White LMS text in center of word cloud; highlighted against swath of red for what is LMS concept

What is LMS? The definition of an LMS, or learning management system, is relatively straightforward: it is a software application or Web-based technology used to administer and deliver learning activities. As a recent Leading Learning executive briefing, Conquering the Confusion: The Role of the LMS in the Evolving Learntech Landscape, puts it:

The most common piece of learntech, an LMS is software for delivering educational experiences to learners, with an emphasis on pushing out content designed by the organization that owns the LMS—e.g., your catalog of online courses.

Of course, all of that is still pretty high level. In this post, we’ll take a deeper look at what an LMS is, what it does, and why it matters for your learning business.

The primary focus of an LMS

An LMS enables you to enroll learners in courses; it enables your learners to launch and access those courses; and it enables you to track learners’ activity, scores, and completion of courses. An LMS provides basic testing and generates reports.

A learning business can use an LMS to train customers (how to master a new skill or body of knowledge), members (how to advance in their profession), or employees (how to do their job). An LMS has two broad points of interaction:

  1. The administrative interface, where courses are created, managed, and delivered.
  2. The user interface, or what learners see when they access your courses.

The LMS can help a wide range of organizations create, deliver and measure online training and eLearning:

  • Businesses of all sizes, from large multinational enterprises to start-ups
  • Businesses from that are highly regulated, such as healthcare organizations
  • Government organizations – federal, state and local
  • Non-profits
  • Consulting organizations
  • Primary, secondary, higher and life-long educational institutions
  • Instructors and coaches

Of course, our focus here at ReviewMyLMS is on organizations that create and sell continuing education, professional development, and other forms of adult lifelong learning. That’s a focus that can easily span most of the organization types listed above.

Why do I need an LMS?

Why your learning business should care is a bit more complex. Let’s start with 5 central questions:

  1. Do you run your education and training as a business?
  2. Do you base your learning and business strategy on data?
  3. Are you concerned with scalability?
  4. Is agility important to you?
  5. Do you believe that the customer experience is central to success?

Assuming your answers are affirmative, let’s draw on those questions and look beyond the static definition of an LMS platform (the what is LMS question) to a deeper understand of what’s in it for you (the why should I care question).

Key Learning Management System Capabilities

While an LMS can’t manage every part of your learning business, it can do a lot. Here are some of the major capabilities of a modern LMS

Empowers education to run as a business

The LMS was originally developed as software primarily for use in corporate training or for support of academic degree programs. That means that, deep down, the software operates by business rules, whether or not you are directly charging learners for the training. A good example of these business rules is validation of specific employee skills or student knowledge. This validation is typically offered based on learners achieving a provable level of knowledge and ability as demonstrated by the successful completion of specified courses and passing the relevant assessments. Without an LMS, proving that the requirements were met would be a manual process, which would quickly become overwhelming as your business grows.

If revenue generation is your aim, an LMS can incorporate ecommerce with capabilities for handling discounts, upsells, multiple currencies and more. These capabilities enable you to promote your course catalog, get the right courses in front of the right learners, and have learners easily register and pay for the courses they want and need, worldwide. Automated follow-up emails work to turn current and past learners into future customers.

Enables measurement and improvement

Fundamentally, an LMS is a database, and learning experiences, whether designed for customers, members, or employees, provide a host of data that you can use to drive insight into the strategy for and continuous improvement of your learning business. This data can be both qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative may be as simple as the “smile sheets” collected at the end of a class to more in-depth, one-on-one “voice of the learner” interviews. Quantitative may be test scores, survey results, content access, course completion, time to completion, and an accompanying array of analyses, such as identifying skills gaps, that will tell you what’s working (and what’s not) with your training business, your clients and your learners.

With an LMS, measurement becomes standardized across all learning, and everything, all the metrics and all the data, are in one place. This enables meaningful analysis that drives continuous improvement. And that’s really what it’s all about: learning how to design and deliver training that helps each learner achieve their goals, and that gets better with each iteration.

Enables scalability and profitability

An LMS, even at its most basic level, relieves your learning business from time-consuming, repetitive administrative tasks, reducing cost, increasing quality and efficiency, and reducing time-to-market. The LMS thus enables both growth and profitability. It also reduces complexity in multiple ways:

  • You don’t need teams of people armed with reams of excel spreadsheets
  • The learner can access all training and educational content through one portal – online courses, Webinars, even classroom-based education
  • You can centralize communication with learners through the LMS and easily target communications to specific groups of learners

Perhaps most importantly in current times, an LMS provides a clear path from Instructor-Led Training (ILT) to Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT), and on to all the methods of training e-delivery which are much more scalable and much more profitable.

Drives speed and agility

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that our learning strategy must embrace agility, because you never know what’s coming around the corner. Indeed, many learning businesses suffered because they were ILT-entrenched and could not quickly or easily adapt to the virtual new world. Agility also has a profound impact on content:

  • Those of us providing education and training in regulated industries must respond to changes in regulation, legislation and enforcement. With an LMS, the changes you make to a central document can be universally distributed in seconds, and thus ensure the virtually-instant compliance of content.
  • A good LMS will support a variety of ways to reconfigure content you already have; for example, combining learning objects into new courses or new versions of courses, creating new learning paths out of courses, or adding in assessment and credentialing options. It can also help users discover content they may not have known existed. (While this tends to be truer of LXPs [Link to LXP/LMS article], the types of systems we feature here at ReviewMyLMS tend to have upselling and cross-selling features.)

Those are just a couple of the possibilities. In general, an LMS should be a tool that helps you streamline and accelerate your core learning business processes.

Supports a more engaging customer experience

While an LMS is fundamentally a database, it also provides a range of ways to configure and reconfigure how information is presented to learners. Those abilities, in combination with a learning-oriented data architecture, enable you to create user experiences that go well beyond what a standard web content management system can provide. That leads to happier customers who stay longer and buy more. Some features of an LMS that help make learners happy, increase their retention of the learning experience, and enable them to use the knowledge they gain to greater effect include:

  • The ability to access a diverse range of learning formats – from live and recorded Webinars, to microlearning videos, to interactive online courses, to classroom-based training – in a single location
  • The ability to earn credit for learning through traditional tools like certificates and CE credit and alternative tools like digital badges
  • Options for pursuing learning paths that offer personalized approach to training, allowing each learner to pursue their own path at their own pace.
  • Access to features such as gamification and social interaction that are designed support engagement and interactivity and increase retention.

At a high level, an LMS functions as the central nervous system of your learning organization. It allows you to develop and store courses and content, distribute that knowledge to learners where ever, whenever, and on any device. And, it allows you to track that information and the outcomes of the training so that you may improve and better meet the needs of your learners. Whether you are training employees, customers or association members, it enables your training to function, succeed and grow. That said, there are an enormous number of LMS platforms on the market, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

To help sort through the options, a great next step from here is to visit the user reviews of learning management systems that are available here on ReviewMyLMS.

by Scott Hornstein for ReviewMyLMS

See also: