Over the last few years, advancement in technology has been revolutionizing the ways in which we learn. We no longer have to worry about missing a course or a lecture because it was too far away for us to attend, or because a transport link was cancelled on the morning of travel.
Digital and blended learning approaches provide far more flexibility than traditional classroom courses, enabling users to fit their learning into their schedule as it best suits them so that they can upskill whenever they want, from wherever they want. Missed a lecture? You can catch up online. Want to complete a project management course? You don’t need to take time off work to do it. National lockdown stopping you from getting to the office for mandatory compliance training? Attend from the comfort of your own home.
It’s clear that online learning environments have a lot of benefits to the end user, and organizations across all industries are increasingly adopting virtual teaching and training methods. However, there are two steps to implementing great training: choosing engaging content, and choosing how to manage and deliver that content. That’s where a learning management system, or LMS, comes in.
In this guide, we’ll explore what a learning management system is, whether your organization needs one, and what key LMS features you should look out for when choosing a solution.
What Is An LMS And How Does It Work?
At a high level, a learning management system does exactly what it says on the tin: it’s a type of software that helps organizations to manage their learning delivery, from content compilation and course creation to progress tracking.
But you’re not here just for the high-level definition, so let’s delve a little deeper. An LMS enables organizations to deliver their learning objectives in terms of what their users need to know, and to meet their business need for training delivery—be that compliance, upskilling, or combatting security challenges through tailored content.
Do You Need An LMS?
There are a number of different use cases for learning management systems, including the following:
- Regulatory compliance. This is one of the most common reasons why organizations deliver training: to meet compliance standards, such as GDPR or HIPAA. Training for compliance is usually delivered by businesses to their employees, initially when an employee first joins the organization and then annually. It covers topics such as health and safety, diversity in the workplace, and data security. If you’re delivering training for compliance, you need to make sure that your users are completing their training and be able to prove it.
- Certification and upskilling. Whether you’re delivering a course in project management, content writing, or sales techniques, you need to make sure that everyone investing in your training is able to access your content, and that they’re all staying on track as the course progresses.
- Security awareness. This one could be because your compliance standards require you to implement it, or it could be because your organization is actively experiencing cyber attacks such as phishing emails. Security awareness training helps your employees to identify and respond to threats, but you may want to integrate that content into your existing training library. When it comes to security awareness training, you need to be able to check which of your users have completed it, and which areas they need to improve in to be able to defend your company against real-life threats.
To answer the question as to whether you need an LMS, I’ll first ask you another question: do you need to deliver any sort of virtual training? If the answer to that is “yes”, then yes, you need an LMS.
What Key LMS Features Should You Look For?
There are a lot of different types of LMS that are designed to fit different use cases. For example, some are tailored to hosting employee training content; others help universities to deliver virtual classes and set digital assignments. However, no matter what industry you’re working in or who you’re delivering learning materials to, there are some key LMS features that every training delivery platform should have.
Being able to build courses within the platform is an absolutely crucial feature of any LMS worth its salt. You should be able to drag and drop bitesize content into learning paths that set out a clear learning journey for each user when they sign into their LMS portal.
While we’re on the topic of adding content, it’s important that the LMS supports a variety of different content mediums and file types, such as videos, PDFs, audio files and slide decks; some even support live training sessions and webinars. This is really important because one of the dangers of eLearning is that it can get a little monotonous after a while, particularly if users are just passively scrolling through pages of text or watching a seemingly endless string of videos. Embedding different types of content into your courses helps to create an engaging learning experience for your users, as well as ensuring that you’re catering for a variety of different learning styles.
Usually, you’ll upload these files in SCORM or xAPI wrappers, as these are the most common ways of standardizing training materials. It’s also likely that, if you use pre-built content from a third-party company, it’ll come in one of these two formats. Because of that, it’s important that your LMS supports SCORM and xAPI file formats.
You should also be able to build quizzes and assessments into your courses, so that you can track your users’ progress over time. The best LMS platforms will enable you to gamify this content with features such as point-scoring, badges and leaderboards, which help to motivate your users to complete their training and to really engage with the content.
Speaking of assessments, let’s move on to the next LMS feature…
Reporting And Analytics
Your LMS should be able to generate reports into user activity and progression, so that you can track performance both at a user level and at an organizational level and measure improvement against your baseline. It’s also helpful to be able to create custom reports, so that you can dig deeper into the data that you really need.
As well as being able to view reports within the LMS itself, you should be able to schedule them to be generated automatically, exported as a PDF or spreadsheet, and sent to and stakeholders who need to see them.
We choose digital and blended learning environments for their flexibility—users need to be able to access their training from any device, anywhere, at any time. To be able to deliver this, your LMS needs to be mobile-friendly, either by having a responsive design or by offering a (free) mobile app.
A mobile app is really the preferred option here, as it enables your users to train on-the-go, allowing them to complete their courses offline and sync their progress with the LMS once they re-connect to the internet.
This is particularly important if you’re training employees, as they’ll need to be able to fit their training into their busy work schedules. That might mean working through a learning path at home, or while on their commute.
Ease Of Use
There are two sides to this point: the LMS need to be user-friendly for your users, but also for you!
From a learner’s perspective, it’s important that they can easily log in to their portal and view the course catalog and their assigned training. They also need to be notified about upcoming training and assignment deadlines, view their test results, and communicate with other users about their training.
As an admin, it needs to be easy for you to deliver these needs to your learners. That means:
- Enrolling users quickly via an API integration or self-service email enrolment process
- Adding, grouping and assigning training materials to users and user groups
- Sending automated notifications and updates
- Tracking user progress
- Setting up a discussion forum and monitoring posts, and giving your subject matter experts permission to answer users’ questions via forums or live chat
Integrations are the key to having an LMS that runs smoothly and works seamlessly with your existing systems. There are a few core integrations that you should look out for:
A built-in API will enable you to sync the LMS with your directory so that you can onboard users more efficiently.
- Integrations with your HR system, CRM and eCommerce tools will enable you to automate certain actions such as notifications and data synchronization (e.g. removing the accounts of users who are no longer a part of your company or taking part in your course).
- Single sign-on (SSO) integration will enable your users to sign in to their portals more securely and efficiently.
- Integrations with third-party content providers will enable you to easily host all of your training content in one place, without having to use different LMSs to host different subject matter (e.g. one for security awareness training, and one for compliance training).
In today’s digital world, if your job requires you to provide or manage some type of training, it’s inevitable that you’re going to need to provide your users with a virtual version of that training. An LMS will help you do this.
There are a lot of different solutions on the market, each with its own unique feature set. While this means that you’re more likely to find one that does exactly what you need it to, it also means that it can be difficult to find the one particular solution that best meets your business needs.
To help you find the right solution, we’ve put together a guide to the top LMS software platforms for training delivery.