What is a Learning Management System (LMS)?

• 14 min read
What is a Learning Management System (LMS)?

Your complete guide to a Learning Management System (LMS)

A Learning Management System (LMS) is a software-based platform that facilitates the management, delivery, and measurement of an organization’s corporate e-learning programs.

The Learning Management System has become an incredibly powerful tool for organizations looking to improve the performance and retention of its workforce. Most learning management systems are cloud-based software solutions that companies use as the foundation of their corporate training programs. Similar to how sales teams depend on CRM software, or HR teams use HRIS software, the LMS is an organization’s core technology used by its Learning and Development (L&D) department.

Learning management systems are used to deploy a variety of learning strategies across different formats, including formal, experiential and social learning to manage functions such as compliance training, certification management and sales enablement. E-learning has also evolved into a revenue generator for the extended enterprise. New advancements in learning technology have helped to support evolving learner needs and revolutionize the e-learning space by allowing for increased and improved data collection activities that are enabling mobile learning and gamification, revenue generation, and more.

Perhaps the most important function of any learning management system is to support learning as it actually happens – i.e., through a combination of formal, social, and experiential learning. Traditionally, learning management systems have been used as a primary means to deliver formal learning. For instance, an LMS makes it easy to automatically assign e-learning onboarding courses to new employees, track their progress, and evaluate their level of knowledge retention. However, online learning systems such as Docebo go beyond basic LMS functionality by incorporating social learning features that allow users to consult peer mentors, ask questions, collaborate, and encourage and reward content contribution.

LMS Definition

Who Uses an LMS?

LMSs are used globally, across multiple different industries and for a variety of different corporate learning use cases. LMS adoption has been on the rise for the past several years all around the world. In fact, the global LMS market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 24% from 2016 to 2020.

On a more specific level, there are two key types of LMS users:

Learners: They’re on the receiving end of corporate training (after all, they are to whom training programs are intended). Learners who have access to the corporate LMS will be able to see their course catalog, complete assigned courses and any evaluations, and measure their own progress. Learners can be assigned training on an individual basis, or according to their job function, and/or role in a company’s organizational structure.

Administrators: Administrators are on the opposite side of learning technology spectrum. They’re responsible for managing the LMS, which involves a combination of multiple tasks, including creating courses and learning plans, assigning specific learner groups to specific learning plans and tracking their learners’ progress.

LMS Customer Types

Large Enterprises: Large companies are leaning on Learning Management Systems to gauge the performance and professional development of hundreds or even thousands of employees, while deploying global online training initiatives. Some large organizations may also use extended enterprise features of their LMS to keep franchisees, suppliers and external sales channels in the loop on product releases, compliance requirements, etc.

Small- and Medium-sized Business (SMBs): These organizations benefit from a Learning Management System by utilizing fewer human resources, and instead lean on technology tools to scale the growth of their employees with the growth of the business (and adapt to constantly changing training needs that reflect that organizational growth).

Freelancers: LMS platforms designed for e-learning freelancers who work with multiple clients and need to deliver a diverse range of deliverables. These Learning Management Systems may feature built-in collaboration tools, which allow you to fly solo or work with a remote e-learning team.

What is an LMS Used For?

At a very basic level, learning management systems centralize, deploy, and measure corporate training activities.

A state-of-the-art learning management system supports a variety of internal and external corporate use cases, including:

Employee Training: Perhaps the most common LMS use case is to support the training and development of internal employees. Within the LMS, courses can be assigned to ensure employees acquire the right job skills, are informed about product changes, are up-to-date on compliance training, etc.

Customer Training: Another common LMS use case is for organizations to provide training to customers. This is especially common for software and technology companies who need to effectively onboard users so they can use their product effectively. Ongoing customer training will also provide more value to customers and prevent customer churn.

Partner Training: An LMS can also be leveraged to train an organization’s partners and channels (e.g., resellers). This is a great way to enhance your partnership programs and provide more value to partners.

What are the advantages of an LMS

There are many benefits and advantages to both businesses and their learners when implementing an LMS.

Benefits for Businesses

An LMS can help businesses:

  • Reduce learning and development costs
  • Cut down training/onboarding time for employees, customers, and partners
  • Accommodate multiple learning audiences
  • Centralize e-learning resources
  • Easy adaptation and re-use of learning materials over time
  • Maintain compliance
  • Track learner progress
  • Onboard partners and resellers to improve their ability to sell
  • Retain customers by ensuring they use their products and services effectively
  • Measure how learning impacts organizational performance
  • More choices for curriculum creators (i.e., methods of delivery, design of materials, evaluation techniques)
  • Economies of scale that make it cost efficient for organizations to develop and maintain learning content (instead of relying on third party providers)

Benefits for Learners:

An LMS can help learners:

  • Increase knowledge retention
  • Stay on top of required training
  • Engage with formal and informal learning best practices
  • Acquire skills and knowledge required for career advancement
  • Improve performance
  • Empowered to embrace self-improvement with necessary and useful tools to do so

Key LMS Features

There are over 700 solutions in the LMS landscape, each offering something different than the next. Finding the best lms for your organization’s unique learning needs isn’t an easy task.

Here are some of the key features that an LMS should include:

Automated Admin Tasks: Features that allow administrators to automate recurring/tedious tasks, such as user grouping, group enrollment, deactivation, and new user population.

Certifications and Retraining: The LMS should allow for the tracking and management of all certification and retraining activity (e.g., by managing recurring training/continuing education/compliance programs).

Social Learning: As mentioned, your LMS should also be able to support informal training activities. Your LMS should include features that encourage collaboration, peer mentorship, and knowledge curation.

Mobility: Learning content should be able to accessed anytime, anywhere, regardless of device. Learning management systems should allow content to be accessed on mobile devices to better enable learning at the point of need.

Course and Catalog Management: At its core, a learning management system is the central system that holds all e-learning courses and course content. Administrators can easily create and manage courses and course catalogs to deliver more targeted learning to your users.

Content Integration and Interoperability:  Learning management systems should support learning content packaged according to interoperable standards such as SCORM, AICC and xAPI (formerly Tin Can).

Content Marketplace: Not all learning content is internally produced. Allow your learners to access off-the-shelf courses from global e-learning content providers like OpenSesame, and LinkedIn Learning.

Notifications: Notifications help learners stay on top of their required training. LMS training systems should support automatic, real-time notifications indicating learner progress, course completions, certifications, achievements, comments, and more.

White-labeling and Branding Customization: Immerse your learners in a completely unique e-learning platform and maintain brand consistency within your e-learning experience.

Gamification: Increase learner engagement by allowing learners to achieve points, badges, awards, etc. on all learning activities.

Integrations: Keep your organization’s data in sync with an e-learning LMS that allows for third-party integrations with other platforms, such as your Salesforce CRM, video conferencing tools, and so on.

Ecommerce: If your business model would benefit from selling courses, your LMS should integrate with ecommerce platforms like Shopify, and/or payment gateways like Paypal and Stripe.

ILT Classroom: The purpose of a learning management system is not to replace in-person learning with online learning – rather, it’s to better support learning as it actually happens (i.e., via a mixture of formal and informal methods) and provide a way to deliver, track, and measure learning activities. As such, your LMS should also support in-person and classroom-based learning initiatives (e.g., managing classroom schedules, monitoring performance and attendance, etc.).

Reporting: One of the most important features an LMS should include is the ability to track and measure the impact that your training programs are having on your business. Your LMS should allow you to derive learning insights through customizable reports and dashboards that provide metrics on learner activity.

LMS Pricing Models

Licensing: Instead of paying per user, this LMS pricing plan involves a licensing fee. Typically, an annual fee that you must renew on a yearly basis, or an outright upfront fee that grants unlimited lifetime access. However, as technology advances you’ll probably still have to purchase replacement software in the near future.

Subscription: A subscription fee usually grants you access to all LMS features, or relies on a pay-per-user model. This pricing model involves a fee for each user, or active user. In some cases, the LMS vendor offers different price brackets. For example, the fee covers up to 25 active learners. This is a great solution for smaller organizations who want to minimize online training costs, but still want to be able to scale the Learning Management System as their company expands.

Freemium: These LMS platforms are free for basic features but a fee is charged for more advanced functionalities, such as add-ons or upgrades. For instance, a more comprehensive e-Learning assessment engine or advanced reports.

LMS Tracking

Data-driven companies understand that a key advantage of any software is that it provides valuable metrics that help it measure productivity and progress to draw performance insights. Web-based training software is no exception.

An LMS can help track a number of learner activities. Formal learning metrics and reports include:

  • Course completions
  • Course subscription dates
  • Last access by user
  • Total time spent on courses and learning plans
  • Active courses
  • Most viewed courses
  • Test/assessment scores
  • ILT classroom course sessions
  • Ecommerce transaction data
  • Learning Plan reports
  • User activity reports
  • Audit Trail reports
  • Gamification reports (e.g., badges and contests)
  • Certification reports
  • External training activity reports
  • Custom reports based on your unique learning needs

Your LMS should also provide metrics on informal learning activities. In Docebo, for example, social learning activity can be tracked based on activities in the Coach and Share app. Some examples include:

  • Reports on peer review activity
  • Reports on activity per channel
  • Answer likes and dislikes
  • Top 5 experts by answer quality
  • Fastest answers by experts
  • Answers marked as “best answer”
  • Rating on content contributions (user-generated content)
  • Sharing activity
  • Content views
Learning Management System

LMS Tracking

Data-driven companies understand that one of the key advantages of any kind of software is that it can provide metrics, allowing for the measurement of productivity and progress, as well as draw performance insights. Web-based training software is no exception.

An LMS can help track a number of learner activities. Formal learning metrics and reports include:

  • Course completions
  • Course subscription dates
  • Last access by user
  • Total time spent on courses and learning plans
  • Active courses
  • Most viewed courses
  • Test/assessment scores
  • ILT classroom course sessions
  • Ecommerce transaction data
  • Learning Plan reports
  • User activity reports
  • Audit Trail reports
  • Gamification reports (e.g., badges and contests)
  • Certification reports
  • External training activity reports
  • Custom reports based on your unique learning needs

Your LMS should also be able to provide metrics on informal learning activities. In Docebo, for example, social learning activity can be tracked based on activities in the Coach and Share app. Some examples include:

  • Reports on peer review activity
  • Reports on activity per channel
  • Answer likes and dislikes
  • Top 5 experts by answer quality
  • Fastest answers by experts
  • Answers marked as “best answer”
  • Rating on content contributions (user-generated content)
  • Sharing activity
  • Content views

Leveraging Data & Measuring Learning

Your LMS could track all the metrics in the world, but it won’t make a difference if insights can’t be drawn from the available metrics and actions can’t be taken to improve your learning programs.

One of the most practical applications of LMS metrics is understanding skills and competencies. A learner can complete a gap analysis evaluation that will determine where they lack the skills and competencies necessary to perform in their role. Once an employee’s skill gaps have been determined, this data can be leveraged to help compose a personalized learning plan that will fill those knowledge gaps and increase the employee’s skills (and ultimately, their performance).

Metrics from learning technology can also help to make the connection between how learning impacts organizational performance.

Regularly reporting on learning metrics can help understand the effectiveness of your eLearning courses and the level of engagement among your learners. Future advancements in learning technology will allow for these metrics to provide even more valuable insights and fuel organizational performance.

Leveraging Data & Measuring Learning

Your LMS could track all the metrics in the world, but it won’t make a difference if insights can’t be drawn from those available metrics and actions can’t be taken to improve your learning programs.

One of the most practical applications of LMS metrics is understanding skills and competencies. A learner can complete a gap analysis evaluation that will determine where they lack the skills and competencies necessary to perform in their role. Once an employee’s skill gaps have been determined, this data can be leveraged to help compose a personalized learning plan that will fill those knowledge gaps and increase the employee’s skills (and ultimately, their performance).

Metrics from learning technology can also help to make the connection between how learning impacts organizational performance.

Regularly reporting on learning metrics can help understand the effectiveness of your e-learning courses and the level of engagement among your learners. Future advancements in learning technology will allow for these metrics to provide even more valuable insights and fuel organizational performance.

LMS Licensing Types

There are multiple LMS licensing types, including:

Registration Model: Calculates usage based on several user metrics, including: how many users log into the LMS, how many register for a specific course, how many users buy content or earn a certification. Generally, this is a good model when starting an LMS journey, but can become expensive as the organization scales its learning programs.

Active User (Usage): Defines learners via certain criteria, such as: when their account is created, when they log into the LMS, or when they interact with prescribed learning content. Compared to the registration model, the active user model only requires LMS buyers to pay for the first interaction, no matter how many times a specific users logs into the system.

Product-Based: Enables the sale of learning content or curriculums within the LMS.

Revenue Share: a registration model tailored to the sale of content, typically expressed in terms of revenue percentage awarded to the LMS vendor.

Unlimited: typically doesn’t count users or usage. However, while some platforms won’t charge user fees, others will offer an “unlimited” enterprise price once the buyer surpasses a user or revenue threshold.

The Future of Learning Technology

One of the most daunting realities that all organizations are facing is a growing knowledge gap as baby boomers retire, Millennials become the dominant cohort in the workforce, and Generation Z enters it. Learner needs are evolving constantly as learning audiences change.

Similarly, e-learning trends are headed in exciting directions as new technology continues to be introduced. It’s important to have learning technology in place to support your future learning needs. Some of these exciting trends include:

Microlearning: Microlearning means providing easily accessible, bite-sized learning content. This content will help to better accommodate shortening learner attention spans and encourage learning at the point of need.

Virtual Reality: It might sound like something out of a sci-fi novel, but the reality is that technology is turning virtual reality (VR) into a feasible training method. VR simulations and branching scenarios will likely become the most effective methods for gaining experiential training.

Artificial Intelligence: Artificial intelligence (AI) will play an extremely important role in shaping the e-learning industry since it will allow companies to make more data-driven decisions and provide more targeted learning programs.

Even if you’re just starting your e-learning strategy, it’s important to think ahead and ensure your learning technology will be able to meet the learning needs of tomorrow. A next-generation LMS can drive performance and reach your future business goals.

LMS Deployment Options

Open Source: Generally, open source learning management systems are free and online-based. Users can modify source code to suit their needs and establish a consistent look-and-feel for their learning platform, as well as the content that lives within it. Many open source LMS options have active online communities that are a good resource for tips and troubleshooting assistance if the user ever hits a roadblock while developing their learning experience. A major drawback of open source LMSs, however, is that the user will generally need some programming experience to use the system efficiently and effectively.

Enterprise LMS: Also known as commercial Learning Management Systems, enterprise e-learning platforms are typically easier to use and provide the user with a variety of support services and features. Enterprise LMS have intuitive user interfaces and, in some cases, asset libraries that help the learning administrator develop and deploy online training materials quickly. This learning management system type is divided into two categories:

  • SaaS (Software as a Service): Typically web-based platforms that provide the purchased with free upgrades and the ability to completely scale their system to reflect the needs of the organization today and into the future. The vendor delivers support services and stores all data in the cloud. Docebo is a SaaS e-learning offering.
  • Installed LMS: These learning management systems are hosted locally on the purchasing organizations services, making it easy to customize all aspects of the LMS. Compared to SaaS LMS, in which the vendor is responsible for service and support, it’s up to the organization’s internal IT to to maintain the e-learning platform and make necessary upgrades.

Industry-Specific LMS: Typically developed for a specific industry and hosts any corporate online training materials and assets the organization requires. Assets could include certifications, online games and other training activities based on industry-specific skills and tasks.

Learning Content Management System (LCMS) vs. Learning Management System (LMS)

A Learning Content Management System (LCMS) is a software that helps developers and administrators build and manage e-learning content. These systems are different from an LMS in that they don’t provide the features learning administrators actually need to deliver that content and track the performance of their learners.

While there is some crossover between an LCMS and an LMS, in that they both allow users to host and deliver digital learning activities (and are both SCORM compatible), the key difference is where they specialize, including:

Types of learning: An LCMS specializes in digital learning content, while an LMS allows users to manage learning experiences, including traditional forms of learning and training (scheduling, in-person workshops, facilitating learners conversations via social learning forums, etc.).

An LMS like Docebo enables learning administrators to combine the best of both worlds, bringing learning content and experiences together to establish blended learning plans for their learners.

LMS Specification Support Types

SCORM (1.2/2004): The SCORM standard helps e-learning authoring tools and content communicate with your learning management system. SCORM allows tools within the LMS to format e-learning content in a way that’s shareable across the entire platform.

Tin Can/xAPI: The xAPI (formerly Tin Can API) API is an E-learning software specification. This type of software allows learning content and learning systems to speak to each other, recording all types of learning experiences, which are then recorded in a Learning Record Store (LRS). An LRS can exist within traditional e-learning platforms, or on their own. Docebo supports the Tin Can Standard 1.0.

AICC: The Aviation Industry Computer-based Training Committee (AICC) was formed in 1988 to ensure training material could be developed, delivered and evaluated across the growing number of computer-based training platforms at the time. Soon thereafter, these universal specifications reached beyond the aviation community and into the corporate training world, becoming the world’s first e-learning standard. It was dissolved by 2014 due to declining membership numbers. Before it was dissolved, however, the AICC worked to make content compliant with CMI-5 (Computer Managed Instruction), its successor, which conforms to xAPI.  Aviation Industry CBT Committee supports allows the LMS and e-learning content to communicate via HAC protocols, which relies on an HTML form to transmit any information, then the LMS relays that information back via text.

LMS LTI: Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) was introduced by the IMS Global Learning Consortium, specializing in apps hosted remotely as well as web-based e-learning content. Your Docebo LMS can import Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) content as learning objects into both courses and your Central Learning Object Repository (CLOR). Docebo supports LTI 1.0 and 1.1 content.

An LMS Drives Results

The benefits and advantages that an LMS can bring to an organization aren’t just theoretical – multiple studies have proven that an LMS can actually drive results. Research by Brandon Hall Group shows that 54% of organizations who have invested in learning technology have seen improvements in productivity and engagement. 91% of these organizations also reported a stronger link between learning and organizational performance.

Docebo Learning Management System

Docebo is a learning management system (LMS) used in more than 80 countries and offered in over 40 languages. Established in 2005, Docebo offers a learning ecosystem for companies and their employees, partners, and customers to increase performance and learning engagement.

Docebo is a learner-centric technology, embraced for its ease of use, elegance and ability to blend coaching with social and formal learning. It’s no wonder that Docebo has been heralded by PCMag.com as “the best online learning platform for business on the market.”Want to see Docebo LMS in action and see how our platform can amplify your L&D strategy?