What is an LMS? A Guide to Learning Management Systems
The global education landscape has always been immensely influenced by technological developments. If we turn to history books, we can learn about the era of carvings on rocks to preserve and share the learnings of one man with others. Comparing that to learning methodologies used today with sophisticated gadgets and software, we’ve come a long way.
The modern world is a sweet abode for technological advancements that are shaping the way we spend our time and lives in general. Technology has brought convenience to all spheres of life and we witness this every day. This convenience has expanded to education as well in the form of eLearning and online education made possible by Learning Management Systems (LMS).
A century ago, the education system was leveraging the use of radio with on-air classes allowing anyone in the listening range to benefit from them. Next in line was the overhead projector introduced in the 1930s, becoming a widely used instrument in dispersing classroom education.
The development of videotapes in the 1950s was another major technological advancement that allowed lectures to be preserved and shared. In the 70s, we saw calculators popping up followed by the Scantron system of testing to facilitate teachers in grading students efficiently.
There were many more innovations during this time but, perhaps, the most influential one in terms of education was the development of personal computers. Thanks to them and the development of Learning Management Systems (LMS), we now are able to attend classes and lectures online, access training sessions from anywhere in the world, and even attain professional degrees without setting foot in educational institutions.
Connecting online has become easier than meeting in person. This, coupled with the circumstances created by COVID-19, has contributed even more to the rise of eLearning. Learning Management Systems (LMS) get all the credit for enabling online learning at such a massive scale in recent times.
By now, we are sure you have plenty of whats, whys, and hows popping up in your mind regarding a Learning Management System (LMS). We are here to address all such questions in this comprehensive guide.
- What is a Learning Management System (LMS)?
- What are User Roles in a Learning Management System (LMS)
- What are the types of Learning Management Systems (LMS)?
- What are the Benefits of a Learning Management System (LMS)?
- How does a Learning Management System (LMS) work
- What are the Uses of an LMS?
- How to Successfully Implement a Learning Management System (LMS)?
- Types of LMS Integrations
- How to Choose a Learning Management System (LMS): 5 Must-have Features to Look for
- The Best LMS Solution for Organizations
What is a Learning Management System (LMS)?
A Learning Management System (LMS) is a platform that enables online education and eLearning by providing a framework to create, manage, and deliver learning content. Take an LMS as a technology that enhances the learning experience, makes education more accessible, and provides meaningful insights to the users.
Learning Management Systems have proved to be beneficial not only for educational institutions but also for both corporate and not-for-profit organizations. By acting as a knowledge management and delivery platform, an LMS empowers course creators and learners to leverage content creation and management tools to share documents, videos, and/or other educational content in other forms.
What are User Roles in a Learning Management System (LMS)
User roles provide specific or restricted access to the platform based on the specified privileges of that user role. Hence, each user role gets a unique LMS experience. Learning management systems typically have the four user roles that are mentioned below.
1. LMS Administrator Role
This user role gets to enjoy the highest number of platform privileges with access to all settings and features. From creating content to managing users to configuring the platform, admins can gain and provide access to all sides of the e-learning experience.
2. Manager Role
This role’s access to different features and settings is decided by the Administrator. They may have some of the same permissions as the LMS administrator but are confined to a more specific scope. As the name suggests, a manager can be managing one course, a group of courses, student groups, etc., depending on the LMS configuration for this role.
3. Teacher Role
A teacher gets to create course content, monitor courses, check assignments and learners’ progress reports, generate certificates, etc. Sometimes this role may also be known as an Instructor, Content Creator, or Course Administrator.
4. Learner Role
Learners, sometimes referred to as the end-users, get to see courses available on an LMS, enroll in courses, attend self-paced or instructor-led classes, submit assignments, provide course feedback, and much more. While a Learner may lack the administrative privileges seen in the other roles, the eLearning platform can be designed with them in mind. The overall reach and effectiveness of eLearning can be judged by the volume, quality, and feedback of Learners, making them the most important users available.
Think of user roles as a pyramid with admin at the top and learners at the bottom of the pyramid. There are always going to be more learners compared to teachers, more teachers compared to managers, and more managers compared to admins.
What are the types of Learning Management Systems (LMS)?
While there are numerous Learning Management Systems in the market, you need to first be able to differentiate between them based on their type to select the one most suitable for your needs. Let us give you a walk-through of the basic LMS types.
1. Installed LMS
This type of LMS is installed on your organization’s computers and hosted on your servers. It can be costly to install and maintain as the IT infrastructure needs to be up to date for seamless operations and scale based on the demands of your users. Trainers and students need to be onsite to benefit from this LMS which limits the accessibility of the platform.
2. Web-based LMS
Installed on cloud infrastructure, this type of LMS works through a web browser and leverages the internet to operate smoothly. Web-based LMS ensure availability across multiple devices in real-time and are easy to manage. LMS software is updated and managed by the software vendor who is responsible for software improvement and smooth functioning. Compared to installed LMS, web-based LMS is typically cheaper and may be accessed remotely from anywhere in the world.
3. Hosted LMS
As the name suggests, hosted LMS leverage cloud infrastructure. However, if you go with this type of LMS, you will have to figure out the hosting of your LMS platform yourself. In short, you find a hosting provider of your choice and gain direct access to how your platform is hosted including the uptime and server security. You need to have a dedicated IT team to manage the platform and keep an eye on useful platform upgrades. Some organizations, like Edly, will take care of hosting the LMS for you and can act as an extension of your IT team.
4. SaaS LMS
Another LMS type that makes use of the cloud infrastructure is SaaS LMS. In SaaS LMS, the LMS vendor or service provider takes full responsibility for running your LMS platform. From cloud hosting to software maintenance to upgrades, everything will be controlled by the vendor. A SaaS LMS allows you all the access you need to rich eLearning features without the headache of managing hosting, costly development, or other IT/engineering costs yourself.
5. Open-source LMS
In the past few years, open-source LMS gained popularity because of the availability of the LMS open source code for free or at a very low cost. Unlike commercial LMS options, an open-source LMS enables you to have more control over your LMS, allows customization, and enhances data security. However, you will need technological capabilities or help from technology experts to run the system smoothly.
6. Closed-source LMS
A closed-source LMS is a proprietary LMS with code not accessible to the masses. If customizations are to be made, they can be done by the LMS owner with access to the code. Hence, a closed-source LMS is not easy to maintain, improve, or work with.
7. Free LMS
If you want to explore an LMS environment or are a small company in need of a basic LMS, you can try some free LMS options. They have limited features but can serve your basic learning needs. A free LMS can be a great way to create a pilot program or learn the ins and outs of eLearning.
8. LMS with Course Creation Tools
While most of us believe that all LMS come with course creation tools, that is not always the case. Some LMS providers offer content creation tools separately for which you have to pay an extra amount. While choosing an LMS, make sure it has course creation tools if you want to develop courses. Alternatively, you may need to procure a separate tool outside of your LMS explicitly for course creation, like Articulate Storyline.
9. LMS with Integrations
There are learning management systems that allow integrations with useful tools and applications that can make your LMS platform even more powerful. For example, if you want to set up an eLearning business, you may need a payment gateway integrated into your LMS to sell courses with ease. Hence, you would look for an LMS with eCommerce integration. On the other hand, if you are a higher education institution, you may like your LMS platform to support tools like TurnItIn.com to ensure academic honesty.
What are the Benefits of a Learning Management System (LMS)?
Learning management systems facilitate online learning. They allow students and instructors to connect from anywhere in the world by leveraging technology. With an LMS, creating inclusive learning experiences becomes a breeze for learners with special needs and/or disabilities. An LMS like Edly that supports WCAG and is compliant with other accessibility guidelines can build a strong base for an accessible and inclusive eLearning platform.
With an LMS, a growing learner base no longer remains a hassle. The auto-scaling feature offered by good LMS platforms like Edly enables educators to cater to the learning needs of a growing audience in no time. As the learner base grows, the platform automatically scales accordingly, eliminating the headache of growing pains or system outages due to low bandwidth or high demands.
3. Insights & Reports
In this day and age, data and insights have become extremely important for the success of any business; this has become true for the education and learning industry as well. With an LMS, efficient reports become a reality. These reports can help instructors understand the performance of students in their courses and the effectiveness of course content. For administrators, these reports are helpful in deciding which courses to keep, eliminate, and/or add to the platform to ensure smooth operations and growth. In short, LMS reporting can help in improving the eLearning services by providing eye-opening insights.
A learning management system can help you to avoid unwanted operating costs that you incur with other learning and teaching methods. Forget about getting course material printed or paying for the travel or accommodation of course instructors and use that budget where it makes the most sense for your business growth.
5. Ease of Learning
With the world progressing rapidly, people are actively looking for easy ways to do things. That is also true for the learning industry. A learning management system makes it easy for learners to access courses from the comfort of their homes or while on the go. A perfect example of this is Edly’s mobile app, Edly Go, which allows learners to access course material such as lectures, assignments, quizzes, etc. from anywhere. LMSs also allow learners to go back to the course content anytime to revise a concept or get more information on it. These, coupled with the principles of Instructional Design can allow you to create an engaging, custom experience for your learners that goes far beyond a traditional pen and paper exam.
How does a Learning Management System (LMS) work
To make the most of a Learning Management System (LMS), it is advised to understand the basics of how an LMS works. There are three main aspects of an LMS that need to be understood for you to leverage its multifaceted features for eLearning: user roles, course life-cycle, and learning model.
User Roles in an LMS
Take user roles as the access level granted to different users of an LMS. Each user role will get to enjoy a different user experience based on the privileges associated with that role. There are typically four types of user roles explained in detail in section 2 namely administrator role, manager role, teacher role, and learner role.
To build a bare minimum, eLearning ecosystem, you need an LMS administrator, a teacher, and at least one student. The LMS administrator holds an important position in this ecosystem as the admin has to set up the platform and do the necessary configurations. We’ve already shared a brief overview of each role, but let’s take a deeper look at how admins, teachers, and learners can enable success at different points in the course lifecycle. A typical course life-cycle involves all three roles. Here’s how they ensure the course is being run smoothly:
- Administrator: The admin can view all courses on the platform, monitor the progress of students, and the performance of teachers. From time-bounding students for assessments to managing inward and outward platform payments to making crucial decisions such as enabling or pausing a course based on course performance data, admins drive the course lifecycle and ensure the smooth running of the LMS. The admin has to create user roles for teachers and students, generate user IDs, configure course settings, upload course content or delegate this task to the course instructor, create role maps, provide technical support, and provide support whenever and wherever needed.
- Teacher: A teacher or instructor either has to upload course content while setting up the course or receives an uploaded course that has been created by another teacher, admin, course author, or even 3rd party eLearning content providers. In the case of setting up courses, the LMS service provider may assist the instructor with instructional design and course authoring. Teachers get a separate dashboard from where they manage their courses, grading policies, course roster, discussion forums, analytics, and much more. Once a course is set up, the teacher can enroll students, configure course start and end dates, and assist students in accessing and completing the course as needed.
- Learners: After getting enrolled, learners get to view their personal dashboards, the courses in which they are enrolled, any assignments and assessments that are due, and track their overall course performance. Learners also get to see courses that might be of interest based on their current selection of courses. Upon completion, learners get to view results and get an e-certificate that marks the end of the course.
The teacher’s role has the power to decide whether to keep the course completely online or go with a blended learning approach. A good LMS comes with the flexibility to prioritize the learning model that best suits the needs of learners. With blended learning, teachers can combine eLearning with traditional, offline learning that sometimes becomes necessary – such as a laboratory class for a chemistry course. Based on the selected learning model, the course format is decided.
What are the Uses of an LMS?
Learning Management Systems are widely in use nowadays, thanks to their countless benefits and uses for organizations as well as individuals. A common misconception is that an LMS is for educational institutions only. The truth is that Learning Management systems can be used by any organization operating in any and all industries anywhere in the world. Let’s take a look at how an LMS can be used by different business segments and industries:
LMS for Corporations
The global lockdown that followed COVID-19 and lingered for months transformed the world. Among these changes was the change in the ways corporations operate. To continue running despite the world undergoing a massive change, corporations allowed employees to work remotely. What seemed like a temporary change became a pattern itself due to the huge success of the remote working model.
With employees working remotely, corporations have now actively started to take employee training programs online as well. And the best way to hold virtual training programs is by leveraging a learning management system or a training management system. Corporations are finding it easier than ever to create and upload courses for employees to access and complete at their pace without having to deliver the same training over and over again for each new employee. For example, a course on employee onboarding or workplace harassment can be shared by the employer with all new employees without requiring the direct intervention of human resources personnel. Hence, employers not only save cost but also valuable time by leveraging learning management systems.
LMS for Nonprofits
Nonprofits and organizations in the development sector have certain needs and requirements that an LMS can fulfill easily. From training their employees to providing training to stakeholders to creating awareness about their mission or cause, an LMS can empower non-profit organizations to make the most of their resources in the best way possible and help extend the reach of their work to new audiences. An LMS doesn’t have to be reserved for the most well-known nonprofits or NGOs either; an organization focused on making an impact in their local community can benefit from an LMS just as much as a nonprofit focused on training millions of individuals.
LMS for Higher Education and K12
The commonplace adoption of learning management systems by educational institutions has enabled them to stay on top of constantly evolving technologies and a hyper-connected world. LMS enables educators to offer borderless, inclusive, and streamlined education online to the masses. With the LMS global market growth showing an increase of 23.8% in 2020, there is no doubt that learning management systems have become a necessity for the education industry. But even for the Higher Ed and K12 segments, selecting the right LMS can enable high student success. Understanding the needs of your students is paramount for Higher Education and K12; the user experience needed to engage a young child is radically different than what might be needed by someone nearing the end of their K12 education.
How to Successfully Implement a Learning Management System (LMS)?
To ensure the success of your learning management system, it is necessary to implement it the right way. While there are many implementation strategies that can be used, we are going to share our most tried and tested strategy to help you out.
Set clear objectives
Before embarking on the implementation plan, it is important to realize your goals and objectives. Why do you need an LMS? What benefits will it provide? Is this LMS good for your business? Does it align with your goals? By when do you want the LMS to be set up? Once you have answers to these questions and similar ones, you will be able to understand what to expect from your LMS.
Develop an implementation plan
Based on your objectives, you can craft an implementation plan. Decide timelines and priority areas. Start prioritizing the different features and consider breaking your project into phases based on the features, timeline, costs, or other dependencies. Consider leveraging a Gantt chart or management tool like Asana/Basecamp/Trello to create tasks, track progress, and set deadlines.
Build a team
Putting together a team that can manage the LMS implementation process comes next. Your team size depends on the scope of your project. Choose your team wisely based on the tasks at hand and assign tasks in a timely manner. Train the team if there’s a need. Building a quality team can be costly or time-consuming but you can also leverage external resources in the form of consultants or eLearning service providers if you do not have the right resources in-house. There are numerous ways to build your team; maybe a blended team model would be best for your needs.
If you have an existing LMS, moving to a new one typically requires data migration from the old LMS. An IT specialist can help with the data migration process. However, if you don’t have an IT specialist in-house, you can always take help from your LMS service provider. Make sure to have data backup on the previous system before you initiate the migration process. If the migration fails, you will still have access to valuable data. At this stage, it is imperative to understand the structure of your data, visualize the data flow between your different systems, and possibly consider what data is not integral to your LMS upgrade. You may also need to export and import course content and course packages from your old LMS to your new one. An experienced professional, whether it’s an eLearning Business Analyst, a Project Manager, a DevOps Specialist, or someone else entirely can help you conceptualize your migration and make it a reality.
Test run the new LMS
Before going live with the new LMS, do a trial run to find any issues so you can avoid unnecessary trouble later on. Make a checklist of the functions you would like to test from the perspective of the users, administrators, and content creators. A quality assurance checklist will be useful here. This can be part of your overall User Acceptance Testing.
Feedback and launch
An internal test run is good but getting the perspective of a few potential users is even better. We suggest you do a pilot launch of the platform by engaging a few potential/existing users, getting their feedback, do the necessary changes, and then launching the platform.
Types of LMS Integrations
It is not possible for everyone to be happy with a basic, off-the-shelf version of an LMS as needs vary from organization to organization. As we’ve discussed, the requirements of a higher education institution can be very different from the requirements of a corporation looking for an LMS. This is where LMS integrations come in handy.
LMS integrations supercharge your learning management system by enabling you to connect applications that matter the most to your organization with the platform. There can be various types of integrations, some of which are mentioned below.
1. Content Management System (CMS)
A content management system can help in designing compelling content, webpages, or other resources and storing those items in a centralized location, making them easily accessible. While there are numerous CMS out there, the most preferred ones are WordPress, Squarespace, and Wix. To find the right match, focus on the ease of use, ability to customize, and data security offered by the shortlisted content management systems.
2. Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
Customer relationship management has become an important aspect of successful business management strategies. With a CRM integration, you can organize data, perform sophisticated business analyses, and make data-backed decisions to foster your relationships. Some examples of renowned CRM systems include Salesforce, Hubspot, and SAP. If you’ve defined your eLearning and LMS objectives properly, you may already have a comprehensive set of features defined for your CRM.
3. API Integrations
API integration facilitates hassle-free connectivity, allowing businesses to automate their processes with ease and share data between various applications or systems seamlessly. Platforms like Cleo and Boomi are commonly used for API integrations. API integrations can allow you to customize the way your LMS interacts with other platforms. You may even be able to create a complete eLearning ecosystem with the right APIs.
4. eCommerce Integrations
With digital transformation on the rise, monetizing your eLearning platform can be a great way to get more value out of your eLearning offerings. For that, eCommerce integrations are important. An eCommerce integration like Shopify and WooCommerce can help you sell your courses and receive payments without any hassle on your platform. A good LMS may also come with payment gateways, like Stripe, PayPal, or others, built-in.
5. Single Sign-On (SSO)
The modern-day consumer values convenience which makes it necessary for businesses to ensure their platforms are easy to access and use. Single Sign-On (SSO) integration ensures your users can sign in to your platforms using the same credentials with the surety of data security. SSO can reduce the need for your users to manage countless logins across numerous platforms. AWS Single Sign-On and Microsoft Azure Directory are the commonly used SSO integrations.
How to Choose a Learning Management System (LMS): 5 Must-have Features to Look for
Now that you have a fair idea of what learning management systems are, let us help you choose the right one for your organization. When looking for an LMS, it is important to first understand your needs and match them with the features offered by various platforms.
Here are some of the must-have features that should be a part of your selection criteria.
1. Advanced Analytics
Data is extremely valuable these days and that is true for effectively managing an LMS. An LMS that offers sophisticated reports and insights is the right choice for you. Why? Because you get to know what’s working on your platform, what needs to be improved, and what needs to be stopped for your eLearning initiatives to continue working smoothly.
2. Mobile Compatibility
With a large chunk of the learner base having access to mobile phones, ensuring mobile compatibility of the LMS platform is a must these days. Making certain that your eLearning site is accessible on multiple devices is not only convenient for your audience but also a big win for you in terms of customer satisfaction and retention.
We have touched upon the subject of integrations above but we will stress their importance once again here. An LMS that cannot support integrations is like a building with a weak base that cannot hold the growing weight of goods placed in it. When selecting an LMS, make sure it allows integrations to meet your business-specific needs.
4. Ability to Customize
White-labelling your LMS platform to give it the look and feel of your brand is another important feature to consider when choosing an LMS. Your users should be able to associate the platform with your brand and that is only possible with customization options.
5. Centralized Content Management
Having an LMS with a good content management system is a blessing. The success of an eLearning business is tied to the content available on the platform which enhances the importance of a centralized content management system for content generation and management.
When choosing an LMS, pay close attention to the type of content it supports (documents, images, videos, etc.) and how it stores the content. Mixing and matching different content is the difference between 20 pages of text in a course vs. a course that keeps users engaged and coming back for more.
The Best LMS Solution for Organizations
The online learning market is experiencing unmatched growth with a CAGR of over 21% between 2020 and 2027. Learning management systems have become the most sought-after online learning tools especially after the onslaught of COVID-19.
Seeing the demand for eLearning, the list of service providers and eLearning facilitators started growing as well. However, the best of these solutions is Edly.
Being established in 2007, Edly is a constantly growing, full-service provider of LMS services and has empowered organizations, big and small, from all parts of the world in achieving their eLearning goals. Over the past 14 years, Edly has pioneered the use of tech-based learning.
Today, over 45 million learners worldwide depend on learning solutions Edly has helped develop. Building intelligently engineered and better designed learning management systems, Edly bases every product decision around how real people learn.
Notable Features of Edly
Services by Edly
- Instructional design
- Course authoring
- Custom solutions
- Managed hosting
- Open edX installation
- LMS training and support
- Data migration
Industries Entertained by Edly
- K12 institutions
- Higher education institutions
- Nonprofit organizations
- eLearning businesses
Organizations that Trust Edly
A one-stop solution for future-forward organizations, Edly has made a difference for many organizations worldwide. From superior insights to content management and everything in between, Edly builds you an LMS that sets you apart.
Want to know more about Learning Management Systems (LMS) or see what Edly LMS can do for you? Get in touch with us!