What is a Learning Management System? (2019 Update)

• 9 min read

Today’s enterprise learning strategies require smart solutions that go beyond the capabilities of traditional tools. A Learning Platform empowers L&D departments to drive business growth through their efforts, and a key pillar of this solution is the Learning Management System (LMS).

To understand how a Learning Platform will help improve enterprise learning objectives, you must first grasp what an LMS is, why it’s an essential tool, and how to get the most out of it. Our complete guide to a Learning Management System is here to help.


Our complete guide to a Learning Management System (LMS)

A Learning Management System is a software-based platform that facilitates the management, delivery, and measurement of an organization’s corporate e-learning programs. The powerhouse of a complete learning technology solution, an LMS is a fundamental component of an effective learning strategy.

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.

But it doesn’t stop there.

New advancements in learning technology have helped to support evolving learner needs and revolutionize the e-learning space. LMSs now provide improved data collection activities and support activities such as mobile learning and gamification to help achieve greater engagement, boost productivity and promote continuous learning and upskilling.

Online learning platforms, such as Docebo, go beyond basic LMS functionality by incorporating social learning features into the platform and leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI). Sophisticated AI technology grows to understand each learner’s behaviour, creating unique, personalized learning experiences, and social learning lets learners consult peer mentors, ask questions, and collaborate.

Research by Brandon Hall Group shows that 54% of organizations who have invested in learning technology have seen improvements in productivity and engagement. Additionally, 91% of these organizations also reported a stronger link between learning and organizational performance.

Let’s break it down:


Who Needs an LMS?

LMSs are used globally, across multiple different industries and for a variety of different enterprise 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% year on year.

There are two key types of LMS users:

Administrators: Administrators are 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.

Learners: They’re on the receiving end of learning initiatives (after all, they are to whom training programs are intended). Learners who have access to the 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.


What is an LMS Used For?

At a very basic level, learning management systems centralize, deploy, and measure learning activities.A state-of-the-art learning management system supports a variety of internal and external corporate use cases, including:

Employee Onboarding: Perhaps the most common LMS use case is to support new employees with their initial onboarding. Bring newcomers up-to-speed on your company’s learning culture by providing them opportunities to consume relevant materials across multiple devices, contribute their own knowledge, and be recognized for it.

Employee Development and Retention: Another common LMS use case is to support the training and development of current 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.

Compliance Training: An LMS can also be used to make sure employees receive any mandated training and manage recurring certification and training programs. This centralized approach mitigates risk and helps to avoid any potential regulatory compliance issues.

Sales Enablement: An LMS is also central to enabling sales at scale by preparing salespeople with the knowledge they need, exactly when they need it. The platform also speeds up onboarding so that new hires can start selling sooner, and ensures that you retain your top performers.

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. 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.

Member Training: An LMS is also commonly used to amplify membership value by creating centralized content and facilitating engagement among your members with digital learning.


What are the advantages of an LMS?

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

Top Benefits:

Top Benefits for Learners:


Key LMS Features

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

Artificial Intelligence (AI): An AI engine under the hood of an LMS helps personalize the learning experience for each learner by offering course formats best suited to them, and suggesting courses with topics relevant to those already completed.

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 activities (e.g., by managing recurring training/continuing education/compliance programs).

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.

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: Allows L&D administrators and their learners to access, browse and purchase courses from content providers within their learning platform.

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 LMS that allows for third-party integrations with other platforms, such as your Salesforce CRM, video conferencing tools, and so on.

Mobile Learning: Learning content should be able to be 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.

Multi-Domain: Build different platforms to suit your audiences (i.e. customers or partners in extended enterprise scenarios) by assigning customized elements for each subdomain, including custom branding, from a central location.

Microlearning: Microlearning means providing easily accessible, bite-sized learning content. This content helps to better accommodate short learner attention spans and encourages learning at the point of need.

Reporting: One of the most important features an LMS should include is the ability to track and measure the impact that your learning 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.

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

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


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.


LMS Tracking

Data-driven companies understand that a key advantage of any software is that it provides valuable metrics that help measure productivity and progress to draw performance insights. Web-based learning 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
  • E-commerce transaction data
  • Learning Plan reports
  • User activity reports
  • Audit Trail reports
  • Gamification reports (e.g., badges and contests)
  • Certification reports
  • External training activity reports

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 & Share module. 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


LMS Deployment Options

Open Source: Generally, open source learning management systems are free and online-based. Users can modify the 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. 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. There is also usually a lot of customization required which can be costly.

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

  • SaaS (Software as a Service): Typically web-based platforms, like Docebo, that provide the core purchased platform 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.
  • Installed LMS: These learning management systems are hosted locally on the purchasing organization’s servers, making it easy to customize all aspects of the LMS. Compared to a SaaS LMS, in which the vendor is responsible for service and support, it’s up to the organization’s internal IT department to maintain the e-learning platform and make necessary upgrades.

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


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: xAPI (formerly Tin Can API) is an e-learning software specification that 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 world’s first e-learning standard, the AICC worked to make content compliant with CMI-5 (Computer Managed Instruction), its successor, which conforms to xAPI. The AICC allowed the LMS and e-learning content to communicate via HAC protocols, which relies on an HTML form to transmit information, with the LMS then relaying 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.


The Docebo Learning Platform

The Docebo Learning Platform brings together the enterprise LMS you need, the social learning experience your learners want, and the power of Artificial Intelligence to help you make learning your competitive advantage.

Automate learning management, empower social learning, and personalize the learner experience to drive business growth – experience what’s possible, today.