Looking for an LMS? Here’s how to tell if it’s good, better, or best.

• 8 min read

They say life’s a journey. The same is true for learning. We’re always learning (at least, we should be) – especially at work.

If we stick with this “learning’s a journey” metaphor, then your learning management system (LMS) is the vehicle. And, like anyone who’s been on a long road trip in an old car will tell you, the vehicle can absolutely make or break the experience.

Does your LMS put employees in the driver’s seat? (Or are they just along for the ride?)

But simply having a learning management system isn’t enough. Your employees have individual corporate training needs. Which means they need a vehicle that’s every bit as unique as they are. And, in a market where there are literally hundreds of open source, on-premise, SaaS, and cloud LMS vendors and e-learning platforms – each with their own set of standard features and optional upgrades – choosing the right LMS can be more overwhelming than buying a car. So here’s a tip: Look for an LMS platform that puts your employees in the driver’s seat (NOT the passenger’s seat).

Unfortunately, no single LMS platform will be a perfect fit for every organization. In other words, what’s right for one company might not be right for yours. The best LMS for your organization is the one that, when integrated into your learning ecosystem, delivers the functionality that allows you to:

Let’s dig a little deeper to find out how these features can help you create a culture of continuous learning that thrives…

Create a modern learning experience

This one’s a bit of beast. So, let’s start with what it isn’t.

Modern learning experience ≠ Digital. In other words, if you’re using a learning management system to deliver online courses, webinars, PowerPoints, e-learning modules, microlearning, and virtual instructor-led training, etc., it doesn’t mean you’ve created a modern learning experience. You’ve just digitized your course content and brought your employee training out of the ‘90s. (Tae Bo, anyone?)

'90s Tae-Bo training

Now for what a modern learning experience is. At its core, a modern learning experience is one that supports the needs (and expectations) of the modern learner.

Related: The Critical Importance of The Learner Experience in E-Learning

And the modern learner wants training to be:

  • mobile (for ease of use)
  • personalized (for relevance)
  • informal and social (for collaborative learning)

Speaking of mobile…

Support mobile learning

This. Is. HUGE. (And not just because we’re in the middle of a global pandemic that  has necessitated a monumental shift to remote onboarding and employee training.) For some employees, mobile learning is a perk. For others (a whopping 80% of the workforce), it’s a prerequisite. And for most, it’s a preference. Which means, if your employees can’t access course content and learning materials on their mobile devices, they won’t engage. And when they don’t engage, employee retention, productivity, and performance suffer – and so does your bottom line.

There’s a big difference between online learning and mobile learning. If your online training programs and e-learning courses aren’t mobile, chances are your employees won’t use them.

L&D opportunities shouldn’t be limited to when employees are at a desk, behind a firewall, or logged into an e-learning platform. Those days are long gone (and not just because of COVID). In today’s world of video conferencing and remote work, learning happens on the go. Training and information needs to be accessible whenever (and wherever) the need arises. A good LMS makes content available online. A better LMS makes content available online and on-demand. But the best LMS makes content available online and on-demand, on the go, and in the systems your employees work in every day. Mobile app publishing capabilities allow organizations to make training content (and entire training programs) available on mobile tech platforms (e.g. Android, iOS, etc.), thereby creating an extended – and more engaging – learning environment.

Related: Engage Users by Leveraging Mobile Learning and Microlearning [REPORT]

Deliver personalized learning programs

It’s hard to talk about personalization and not talk about Netflix. (That’s because they do it so darn well.) And here’s why: Even though the platform interface and content catalogue is the same for everyone, the content experience is unique for each user. It sounds like magic, but it’s really machine learning (a form of AI) in action (which, in the world of L&D, is the best kind of magic).

LMS platforms with AI capabilities make delivering Netflix-level personalization possible. But, instead of serving up shows you might like, the platform serves up courses and content designed to help each user do their specific job better (while nurturing the skills they need to grow professionally). This adds a layer of context that makes for a more relevant and engaging experience. The result is a truly personalized learning experience that automatically and intelligently steers learners in the right direction without any human intervention.

Personalization isn’t the only trick AI has up its sleeve. An AI-powered LMS presents significant opportunities to automate tasks associated with creating and administering learning programs, like course enrollment.

Related: All In on AI: Your Guide to Artificial Intelligence in L&D

Promote social learning

Most LMSs are really good at delivering formal learning. But formal learning only accounts for about 10% of how employees learn. So what about that other 90%? According to the 70:20:10 framework, the bulk of workplace learning (70%) tends to be informal, on the job, and experience based. And the remainder (20%, in case you don’t feel like doing the math) occurs through coaching and mentoring. In other words, the majority of learning happens in the flow of work.

Employees learning from each other

If your LMS only supports formal learning, that’s a huge missed opportunity. LMS platforms with social learning tools allow you to provide an extended and blended learning environment to support the other 90% of learning (the collaborative kind that occurs in real-time). Think of it as social media for enterprise knowledge sharing. It gives your customers, partners, and employees an easy way to share valuable knowledge and learn from each other. Essentially, social learning transforms your learners from students to teachers, and from consumers of content into creators of content.

“Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of the learners.”
– John Holt

Opening up content creation to a wider group of contributors is a great way to capture valuable enterprise knowledge and drive collaborative learning. The more questions employees ask (and answer), the more user-generated content they upload (like how-to videos), the more tips they share, the more discussions they engage in…the more your content library grows.

If you’re looking to get social learning off the ground, gamification mechanics are an effective way to encourage users to participate. Give points to people who answer questions. Award badges when users contribute to your content library. Have a leaderboard that highlights the most active contributors. There are tons of ways to get users comfortable with sharing their knowledge. But the best way is to let employees know how valuable their knowledge is to the rest of the enterprise.

Related: Gamification Elements That Rocket Boost Learner Engagement

Create and manage course content

At the risk of driving this car analogy into the ground….if your LMS is the vehicle your employees take on the learning journey, then content is the engine that powers it. The better your content, the better the outcomes. High-value content drives knowledge retention, enrollment, productivity, and performance. And who doesn’t want that?

The problem is, it takes about 250 hours to create a single e-learning course. You know who has that much time to waste? Nobody. So let’s not waste time talking about what a good or better LMS can (or, in this case, can’t) do.

The best LMSs are intuitive and user friendly, so they dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes to deliver online courses and manage content. And they do it in a few ways. (Yep. Ways. Plural!) One way is through technical integrations.

If you’re building your own learning content, then you’re likely using course authoring tools (or, you should be…because no one wants to click through yet another PowerPoint). By the time most organizations are evaluating LMSs, they’ve likely developed quite a bit of their own content. And that’s where integration comes in. In a nutshell, technical standards and software specifications for e-learning, like SCORM and xAPI (formerly Tin Can API) make it possible to load the content you’ve created using external authoring tools into your LMS. (Some LMSs even offer plugins with popular e-commerce platforms, allowing you to sell the courses you build.)

Related: Authoring Tools for E-Learning: The Definitive Guide

If you’re not building all your content, then you’re likely buying content. But shopping around still takes time. The best LMSs come stocked with libraries of mobile-ready, off-the-shelf content. That means, rather than shopping for content or creating courses from scratch, you combine content you’ve built with content you’ve bought to curate programs. When all your training content lives in one place, it streamlines course creation and content management, and makes it easier for employees to find the information they need.

Measure impact

It doesn’t matter if you’ve created the best learning program ever if you can’t track the impact. (If a tree falls in the forest… am I right?)

A good LMS can track whether employees have completed training courses (and if they’ve passed or failed). But that doesn’t tell you anything about employee satisfaction and information retention. Better LMSs will come with survey capabilities (like blank templates or questions) that allow you to collect feedback on course content and programs. But, even if you manage to carve out time to build feedback questionnaires, the data you get is usually too superficial to be useful. (And, without some level of survey automation, you can forget about scalability.) In other words, good and better are basic.

Ya basic

The best LMS platforms get the high-quality metrics you need to evaluate your programs using ready-to-go surveys and optimized survey techniques. (Because higher response rates = better data.) They compare survey data against industry benchmarks and crunch the numbers (so you don’t have to) to uncover trends and gauge the effectiveness of your programs. Now, here’s where the rubber hits the road. Armed with qualitative data and performance results, you can make data-driven decisions about which parts of your learning programs should stay and which should go. For example, if your learners aren’t retaining a particular concept, or if a certain training program isn’t driving the business results you need, you can not only identify the problem, but you also have the insights you need to fix it.

As if that’s not enough, the best LMSs also automate the collection and analysis of survey data, which means you can spend your time improving your training programs (instead of trying to measure them).

Related: How to measure real learning impact

A strategic business driver

Learning shouldn’t be inconvenient. And delivering training programs shouldn’t be hard. If your users (learners and admins alike) struggle to use your learning platforms, then it might be time to look under the hood.

A learning management system should improve (not impede) learning in your organization. With the right features, your LMS can create the conditions you need to build a culture where your employees are always learning and pave the way for success down the road.

If you’ve made it this far, chances are you’re looking for the best LMS. We don’t mean to toot our own horn, but at Docebo, we know a thing or two about being the best. Learn about our award-winning LMS platform.