What is a Learning Management System (and what kind of LMS do I need)?
Posted by Susannah Harrison on July 11, 2018
Online training courses are an easy and flexible alternative to manual or face to face training. Once learning content is uploaded to a Learning Management System, users can access it online, wherever and whenever is convenient. Almost all LMS platforms track learner engagement and progress, making it easy for the organisation to see the effects of their course.
But what is a Learning Management System exactly? This can be explained via the analogy of a house. Before your training is added, an LMS is like the brickwork skeleton of a house before the addition of paintwork and furniture makes it into a home. An LMS houses your organisation’s learning content in an online training course.
Benefits of a Learning Management System
Online training is fast becoming the preferred vehicle for learning and development, and a Learning Management System has the power to revolutionise your approach to training. But why are more and more businesses offering online training over face-to-face courses?
It keeps your organisation and your students organised and reduces your workload
Your learning materials are organised efficiently within one system, with a clear way of tracking the progress of your learners. Course material is delivered automatically, either in one go or drip-fed over a longer period of time.
An LMS has the capability to mark the tests taken online by the students, create and deliver certificates and process payments (either subscription or one-off). This significantly reduces your organisation’s learning and development workload.
Support requests from the students can also be reduced through an LMS, where self-sustaining communities can be created and hosted. Students on the same course can support one another, which takes some pressure off the organisation itself and, importantly, increases learner satisfaction and comfort.
It expands your organisation’s reach
By putting your training content in an LMS, you make your course accessible to those who may not be able to attend a face-to-face course. Opening this course to more people helps you generate more course sales.
It reduces your organisation’s costs
Using an LMS is also cost effective. Expensive aspects of face-to-face learning and development such as instructor travel costs, physical printed learning materials and venue hire are all taken away by delivering training through an LMS.
It’s more flexible
Crucially, users can log into the system and complete their training at whatever time is convenient for them, instead of having to adjust to rigid training schedules.
users can log into the system and complete their training at whatever time is convenient
This could have huge advantages for a range of potential users. A busy parent, for example, might struggle to take two days off to learn a new skill. An online course gives them the flexibility to learn in their own time, fitting in an hour of learning in the evening after the kids are asleep.
Flexibility also has benefits for internal training. A full-day course would take a staff member out of a day’s worth of work, which would either need to be completed on their return or shifted to an unfortunate colleague. An LMS allows them to spread the course over their working week (or longer) making the additional workload much more manageable.
What kinds of Learning Management Systems are out there?
Understanding the different types of LMSs that are available can be confusing, so to explain them we will return to the analogy of a house. Like moving into a new home, your approach to an Learning Management System will depend on your organisation’s individual needs. You will need to consider the level of ownership that you want to have over your LMS, and how much development you will want to take on before it is ready for your users.
An LMS can be delivered in various different forms, which are usually either proprietary or open source.
Proprietary Learning Management Systems
A proprietary Learning Management System is owned and managed by the LMS vendor, and usually sold on an annual license fee. Choosing a proprietary LMS can be compared to getting a rental house which is ready-made for your needs, with a landlord (vendor) who will take responsibility for its maintenance. This is a good fit for organisations who want a speedy solution to their training needs without a massive investment.
Choosing a proprietary Learning Management System can be a large investment however, and a potential disadvantage is that as the system is owned and maintained by the vendor, you are locked into working with the provider who was initially chosen to build the system.
Proprietary Learning Management Systems are either hosted by you, or on the cloud.
SaaS (‘Software as a Service’) or cloud-based Learning Management Systems are hosted on the cloud, and are ready made for your training content. Platforms might include Udemy or Teachable. The provider you choose will maintain the LMS, and users simply log in online with a username and a password.
SaaS solutions are usually hired on a pay-per-student lease or take a large cut of your sales. Because of a small or non-existent initial outlay, this can be cheaper for training courses with a small number of learners, but could also be much more expensive as these numbers rise. For a large number of learners, proprietary platforms that have a fixed license fee are more cost effective.
There can be rigid limitations to a proprietary LMS. Some will not allow any customisation, and others will only have the capability for pre-allowed add-ons rather than changes to the system itself. This means that businesses that start on these platforms can quickly outgrow them as their needs demands.
And then there’s The Trouble With Udemy.
Open-source Learning Management Systems
Open-source LMS platforms are free to download and fully customisable. This is like owning the bare structure of a house for free. You have the freedom to knock through the walls and change it as much as you want. However, as with a house, you will need the right architects and builders to carry this out properly, which takes a significant investment of time and money.
One potential downside to an open-source LMS is that the original developers can abandon it at any time if they have little financial motivation to keep it going. Critical security flaws can remain open for exploitation and new features may never be added.
Other open-source platforms may monetise their work by offering the basic foundational structure for free, and then charging large amounts for the addons you need to make it truly useful.
Unlike some other LMS solutions however, there are no per-user license fees allowing you to retain 100% of your sales.
Flexible self-hosted Learning Management Systems – the best of both worlds?
A good midway point between these options is a flexible self-hosted LMS, which uses a ready made structure like a SaaS LMS, but also allows bespoke customisation like an open-source platform. Creating the LMS from an existing model makes the process faster and cheaper than a completely custom solution, and offers as much flexibility to customise the platform for your own training needs. This figurative house comes with ongoing maintenance and is quickly ready for your learning to live in, but your vendor will make as many changes to it as you need.
Creating the LMS from an existing model makes the process faster and cheaper than a completely custom solution
These types of learning management systems are usually subject to smaller annual licensing fees. In return, the original developers maintain the software and are on hand to build and adapt the platform in the direction you need it to go. They’ll also continue to update the LMS with new features to help you train your users more effectively.
Which LMS is best for my enterprise?
Learning Management Systems provide the structures you need to fulfil your organisation’s training needs efficiently and flexibly, but the sheer number of available solutions create a daunting area of choice. What’s worse, choosing the wrong LMS can be a costly mistake that can waste company money and put you months behind schedule.
choosing the wrong LMS can be a costly mistake that can waste company money and put you months behind schedule
When deciding on an LMS solution, your considerations should include the type of training that you aim to deliver, the expected number of users, the kind of functionality your training requires and, of course, your budget.
Not sure where to start? Plume can help you to deliver your training with an LMS approach that perfectly fits the needs of your enterprise and your learners. Get in touch with us by emailing [email protected].
Not sure where to start with your own learning management system? See how we can help with Learning Management System development.