The modern workplace requires modern training methodologies. As such, it is unsurprising that many learning and development (L&D) professionals have begun reinforcing traditional strategies like face-to-face training with digital technologies such as learning management systems (LMS).
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 and why it works better than traditional training in the current global landscape.
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 for 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, 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.
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:
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:
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 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).
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.
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
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:
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.
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).
Interactivity is a feature of elearning that helps improve engagement during training. Instead of the usual classroom activity where trainees listen to a lecturer, they are encouraged to actively answer questions, 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).
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.
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.
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
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
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:
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.