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2020 Learning Management Buyer's Guide

Learning Management Systems (LMS) have surged in popularity in the past few months as schools and businesses made the move to remote schooling, working, and training. LMS systems can be used for education at the primary, high school, and collegiate level as well as corporate training and employee performance management. But not all LMS vendors diversify into both business systems and educational systems.

Finding the best LMS for your organization requires a careful consideration of all options available. Our Learning Management Systems Buyer's Guide will provide you with insights into the key feartures you should be looking for in an LMS, benefits of using an LMS for schooling or business, and offer helpful tips in choosing the best LMS software for your training and learning needs. 

What is a Learning Management System (LMS)?

A Learning Management System (LMS) is a software solution that offers a full suite of tools to support online learning and remote training sessions. LMS tools can be customized to a company’s training needs and contain a variety of different modules to support those needs, including:

  • Creation, Automation, and Delivery of Online Training, Courses, or Certifications
  • Learning and Development Programs
  • Administration of Courses or Training Programs
  • Documentation
  • Certification
  • Tracking
  • Reporting
  • And More...

Main LMS Use Cases: Education Vs. Business Training and Performance Management

LMS systems can be used for education at the primary, high school, and collegiate level as well as corporate training and employee performance management. But not all LMS vendors diversify into both business systems and educational systems.

  • Some LMS vendors focus on online education tools (K-12 and/or collegiate) while others offer tools that are specific to the online training and employee performance management needs of businesses. 
  • Some vendors offer different solutions that can be tailored to the needs of an educational institution or a business.
  • And some vendors, offer different, customizable solutions for both business training and online educational purposes. 

Educational 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 for educational institutions:

  • 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 stedent progress both in terms of completion and retention
  • Offers greater flexibility in employee training

Business Benefits of LMS

LMS offers a number of business benefits related to online training, employee development, and employee performance tracking.
Business benefits of using an LMS include:

  • Organizes training content within a single platform
  • Facilitates interactive, online training sessions for employees
  • Increases employee engagement
  • Offers tools for employee performance management, training, and career building
  • Provide companies with more options for creating and delivering online training
  • Provides employees with different access points for training (desktop and mobile)
  • Allows for increased enrollment without hiring more instructors
  • Tracks employee progress both in terms of training completion and information retention
  • Offers greater flexibility in employee training
  • Reduce travel costs associated with flying employees out to specialized training sessions, conferences, and certifications
  • Improves employee performance by training them in the skills they need to succeed

Key LMS 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 to meet industry guidelines and ensure proper employee certifications.
  • Training materials library: For employees or students learning online, 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: Employees, trainers, managers, and other roles will each require different levels of user access. Different user roles can be configured in an LMS system so that each person in your organization has proper access to the tools they need for training, administration, and employee performance management.
  • Email integration: With email integration, new training programs can be sent to employees via email, directly from the LMS 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 companies and schools to incorporate badges, leaderboards, point systems, and other tools for gamification to improve information retention and build some fun into the learning process.
  • Learning management: Trainers and administrators can use an LMS to organize course content and information easily. This includes methods to arrange scheduling of training sessions and supports user management as well.
  • Multiple training delivery formats: Training content and materials can be uploaded in a variety of different formats: HTML, Flash videos, PDFs, etc.
  • Proficiency testing and reporting: Although it can be difficult to gauge retention of online training sessions and material, the testing functions in an LMS allow companies to gauge employee knowledge, both as individuals and as a whole company overall. Reports can be useful in identifying weaknesses in employee knowledge to address in future training sessions.
  • Responsive design: Most all LMS solutions offer a mobile responsive design so that training can be completed by employees on mobile devices like smartphones or tablets.
  • Group Video Training: Many LMS solutions offer integrated video conferencing technology so your company can lead live training sessions remotely, providing employees with the opportunity to train as a group, ask questions, and interact with others during their training. 

Some LMS solutions also offer additional features for training content creation in the same system used for training and tracking such as:

  • 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 can create custom reports to measure training retention and effectiveness.
  • eCommerce: With eCommerce integration, employees or clients 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 upon purchase.
  • Templates: Pre-configured templates are useful to help trainers begin the content creation process.
  • 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.

Types of LMS Solutions

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.

LMS 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.

Learning Management Systems - 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.

Questions to Ask Before Choosing Your LMS

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 questions like:

  • 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?

Ready to set up demos with leading LMS vendors?

Once you’ve researched and compared your LMS options and created a short list of three to five LMS providers that you’re interested in implementing, it’s important to take your preparation and research one step further and get in touch with each provider. Most vendors will happily set up meetings to discuss your phone system needs and requirements, and can demonstrate all the key features for you.

Before you participate in a meeting or demo with an LMS vendor, make sure that you refresh your memory on all your business and feature needs. It is also a great idea to provide your lists to the provider prior to meeting, so they can put together the custom options and pricing they have available that will meet your needs. This will make your time much more efficient, and also give the provider a clear understanding of exactly what you require.

We can help you compare LMS solutions and set up demos with top vendors!