If you’re an eLearning professional, you’ve probably come across the term LMS. So, what is an LMS? LMS, an acronym which stands for "learning management system," is an increasingly broad term for a wide range of eLearning software.
The generic definition of an LMS is a software solution for delivering and tracking training activities, usually with an emphasis on eLearning. As we'll see, LMS features vary so widely that it's become a catch-all term. If you're searching for a quasi or actual LMS, it's important to look at specific requirements in order to find the best fit. In this post, we deconstruct the elements of an LMS, to help you identify the specific features you need from an online training platform.
Elements of an LMS
An LMS may have hundreds of detailed features that vary from vendor to vendor. In this section, we outline the common considerations to look for.
- Open Source, Installed or Cloud Technology: Open source solutions like Moodle and EdX are free but require considerable development resources for customization, installation, and maintenance. Installed (on-premise) solutions are hosted on your organization's servers and often sold as a perpetual license. Cloud solutions are hosted by the vendor and are often sold on a subscription (SaaS) basis.
- Course Delivery: Solutions are optimized for different instructional styles. For example, the EdX platform evolved from college MOOCs, which are synchronous online classes with a high degree of interaction. Other vendors focus on self-paced (asynchronous) eLearning, instructor led training, or some combination of the above.
- Course Authoring: Newer vendors often have built-in course authoring tools. Instructors can simply upload videos, PPT, PDFs, and assemble them into courses entirely within the LMS. Other vendors can only deliver courses that have been created using an offline authoring tool such as Adobe Captivate or Articulate Storyline.
- Assessments: Most LMS solutions have quizzes and assessments built in. Advanced solutions will include highly configurable assessment features such as randomized question banks, time limits, open ended responses, and more.
- Classroom Management: LMS vendors that target K-12 and higher education institutions tend to have features that streamline classroom management functions, such as gradebooks, assignment uploads, and calendaring.
- Instructor Led Training: ILT/VLT capabilities vary greatly. Some LMS solutions can track face-to-face and virtual live training in a single comprehensive solution. Others have built-in virtual live whiteboarding and video, or may integrate with external solutions like Adobe Connect and GoToTraining.
- Certificates and compliance: Certificate features also vary by solution. In many cases, a certificate based on course completion or a quiz passing score is sufficient. Others may need more sophisticated duration tracking, disabling fast forward capabilities, and CEU credit tracking.
- E-Commerce: Training companies and client trainers often sell courses for revenue. In these cases, finding an LMS with e-commerce capabilities is of paramount importance. Payment methods range from credit, debit, and Paypal, to tracking purchase orders and checks. In addition to taking payments, look for the ability to offer promotion codes and subscriptions.
- Branding: For training external audiences (non-employees), having a white label training portal is important for brand consistency, data privacy, and user experience.
- Multiple portals: If you are training multiple groups, such as internal/external or sub-brands of your company, some LMS solutions make it very easy to create separate branded portals, each with separate URLs.
- Mobile: Today's learners wants to view content on computers, tablets, and smartphones. This is true particularly for field workers or younger trainees. Look for solutions that are at least mobile-responsive, i.e. is optimized and easy to use on mobile devices. There are also some pure mobile-only vendors (mLearning).
- Social: The meaning of social learning varies from vendor to vendor. It can include a myriad of features, from logging in with social accounts (Facebook, Google, Yammer, Twitter), to activity feeds, to discussion forums and community features.
- Integrations: Larger organizations need many types of data integrations. Common integrations include single sign on (SSO), Salesforce.com, HR systems, and direct API access.
Finding the Right Fit
We hope this list is useful as you consider the different LMS options. With over 600 vendors, it's no wonder that the term LMS has broadened to cover such a wide range of functionality and features.
There are a lot of options to explore. But the process of finding the right fit for your company doesn't have to be overwhelming. Consider your training audience - who are your learners? Are they employees? Maybe you are looking to deliver training to customers (our eBook "Choosing an LMS for Customer Training" can help). Once you identify your audience, you are ready to define the features that are important for your training program.