What is a Learning Management System (LMS)?

What is an LMS in Education?

Is an LMS right for your education needs? Learn about LMS features, benefits, and picking the right LMS for your needs.

If you’re an eLearning or Customer Education professional, you’ve probably come across the term LMS. So, what is an LMS, and how is it used? LMS or a “Learning Management System” is a software solution that is used by training organizations to deliver and track training activities, usually with an emphasis on eLearning.

There are two common types of LMS systems: on-premises and SaaS. The on-premises type requires hosting the LMS solution on an organization’s managed server. The SaaS (software-as-a-service) type is hosted in the cloud. The features that an LMS includes will also differ greatly. Depending on the platform, or a company’s specific training needs, an LMS might include features like course authoring tools, course delivery, course catalog, discussion forums, analytics, student registration, eCommerce, marketing automation or messaging, data integrations, and event and classroom space management.

As we’ll see, LMS features vary so widely that it’s become a catch-all term. If you’re looking to decide on an LMS, it’s important to look at specific requirements in order to find the best fit. On this page, we deconstruct the elements of an LMS, to help you identify the specific features you need from an online training platform and the accompanying benefits.


Elements of an LMS

According to Talented Learning, more than 700 vendors compete in today’s learning platforms marketplace. But of course, not all LMSs are created equal. An LMS may have hundreds of detailed features that vary from vendor to vendor. Before investing in one, it’s important to understand which type of tool would be a good fit for your use case

In this section, we outline the common considerations to look for.

  • Open Source, Installed or Cloud Technology: Open source solutions are often free but require considerable development resources for customization, installation, and maintenance. Installed (on-premises) solutions are hosted on your organization’s servers and often sold as a perpetual license. Cloud solutions are hosted by the vendor and are often sold on a subscription (SaaS) basis.
  • Course Delivery: Solutions are optimized for different instructional styles. For example, the EdX platform evolved from college MOOCs, which are online classes with a degree of instructor/student interaction. Other vendors focus on self-paced eLearning (asynchronous), instructor-led training (synchronous), or some combination of the above.
  • Course Authoring: Newer vendors often have built-in course authoring tools. Instructors can simply upload videos, presentations, or PDFs, and assemble them into courses entirely within the LMS. Other vendors can only deliver courses that have been created using an offline authoring tool such as Adobe Captivate or Articulate Storyline.
  • Assessments: Most LMS solutions have quizzes and assessments built-in. Advanced solutions will include highly configurable assessment features such as randomized question banks, time limits, open-ended responses, and more.
  • Instructor-Led Training: ILT/V-ILT capabilities vary greatly. Some LMS solutions can track face-to-face and virtual live training in a single comprehensive solution. Others have built-in virtual live whiteboarding and video or may integrate with external solutions like Adobe Connect and GoToTraining.
  • Certificates and compliance: Certificate features also vary by solution. In many cases, a certificate granted based on course completion or a passing quiz score is sufficient. Others may need more sophisticated duration tracking, disabling fast forward capabilities, live proctoring, and continuing education unit/credit (CEU) tracking.
  • e-Commerce: Training companies and client trainers often sell courses for revenue. In these cases, finding an LMS with e-commerce capabilities is of paramount importance. Payment methods range from credit, debit, and Paypal, to tracking purchase orders and checks. In addition to taking payments, look for the ability to offer promotion codes and subscriptions
  • Branding: For training external audiences, having a white label training portal is important for brand consistency, data privacy, and user experience.
  • Multiple portals: If you are training multiple groups, such as internal/external or sub-brands of your company, some LMS solutions make it very easy to create separate branded portals, each with separate URLs and access methods.
  • Mobile: Today’s learners want to view content on computers, tablets, and smartphones. This is true particularly for field workers or younger trainees. Look for solutions that are at least mobile-responsive, i.e. is optimized and easy to use on mobile devices.
  • Social: The meaning of social learning varies from vendor to vendor. It can include a myriad of features, from logging in with social accounts (Facebook, Google, Yammer, Twitter), to activity feeds, to discussion forums and community features.
  • Integrations: Larger organizations need many types of data integrations. Common integrations include single-sign-on (SSO), Salesforce.com, HR systems, and direct API access.


Benefits of an LMS

There are a host of benefits for companies who opt to use an LMS for external training needs, including:

1. An LMS enables you to organize all learning content in one convenient location:

Without an LMS, all training and customer onboarding content would be spread out across several different mediums. Perhaps one lesson would be a YouTube video, another in a physical manual or book, and another on a website. Because of LMS technology, all training content is available in one place, making it significantly easier for learners to access and easier for training managers to deliver.

2. LMS’s make training content mobile:

Because of LMS platforms, training can be delivered at any time and on any medium. Learners with busy schedules can work through a course on-the-go, on their smartphones, tablets, or laptops. This also improves overall course participation since LMS’s allow flexible timing that is friendly to all schedules.

3. LMS’s make training content accessible:

In today’s globalized market, it is more important than ever to have training content delivered on a platform that is accessible regardless of the learner’s physical location. LMS’s allow for all learners to access training courses, even if they are located miles away from the company that is offering the training.

4. LMS’s allow for message consistency:

If a company has multiple branches, message consistency can be a challenge. LMS’s allow for one cohesive training course that is accessible to all customers or employees no matter where they are located. This ensures that all learners are receiving the same training and understand the product the same way, rather than having several different company sites each with different training. Even learners who are remote or international receive the same training as those who are actually on the training site.

5. LMS’s provide valuable analytics:

Companies that use an LMS to deliver their training receive the benefit of built-in course analytics. LMS’s measure, track, and report completion rates, certifications, overall course participation, and test scores, as well as several other metrics.


Picking an LMS for External Training Needs

If you’re unsure if an LMS is right for your external training needs, there are five key features to look for:

1. A priority on user-experience: Since the learning experience is different, features like global video streaming, self-registration, and mobile responsiveness are all high priorities. Your LMS should provide a consistent look and feel for users. Customers also need a resource that is searchable so they can find what they need when they need it. Consider how you want students to enter and move around within the learning experience.

2. Flexible pricing models: The usage patterns of extended enterprise learners are often more variable than the usage patterns of internal employees. The right LMS plan will provide flexible pricing, as the number of users and their frequency of use can be difficult to predict.

3. Extended enterprise features: As previously noted, you may need multiple portal support if you train different audience groups, or an LMS enabled with e-commerce to process course sales. Your LMS should provide multiple ways to price and package training (i.e. subscription, a la carte, and blended payment models). Other key features include integrations with marketing automation systems and live training software, as well as a certification engine to incentivize users and drive course completions.

4. The right integrations: Extended enterprise training often reports into a Sales, Professional Services, or Customer Success function. And training success is measured by ROI and usage data, rather than completion and compliance. As a result, data integrations with sales, CRM and financial systems become more important than integration with HR systems. A tool like Skilljar’s Business Intelligence Connector can also help you understand the full picture with access to more granular analytics.

5. Enterprise-grade reliability: When the student is your customer, you need to make sure your training portal is always working. Look for a system that is cloud-based, with multi-tenant architecture. At the end of the day, your LMS should easily scale to meet your business needs.


Driving Adoption and Decreasing Time to Value with an LMS

Once you have an LMS in place that meets your organization’s extended enterprise needs, there are a number of methods to effectively deliver, relevant, customized resources and support to your customers. Some of these practices include:

Creating custom learning paths to make a personalized learner experience. Remember, there may be different ways your customers interact with and gain value from your product. Create customized learning paths for different user types, and include the ‘why,’ as well as the ‘how,’ so the true value of your product becomes ingrained in how they use it and talk about it to their peers.

Creating ‘personalized’ nurture campaigns linking to training content. Use marketing automation to send emails with links to certain content that can help students learn what they need when they need it. This allows you to create what feels like personalized onboarding with less manual touchpoints. As a result, learners will not only engage within your product but within training, as well.


Creating Calls to Action (CTAs) in your training courses. Training your customer on how to do something doesn’t give your company a true Return on Investment (ROI) unless users take action. Encourage learners to navigate from training back into your product (or community site, knowledge center, blog, etc). Using Single-Sign-On (SSO), they can go through a smooth, continuous loop of learning-then-doing. We like to call this the “holistic ecosystem” of customer training. It’s one of the best ways customers can immediately apply the skills they just learned.

Integrating a lab or demo environment within your training experience so students can apply skills in a test environment without impacting their real-life production instance of your product. This is incredibly useful for more technical product training.

Utilizing in-app messages to help learners along while in your product. Rely on training courses to provide a curriculum approach to certain topics, and rely on in-app messages when you need to guide users on where to navigate in your product for the first time. You can even link to training courses or lessons from the in-app pop-up, should they need more comprehensive training.

Trying different approaches to communicate about training. Utilize A/B testing to see which methods generate higher product adoption. Experiment with self-paced trainings, live classroom trainings, virtual instructor-led webinars, and integrating lab environments. Adjust your marketing content by positioning your value drivers in different ways that link off to related trainings. Try changing the structure of your training to see how your learners like to consume lessons. For instance, do they prefer when it’s knowledge-based (Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced), role-based (Admins, Engineers, HR, CSMs), or feature-based?

Link to specific training courses or lessons within your knowledge center, blogs, help pages, and in your Support team’s responses. This enables students to find and explore your training offerings while consuming the information they need in whichever format works best for them.

Incentivizing your learners through gamification, like badges and certifications. Using course registrations, course completions, passing quizzes, or attending webinars, you can motivate users to continue taking training. Even better, integrate training challenges into a broader gamification strategy for your business and tie in actions they can take in your product as a way to gain more badges or rewards.


Skilljar: The LMS for Customer Education

Unlike other LMS’s, Skilljar’s platform is designed specifically for customer and partner training. Skilljar enables you to successfully onboard, engage, and retain your customers. It supports multimedia content formats, built-in quizzing, self-paced and live training, and is fully mobile responsive, and brandable with extended enterprise features and more detailed reporting and integrations than any LMS on the market today.

If you are interested in learning how Skilljar can help you build an effective Customer Education Program and increase product engagement, you can request a demo.

To learn more, check out our eBook: Choosing the Right Technology for External Training.

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Learn why the most successful Customer Education programs share characteristics in three key attributes: strategy, content, and technology.

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Learn more about gaining executive buy-in for an LMS with our eBook: Building a Business Case for Customer Training.

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To learn more, download our eBook, Your Guide to Creating a Customer Onboarding Program.

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To learn more about tailoring your Customer Education program for multiple audiences, download our eBook: A New Segmentation Model for Customer Onboarding.

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To learn more, download our eBook, 4 Ways to Market Your Customer Education Program.

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