What is LMS: Benefits, Features, Types And Uses

What is LMS: Benefits, Features, Types And Uses
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

There is a multitude of competencies to be learned in every modern workplace, as these skills make teams, departments, and businesses work. With this, a lot of learning and development (L&D) professionals have been leveraging technology to foster learning with expanded reach. They combine traditional modes of instruction with digital mixed media so that learners will more easily imbibe theories and applications. This combination makes up the learning management systems (LMS) used by schools and companies.

Using an LMS, L&D departments can achieve an environment where learning opportunities are optimized. This is not limited to content or subject matter but also pertains to the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting, automation, and delivery of educational courses, training programs, or learning and development programs (Ellis, 2009). With corporate training going beyond the physical classroom, LMS can be the gateway that can provide guided and measurable learning without boundaries.

This article discusses LMS as applied to a corporate setting. It provides the definition, key features and benefits, and applications of LMS when utilized by companies for training purposes. By the end of the piece, readers will get a better understanding of the scope of LMS, why it works better than traditional training in the current global landscape, and why it is one of the foremost training industry trends today.

What is LMS Table of Contents

  1. What is LMS?
  2. Common Features of LMS
  3. Types of LMS
  4. Benefits of LMS in Corporate Training
  5. How Businesses Can Use LMS for Corporate Training
  6. Reports to Track in Your LMS
  7. LMS Standards to Take Note

Not coincidentally, the first LMS appeared at the time the first web browsers became popular (Oliviera et al, 2015). They were initially used for delivering articles oriented toward content sharing (Nurouzi, 2014), and were seen as virtual versions of classrooms. Today’s LMS handles the whole training cycle from the creation of modules to post-training feedback. The practical applications for LMS extend to educational institutions, where they serve as the primary vehicle for online classes from STEM subjects to major ones, and for corporate environments, where they are used for employee training and onboarding (Rouse, 2019). They help users share media, articles, blogs, meetings, portfolios, and bookmarks.

What started as humble web pages, corporate LMSs have grown into a global industry that is expected to expand from $1.65 billion in 2017 to $7.12 billion by 2023, with an estimated 28.2% Compound Annual Growth Rate (Markets&Markets, 2018). In North America, 70% of learning and development (L&D) departments were found to have been utilizing LMS for their training efforts (Mazareanu, 2020).

The adoption of digital learning, the growing trend of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies in many corporate organizations, and continuous developments in AI and machine learning technology have driven growth for this industry (Rouse, 2019). As such, it is pertinent that organizations should know how to use this technology to their advantage.

Source: Statista

What is LMS?

Ellis (2018) gives the basic definition of a learning management system as a software application that assists in digitally managing various aspects of learning program management, including the administration, tracking, and reporting of training events. LMSs support content-sharing and online interactions between learners and instructors. They are classified as Knowledge Management Systems with two major market segments: educational LMSs which are used by universities and schools, and corporate LMSs which are increasingly used by businesses (Hameed & Swar, 2016).

In addition, a robust LMS should be able to accomplish the following functions:

  • Centralize and automate administration
  • Use self-service and self-guided services
  • Assemble and deliver learning content rapidly
  • Consolidate training initiatives on a scalable web-based platform
  • Support portability and standards
  • Personalize content and enable knowledge reuse

Common Features of LMS

A common LMS deployment consists of four types of components: software applications and services, hardware consisting of server computers and data storage, network connections to the internet and other organizational systems, and user interfaces for instructors, participants, and administrators (Hameed & Swar, 2016). Ellis (2018) also added that ideally, an LMS should integrate with other enterprise application solutions for HR and accounting, which enables management to track and measure each training’s impact, effectiveness, and overall cost.

Each LMS may have features that cater to its specific objective as well, however, there are features seen as indispensable and those that are only must-haves. Pappas (2018) identified at least 99 specific features for LMSs, listing various administration, authoring, compliance, and other tools. Skillbuilder (2019) lists ten basic features that should be present in any LMS and can be the basis for comparisons between products:

  • Ease of use. A good LMS interface is intuitive and user-friendly whoever the user. It should be quick to learn. After all, a series of courses on how to take a course is hardly how individuals and organizations want to spend their time, energy, and resources. Ease of use is a must-have LMS feature for everyone.
  • Integration. As mentioned, seamless interoperability with other functions and other enterprise software reduces complexity in the workplace, as information from LMS can be shared with other departments such as finance, sales, marketing, and HR.
  • Content Management. As part of the LMS, the content management function provides authors the means to manage content and collaborate in one centralized location. This also ensures that LMSs are up to elearning standards and is compatible with current web technology. Aside from in-house content, LMS should preferably accept courses from third-party providers.
  • Support for Mobile Learning. With the further advancement of mobile technology, people are becoming more inseparable from their mobile phones rather than personal computers. Worldwide, 16-24-year-olds connect to the internet for a total of 4.1 hours a day on their mobile phones compared to 3.3 hours via PC, while 25-34-year-olds access the internet via phone (3.45 hours) a little more than on PCs (3.37) (Clement, 2019). Given that the current generation of workers accesses online content on mobile more than PCs, LMS modules should be equipped with mobile versions available or risk being ignored.

Source: Statista

  • Support for Blended Learning. LMS content should support mixed methods of teaching like video and audio, as blended learning may provide better results versus a single mode of instruction.
  • Testing and Assessment. Built-in testing and assessment monitor the online training goals, objectives, and outcomes that matter most to the organization. Results can be collected, evaluated, and benchmarked with other learners or with KPIs.
  • Reporting and Tracking. Reports on a macro scale can gauge the effectivity of content. These include data on the number of users, courses, groups in training, course completion rates, and test passing grade rates, among others. Tracking solutions follow each leaner’s development progress across the course.
  • Security. Security is of paramount importance as an LMS contains not only the personal data of learners but also proprietary learning material. These include password authentication, IP blockers, and encryption.
  • Customization and Branding. Customizing the look and feel of the content to reflect brand imagery is a welcome option for corporate clients. Allowing clients to carry their brand name in the learning modules helps users identify closer to the brand.
  • E-commerce. Used for payment options, ecommerce features let customers purchase software over the web using secure payment facilities.

Types of LMS

Learning Management Systems can be classified into many types. Classifications can be based on the specific requirements of the system for a company’s training needs. These factors may include IT infrastructure, training expertise, and budget. Mindflash (2012) breaks down the types of LMS based on price point, application, and capability.

Free vs. Commercial

Free software would be hard to pass up for companies on a shoestring training budget. However, free software does have its limits. For one, users will be subjected to the same generic system applicable to all other users. Customization, if present, will be severely limited, unless an upgrade to a paid version is available. However, if the free LMS is open-source, users can create custom solutions but expect the effort to be more time-consuming and less efficient. Finally, do not expect much in terms of customer support. Whatever little revenue earned by the software in advertisements would probably not be used to provide the same 24/7, hands-on support that commercial LMS vendors would.

On the other hand, commercial software will cost money. The expenses will increase exponentially as more features are required by the organization. Customers do get more in terms of support and functionality. LMS usually takes a big portion of a company’s training costs: a Brandon Hall Group survey noted that Learning Management Systems account for 38% of the average learning technology budget (Cochran, 2016).

Installed vs. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)

Choosing between the two types of deployment often depends on the company’s IT infrastructure. An LMS will not just require hard drive space, but will occupy substantial server space and will need to be online all the time. A local enterprise solution that resides on company servers will require support staff to handle maintenance, upgrade, and repair. The SaaS option will have the vendor assume the responsibilities for software maintenance and upgrades, as well as ensuring that content is online. In addition, all data is saved on the vendor cloud for secure safekeeping. This is perhaps one of the many reasons why more than half of LMS users prefer a cloud-based deployment (Tarliuk, 2019). Unless a company has the manpower and the expertise to handle the support side of LMS, the SaaS version will make a more sensible investment.

LMS with Authoring Tool vs LMS without

Not all LMS comes with course authoring options. Some systems focus on the distribution and management of course content. As such, this may mean an additional investment is required to acquire an authoring tool (specifically, a Learning Content Management System or LCMS) independent of the LMS. Additional efforts must be made to ensure that both systems work with each other.

Meanwhile, an LMS with a built-in authoring tool may seem more expensive on the outset compared to those with none. However, if companies consider the additional effort to install and learn a separate course maker, plus ensure that the two systems are compatible, the costs might be small enough to ignore the difference. Of course, this does not factor in top-of-the-line authoring tools that offer more compared to off-the-shelf products. Similarly, the capability of a company’s IT department will play the biggest role in what LMS type best suits them.

Source: Joomla LMS

Benefits of LMS in Corporate Training

LMS in full form brings together content delivery, communication, assessment, and administration of online instruction into a single secure platform that could be accessed by anyone on the internet (Kats, 2013 cited in Crouse-Machcinski, 2019). When the training requirements of companies start demanding features that traditional methods cannot provide, LMS often provides the best course of action to address needs. QuodeckSpeak (2020) lists some of the benefits of applying an LMS as follows:

Centralized accessibility

An LMS provides a central repository for all training modules, tools, and data. Having a cloud-based system even makes it more accessible. This provides users with the convenience of logging into the system remotely instead of needing to be physically present. This saves time and reduces the need for physical travel to access courses.

Mobile readiness

Having mobile-enabled courses saves the company the need to invest in training-specific equipment and even on additional IT purchases such as laptops and desktops. With today’s employees very likely to have their own mobile phones, training can be conducted with users just connecting to a network and logging into the course via their own device. A Samsung/Frost & Sullivan survey in 2016 reported that workers who used their personal smartphones for work gain 58 minutes of work time each day as well as gain another 58 minutes of personal time each day on average. These same workers reported a 34% estimated productivity increase (Turek, 2018).

Increased engagement

Interactivity is a feature of elearning that helps improve engagement. Instead of the usual classroom activity where trainees listen to a lecturer, they are encouraged to actively answer questions during training, discuss among groups, and participate in competition-type activities while undergoing training. A learner-centered approach resulted in a more engaging experience during the learning process and also helped improved results at the end of the course. The Research Institute of America reported that elearning boosts retention rates between 25% to 60%, compared to 8% to 10% with traditional training (Pezold, 2017).

Reduced time and costs

LMS eliminates the need for physical tools such as classroom setup, course printouts, equipment rental or setup, and an actual instructor. Instead, online training would require employees’ attention and, at most, a connection to the network. Equally important, trainees can complete their courses without the need to spend time traveling to venues or staying in hotels.

Easier compliance

Compliance with existing regulations is a necessary task that regularly ensures that training courses and methods are up to standards. The best LMSs contain features that help complete compliance requirements easier and more efficiently through automated functions. Instead of recalling outdated course versions and sending new ones, newer systems perform the updates of courses to reflect compliance automatically.

How Businesses Can Use LMS for Corporate Training

Elearning has already been established to provide effective academic activities, particularly multidimensional teaching and learning processes (Allehaibi & Albaqami, 2017). LMS can apply the same approach to specific business applications to train employees for various functions or specific responsibilities. Tarliuk (2019) wrote that among the many functions, corporations use LMS mostly for general training (25%), certification (23%), compliance (14%), onboarding (13%), customer training (11%), and selling courses (9%).

Source: Joomla LMS

  • General Training. Training new employees, sharing new policies, and teaching new processes are constant requirements for companies that continually adapt to new business trends. LMSs streamline learning by providing a means for employees to study content online and at their own pace. It also provides a feedback mechanism where management can determine how much was learned and what employee reactions are pertaining to the subject.
  • Certification. During their stay at the office, employees will often be required to secure certification for a competency required for the job, or proof of training for a specialized task. LMS assists in developing and distributing courses that are approved by regulating agencies. The system is well-suited to create a stringent training and certification system where individual performances can be monitored and assessed, leading to more credible issuances of certifications. 
  • Compliance. Each company can be bound by regulations and requirements set by governing agencies. Traditionally these tasks were cumbersome and require countless hours to document processes, coordinate within departments, and ensure compliance to set standards. With LMS, all compliance requirements and data can be stored in a centralized, online database that is accessible anytime. This makes it ideal to carry out compliance and audit training sessions that are exact by design and require accuracy and consistency.
  • Onboarding. LMS can provide new employees with relevant onboarding content on-demand via online or mobile content. The availability of content makes it convenient for new hires to learn more about the company via BYOD and at their own time. At the same time, LMS can track each learner’s progress so they can identify and adjust the pace of individuals as necessary.
  • Customer Training. Handling customers is a specialized skill that requires specialized training. LMS can develop and offer courses that are designed with the company’s target customer in mind. The system can help train employees via simulations and gamified activities designed to improve communication and customer retention skills.
  • Sales Courses. Making sales training available online is favorable to mobile salespeople who are often swamped with sales calls and set meetings. Considering that a company’s sales force is usually dispersed in a wide area, plus the fact that about half (48%) learn by trial and error to a high or very high degree, elearning bridges the distance and is well equipped to accommodate repeat sessions (Gutierrez, 2012). Sales courses may also include product knowledge training, which can be more effective when added with interactivity via gamified elements, and reward systems are also known to boost product knowledge retention.

Reports to Track in Your LMS

Training for the sake of training is not enough. Sobral & Peci (2008) state that “managing, on the other hand, implies to lead and motivate members of the organization and, ultimately, control involves monitoring performance to ensure that goals are achieved” (Sobral & Peci, 2008 cited in de Oliveira et al., 2016). The requisite monitoring of each employee’s performance during the training period is necessary to track their progress.

LMS provides the tools to help managers and human resource personnel to monitor and track each trainee’s performance, as well as gauge each course’s effectiveness. Hogle (2019) listed the ideal metrics to gauge training effectiveness as performance in scenario-based elearning, job performance (before and after training), and business performance. However, most companies are instead tracking metrics designed for other business goals: attendance and learner’s perception of training (Hogle, 2019, Thalheimer, 2018).

Source: The Learning Guild

  • Course Completion. Elearning via LMS provides a more flexible approach to training, but while it encourages trainees to take the courses, there is still a set limit on how much time is needed to complete a course. LMS usually tracks employee time from start to finish and sets time against a benchmark.
  • Learner Proficiency. LMS can also monitor how much of the course is absorbed by the learner through simple tests or gamified challenges where solutions often come in the form of retained knowledge of the course material. This helps management track proficiency levels for each employee and identify potential performers in each group.
  • Satisfaction Rates. Feedback should always be an important part of the training process, and users can provide an assessment of their recent course. Results can be tabulated and presented to management for post-mortem evaluation.
  • Instructor Rating. Conversely, instructors/authors can also be rated in terms of their effectiveness in engaging trainees, imparting knowledge, and integrating the corporate objective for the training.
  • Course ROI. This metric helps establish if the costs associated with the course are covered by participants’ output, which can mean increases in sales or improvements in efficiency (which also has a financial implication).

LMS Standards to Take Note

Like traditional training tools, LMS is subject to certain standards to ensure consistency and compliance. Rimmer (2017) describes the current standards of LMS that are in circulation today as follows:

  1. Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM). SCORM is an early LMS standard that appeared in 2001. It remains active as the industry standard for defining both how course content is packaged and how that course communicates with the LMS.
  2. Aviation Industry Computer-Based Training Committee (AICC). While currently defunct, there are still LMS courses that adhere to this standard. Originally set for the aviation industry, the standard grew popular outside its circle, and was adopted widely until new standards appeared.
  3. Experience API (xAPI). Seen as the successor to SCORM, xAPI features a simpler way of defining how information should be transmitted and stored. xAPI allows developers to send a wide range of data from other platforms, including mobile apps and enterprise systems so that communication is not limited to courses and the LMS.
  4. Cmi5. Cmi5 was created to succeed AICC and is similar to xAPI. The difference is that Cmi5 defines how the LMS and your course’s content should communicate with a Learning Record Store. In addition to xAPI statements, developers can define themselves, cmi5 specifies a set of common verbs for xAPI’s actor-verb-object structure.
  5.  Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). In addition to the above-mentioned, there is the WACG. It is not purely an LMS standard but a set of independent, formal guidelines for developing accessible digital content, especially for persons with disabilities. It is the same as ISO/IEC 40500:2012. Having WCAG certification increases an LMS’s accessibility (Henry, 2020).

LMS is the New Normal for Corporate Training

The global market for LMS is seen to grow bigger every year as more companies adopt more training methods. And why not? LMS represents a new breed of training systems that provide improved results compared to traditional classroom training. In addition, LMS offers the chance for training at a faster pace and without physical boundaries. Workers can access modules using their own mobile phones and work out a training schedule built around their work and personal time.

LMS is also more cost-effective, as it does away with traditional training costs such as travel, accommodation, venue, and print materials. The initial upfront cost may be substantial, but like other IT investments, it can save money in the long run if implemented correctly and designed in line with set standards. Startups and smaller companies can benefit from LMS with a smaller investment by going to open source or SaaS, which can address training needs adequately.

Considering today’s global workforce where mobility is a standard and physical distance has been reduced to network reach, training systems should also be as flexible in reaching out to employees. LMS will play a big part in ensuring the availability of training for all employees.

 

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