This LMS overview is a comprehensive exploration of the software, its benefits, popular features and advice about choosing the right LMS for your organization.
What’s a learning management system (LMS)? Good question. An LMS (also known as learning management software or learning management system software) is a software application for the management and delivery of online learning content. LMSs help subject matter experts (SMEs), educators and business professionals deliver materials to their target audience, communicate with the online community, administer assessments, monitor progress, track records and more.
Why Use an LMS? Four Training Use Cases
Now that we know what an LMS is, why would you use one?
Here are four uses cases for an LMS:
1. Customer Education
An LMS can help companies create, distribute and track content aimed at helping their customers be successful with their product or service. The best customer education programs are designed to impact measurable business metrics like product adoption, customer retention and customer lifetime value (CLTV).
2. Employee Training
An LMS can help a company create, distribute and track content aimed at helping their employees be successful in their roles and careers. An effective employee training program can increase employee retention, improve satisfaction, boost productivity and ultimately increase your bottom line.
3. Partner Training
An LMS can help a company create, distribute and track content aimed at helping its channel partners market and sell their products outside its walls.
4. Gig Economy Workforce Training
An LMS can help a company in the gig economy create, distribute and track content aimed at helping its workers (i.e., contractors) be successful. For example, a company like DoorDash could use an LMS to provide new drivers with a course on how to get started or increase their earnings.
Five Benefits of an LMS
Here are a handful of LMS benefits you can’t ignore in 2023.
1. Time and Cost Savings
If you’re moving from traditional, face-to-face training, using an LMS can save you tremendous time and resources. You’ll be able to eliminate expenses related to venues, travel and materials while enabling end-users to learn on their own time and at their own pace.
2. Easy Content Creation
Most learning management systems make content creation and maintenance simple, making it easier for teams to develop courses, keep them up-to-date and scale.
Most learning software solutions allow you to use existing content such as PowerPoint presentations, videos and audio to create a course — some even give you the ability to create content from scratch.
3. Seamless and Relevant Content Delivery
With the right LMS, you can deliver content contextually by making relevant information seamlessly accessible, exactly when people need it. For example, if you’re delivering onboarding materials to new employees, you can embed links to the content in your human resources software or email it to them directly. LMSs that offer webhooks and APIs can even automate content delivery based on actions that happen in your company systems.
Another benefit of an LMS is its tracking capabilities. When you use learning mediums such as books, manuals, online support articles or Google Docs, you receive little to no insight into how learners are interacting with the content, whether they’re engaged or if any learning has occurred. LMSs give you visibility into these metrics; they allow you to track learner engagement and take action to improve your online initiative. For businesses, mapping learner analytics to business outcomes can be critical in proving ROI and measuring the impact on key performance indicators.
5. Real Business Results
An LMS can offer every organization benefits that are specific to their training goals. For businesses, higher-level metrics such as lower support costs, improved Net Promoter Scores (NPS) and increased revenue could be a business outcome of an excellent online training program delivered through the right LMS.
4 Types of Learning Management Systems
There are a lot of LMSs available, and we can bucket them into several categories based on factors such as their deployment model, target industry or training goals served and feature offerings. Be sure to consider each of these categories in your LMS comparison process if you plan to purchase an LMS soon.
1. SaaS/Cloud-based LMS
Also known as a hosted LMS, the LMS vendor hosts all data, programs and applications on their server. No installation’s required and updates are automatic.
2. Installed LMS (On-premise LMS)
In this case, the customer purchases a license and installs and maintains the LMS on their own server.
3. Open-source LMS
The third type of deployment model is an open-source LMS, with which the source code is open and free for anyone to use and adapt to their specifications.
4. Custom LMS
Custom-built LMSs are tailor-made systems, built and maintained by a team of developers employed or contracted by your company.
An LMS may also be designed to serve a specific industry (such as higher education, hospitality, healthcare, IT and more) or cater to a particular use case (such as sales enablement, customer service training and professionals selling online courses). This type of LMS is considered a vertical solution, whereas an LMS that’s industry and use-case agnostic is called a horizontal solution.
One More Thing: What’s the Difference Between an LCMS and an LMS?
The term “learning management system” traditionally refers to a high-level solution for performing all steps involved in the planning, delivery and management of a full online learning program. Some solutions take a different approach to learning management by enabling course content creation directly within the platform.
These companies refer to their software as “learning content management system (LCMS),” “modern LMS,” “learning software” and “Training Software” to distinguish their product from the traditional LMS. These solutions aim to remove the learning curve and democratize course content authoring for any professional, from Instructional Designers (with extensive knowledge of eLearning) to business unit leaders (with little to no eLearning knowledge). The use of an LCMS-type solution is most effective for creating smaller units of learning content that are delivered when and where the learner needs it.
LMS Features for Effective Online Learning
LMS technology has advanced significantly over the past few years, making the average requirements checklist for an LMS considerably larger than it once was.
In the past, most organizations’ needs entailed having the ability to create courses from documents, enroll learners by email and administer basic quizzes.
As more organizations from different industries saw the value of online learning and training, goals diversified and the demand for more functionalities increased. The LMS market has responded by serving up a number of sophisticated and intuitive features to meet the needs of modern organizations.
1. Customizable Design
An LMS with a customizable design gives you control over how the user interface (UI) looks to the end-user. Nearly every LMS will let you change logos and colors; however, some, like Gainsight Customer Education, will give you total control over every aspect of the learning interface, including the home screen, events page, login screen, profile page and more.
Between the rise of remote work, the “on-the-go” lifestyle and the gig economy, your customers, workforce or partners will access some — or all — of your content on their smartphones. This is why why your LMS must be able to optimize your content for mobile devices, allowing your learners to learn whenever and wherever they are.
3. Learning Paths
Learning paths take people through a sequence of content built to help them master a topic or subject matter. When used correctly, learning paths increase engagement and knowledge retention.
4. Multi-content Support
No two customers, workers or partners learn in the same way, which is why it’s important that your LMS can deliver content in a variety of formats (i.e., blended learning).
An LMS with multi-content support gives you a simple way to upload and deliver different types of personalized content, including videos, audio and podcasts, presentations and rich text.
With support for in-app notifications, you can send branded and customized emails that encourage learning and knowledge retention.
When combined with other in-app messaging, email notifications help increase engagement and ensure people use your academy to drive toward intended outcomes, like becoming a power user, earning more from their side hustle or selling more.
Deliver custom surveys via an embedded survey tool (e.g., Typeform and Survey Monkey) to get feedback and poll opinions.
7. Quizzes and Assignments
The learning interface is integrated with assignments and quizzes — multiple-choice, true/false, short answer, matching, rank style questions, etc. — that help you evaluate someone’s understanding of a topic.
Certificates allow people to test their knowledge and show off their accomplishments.
Certificates can be offered in a couple of ways.
Here are two examples from HubSpot to illustrate the point:
- Product: HubSpot Marketing Software Certification Course
- Industry: Content Marketing Course: Get Certified in Content Marketing
The first certification is directed at HubSpot customers and helps them get the most out of its software. The second one zooms out and targets anyone looking to learn about content marketing (an industry related to HubSpot’s core business).
10. Personalization Tokens
Whether you’re training your customers, workforce, partners or some other party, there will always be subsets within these groups. For example, not every customer needs an onboarding course (why would someone who’s used the product for years need it). Similarly, a worker in one country may need cultural-specific content that differs from a worker in another.
Personalization tokens allow you to tailor the learning experience accordingly to ensure your academy is delivering value and meeting everyone’s unique needs.
11. Live Session
Live sessions give you the ability to let people register for one-to-many live online training events where you can hold Q&As, deliver product training, create a panel discussion and more.
12. Simple Formatting
Simple formatting allows you to easily create, organize and manage learning activities in one location while reducing the learning curve for new admins.
13. Content Authoring
Content authoring tools let you create, upload and update content that people can immediately access.
14. Bulk Uploads
Bulk uploads let you bring an entire library of content to a central media library.
Milestones ensure people complete the desired action before moving on to additional content.
16. Instructor-led Training (ILT)
Support for in-person and virtual training event management by streamlining the process of enrolling participants, sending email reminders and tracking attendance.
17. Single sign-on (SSO)
Support SSO with Oauth 2.0, Oauth, OpenID Connect, etc., so users can access course content without having to remember their password each time.
18. APIs, Integrations & Webhooks
LMS APIs and integrations bring your learning platform together with your tech stack (internal and external).
For example, integrating your LMS with HubSpot can power your Sales, Services and Marketing teams with learning data they can use to automate workflows and incorporate learning into their content strategy.
At the same time, integrating your LMS with Gainsight would allow you to see how learning is impacting your customer health score and retention efforts.
19. Roles and Permissions
Multiple levels of permissions (admin, manager and learner) that let you manage someone’s ability to edit content, view analytics and send course enrollment emails.
An LMS with website- and app-embed capabilities allows you to bring your academy into your website or app to create a consistent and cohesive experience.
This is important for the gig economy and others training “on-the-go” learners who may struggle to jump from the app they’re using to do their jobs and another one for the academy.
For example, someone working in the gig economy could access the academy from the same app.
Analytics that let you drill down into everyone’s learning activity. For example, the last time someone accessed a course and how far they’ve progressed. Custom reports allow you to tailor your insights report based on your current needs—for instance, a report on how the Marketing team is moving through a learning path.
A threshold notification system lets learners stay informed about significant changes in their data and receive emails to alert them when the data reaches a predetermined threshold.
23. Cloud Hosting & Global Infrastructure
The platform uses cloud-based infrastructure and a global content-delivery network to deliver content, no matter where people are.
With multi-language support, you can easily translate your content into different languages and provide an excellent experience for people in other parts of the world.
Enables you to scale your user base from zero to hundreds of thousands without worrying about operational issues or sacrificing the learning or brand experience.
Support for discussion boards, file sharing, virtual online sessions and other features that create a sense of community.
How Much Does an LMS Cost?
The pay-per-learning pricing model means you’ll pay a fixed price based on the number of learners you have in your academy. So, if the LMS charges $5 per learner and you have 200 of them, you’d pay $1,000 a month.
Paying per learner provides budget stability since you know precisely how much you’ll pay over the course of the year, which can be especially helpful when trying to get leadership buy-in.
The downside is that you may be paying for inactive learners.
Per Active Learner
If you’re spending on a per-active-learner basis, you’re only paying for people who are actively using the technology. Using the same example as above, if only 150 of those 200 people are logging in, you’ll pay $750 a month.
This pricing model is great for teams wanting to use an LMS to educate their customer base or other groups that aren’t “guaranteed” to learn.
While they hope everyone they invite to the LMS starts using it to learn, the reality is that only a subset will. Paying per active learner prevents you from paying for the people who don’t use the technology.
This is great for companies with large or constantly growing customer bases or teams that are using the LMS for a single use case, like a one-time onboarding program.
As You Go
The “as-you-go” pricing model means you’ll pay based on your use of the technology.
If you’re using the LMS a lot, you’ll pay more. If you don’t use it at all, you won’t pay anything.
This pricing model can appeal to new teams who are still building a foundation and don’t want to pay for the bells and whistles they don’t need.
Paying a licensing fee means you pay the LMS vendor a set (often annual) fee and you take the reigns — at least most of them. Sometimes, this is called flat-rate pricing.
LMS vendors will often present it in a few different ways regarding a licensing fee. An all-inclusive model will give you access to the full suite of features and services, while a packaged LMS pricing model offers different rates for different feature bundles. This is also called tiered pricing.
LMS Implementation: How to Do it Fast
Once the LMS purchasing process is wrapped up, it’s time for implementation. LMS implementation can take anywhere from a few days to a few months. The length of time it will take your team to implement an LMS will depend on the usability of the LMS, the resources available to you and the amount of content you already have developed.
The first step to LMS implementation is to select a framework for designing your learning content. Models such as ADDIE and SAM will help you lay the blueprint for everyone on your team to follow during the implementation phase and beyond. From content planning to development to measuring your program’s strategic impact, the framework you select will offer guidance and keep your team aligned at every stage.
Next, select an implementation team. An average LMS implementation team may consist of:
- A Training Director (also known as Team Leader) oversees the project.
- A Training Manager (or Project Manager) who is responsible for hitting milestones and meeting deadlines.
- An eLearning Specialist or Instructional Designer who focuses on creating content.
- An L&D or LMS Administrator who ensures the software and program match the organization’s needs.
- An IT expert who helps you integrate the LMS with other software used by your company, department or team.
Sometimes, a team may consist of only one person whose full-time role is to launch and manage the program. When teams are smaller, the usability of the LMS becomes that much more critical, as it must streamline workflows so significantly that just one or two people can manage a project that is typically managed by a full team. Small teams are also more likely to periodically pull in company subject matter experts (SMEs) to help develop content. This makes granular permissions a profoundly helpful LMS feature.
If you have existing learning materials through a different LMS or another medium, you’ll need to create a data migration plan. This plan should include the tasks that need to be completed to transfer content, learner information and/or other essential data points into your new LMS. If you’re not sure what the best method would be for your migration, you should connect with the LMS’s support team. They should have extensive experience helping customers perform migrations and can advise you appropriately.
Now that you’ve thought through the most important elements of your LMS implementation process, it’s time to create a timeline for execution. Outline milestones such as when you plan to complete your migration, add the online school styling and develop the first course. Then, launch your first course to a small sample of learners, collect their feedback and make final changes and updates before launching the course in full. As part of your LMS project plan, it’s always good to start small, learn from your target audience and expand your program from there.