What is an LMS (A Beginner’s Guide) – 2021 UPDATE

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Ask anyone ‘What does LMS stand for?’ and only those in L&D will be able to tell you the answer. And no, it’s not the London Maths Squad, or the Lithuanian Moth Society (if only!).

In the world of Learning and Development, it stands for one thing only: Learning Management System. 

However, defining an LMS is only the beginning. After all, there is a lot more to learn and discover about this intriguing technology. In this guide, you’ll learn how an LMS can support your learning objectives and business goals. Moreover, you’ll be in a better position to decide whether your organisation needs one!

Join us as we explore everything you’ve ever wanted to know about an LMS, but were too afraid to ask.

  1. What is an LMS
  2. What’s the Difference Between an LMS and LXP?
  3. Who Needs an LMS?
  4. How Can You Use an LMS?
  5. Benefits of an LMS
  6. What are the Types of LMS?
  7. How Does an LMS Work?
  8. What are SCORM, xAPI and AICC?
  9. What Types of Learning Content can an LMS Deliver?
  10. The 8 Essential Features of a NextGen LMS

 

What is an LMS? 

An LMS is a web-based platform that supports the digital distribution and analysis of learning and training experiences. 

The first LMS programme can actually be traced back to 1924, when Sidney Pressey invented the first “teaching machine”. This resembled a typewriter which required learners to drill in answers to multiple choice questions. 

The learner could then advance if they got the answer correct — a feature that most modern LMSs still use today. Lots of other versions of LMSs followed soon after, each one offering better features. 

But what really transformed the LMS landscape was the birth of the Internet. This enabled the creation of the first ever LMS software programme by SoftArc in 1990. 

A decade later, the first open source LMS, Moodle (Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment) was introduced. This allowed educators to easily create personalised online learning environments using Moodle’s plug-and-play functionality. 

Modern LMSs are now able to do the following:

  • Build customised learning environments
  • Develop, administer and distribute eLearning content with ease
  • Track and assess learner progress and knowledge gaps
  • Support instructor-led training with classroom and webinar management tools
  • Generate reports on learner progress and user behaviour
  • Streamline the training process
  • Deliver training in an engaging and exciting manner


With all this power in one platform, it is no wonder why more organisations are using an LMS system to address their training needs.
Indeed, an ATD survey finds that 83% of organisations currently use an LMS.

What’s more, according to a report by Markets and Markets, the size of the global LMS market is expected to grow to a whopping 25.7 billion by 2025! 

lms stats

What’s the Difference Between an LMS & LXP? 

If you’ve been around the L&D block, then you’ve probably already heard the term ‘LXP’. Yet another acronym to contend with! Unfortunately, the learning technology world is full of needlessly complex jargon.. Luckily, we’re here to break it all down for you!

An LXP (Learning Experience Platform) is a platform where users choose learning from an array of personalised or recommended content. The key difference between an LMS and an LXP is the degree of structure and control. 

In an LMS, the administrator alone controls the content that users see and access. Meanwhile, an LXP enables learners to contribute and curate learning material. It also gives greater freedom for learners to pursue areas of interest.

So which one is better? The answer will depend on your organisation’s goals. LMSs are well suited for mandatory training, or learning programmes with clear objectives. They are generally more feature-rich and provide better tools to help produce specific learning outcomes.

An LXP, on the other hand, puts stronger focus on learners’ interests and professional development.

 

Who Needs an LMS?

LMSs are for anyone who has a learning or training goal they’d like to crush. However, there are two main types of customers:

 

1. Businesses (of all sizes)

Employee Retention is Preferable to Hiring a Replacement

Large enterprises typically use an LMS to train hundreds or even thousands of employees. In fact, 40% of Fortune 500 companies use an LMS extensively to stay competitive. Large companies make up 30% of global LMS buyers. 

However, If you think an LMS is reserved for big businesses, think again. Startups and SMEs can utilise learning management systems to help improve and scale their operations. Thanks to online technology, small businesses can maximise their finite learning resources with the help of the right LMS. 

These small enterprises can take advantage of flexible pricing models, which vary wildly from one LMS vendor to another. The most common payment option is a per learner, per month subscription or license fee. Given the small user base of SMEs, this makes the service quite affordable! 

2. Educational Establishments

LMSs are also used by schools, colleges and universities to manage and deliver online courses to off-site students. In fact, nearly 99% of academic institutions run an LMS or a similar online learning solution. 

The education sector accounts for 21% of the current global LMS market. These educational establishments utilise their learning platforms to deliver further learning content, assess progress, track results and build learner communities. 

 

How Can You Use an LMS? 

LMS CustomisationWhether you’re a retail business looking to upskill your sales team, or a tech company looking to onboard new hires, there are many use cases for an LMS. Here are some of the main applications of this awesome technology:


And there are many more besides. You can check out our article
12 Use Cases for Your Learning Technology Solutions to discover more ways to put your LMS to work! 

 

Benefits of an LMS

The right LMS, paired with a great L&D strategy, can work wonders for your training programme. Here are just some of the benefits: 

  • They provide one centralised repository for all your training materials.
  • You can use them to track the progress and performance of your learners.
  • You can track learner compliance and issue certifications or qualifications.
  • Learners can sift through the training materials they need, when they need.
  • They’re easily updated with the latest in learning trends.
  • You can reduce your overall training spend by digitising your learning approach. 
  • Certain LMSs empower you to create a knowledge sharing community fuelled by social learning. This is important, as social learning accounts for at least 75% of the knowledge people attain in the workplace. 

 

What are the Types of LMS? 

Ready for an extra layer of complexity? When choosing an LMS, there are four types to consider: 

 

1. Installed LMS vs. Web-Based LMS

Installed (or locally hosted) LMSs can only be accessed on premise where they are installed. Web-based LMSs, on the other hand, can be accessed anytime, so long as there is a live internet connection. 

This means that learning is no longer tied down to a specific location. 

2. Self-Hosted LMS vs. SaaS LMS

One thing a self-hosted LMS and a SaaS LMS have in common, is that they are both hosted in the cloud. As you may have guessed, the difference comes down to who is hosting it.

A self-hosted LMS solution will give you the controls for its uptime and the security of the server. Technical upgrades will also have to be managed by your own IT team. 

A SaaS (Software as a Service) LMS is hosted by the LMS vendor. This frees you from handling tricky technical admin, and lets you focus on core activities such as delivering high quality training content. 

Your SaaS LMS provider is also likely to provide you with a support team, who can supply training, suggestions, best practice advice and more.

3. Integration-Capable LMS vs Non-Integratable LMS 

Some LMS vendors offer platforms with built-in core features, but limited third party integrations. The aim is to offer clients a one stop solution, where all essential tools are provided in one place. 

This works well if the LMS can provide you with all the functionality you need. However, as business needs change, integration requirements are often introduced.

As such, today’s best LMSs are capable of integrating with other applications. This helps provide a seamless experience for both admins and users across the whole organisation. 

4. Open-Source vs Closed-Source LMS

An open-source LMS gives license to anyone to freely examine, change and improve the original code of the software. This kind of LMS usually comes with periodic lock-ins to update the source code. Nonetheless, a key trait of this type of LMS is that individuals and teams can openly collaborate and distribute the software. 

On the other hand, a closed-sourced LMS is a proprietary programme. This means that only the owners of the software can alter the source code. Typically, you will have to pay a license or subscription fee to use this kind of LMS. 

The benefit of an open-source LMS (like Moodle) is the freedom for anyone to update, customise and expand the platform. Another great benefit is the cost. Open-source LMS platforms are usually free. However, you will need to cough up for hosting, support, customisation and update fees (or find somebody who can handle this for you!). 

Conversely, closed-source LMSs (like Growth Engineering’s LMS), can offer a more comprehensive and ‘all inclusive’ online learning suite. This includes tighter security, managed updates and a dedicated customer service team. As such, a closed-source LMS can often provide you with better convenience and peace of mind.

 

How Does an LMS Work?

Learning management systems use a series of rules and user permissions to serve up the right set of content to the right set of learners. Indeed, the best way to imagine an LMS, is to think of it as a large website that only certain users can log in to. There are two main types of users:

1. Administrators

Admins use the backend of the LMS to push and pull content. They also identify knowledge gaps and generate reports on learner progress. They can generate reports on departments, completion rates and much more. 

These users setup, monitor and refine your learning programmes, helping to drive your training initiatives towards successful outcomes. 

2. Learners

Learners use the frontend of your LMS to complete assigned or open access training modules. They can watch videos, complete quests, earn virtual rewards and also keep track of their achievements. 

They can also socialise using forums (like Clubs) to keep up to date with company news on the social feed.

3. The Rest

There are plenty of other user types beside Learners and Admins. For instance, ‘Managers’ can be assigned content controls and tracking rights over a specific team. ‘Instructors’ can be set up to manage classroom booking through the platform. And ‘Assessors’ can be used to mark qualitative assessments conducted through your LMS.

The list goes on. And on. The best LMSs are those which empower your learning leaders to push responsibility down to other users (without granting them the ability to alter key platform settings). This turns organisational learning into a team sport, helping to promote better business outcomes. 

 

What are SCORM, xAPI and AICC?

Learning management systems empower organisations to manage the relationship between users and content. Now we’ve seen how different types of learners interact, let’s dive into the wonderful world of eLearning content. 

If you’re administering a learning management system, you’ll need to wrap your head around SCORM, xAPI and AICC. Yes, that’s right: we’ve got three more acronyms for you!

SCORM:

SCORM stands for: Sharable Content Object Reference Model. All clear? Okay, let’s delve a bit further…

SCORM provides a list of technical specifications for eLearning content. Ensure content meets this criteria and it becomes much easier to provide a matching system to host and deliver it. Most content authoring tools produce eLearning that is SCORM compliant.

Without SCORM, there would be no agreed structure for eLearning. As such, every piece of content would have to be tailored for a specific delivery system. Thankfully, that’s not the world we live in. 

There are also multiple versions of SCORM. The most popular versions are SCORM 1.2 and SCORM 2004. If you’re purchasing an LMS platform, you’ll want to ensure your platform is compliant with at least one of these standards.

So, SCORM is the king when it comes to standards and specifications of online eLearning content. But there is another contender…

xAPI:

Despite being around since 2013, xAPI is still considered the new kid in town! It’s also known as Tin Can API or the Experience API. It stands for Experience Application Programming Interface. Just like SCORM, xAPI delivers and reports on formal online content.

The main difference is that xAPI also records all of your informal learning. It enables access to different data sources within and beyond your LMS. This provides a more holistic view of your learners’ experience. 

Here’s an example. Say you want to evaluate and improve learner engagement on your LMS. xAPI can help you pull together data from different sources such as the following:

  • Engagement data from eLearning games and simulations
  • Social data from peer groups, newsfeeds and informal feedback
  • Performance data from scenario-based training and assessments


All these data points can help paint a better picture of how engaged your learners are on your training platform. 

AICC:

In the year 1988, a group of tech professionals came together with one aim. They wanted to lower the costs of aviation training by standardising learning products. As such they formed the AICC (Aviation Industry Computer-Based Training Committee). 

By the same name, they established the world’s first eLearning specification standard. This simplified the production and distribution of training materials within the aviation industry. 

But soon after, AICC was adopted by other industries. Today, it is now considered the oldest and second most popular specification in the learning technology world. However, this could change in the near future, as SCORM tightens its grip and xAPI adoption grows. 

 

What Types of Learning Content can an LMS Deliver?

The unspoken job of any good LMS system is to keep learners happy and engaged. The neuroscience of learner engagement shows the benefits of having a variety of content types available on your LMS. 

Here at Growth Engineering, our LMS is able to accommodate different content formats, including: 

  • SCORM compliant eLearning
  • Learning games
  • Videos
  • YouTube embeds
  • Assessments, tests and surveys
  • Documents
  • Images
  • Links
  • And more!

 

The 8 Essential Features of a NextGen LMS

Learning technology is a wonderful thing. However, technology moves quickly. It’s up to LMSs to keep up with the growing demands of a digitally-savvy audience

According to Forbes, learner engagement is what will help drive the success of future learning interventions. Even today, 90% of L&D professionals consider learner engagement as the most essential element of a modern LMS. 

After all, stats show that companies with great employee engagement outperform those with little engagement by 202%!

As such, a NextGen LMS should have the following engagement-focused features in place: 

 

1. Gamification

Mary Poppins was on to something when she said: “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun”. This is where gamification enters the party.

Gamification is the application of gaming mechanics to non-gaming environments. It is known to improve productivity and engagement in online learning. In fact, 30% of L&D professionals are already incorporating games and simulations in their eLearning programmes. 

You can gamify your training programme by applying features such as XP, badges, levels, leaderboards and battles.

Further reading: How to Make Gamification on Your LMS More Professional 

gamification stats employee engagement productivity

 

2. Social Learning

Social learning is a huge part of driving learner engagement and producing better business outcomes. In fact, the 70:20:10 model states that 20% of everything we learn is learnt socially. 

The right social learning features also help to facilitate a knowledge sharing community and prevent intellectual capital from leaking out of your organisation.

With these benefits in mind, it’s easy to understand why 73% of organisations expect to increase their focus on social learning. 

Here at Growth Engineering, we encourage social learning with an array of tried and tested methods on our LMS. Some of these include features such as Clubs, the Experts area and social streams.

Further reading: 8 Social Features You Need on Your LMS

 

3. Customisation

If you’ve ever had your clothes tailored, then you’ll know how great customisation feels! Customisation helps ensure that your environment resonates with your learners. This helps create meaningful learning experiences.

If done right, a customised training platform helps the learner to feel like they are playing an important role in driving your organisation towards its goals. It allows them to feel part of the overall learning journey. 

Better yet, it fuels them with a sense of purpose, or what we call Epic Meaning. In fact, this is what drives 73% of employees to feel more engaged and satisfied in the workplace. 

The customisation goes both ways. The platform can be customised in line with your brand, vision, imagery and terminology. However, you should also ensure you provide your learners with customised (or personalised) learning pathways. 

If your learners know you’ve created a learning journey just for them, they will be that much more likely to engage with it!

Further reading: The Perfect White Label LMS: A 12-Point Checklist

personalisation stats

4. Mobile-Optimised

Almost half of the world’s population now owns a smartphone. 

This means your LMS needs to be mobile-optimised. A non-responsive platform will leave the learner feeling unengaged. In fact, 24% of learners are not satisfied with LMS programmes that do not have any mobile capability. And 94% of people will judge a website based on whether it’s responsive or not. 

With a platform that is mobile-friendly, resizing, panning and scrolling will be kept to a minimum. As a result, Millennials and Gen-Zs will then be more comfortable roaming around on your mobile learning platform.

However, for the best possible results, we recommend utilising a mobile app to better facilitate learning on-the-go and at the point of need.

Further reading: Your Mobile App vs. Mobile-Responsive LMS 

 

5. Blended Learning

blended learningCovid-19 has fundamentally shifted the learning landscape. Digital learning solutions are being adopted at an unprecedented rate. However, a recent report by the Wall Street Journal detailed some of the limitations with a purely online approach to learning. We’re not ready to say goodbye to face-to-face classroom training sessions just yet!

So what is the future of education? The answer is blended learning. This approach mixes online learning and classroom methods to get the best of both worlds. 

And the results prove it! Research shows that blended learning can help learners to perform better. What’s more, stats also show how blended learning can boost engagement by 73%

The best LMSs will offer online learning capabilities and classroom (or webinar) booking management tools. Some, like Growth Engineering’s LMS, even offer Interactive Classroom options. 

Further reading: Blended Learning: When Classroom Training Goes Tech 

 

6. Rich Reporting

Think back to the last time you had to make a decision, but didn’t have all the facts. How did that turn out? While intuition might be useful, it may not always generate the best results. 

Studies show that data-driven strategies are 3x more likely to be effective. As a result, it’s no surprise that 82% of businesses regard reporting tools as a crucial feature in their LMS. 

A NextGen LMS should have the right reporting functionality to help you keep up with the needs of your learners. For instance, Growth Engineering’s live dashboards enable real-time learning insights that empower you to fine-tune your training programme.. 

This will help you stay on top of your learners’ progress at every point of the training process. 

Further reading: 10 Reporting Features You Need on Your LMS 

 

7. Intelligent Integration

Today’s leading companies are reaping great benefits by embracing efficiency in their business processes. Many of them are utilising intelligent integration to help streamline operations and improve business agility. 

Your LMS should be engineered to easily adapt to future learning needs. This means that it should be able to integrate with various tools and changing technologies. 

Growth Engineering’s Impact Suite for instance, provides an integrated solution with the use of our LMS, mobile app and authoring tool. And its open API enables it to play nice with the rest of your software suite. Sweet!

Further reading: The 11 Most Popular Integration Uses in Learning Technology 

 

8. Artificial Intelligence

In the eLearning industry, AI-powered LMSs are enabling next-level adaptive learning, reporting and personalised content. 

AI functionality within an LMS can enable content recommendation systems, chatbots and other automation features. This will transform the future of personalised learning and fuel learner engagement on a whole new level. 

AI can also be utilised to produce deeper insights from your learning data. This will empower learning professionals to make better decisions and create stronger training interventions. 

Check out our ‘15 Most Essential Modern LMS Features’ guide for more things to look for in your brand new LMS!

 

Final Word

So now you know what an LMS is! That means no more embarrassing guesses such as, ‘uh, the Latvian Milkshake Society?’ You are now in the know! A learning management system is software which manages the distribution and analysis of a company’s training. 

Good learning management systems also utilise slick engagement tools such as gamification, social learning and customisation. 

Armed with this knowledge, you’re now ready to join the battle against dull online learning! The next step is to choose the right LMS. Our recent article, ‘15 Crucial Questions to Consider When Choosing an LMS’, can help get you started. 

Better yet, take a free tour of our award-winning LMS today!

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The Academy LMS is the world’s most engaging learning management system. It uses game mechanics, social learning and epic meaning to drive real behavioral change.

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