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2020 Learning Management Buyer's Guide

While an LMS system is critical for training management, many LMS users are unhappy with their current system. Finding the best LMS for your organization requires a careful consideration of all options available.

Note that the primary purpose of an LMS is to manage content, not create it. Content creation usually requires an LCMS (Learning Content Management System). Although some LMS solutions include LCMS features, your organization may need to invest in LCMS separately.

Benefits of LMS

LMS offers a number of benefits to schools and businesses. If your organization isn’t already offering online training options, you may want to consider developing them. Here are some of the benefits LMS provides:

  • Organizes learning content within a single platform
  • Facilitates interactive learning between students
  • Provide students with more options for taking classes
  • Offering students multiple modes of processing course material
  • Allows for increased enrollment without hiring more instructors
  • Tracks learners’ progress both in terms of completion and retention
  • Offers greater flexibility in employee training
  • Reduce travel costs associated with flying employees out to specialized training sessions and conferences
  • Improves employee performance by training them in the skills they need to succeed

Key Features and Modules

There are two major types of LMS buyers: educational institutions, and business users. While these groups’ needs vary, these are standard LMS features to look out for:

  • Certification: Many businesses need to ensure employees have completed specific training modules, some of which may be mandated by law. With LMS certification features, course creators can build certification procedures into the course.
  • Course library: For learners, it is helpful to have a library of critical course materials (or employee training materials) in a central location.
  • Data import/export: Administrators can import or export data in standard file formats, such as CSV.
  • Defined user roles: Students, instructors, managers, and other roles will each require different levels of user access. This should be configured easily.
  • E-mail integration: With e-mail integration, instructors can easily send e-mail to course participants directly from the dashboard.
  • Extended enterprise: This feature allows organizations to train outside partners, such as customers or business partners. E-commerce integration may be included.
  • Gamification: Research consistently shows that people learn better through games and contests. Gamification features allow instructors to incorporate badges, leaderboards, point systems, and other tools for gamification.
  • Grading: For education users, integrated grading tools are a necessary function.
  • Learning management: Instructors and administrators should be able to organize course content and information easily. This includes methods to arrange scheduling and user management.
  • Multiple delivery formats: You should be able to upload course content in a variety of different formats: HTML, Flash videos, PDFs, etc.
  • Proficiency testing and reporting: Although it can be difficult to gauge online learners’ retention of course material, testing functions allow course instructors to gauge learners’ knowledge, both individual and as a whole. Reports can be useful in identifying weaknesses in the curriculum.
  • Responsive design: Since so many people today use mobile devices to access the Internet, it is important that your LMS include a responsive design so that it will still be usable on a smartphone or tablet screen.
  • Virtual classroom: Online learning doesn’t have to be a solo endeavor. With a virtual classroom, course instructors can use video conferencing technology to lead live classes remotely, providing students with the opportunity to interact with instructors in real time.

These LMS features aren’t yet industry standard, but may be useful for you:

  • Content authoring: Although features to author content fall more under LCMS functionality, many LMS platforms do allow users to author course content.
  • Customization of user interface: Many businesses want to brand their user interface with a design specific to their company. LMS solutions offering advanced customization features make that possible.
  • Custom reporting: Administrators should be able to create custom reports on particular data.
  • eCommerce: With eCommerce integration, users can buy e-books, additional courses, and other products directly from their dashboard. If the product is digital, it can automatically appear in the user’s library after purchase.
  • Templates: Pre-configured templates are useful to help users begin the content creation process.

Questions to Ask Before Buying

With so many LMS options available in the marketplace, it’s important to determine what kind of LMS system meets your needs. Then, you’ll be ready to narrow down your list and select the best LMS for you. Ask these questions:

  • Are we willing to consider open source LMS? Open source can provide cost savings, but lacks the support provided by proprietary software.
  • What kind of content will we be using to teach online courses? You will probably use a combination of text, video, audio, quizzes, and perhaps games.
  • Will we be offering certification programs through online education? How will learners become certified?
  • What needs are unique to our users? Schools serving K-12 will want a simple interface that meets the needs of children and teenagers.
  • How will we be creating course content? You will want to be able to integrate your LMS and LCMS solutions.
  • What are our needs in terms of scalability? How will this affect price? Most LMS solutions actually become more affordable as you scale up, so you will want to choose a system with an eye towards the future.
  • How important is it for us to be able to customize our interface? What kind of customization do we require?
  • How will we measure the success of learners, individually and collectively? This will determine your needs in terms of reporting and analytics.
  • Do we have a legacy LMS system that will need to integrate into the new LMS for purposes of data transfer?

Types of Solution

With such a diverse range of users, the LMS market offers a variety of solutions to business users and educational institutions. You should know these general categories.

LMS for Education Users: Both institutions of higher learning and K-12 schools are increasingly turning to LMS to improve education. Most utilize LMS solutions that are specifically designed for educational use.

Corporate Training: Businesses who use LMS have a different set of needs. Enterprise LMS provides systems for businesses to train employees—and sometimes customers.

Open Source LMS: There are several open source LMS solutions available. Using an open source platform can be less expensive, but will generally require a higher level of technical expertise to set up. Additionally, users generally rely on online support communities rather than designated support services in troubleshooting.

SaaS Solutions: SaaS solutions are now the most common type of LMS solution. With a SaaS solution, software is accessed via the web. Users pay monthly fees that vary based on number of users. SaaS solutions are easy to scale and allow users to forego the hassle of constant software updates. It is also useful for storing course content and data on the cloud.

Installed LMS: On-premises LMS solutions installed on individual computers are still available. Generally, users pay a licensing fee for every machine running the software. Sometimes installed solutions can provide more customization options. But your IT team will be responsible for updating and maintaining the system.

Industry-Specific: As the LMS market expands, there are increasing numbers of industry-specific solutions available. For example, there are solutions designed for healthcare users, non-profits, etc.

Vendor Landscape

Offerings for LMS solutions are constantly expanding. However, there are established vendors in the different sectors. Most LMS solutions serve either business or education users. Only a few, such as Digital Chalk, serve both sets of users.

In higher education, the most commonly used solutions are Blackboard, Canvas, and Moodle. Schoology is also popular, particularly among K-12 institutions.

Leaders in the corporate space include Litmos LMS, Absorb LMS, and Grovo. Other systems that have earned acclaim include TalentLMS and Docebo.

Industry Trends

Within the world of online education, much is changing. Here are some industry trends to be aware of:

  • MOOCs, or Massive Online Open Courses, are becoming increasingly popular. MOOCs offer businesses opportunities for employee training, while many universities are finding that they can reach a broader audience through MOOCs.
  • New vendors are entering the LMS space, including HR software vendor Workday.
  • The market for LMS solutions is becoming increasingly segmented, with more options available for continuing education and associations.
  • More LMS solutions are providing content as part of their package. Crowdsourced content curation options are also expanding.
  • An increasing number of users are relying on smart phones and tablets to access course content, so mobile compatibility is more critical than ever.