LMS questions can be complicated. We’ve compiled them here to help answer your questions.
So you’ve heard of a learning management system (LMS) but aren’t quite sure how to make heads or tails of it—that’s okay. An LMS is a powerful, nuanced business solution.
Gaining an understanding of what an LMS is, how it works, and ways you can put it to use are essential to getting the most out of yours.
So you’ve heard of a learning management system (LMS) but aren’t quite sure how to make heads or tails of it—that’s okay. An LMS is a powerful, nuanced business solution.
Gaining an understanding of what an LMS is, how it works, and ways you can put it to use are essential to getting the most out of yours. Read more, or click on any section that interests you on the right to learn more.
An LMS means you have an online tool to efficiently manage employee training, development, and engagement—your modern learning solution.
An LMS is a website where your organization can put its training materials, frequently used documents, and communicate directly with your people. Plus, modern learning platforms are cloud-based. That allows your people access to critical information at the moment of need wherever they are.
Each employee has their own individual profile in an LMS. Your LMS administrator operates the site. They make sure content is updated, organized, and easy-to-find. The admin is able to assign material to employees—individually or in groups, organized by profile fields like job title or location.
The primary benefits of using an LMS are in training and communication in one easily accessible platform. Content creation tools within the LMS power up course authoring for you to build learning paths, for things like onboarding and career development.
Communication-centric LMS features allow you to send updates to individuals, groups, and locations. Reporting tools confirm whether a person has read the message. An LMS empowers you to efficiently get the word out about anything, and be sure that the message was received.
You should use an LMS simply because it improves your people operations. The best LMS platforms fit the workflow of you and your people, making it easy to train, onboard new employees, and communicate consistently across the country in different locations.
While each platform provider puts a unique twist on the software, they all share a common list of LMS features.
Let’s go through the basic features and goals of an LMS.
The goals the LMS features need to achieve differ for the administrators and the learners.
The key features of an LMS that empower you to accomplish all of those goals:
Content management tools are at the core of any modern LMS, they let you create your own content and assign it out to individuals or groups. These tools are how you build a curriculum or training paths for learners and are essential features of a good LMS.
Assessments and testing are key because they help track learners’ progress and development. You should check with the vendor to see what types of assessments their LMS offers. Multiple choice quizzes are great, but sometimes you need a learner to show someone in person that they’ve mastered a new skill.
Mobile devices like smartphones and tablets make training as available as possible for you employees. A mobile LMS helps learners quickly adopt your system and removes any friction associated with learning. Additionally, the information is more likely to stick with a learner if they have access to the information when it’s convenient for them or when they need it and can put it to use right away.
You need to know who’s using the LMS and how they’re using it in order to engage employee progress and areas for improvement. A modern LMS has a handful of reports that help you learn more about the system. LMS analytics let you pull back the curtain on every level—from learner transcripts to course completions to how many people logged in last month. All of this information helps you make better information about where needs exist in employee training and onboarding.
Communication—a good LMS lets learners interact with the content. After all, only 10% of learning comes from formal learning courses. The LMS needs to give learners a chance to talk back and forth, to share knowledge that comes from experience and create a social LMS experience.
Gamification encourages a friendly spirit of competition to help people achieve more than before and even to compete against other learners, if they’re into that.
Applying gamification principles to learning has been shown to increase collaboration, foster greater learner independence, increase learner engagement, and promote healthy competition among employees. Some great features for boosting engagement in an LMS include:
Incentivize learners by awarding points and badges as they progress through training content. You can create milestones to foster a sense of accomplishment among learners.
Gamification can increase learner engagement by incentivizing achievement, but only if the achievements are public and valued in the learner’s community.
Designers of recreational games have long known that gamification impacts an individual’s motivation to both challenge themselves and tackle obstacles. Rewards such as levels, leaderboards, badges, and recognition transform a big undertaking into bite-size, digestible pieces. By incorporating gaming methodology into online learning, you can improve a learner’s desire to complete the training.
A crucial element to effective gamification within an LMS is the existence of a vibrant online learning community where achievement is public and celebrated. Much like in popular social media platforms, the social recognition associated with positive personal achievement is multiplied immensely when seen in the context of a learner’s professional peers.
Instructor-led training is the classic, traditional way of training and learning. You’ve got a teacher and a bunch of students, and the instructor teaches those students through formal means in real time (formerly in person, but remote training is obviously surging in popularity).
It’s important to have instructor-led training in your learning strategy for the many benefits it provides to learning.
The easiest way to bring instructor-led training into your cloud-based LMS is through blended learning. Blended learning LMS’ offer an in-person piece in addition to online training. The in-person part can be a workshop or a webinar. Or even a skills demonstration. Because, while it’s important to pass a quiz, the real test is whether the learner can perform the task in real life.
Instructor-led training is an important part of a robust, modern LMS. When you’re comparing vendors be sure to ask how their system facilitates instructor-led training.
We mentioned mobile optimization earlier. It certainly sounds important, but let’s dig into what is mobile responsive design. It refers to the way a website’s layout and content rearranges to fit the screen of whatever device a user chooses. It’s like water—the site changes its shape to fit whatever vessel it’s in.
When users log in from a tablet or smartphone, the site changes to fit the screen. All the pieces of the site—columns, pictures, feeds—rearrange automatically so the learner can scroll through the site without having to pinch and zoom to figure out what’s what.
There are two main advantages to mobile-optimizing your LMS:
Since there’s only one site, there’s no duplication of efforts. If you want to redesign or re-brand the site, you do it once and the site is re-crafted for both desktop and mobile users. When there’s new learning material to push out, all you need to do is create it once and it’s available right away. Plus, it’s faster to implement because there’s only one site to build. Beyond that, having two versions of a site can affect page ranking because duplicate content tends to confuse search engine algorithms.
Computer-based training is any sort of training delivered through a computer.
You’re right, it is kind of self-explanatory. But also not. Computer-based training has been around since the dawn of the computer age. Thus, you can do a lot with computer-based training. Let’s wade through the benefits of it.
Computer-based training makes it easier to ensure a standard of training. It gives every learner the information in the same way. And it lets you provide the same quality of training to everyone as the business scales up, especially when paired with a modern LMS.
Of course, one concern that’s raised from time to time is whether you can be sure a learner has actually learned the material.
Computer-based training is typically done through an LMS, which gives you the ability to track learners’ progress through the required material. But you can also use blended learning to mix the consistency and scalability of computer-based training with the practicality of real-world, in-person training. The most important part of training is the ability to put it to use, right?
Developing computer-based training can be costly. Not all LMSs have built-in eLearning authoring tools that let you create online courses. So sometimes you have to seek out a third-party system to build out the course content needed.
Now that we’re deep in the weeds, let’s answer the age-old question: what are LMS reporting and analytics?
In a nutshell, reporting and analytics tell you who’s using your learning platform and how they’re using it.
A good modern LMS has reporting that administrators can run, and some that learners can see. They tend to fall across three levels:
You can look at an individual learner’s transcript. The transcript shows you what material the learner’s worked through so far and, if the LMS is gamified, how many points or badges they’ve earned. The learner can check this out, too. It’s helpful for the learner to look back and see what material they’ve finished before deciding what to work on next.
A course report shows you how many people have completed the material, and how much more those who haven’t finished it have left to do. If there’s a test, you can take a look at how learners are doing and tweak the test or the course if you don’t like what you see.
The system-wide view gives you a sense of how engaged learners are with the system. It’ll show you how many people have logged in over a given timeframe and how they’ve interacted with the system. You know, how much content they’ve finished and how active the learners are on the social side of things. It sounds a bit fluffy, but those are some of the most important analytics in an LMS—if people aren’t engaged they aren’t going to learn!
Reports and analytics give you a cut-and-dry sense of the system. But if you know what you’re looking for, those figures can tell a deeper story.
If you keep an eye on those system-wide numbers and how they change as new material goes out, for instance, you can get a sense of what resonates the most with your learners. It teaches you how to get more out of your system.
Blended learning combines traditional in-person teaching with online learning to create a unique, modern learning experience.
The best thing about blended learning is that it allows both a structured environment while also allowing a learner to take control of their path.
This means a person still gets formalized learning in some type of classroom situation. But, that person also completes an eLearning portion of their training on their own.
However, blended learning and online learning are different. While blended learning contains an online learning component, what makes it “blended” is that some sort of interpersonal interaction exists along with the eLearning course.
So if you think about it, you get the best of both worlds.
Blended learning is effective because it shows learners information in a variety of forms. This makes it easier for learners to engage with the material. And when learners are engaged with the material, they find things easier to remember.
This can be through infographics, videos, or audio pieces. That range of material helps reach a wide range of learner types, too.
Learners need to have a sense of ownership with eLearning material. Learners need the ability to dictate things like when and where they take the course. Some people work better in a coffee shop than a classroom. Creating an online portion of a course helps learners because they can go at their own pace. And they can do it in their comfort zone.
Blended learning helps on the administrative side, too. Online assessments mean face-to-face time is focused on working through and applying concepts. Administrators manage online material and can update them quickly and easily for every learner all at once.
With an LMS you can pull reports and find out how learners progress through courses and material. You can even get a sense of what type of content resonates with learners, and further refine your content library and L&D strategy.
Microlearning is a buzzword you’ll see often in the LMS world. In general, microlearning describes short, quick learning material that is easily absorbed by the learner. Think of a microlearning piece as a bullet point on a PowerPoint presentation–easy to remember and incredibly engaging.
Most pieces of microlearning are videos, and most are 90 seconds or less.
People are savvy consumers of information. If a post on your Facebook feed doesn’t immediately catch your eye, you just scroll to the next one. Learners scroll through training courses in the same way. They’ll sniff out off-the-shelf, inauthentic content and won’t engage with the material.
All that might sound intimidating. But you don’t necessarily have to hire a production company for these quick-hitting training pieces. It’s simple enough to make one with just your smartphone and a little creativity.
Organizations turn to microlearning for many reasons. It’s effective, it’s efficient, and it’s pretty cheap.
Learners digest and remember information better in a tightly-focused piece. A simple minute or two is enough time to explain what they’re learning and why. And that’s really all you need. If the content is available on a mobile device, learners can put that knowledge to use right away.
Research from Bersin by Deloitte, a research group focused on learning strategies, shows that learners only have 1% of their week to complete training and development. They’re more likely to get through a course if key points are condensed to 90-second chunks rather than one 90-minute webinar.
The same research showed that more than 70% of employees use a search engine to find the information they need on the job. A library of microlearning content gives those same learners a better place to go and ensures that they’re learning the right material.
You can make the content yourself with just a smartphone and a laptop. It’s easier than you think. Creating your own content lends a natural air of authenticity, which goes a long way for engaging learners.
And once you find a rhythm, you can update the library of content as often as needed.
If you spend enough time in the L&D world, you’ll come across SCORM.
SCORM stands for Shareable Content Object Reference Model. Unfortunately—unless you’re fluent in tech jargon—that doesn’t tell us all that much about what it is or what it does.
It was invented in the late ’90s when the government started using online training in earnest. Different departments had different systems with different technical requirements. That meant the same content had to be made in several formats, which was expensive. The government wanted to create a universal standard, so content didn’t have to be reproduced all the time.
What resulted from that was SCORM.
Basically, it’s a simple way to package online training content. It looks like a slideshow. When you build SCORM content, it downloads to a .ZIP file. Then you’re able to just pop it into a compliant LMS and it works. Simple as that.
All that history is interesting, you say, but how’s it used today?
Sharing content is super easy with SCORM. It also makes it easy to switch between eLearning systems. SCORM is easy enough to download from one LMS and plug into another one—provided the new one is SCORM compliant.
It also comes with its own reporting. When a learner opens the training, it tracks their progress. And whether or not they fail.
It’s good for compliance training because its content is often arranged in pages or chapters. It tracks whether a learner completed a given page. This way you can be sure learners read and complete every page of a compliance piece.
Some SCORM authoring tools allow you to add interactive features in your courses, like expandable text or mini-quizzes. You can also set a minimum amount of time learners must spend on a page before they’re able to mark it complete.
The drawback to SCORM is that it can be expensive and difficult to master from an authoring standpoint. The more common authoring tools (Adobe Captivate and Articulate Storyline) cost more than $1,000 per user. And it takes a while before you’re comfortable juggling all the moving parts of an engaging, interactive piece of content.
eLearning is another somewhat self-explanatory term. Like most “e” things, the “e” in eLearning stands for “electronic learning.” It’s the broad umbrella that covers any learning material that’s delivered online.
eLearning offers a more efficient and cheaper way to learn and train than traditional classroom-based learning. Courses are typically delivered through an LMS, which tracks various metrics.
Of course, all these benefits come with an important caveat: the content must be good. Really good.
Because the learner is self-directed, if the eLearning isn’t engaging, the learner isn’t going to work through it in a timely manner. And the information won’t stick with them beyond the time it takes to pass the quiz at the end.
First off, let’s sit with the awesome fact that you’re interested in creating your own eLearning course. Content created by the company for the company is often the most effective learning material. No one knows your learners better than you.
But how do I create an eLearning course, you might be asking yourself. Let’s jump into the nitty-gritty. One of the first decisions to make is whether you want to use a course authoring tool or the one built into your LMS.
Authoring tools in an LMS are helpful because they usually don’t require a lot of technical expertise. And it’s a streamlined process—once the course is created, you can immediately publish it out to the right audience.
That said, authoring tools can have more interactive elements. They usually make it easier to use material across multiple systems, too.
Setting a template and style is important for a couple reasons. One, with a template you don’t have to reinvent the wheel with each course. The other is that it helps learners navigate the material. If learners open a course and have to re-orient themselves each time they’re less likely to use it.
What skill or information do you want the learner to take away from the course? It’s super important to pin this down right at the beginning. The course content—we’re talking everything: design, graphics, images, video—all flow from this. The reason it’s so important is because learners access eLearning content on the go, whenever and wherever they need it. And cognitive Load Theory says we can only retain so much information at once.
Which brings us to the next step: keep those designs and graphics simple and straightforward. Only include the details immediately relevant to what you want the learners to glean from the course. Another trick to help learners digest and retain information is to arrange it in bite-sized pieces.
Keep these big picture notes in mind as you craft your content and learners will love it.
For as many different learning objectives and challenges as there are, someone has built a digital learning platform to address them.
To name the most prominent LMS platform types:
All that is well and good, but let’s get down to brass tacks. The short answer to which software is best for you is: it depends on what you want to do. Which is about as unsatisfying an answer as “you’ll understand when you’re older.” We’ll go through and define what each one is and figure out a more satisfying answer. (We also have a helpful guide for choosing a corporate LMS.)
While a content management system (CMS) allows you to build and store content, an LMS offers you those same course authoring tools in addition to a variety of reporting, interactivity, engagement, mobile usability, and gamification features. In short, every LMS is kind of like a CMS, but a CMS doesn’t have any of the elearning benefits of a proper LMS. The biggest difference between the two systems is the user’s experience. With a CMS, the user is passive. You can push out content, but all the user can do is look at it. There’s very little interaction going on.
An LMS is great for training or teaching. They’re used most often by businesses and educational organizations to deliver educational material online. You can create or upload content into an LMS. You can stack those pieces of content together to form a learning path or a curriculum. And with an LMS, you can assign that path to specific groups of learners (and to individual learners) and track their progress through the material.
A CMS is great for building content. You control who has editing access to the piece of media and whether it’s available publicly or privately. It’s great for managing a workflow, and an easy way to store and edit website content.
With an LMS, the user takes an active role in the system. They’re able to go through and choose which content they want to check out. They can talk back and forth amongst themselves.
If what you’re looking to do is create and publish content, you want a CMS. But if you want to pass along knowledge or teach something, you want an LMS.
An LCMS is for digital learning only, itt can’t facilitate blended learning or instructor-led training like an LMS can. This software does allow you to create content within it, but has limited communication features compared to an LMS.
All that means that an LCMS is right for you if your organization creates all its training content itself and doesn’t have a need for robust communication or in-person training.
The LRS vs LMS comparison is more drastic. Where an LMS is a dynamic system that allows you to create and assign content, communicate and analyze, an LRS is simply a storehouse for, well, learning records.
An LRS complements an organization’s L&D strategy by providing analytics tools to discover insights into how the strategy plays out. You might want an LRS if your organization has already built its own internal learning platform, but lacks nuanced and powerful reporting and analytics capabilities.
The LMS vs VLE debate is relatively straightforward. It’s a difference of private business and traditional education. Most colleges and universities these days have a VLE used to complement classroom time. It’s an online environment for collaboration and extending discussions. There’s less in the way of reporting and analytics, but plenty of opportunity for two-way communication and document sharing.
Now the TMS vs LMS comparison is a little trickier. A TMS is intended for business use. It’s a more specialized piece of software, however. The main point of a TMS is to help your L&D team run its in-person, instructor-led training.
A TMS is primarily a back-end software. It’s intention isn’t to provide the end user with a quality experience. Rather, the main goal is to help your team coordinate logistics, financials, and reporting for business intelligence.
So, where an LMS is for creating employee content, engaging users, and streamlining communication and training, a TMS is more just for you, the administrator. All the bells and whistles are in place to help you improve back-end coordination for in-person trainings.
A learning experience platform might sound like a newfangled version of an LMS. An LXP vs LMS comparison shows otherwise. To be clear, an LXP is somewhat newfangled. But it’s meant to complement an LMS rather than replace one.
An LXP is an open platform for creating and aggregating learning content—a sort of business-oriented YouTube, if you like. What this means is anyone can add any content and it becomes available to all users immediately. Admins have less control over how content is displayed to specific user groups, and have less robust reporting and analytics at their fingertips. Because an LXP is complementary to an LMS.
The above are the main types of different learning software. Plenty of variation exists within each category, so it’s important to check out vendors after settling on a software type.
One such variation is the social learning LMS. This refers to a learning platform that has strong social features. Typically, that includes unique user profiles, ability to like or comment on content, forums or discussion boards, and the ability for users to upload content.
The difference between eLearning and an LMS is subtle, but key.
The term eLearning is a broad concept—electronic learning—that describes learning material delivered online. Of course, when you’re running L&D for a business it doesn’t make much sense just to put learning material online and tell employees to get after it. You need a way to create the content itself, send it out to learners, track completions, and build a community around the content. This is where an LMS comes in.
eLearning is a time and cost-effective way for organizations to keep learners up-to-date on new techniques and important information. Training consistency is easier to handle when the training content is delivered online. And housing the learning material online makes it easy for learners to access it when and where they need it.
Any educational material consumed online—from K-12 courses on Lynda.com or the Khan Academy, to higher education, like edX, or YouTube tutorials—is eLearning. Most people have used eLearning informally at some point in their lives, even if they didn’t realize it was eLearning at the time.
Since you’re here, reading an article written by an LMS vendor, we assume you’re at least leaning toward an LMS. The industry is crowded with vendors, but the top LMS platforms are Cornerstone, Docebo, SAP Litmos, Schoox, and yours truly Wisetail.
If you’re searching for the top corporate LMS, we recommend checking out our guide on how to choose a corporate LMS.
It should go without saying, but you have to keep your specific use case top of mind when shopping around for an LMS.
The reason we focus on engaging learners is because the best competitive advantage is an empowered, intelligent staff. We empower our own staff, and actively seek partners who do the same. The companies who share our values—who think like we do when it comes to the value of engaging training—are those we form strong, long-lasting partnerships with.
You can’t force learner engagement, though. That’s why we built the Wisetail LMS with empathy for the end user. We want learners to want to use the system, and we don’t want anyone to get left behind (it certainly helps if your onboarding ecosystem offers interactive training).
Organizations of all types who want to power their culture through online learning and development. Wisetail fulfills a variety of use cases including:
Many different types of companies use the Wisetail LMS. A common thread among them is a shared philosophical belief in how to approach online learning and learner engagement. From the beginning we designed our software with an empathy for the learner and an emphasis on the importance of community.
We’ve partnered with hundreds of forward-thinking companies and organizations. They fall in a wide range of verticals and industries. Restaurant, enterprise, hospitality, retail, franchise, online education, corporate, non-profit, and extended enterprise. They’ve all found our values-based approach effective.
Getting any new staff member up to speed can be a challenge without the right system but we consistently hear concerns about training millennials. Reaching the growing millennial workforce doesn’t have to be a challenge. The Wisetail LMS has a look and feel reminiscent of commonly used social media sites combined with the rigorous features and functionalities of a traditional LMS. The familiarity of our LMS makes it as intuitive as it is interactive. And we offer a level of customization and support unmatched in the industry.
Gamification is the application of gaming elements into the software experience as a way to drive engagement in the LMS. LMS gamification utilizes psychological nuances to promote problem solving, engagement, and motivate learners to proceed through the course material. By using techniques such as levels, points, badges, leaderboards, and user profiles—trainers can create eLearning experiences appealing to a learner’s desire to compete and achieve in a social setting.
Real talk: sometimes learning is boring. An LMS with gamification is a way to spice things up and get learners more engaged. Gamifying an LMS doesn’t mean turning the system into an arcade game. It can be as simple as assigning points to certain functions in the system and putting up a leaderboard.
Let’s slow down a bit and crack this LMS features checklist open.