LMS 101: What Are Learning Management Systems?
What Is a Learning Management System (LMS) Anyway?
A Learning Management System, or LMS, is a software application that manages, automates, and measures various forms of training, including employee training, compliance training, and extended enterprise training (think members, sales partners, distributors, or customer training).
Learning Management Systems are often referred to as an eLearning platform or online learning platform. Whatever the terminology, the LMS is the key component of any eLearning or online learning platform and is considered the ultimate foundation for delivering an effective learning strategy.
In a nutshell, an LMS helps you to easily administer, document, track, and report on your training or learning initiatives. An online learning platform is the tool of choice that learning and development teams use to drive training initiatives and business growth.
What Are the Top Benefits of Using an LMS?
There are many benefits to using an online learning platform to deliver training. With an LMS you can:
- Streamline redundant and time-consuming administrative tasks
- Deliver customized and engaging training courses to enhance employee performance
- Provide users the flexibility to access training materials at their convenience from any mobile device
- Easily track and report on learner progress and performance
- Rapidly scale the LMS to meet company growth projections
- Measurable Return On Investment (ROI)
How Do You Choose the Right LMS?
How do you choose the right LMS or online learning platform? It really depends on your company’s needs. There are a plethora of online learning platforms available on the market today, and no two LMSs are the same; therefore, not every system will meet your needs. Requirements will form the basis of your LMS selection criteria. Prioritizing your LMS requirements will help you to quickly rule out those systems that will not meet your needs. You’ll want to identify the requirements that you believe are mandatory versus those requirements that may be nice-to-have. Don’t be swayed by the many bells and whistles that vendors offer and remain focused on what’s truly important to your organization – this makes it much easier to identify the best LMS solution. The easiest way to prioritize your LMS requirements is to break them down into the following categories: technical requirements, service and support requirements, and functional requirements.
LMS Technical Requirements
Technical requirements of an LMS pertain to how the system must fit into your IT infrastructure. It covers areas such as security, performance, connectivity, and accessibility. You may require the assistance of your IT department when identifying your key technical requirements.
The following are some key areas to consider when developing your technical requirements.
- How does your LMS need to be delivered? SaaS, Installed, or Private Cloud?
- Do you require Single-Sign-On (SSO)?
- Do you require the LMS to integrate with other software? What type of software?
- What operating platform(s) does your organization use?
- Does the LMS need to be AICC, SCORM or xAPI Compliant?
- Do you have specific customization requirements?
- What measures does the LMS vendor use to ensure security and privacy?
- What security requirements do you have?
- Does the LMS need to have an eCommerce engine?
LMS Service and Support Requirements
Service and supports ranks as one of the top five reasons why organizations are unhappy with their LMS or online learning platform. Considering this, it’s recommended that you have a clear understanding of what you require, or better yet, what your expectations are in terms of service and support before investing in an LMS.
The following are some key areas to consider when developing your service and support requirements.
- Do you require online or live technical support?
- Do you need a dedicated point of contact?
- Do you need live or online training?
- Do you require access to support 24/7?
- Do you need integration support?
- Are you willing to pay extra for a higher level of support?
- Do you require help with implementation?
- Do you require data migration services?
- Do you expect periodic meetings with your LMS support team?
- Do you need someone to manage your help desk?
- Do you need someone to manage your training administration altogether?
LMS Functional Requirements
Functional requirements are the actual features that your LMS users will require. This category is by far the most comprehensive of LMS requirements and also the most time consuming to identify and prioritize.
You will have general functional requirements that are fairly easy to determine, for example, language support, competency management, mobile-friendly, etc. You’ll also have user-driven requirements.
User-driven requirements focus on what your users must be able to do within the LMS. It’s best to begin by identifying the type of users that will be accessing your system. For example, besides LMS Administrators and LMS Users (Learners) what other users do you anticipate in the system? Will your Instructional Designers, Instructors or Managers be using the system?
Develop LMS Use Case Scenarios
Now that you’ve established your user groups you can then move on to create “Use Cases” per user group. Use case scenarios are an ideal way to define your functionality requirements.
Use cases identify how a person and the LMS will interact to achieve a specific task or goal. The use case is a high-level scenario that describes what the LMS needs to do to support the user in achieving their task. The information in your use cases must provide enough information so that the goal of the use case is easily understandable.
The research and analyst firm, Brandon Hall suggests the following steps for creating use cases:
- Put yourself in the role of each type of user and ask, “What do I need from the learning solution?”
- For each user type, document the use cases as a series of action-oriented steps.
- Circulate the list to other members of your team until consensus on the lists has been reached.
The Importance of LMS Use Cases
Why are developing LMS use cases so important? These use cases will ultimately provide you with a list of action-based tasks that can be used to evaluate your selection of LMSs during the live demonstration process. You’ll be able to identify which system has the best ability to meet your user’s needs. With this in mind, you’ll want to prioritize your use cases based on what your users will be doing most often within the system. You’ll also want to list some use cases that may prove to be complex or challenging.
Now that you’ve gotten all of your requirements in order, you’re ready to begin your search for some prospective LMS vendors. Chances are that when you decided to implement an LMS that you had several vendors in mind. Now you can use your requirements to narrow your search.
The LMS Product Demonstration
The best approach to LMS product demonstrations is to send your high priority/complex list of LMS use cases to your vendors in advance and then ask them to demonstrate how their product accomplishes each of your use cases. This allows you to compare all LMSs based on the same demonstration criteria. Another good rule of thumb is to develop an evaluation sheet to use when assessing your LMS demonstrations to easily identify, afterward, those vendors whose products did not perform well or that did not meet your criteria.
After your demonstrations, request the LMS vendors that meet your requirements for a proposal that includes all of the details of purchasing their LMS. You’ll want the proposal to detail pricing options, implementation strategy and timeframe, additional fees, key features and functionality that meet your requirements, etc. After this thorough evaluation process you’ll be well informed, educated, and ready to select the right LMS.
Would you like to learn more about how implementing LMS technology can benefit your company? Perhaps you’d like to see a live demonstration of ePath Learning’s LMS platform? Let’s Talk.