Back to LMS basics: the ultimate 101 guide

• 10 min read

LMS basics

With online training taking the business world by storm, companies of all shapes and sizes must take advantage of the emerging trend and get ahead of the competition.

Yet sometimes, the best way to move forward is to go back to basics.

That’s why this guide is tackling the most foundational questions there are when it comes to e-learning: what is a learning management system and how can it help drive your business?

What is a learning management system?

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

LMS platforms are sometimes called slightly different names, such as learning activity management systems, learning experience platforms, or training management systems. An LMS can occasionally be confused with a learning content management system (LCMS). Although complementary, the main difference is that an LCMS is used for authoring and managing online training materials while the LMS is all about the learning process.

Most learning management systems are cloud-based software solutions that companies use as their fundamental tool for managing corporate training programs.

Just as sales teams depend on customer relationship management (CRM) software or human resource (HR) teams rely on HR information system (HRIS) software, LMS software is usually the core technology in an organization’s learning and development (L&D) department.

That said, let’s take a look at what LMSs are good for.

What is the purpose of an LMS?

LMSs deploy all kinds of training courses including compliance training, onboarding and enrollment, customer training, company policy training, and more. The main purpose of an LMS is to provide useful learning materials through an easy-to-use user interface (UI). It helps long-time employees, new hires, customers, partners, and all stakeholders achieve their learning goals. Also, an LMS is great at keeping track of learner progress.

LMSs also revolutionized the e-learning space by allowing for more learning data to be collected, leading to better ways to assess the effectiveness of L&D programs and learner performance. In addition, these platforms support advanced features like mobile learning, gamification, and e-commerce revenue generation through extended enterprise.

Seeing as 76% of employees state they are “more likely to stay with a company that offers continuous training,” an LMS is a smart and vital tool to keep learning engaging, constant, and effective.

Who are LMSs for?

Many schools and universities around the world use LMSs. However, a wide variety of businesses, governmental agencies, and nonprofit organizations also utilize them with great success. Both small-to-medium-sized businesses and multinational enterprises stand to gain from LMSs.

Statistically speaking, there are over 73.8 million LMS users around the world. Of these, only 21% are in education. Other industries effectively employing learning management systems include:

  • Technology (12%)
  • Manufacturing (9%)
  • Healthcare (7%)
  • Consulting (7%)
  • Software development (4%)
  • Real estate (3%)
  • Nonprofit organizations (3%)
  • Government institutions (2%)

It’s important to note that around 30% of all LMS buyers are long-established tech organizations. The main participants are C-level execs (65%) and managers (35%). In terms of actual user roles, these can be broken down into two main categories:

  • Learners are those who receive online courses. They use the platform to gain access to relevant training content, upload tasks or assignments, and keep track of their progress.
  • Trainers and admins are the groups behind the scenes. They are responsible for creating, managing, and uploading the course materials. Admins also assign the training content in accordance with the learning path, provide guidance where needed, give evaluations, and track candidate performance.

Now let’s take a more in-depth look at the different types of online training platforms.

3 types of LMS platforms 

Just as all businesses and organizations are different, LMS platforms vary too. While most serve a similar purpose, they are not identical in terms of features. A tool that’s specifically designed for universities, for example, may not be the best choice for employee training within a corporation.

Choosing one at random can still bring you some benefits but will not guarantee you make the best use of what LMS platforms offer. When scoping out different LMS vendors, make sure the potential platform aligns with your online training module needs, pricing, company size, and any other requirements.

Here are three main types of LMS platforms to consider.

Commercial vs. open-source

One of the first questions to ask yourself is whether you want an open-source (free) platform or commercial (paid) LMS software. At first glance, open source may seem like the go-to option, but not all such platforms are without cost.

Sure, you may not have to pay for a license, but you’ll likely have to deal with the hassle of setting up a server and hosting architecture. You’ll also need to customize the platform to your specific needs and regularly update and upgrade to remain current.

The commercial version, on the other hand, removes all the associated headaches of having to set up and operate the system. The platform’s operators handle everything on your behalf. Depending on the LMS vendor, they’ll probably provide you with an onboarding process and real-time customer service and tech support.

Unless you have a dedicated in-house tech team with the necessary know-how, an open-source LMS platform may end up costing you far more than the commercial alternative.

Self-hosted vs. cloud-based

A second option to consider is whether to host your LMS’s data on your company’s hardware or go for the cloud-based solution also known as software-as-a-service (SaaS).

Opting for the cloud means your LMS vendor will handle all the server load, data security, and regular backups. Some organizations may still favor the self-hosted approach, regardless of the benefits SaaS has to offer. They do so mainly for security reasons, especially if they must adhere to strict network requirements or industry-specific legislation.

While most companies already migrated their operations to the cloud, security remains a big issue. It’s therefore a good idea to ensure the SaaS LMS vendor—like Docebo—conducts regular data backups and system upgrades and has sound encryption protocols in place.

SaaS solutions remain the better bet, especially for companies that don’t have an experienced in-house IT staff.

Academic vs. corporate LMS 

As hinted earlier, academic and corporate LMSs have similar features but ultimately aim to solve different problems. Both provide course content and automate many time-consuming admin tasks. However, they can differ in terms of learning goals, timelines, grading, or course content management.

You could make an academic LMS work for your corporate needs, for instance, but you’ll have a harder time getting the desired results. Here’s the difference.

  • Academic LMS: This tool is specifically tailored to provide students with in-depth theoretical knowledge and boost their initiative to study more. It also takes into account semesters, exam times, periods, or holidays. Academic LMSs need to offer tools for social learning, such as student groups, discussion boards, and web conferencing. Similarly, they need to have a grade book system for monitoring attendance, assignments, and other relevant student information.
  • Corporate LMS: Unlike an academic LMS, the corporate version must seamlessly change or update training courses based on current market needs. A webinar functionality is almost always a must, as corporate training programs focus more on practical applications and return on investment (ROI). Certifications upon completion are typically used instead of grades, and course timelines are shorter. Mobile learning is more widely used to provide greater flexibility.

5 top LMS features 

Whether it’s simply for creating training programs, onboarding new employees, reporting on their progress, or something more complex, LMSs need to address two core issues:

  • They need to have the right features to streamline the learning process.
  • They need to provide an excellent user experience for both learners and admins.

Yet, with so many different types of LMS platforms available on the market, it’s only natural for features to differ too. Although the options can be overwhelming, it does mean that finding the perfect LMS for your specific needs is possible with the right research.

Here is a list of the top five must-have features that every LMS worth its salt needs to include.


You’ll need a SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model)-compliant LMS and content authoring tool to send and receive data seamlessly. Such compatibility is essential, especially given that SCORM files typically contain learner-specific information like progress, course completion, results, and more.

For an LMS to be SCORM-compliant, it needs to adhere to the SCORM standard. This represents a set of technical standards for e-learning software, allowing for system uniformity and interoperability.

xAPI (experience application programming interface) is a similar industry standard that’s meant to be SCORM’s successor. Also known as the Tin Can API, xAPI adds the extra feature of tracking employee training outside of online course content within the LMS, like in-person workshops, for example.

As a general rule of thumb, the newer an LMS’s SCORM version, the better. However, all learning platforms in the stack must have the same version (i.e., SCORM 1.0, 1.2, 2004, or xAPI) so there won’t be any compatibility issues down the line.

White labeling and branding 

It’s essential for any online learning platform to improve learner engagement, otherwise, you risk experiencing lower user retention rates. An efficient way of doing this is via white labeling and branding, something that Docebo wholeheartedly supports.

Basically, you get to brand your LMS in any way you see fit. You can opt for a single customization option, such as a simple logo, or add your brand’s colors, various animated dashboard banners, and more. The point is to make the LMS user interface your own and create a visually consistent experience for customers, employees, and other stakeholders, across all platforms they use within your organization.

White labeling takes this feature a step further by removing any references to the LMS vendor. It lets you customize URLs, build trust, and create a familiar and truly learner-centric experience.

If this is a feature you’d like to have, keep in mind that the level of customization can differ between LMS vendors. It’s best to see exactly what they offer before you commit.


An effective LMS tool should be able to automate both repetitive admin tasks and the training process. This means it has to integrate with third-party software in your tech stack, like CRM, webinar tools, or HR systems.

You should be able to add and remove users, grant or revoke access, enroll employees, clients, and partners, and synchronize data with a single sign-on (SSO) option. Learners should also be able to securely log into the LMS by signing into one system, like your CRM or Google Workspace.


The gamification feature of any worthwhile LMS takes various game mechanics and blends them with the learning content. These are meant to improve the user experience and motivation to stick to their learning path. In other words, they make the learning process more engaging and fun. They often take the form of visual signals such as score points, leaderboards, medals, and other rewards that highlight one’s progress through the course materials.

Think, for instance, how a fitness tracker offers you a shiny badge every time you reach a new milestone. You feel inspired to carry on and earn the next one. LMS gamification serves a similar purpose. It boosts engagement and also adds a bit of healthy competition between employees.

Social learning capabilities 

Blended learning formats can all be housed in a single LMS, including social learning data and materials. Social learning has always been integral to acquiring knowledge. Just like social media allows us to stay connected, social learning helps learners share their learning experiences. This feature also drives team engagement and cohesion, fostering a company culture focused on learning and professional development.

This is especially useful with the rise of remote work, as seasoned workers and new employees rarely meet around the water cooler now to exchange ideas and best practices and learn from each other. An LMS forum or discussion board facilitates seamless communication between learners and trainers. By doubling as a repository, social learning channels help learners find additional training information shared by other users.

Now that you know what to look for in learning management software, let’s take a quick look at some of the main benefits of using such a tool.

5 main benefits of LMS platforms

Since 2000, the e-learning industry’s revenues have increased by over 900%. At a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.1%, the sector is expected to reach $336.98 billion by 2026.

It should be obvious to anyone reading these numbers that online learning is here to stay. There are many benefits to be had from LMS platforms. Here is a list of some of the most important benefits for businesses.

Costs reduced and time saved 

Over the past few years, online learning has evolved into a revenue generator for the extended enterprise. The right LMS software that’s specifically tailored to that enterprise’s needs will generate a significant ROI.

Studies have shown that companies with a comprehensive training program see, on average, 218% higher income per employee and 24% higher profit margins. Web-based training reduces training costs and saves time for both the learner and the trainer as they can access the platform when it suits them best.

Reliable progress monitoring and assessments 

Most modern LMS platforms integrate automatic reporting and analytics capabilities. These allow admins and learners to track their performance in scores, engagement, and more.

Admins use this information to generate detailed reports, chart learners’ progress, and determine any areas that need improvement. For broader applications, such as performance evaluations, these reports thoroughly assess valuable key performance indicators or KPIs.

Personalized learning 

Each learner gets access to personalized training material based on individual needs. They can also study at their own pace, set their own goals, choose which activities to focus on, and have access to the course material at any time.

This means more flexibility for the learner and the admin in charge of the course management process.

Learn anywhere 

Mobile devices have made studying and learning wherever you are with an internet connection easier than ever. Mobile learning, usually via a mobile app, ensures learners can stay up-to-date with the latest training courses.

Research also shows that 70% of learners are more motivated when using mobile devices instead of computers. People like to have information on the go and the ability to refer to materials on demand.

Centralized training materials and information

Probably the most important benefit is the platform’s ability to house all of the big data generated in a single location making it that much easier to access.

The information can be categorized and allocated to specific individuals, giving them access to everything they need. Users don’t need to constantly ask around, request access, or sort through mounds of unrelated documents. Admins can update learning materials, generate reports and trend analysis on the fly, and safeguard sensitive information from unauthorized users or malicious actors.

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What you’ve read so far is just the tip of the iceberg. In today’s fast-paced business environment, on-demand personal and professional development can make or break any organization.

Want the whole picture? Download our LMS 101 one-pager to learn more about how an LMS can help you drive business success.