What is a learning management system (LMS)?
The rise in demand for learning management systems and other HR and learning technologies reflects a working world – and a society – that is in the midst of enormous change. Today, as organizations scramble to find and retain good talent, employees find themselves negotiating from a position of unprecedented strength. Workforces that were once localized in central offices are now distributed far and wide. Skill sets that used to be held in high demand, are gradually becoming obsolete as digital transformation begins to forever change traditional roles, integrating data-driven automation and cyber-physical processes into everyday business operations. And as it has always been, the resilient and the agile will be the ones who leverage change rather than run from it.
LMS meaning and definition
Most often referred to as an LMS, a learning management system is a software application that provides organizations with a framework for all aspects of the learning process. The best LMS systems are powered by AI and smart technologies and allow for cloud integration with other crucial HR and enterprise management system. The LMS houses, delivers, and tracks all learning and training content.
Practical examples of learning management systems
It’s essential for HR teams to be able to provide consistent and regionally accurate onboarding training. From mandatory elements to general orientation, LMS solutions can help to personalize, humanize, and automate these tasks.
From hands-on training to the absorption of complex administrative protocols, every business has a varied set of skills that need to be imparted to every new – and existing – employee. Basic training is delivered at the outset while other skills are developed down the road. An LMS can help team leaders and L&D professionals get a centralized view of where everyone is within the organization – their assessed skill levels and their current and past training activities.
Continuing education and professional development
An LMS can help you connect your corporate priorities and skills needs, with your existing workforce and its training and professional development activities. It can also do the same for your employees, helping them identify potential career paths and personalized development goals. From the C-suite to the shop floor, an LMS can track, monitor, deliver, and analyze every aspect of the learning and training experience.
Extended enterprise and channel training
From franchisees to gig workers, anyone who represents your brand must be well-versed in consistent operational rules and guidelines. Smart LMS technologies can help companies tailor-make training and brand initiation programs that align with the roles and tasks of each vendor, consultant, or external partner.
To ensure safety and wellbeing, and to minimize risk and loss, businesses have to take an organized and consistent approach to regulatory and safety compliance. A modern LMS can not only ensure that you’ve met all your training compliance targets, it can also leverage smart AI technologies to help you develop mandatory training packages that your employees won’t dread… and might even enjoy!
Any enterprise software investment must be weighed for its potential long and short-term benefits to the organization, including a measurable increase in revenue and productivity.
- Reduced costs and increased efficiency: Organizations typically find that the initial LMS software expense is soon offset by savings in classroom bookings, travel and off-site expenses (for both employees and instructors), as well as administrative and training consultancy costs.
- A continuous learning culture: Customizable for each individual, an LMS can track, recommend, and deliver each new stage or learning unit in a continuous learning journey.
- Cloud implementation and ROI transparency: A cloud-based LMS can continually be updated with the latest L&D innovations. Cloud integration with ERP can help align training with business objectives and outcomes to facilitate ROI analysis.
- Ensured compliance: With capabilities such as workflow monitoring, notification, and e-signature processes, an LMS provides a transparent global view of your compliance status regarding training and certification.
- Increased skills and better outcomes delivered across the workforce: Today’s LMS uses data and individualized insights to create courses that are relevant and digestible. Other features help to increase attendance, completion, and retention. This translates to faster and more strategic upskilling and reskilling of your talent pool.
- Increased learner engagement: An LMS can facilitate training and learning through a mixture of different media and channels. This helps to make it feel more customized to the user and helps to reduce boredom and increase engagement.
Key features of an LMS
Where many organizations once discouraged or even prohibited employees from using their own devices, current trends toward online and remote work make this somewhat untenable. Today, organizations are not only allowing their staff to use personal devices – they are depending upon them to do so. To achieve maximum impact and buy-in, an LMS should allow learners to access and complete as much learning material as possible, on their mobile devices.
Learning professionals need a centralized portal to help them track learners’ journeys and progress across departments and regions. Being able to track and compare different learning models in real time helps L&D teams hone and customize training programs. The further ability to categorize training by content or outcome – and tag learning materials by skill – allows for the development better targeted and individualized learning environments.
Personalized user experience
Smart LMS solutions powered by AI and machine learning can analyze multiple data sets – including a learner’s history, preferences, and performance – to align with the latest corporate priorities. It can also help global companies ensure that their regional teams have access to localized learning options that align with their linguistic and cultural expectations. When users have an access-anywhere dashboard that accurately reflects their personal goals and learning styles, it can lead to a valuable increase in uptake and buy-in.
Centralized learning materials
It is crucial to have consistent and uniform access to materials. These can include video or audio content, webinars, written instruction, and more. Both users and managers should be able to easily find and access the full range of learning materials appropriate to their needs and stage along their learning path. When materials are centralized, L&D leaders can provide a standardized and organized portfolio of tools which is especially useful in the management of hybrid and distributed teams.
Flexible reporting and analytics
It’s important that L&D professionals can assess both learner performance and the overall effectiveness of course material. An LMS can help you tailor flexible reporting and analytics to best align with specific criteria and learning objectives. Customizing reports in real time and getting clear, succinct visual representations, helps L&D teams to spot patterns and get a more robust picture of specific challenges and ways to improve learning materials.
Workplace litigation costs and settlements reached an all-time high in 2021, reflecting globally changing levels of scrutiny and workforce expectations. Of course, the best organizations are motivated to prioritize employee wellness and satisfaction as a matter of good business, however, protection against risk and loss is also a crucial motivator. LMS software solutions help organizations centralize, organize, and keep track of where their employees are regarding mandatory training and certification.
Flexible range of assessment tools
Beyond tracking learners’ engagement and completion statistics, it’s important to also measure comprehension and retention of those materials. Different metrics require different assessment tools such as exam engines, branching scenarios and other types of simulations. With a more robust range of assessment tools, learners can be given feedback that is actionable and very specific to their unique challenges and needs.
When managing a complex portfolio of training materials and learning objectives, L&D professionals value flexible course creation options in an LMS. They may wish to create a course from scratch by developing a lesson right inside the LMS, or by importing existing training material in a wide variety of media from documents to webinars, videos, or interactive training modules.
As learning management systems become more sophisticated, so do the technical standards and data models that underpin interoperability between learning activities across different technical systems. A modern LMS must be able to integrate with third party systems and exchange data through e-learning standards such as SCORM, xAPI, and Tin-Can.
According to a 2022 report on social media trends from research giant GWI, the global average for daily social media usage is two hours and 27 minutes per day per person. For businesses, it makes no sense to ignore this reality and we can see a growing interest in developing training programs that can seamlessly engage learners though social channels. For many users, this is a more palatable and comfortable way to digest training content. And the fundamental component of “sharing” on social media, means that learners are more naturally inclined to share their experiences and successes which can build enthusiasm and likeability around training initiatives – as well as creating a warmer and more accessible platform for learners and instructors to interact.
Ease of integration
The best cloud LMS systems can easily integrate with other essential enterprise management tools like cloud ERP or HRMS. The integration of relevant operational and team data from across the business (and its stakeholders) leads to a more accurate and actionable picture of learning and development needs and opportunities.
It’s a basic component of human nature that we are motivated by rewards and achievements. In an LMS, gamification is typically achieved through the use of points, ratings, badges, and more. When a learner has the opportunity to work toward a specific level or standing, experience has shown that they are more likely to get engaged with the content and better retain what they have learned.
Types of learning management systems
Cloud LMS (SaaS-based solutions): Typically hosted by your software provider. SaaS-based solutions offer a range of capabilities and integrations and offer easy scalability and updating in the cloud.
Self-hosted LMS: For businesses that wish to install and host their own LMS systems and content. This system allows for full control but compromises on scalability, speed, and ease of integrations.
Open LMS: Open source is great for smaller businesses as it is who are prepared to take the pre-built free public code and implement it in their own systems.
Mobile LMS: Not a distinct “type” of LMS but rather an LMS that comes with device-friendly components and dashboards (which open and self-hosted systems may not).
Corporate LMS: While educational LMS systems can be adapted for corporate use, increasingly these systems are built from scratch with corporate users in mind. A Corporate LMS can either be cloud based or self-hosted.
Educational LMS: These represent some of the earliest LMS systems. As indicated above, they formed the early foundation for many of today’s corporate LMS systems but are not natively structured for corporate needs and priorities. This type of LMS can also either be cloud based or self-hosted.
LMS technologies and strategies: Transforming the learner experience
Learning and development is moving away from a rigid (and often unwelcome) structure of in-person classroom sessions and mandatory training. Today’s organizations are adopting a more holistic and collaborative approach to learning. Modern LMS solutions represent an effective and practical tool to help learners, instructors, and employers customize and engage with their learning environments. But supporting internal mobility and retention – and crafting personalized career and educational paths – requires an amalgamation of strategies and technologies. Some of these include:
An educational strategy that takes broad or complex topics and breaks them down into bite-sized study units. These micro units can be viewed whenever and wherever the learner needs a refresher and can be incorporated into more formal or longer-term educational goals.
Learning in the flow of work
This refers to a model where learners can easily and quickly gain access to answers or bite-sized microlearning chunks while they are working and actually engaging in a task that is relevant to the learning unit in question. This model is shown to not only improve retention and cognition, but to improve real-time performance and efficiency. Learn more about learning in the flow of work.
Sometimes associated with “upskilling”, continuous learning moves beyond simply meeting mandatory training requirements. Rather, it is an ongoing approach to gradually building skills (both informal and official) through a variety of learning media including e-learning, formal education, mentoring, hands-on learning, and more.
Learning experience platform (LXP)
An LXP is essentially an LMS with a twist. A modern LMS and an LXP both use AI and advanced analytics to deliver the best solutions. An LMS system’s initial remit is to support L&D teams to deliver and manage training and compliance requirements across the business. The best LMS systems – of course – also support learners and employees to customize their own learning journeys. The X in the term LXP refers to “experience”. So an AI-powered LMS system becomes an LXP system when, in addition to meeting L&D and corporate demands, it is also capable of flipping the model to take an employee-experience-first approach to personal development and continuous learning.
What to look for in an LMS solution
First and foremost, your LMS needs to meet your current needs. But you also want to invest in solutions that can grow and scale as your company and your business models evolve.
- Ease-of-use: As with any tool or software solution, an LMS needs to make sense for users at all levels, and not require specialist skills or undue patience to yield results.
- Cloud integration: In today’s organizations, scalability is the word of the day. To ensure best performance from an LMS system, you should look for solutions that allow for seamless cloud integration with your other essential HR and business systems.
- An open platform: Expect demands for increased volume and sophistication of learning and training content and assets. An LMS solution with an open ecosystem can help organizations take advantage of diverse content from Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) providers, for example, as well as benefit from new innovations from a variety of sources.
- Flexible implementation: Watch for a solution that offers flexible implementation and configuration to meet current and future business needs. With cloud-based software, for example, you can focus on the area with the highest business need and then further expand the implementation as needed. That way, your organization benefits from both continuous innovation and lower maintenance costs.
LMS platforms: First steps to implementation
As with any digital transformation, it starts with people first – and a clear and open communication strategy. The initial reaction to news of an LMS implementation may include some eye rolling and pessimism due to longstanding perceptions of traditional training as boring and inconvenient. To get out in front of this, start out your LMS journey by taking some L&D best practices on board. Customize your LMS rollout plans to resonate with different teams. Build multimedia and access-anywhere components into your LMS user training. Don’t exhaust people with day-long training sessions – instead, build in microlearning units, fun and gamified elements, and social and personal exchanges.
More in this series
A learning management system (LMS) is a software application that helps administer, document, track, report, automate, and deliver educational courses, training programs, or learning and development programs.
E-learning is learning that is done outside of a classroom, usually over the Web – often conducted via a cloud-based LMS system.
Microlearning is a highly focused educational session delivered in small pieces, such as a tutorial about a specific problem.
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