding, career pathing, upskilling and reskilling, and compliance training as well as social learning, curation, and self-directed learning. Additionally, some corporate learning management systems include features to help manage ongoing continuing education needs for professional certifications and licenses.
The Vector Solutions LMS is an example of a corporate or job-training LMS.
Additionally, learning management systems can and are sometimes used by professional organizations, by companies providing training to their channel partners, by companies providing training or orientations to visitors, vendors, or contractors, and by companies providing training to customers.
“Generalist” Learning Management Systems & Niche Learning Management Systems
Some corporate learning management systems are designed to try to fit the needs of as many different employers as possible. They may have many features (including features an organization may never use), and they may actually be just one component or module in a much-larger software system. For example, some of these learning management systems might be just one module in a HR software system meant to manage all aspects of the employee lifecycle, from hire to retire.
On the other hand, other learning management systems are purpose-built to match the specific learning needs of a particular type of company or organization. These learning management systems may not have all the features of a larger, generalist LMS, but they may have specific, unique features that are useful to employers in one industry. In addition, user experience and ease-of-use are critical for LMS success with an organization.
For example, Vector Solutions offers purpose-built learning management systems for particular industries, including:
Even with these niche learning management systems, the providers often offer additional software systems that can be integrated with the LMS to create a complete performance ecosystem, including:
It’s not the case that a generalist LMS is better or worse than a niche LMS, or vice versa. This is a determination that organizations make while they’re conducting a search for a learning management system, and the decision should be based on unique organizational factors including the organization’s learning and development needs, performance needs, and other software systems the organization already has in place. But it pays to know about these two options and to consider them carefully.
Since there are hundreds of learning management systems, and they all include different features, it’s impossible to create a comprehensive list of all the features an LMS provides. However, nearly all learning management systems (and in particular corporate learning management systems) have the following features:
As we’ve discussed above, organizations can use a learning management system to assign all sorts of training activities to their workers. However, it’s very common for organizations to include eLearning courses as part of the training library within their LMS, and in fact those eLearning courses may be a significant portion of the training activities in the LMS.
To make a simple analogy, if you’re familiar with Netflix and its many movies, a learning management system can and often does have many eLearning courses.
Even if you’re not sure what an eLearning course is (by name), you’ve probably seen and even completed one. An eLearning course is the most common form of online workplace training and often includes content, practice questions, and a quiz. It also should have the ability to communicate back-and-forth with the LMS on things like how the learner answered specific questions and whether or not the learner passed the test.
One thing to know about the communication that happens between eLearning courses and an LMS is that it happens through specific eLearning standards or specifications. Basically, this is a fancy way to talk about a pre-arranged way for the eLearning course and the LMS to communicate together, and (to date myself) it’s kind of like the way Beta and VHS tapes could play with specific videotape players or these days the ways that specific video files only work with specific video players.
So, to bring this back to learning management systems and eLearning courses, here’s a run-down of at-least-most of the common eLearning standards that allow an eLearning course and an LMS:
It’s been quite some time since learning management systems debuted on the scene, and these days there are some similar products, spin-offs, etc. But to the uninitiated, it can be a little hard to keep track of them all.
This article focuses on learning management systems, so we won’t spend too much time on learning experience Programs (LXP) or Learning Record Stores (LRS). And some say there’s not much difference between some of these and it’s mostly a marketing tactic. But here’s are a few points about LXPs and LRSs:
The best way to start searching for an LMS is to begin by asking yourself what you or your organization needs from an LMS. Sound simple and basic, sure, but a lot of people forget this and just start the search without first thinking about how that future LMS can help support their organization’s learning and development and performance needs.
We suggest that you involved a diverse team of people from your organization and get input from all of them. This includes people from HR, L&D, production and/or operations, IT, and the workers asked to use the LMS to complete training. Keep in mind that studies show over and over again that diversity tends to lead to better organizational decision-making.
Once you’ve assembled an LMS search team, then begin asking what it is your organization hoping this LMS will do, how it fits into your L&D program, and how it can support your performance needs. Consider you current and future needs and begin your research.
There are many features your organization might value, and you’ll best discover those by working together with the team members you assembled as we just discussed.
But there are a few very common things that often have an outsized-influence on whether an LMS adoption succeeds or fails at an organization. We’ve listed these below for special consideration:
In addition to hearing about things like LMS, LRS, and LXP, you’ll sometimes hear people talking about training platforms.
A training platform is a combination of a learning management system, eLearning courses, and mobile learning applications, all focused for specific industries.
For example, Vector Solutions offers training platforms for the AEC industry, for the Facilities Management and Maintenance industry, for the Industrial and Manufacturing industry, and for the Mining industry.
We’ve listed three great books about learning management systems, finding the right one for your organization, and using the LMS below:
The LMS Guidebook: Learning Management Systems Demystified by Steve Foreman
LMS Success: A Step-by-Step Guide to Learning Management Systems by Katrina Maria Baker
The LMS Selection Checklist by Katrina Maria Baker
Additionally, we think you’ll find the two following resources from Vector Solutions helpful:
If your organization needs training help, especially in putting your training online, in getting up-and-running with an LMS, and in creating measurable learning and performance improvements with your workforce, we’re always ready to talk. Contact us to begin the conversation.