This is a complete guide to learning management systems for 2023.
This comprehensive guide will teach you:
Bonus Chapter 7
Bonus Chapter 8
In this chapter, I’ll help you gain an understanding of LMS fundamentals.
So if you’re new to e-learning and learning management systems, you’ll really get a lot out of this chapter. We’ll set you up for success.
We’ll cover specific definitions and the who, what, and why of LMS systems. By the time we’re done, you’ll be a pro.
Let’s dig in!
If you’re new to e-learning, or you want to make sure you’re on the right track, you’ve come to the right place. Post-pandemic, the world has learned that there are huge benefits to training online. One significant advantage is that it’s faster.
It’s also cheaper (IBM saved over $200M after switching to online training), and learners retain 25%-60% more material. All-in-all, e-learning is a huge win for companies, organizations, and learners.
Behind the scenes of every e-learning course is a piece of software that makes all the online learning magic happen. These platforms are called learning management systems or LMS. In this chapter, we’re going to walk through the fundamentals of LMS systems.
“What is an LMS,” you ask? Simply put, a learning management system (LMS) is software that helps you sell and deliver your online courses. It measures, tracks, and reports on learner progress and engagement.
In short, learning management systems are incredibly versatile tools that can be used in several different ways to support online learning.
But before we dive into the different ways that learning management systems can be used, it’s important to understand who uses them and why. Keep reading to learn more.
There are two primary groups of people who use learning management systems: learners and course authors. Let’s take a closer look at each group and how they use learning management systems to support their learning goals.
Learners use learning management systems to access online courses and learning content. Most commonly, learners will log into an LMS to consume course material, complete assignments, and track their progress.
Additionally, some learning management systems also offer gamification and social features that allow learners to connect with other users, participate in discussion forums, and collaborate on projects. All of these features provide learners with a rich and engaging learning experience.
Course authors or instructors use learning management systems to design, deliver, and manage online courses and learning programs. Learning management systems provide course authors with a central location to store all of their learning content and course materials.
Course authors can use learning management systems to track the number of learners taking courses, assess learner progress, identify areas of weakness, and measure the overall success of their learning programs.
Now that we’ve answered the question, what is an LMS? it’s time to ask a more important question: why do I need an LMS?
If you want to teach, train, or offer interactive courses online with efficiency, you must have an LMS. E-learning courses don’t work without one. You need an LMS to house, host, and service the course.
Without an LMS, you can’t track learner progress and knowledge retention. Managing groups of hundreds or thousands of learners would be next to impossible. Small businesses, Fortune 500 corporations, universities, the government, and even individual authors and speakers all depend on LMS systems to make their training responsibilities easier by assessing and reporting on individual and organizational performance and goals.
In addition, organizations that have regulatory compliance issues depend on the reporting capabilities of LMS systems to help meet their requirements and mandates.
Now, let’s learn about different types of LMS systems.
There are two types of learning management systems: open source and closed source.
An open-source learning management system is a type of learning management system that makes the source code freely available for anyone to use, modify, and distribute. Some of the most popular open-source LMSs include Moodle, Blackboard Learn, Sakai, LearnDash for WordPress, and Canvas.
Closed-source learning management systems are proprietary software products that have restricted access to the underlying source code. The owners of closed-source software typically do not allow others to make modifications or distribute the code. Some popular closed-source LMSs include Docebo, TalentLMS, Teachable, Kajabi, Thinkific, and Litmos.
As you narrow down your list of potential types of learning management systems, it’s important to keep in mind what type of e-learning courses you’re creating and whether or not the LMS systems that you’re considering host those types of course files.
When it comes to creating an e-learning course, you have two main options:
A video course is a course that consists primarily of video content. It could also have text, PDF downloads, and quizzes, but it does not have interactive content. You can create the videos yourself or outsource the production to a professional video production company. The videos are then uploaded directly into the LMS.
An interactive SCORM or Tin Can course, on the other hand, includes interactive functionality like scenario-based learning, images with hot spots, moving flash cards, drag and drop elements, and gamification, in addition to video, text, downloads, and quizzes. SCORM and Tin Can are a set of technical standards for e-learning that define how online learning content and LMSs work together.
Both SCORM and Tin Can courses must be created in an e-learning course authoring tool like Articulate Storyline, Articulate Rise, or Adobe Captivate. These tools produce a SCORM or Tin Can file that can be easily uploaded into your LMS.
Some LMS systems have built-in course creation capabilities that eliminate the need for a course authoring tool. If you’re building your course directly within an LMS, it’s important to consider that you might not be able to easily export your course files if you ever decide to switch systems.
The e-learning course type you choose will impact your LMS decision. It is important to consider those needs from day one. The last thing you want to do is spend thousands of dollars and a ton of time creating your courses and setting up your LMS, only to discover that your LMS doesn’t work with your course files.
Once you’ve considered types of learning management systems and types of e-learning courses you want to create, it’s important to consider whether those courses will be asynchronous or synchronous.
“Asynchronous” means learners can access the course content at any time and that they’re not working in real-time with an instructor or other learners. These types of courses are best described as do-it-yourself learning. Students learn at their own pace, choosing a convenient time to take their course, independent of other learners.
“Synchronous” means that all learners access the course content at the same time and work in real-time with an instructor or other learners. Classes can be held virtually, and learners can ask questions and receive immediate feedback.
Some courses combine features of both asynchronous and synchronous courses in a blended learning experience. In this use case, a learner may have part of the course that they complete on their own and part of the course where the instructor leads live sessions.
Asynchronous, synchronous, and blended learning courses are handled differently by various LMS systems. You’ll want to consider how the types of learning management systems you’re considering work with each type of course format.
In this chapter, I’m going to discuss LMS features and benefits.
To make an informed decision about the LMS that can grow with your teaching and training needs, you need to be aware of the possibilities. From e-commerce to gamification to foreign language capabilities, there are a lot of choices for you to consider.
By the end of this chapter, you’ll be able to identify, compare, and measure various learning management system features that will benefit your organization.
When custom designing or shopping for an e-learning system, it’s important to consider all the LMS features and functionality that you’ll need to meet the needs of your learners and your organization. Let’s take a look at some of the LMS benefits you’ll want to consider. Advantages of open-source LMS systems:
Your course type, students, business model, and budget will play heavily into choosing which system to purchase, based on the LMS benefits you value. The following video will highlight ten questions you should ask, to help you choose the right learning management system for your project and organization.
Now that we’ve gone over some of the LMS benefits, we’ll discuss LMS features more in-depth.
If you plan on selling your courses, you’ll need an LMS with e-commerce capabilities. This includes a shopping cart and the ability to process online payments. This is an LMS feature that many systems have built-in, but some will require the use of a third-party e-commerce platform. Some LMS systems process payments through their system and charge processing fees in addition to platform hosting fees.
Another question to ask as you consider various LMS systems is whether or not the LMS supports your business model. If you’re going to be selling business to business (B2B), where a client may purchase 25, 100, or 2,500 seats for your course, you need an LMS with a shopping cart that supports group sales. Teachable, for example, doesn’t have the capability of putting multiple course seats in its shopping cart, so it’s not a good option for any organization selling to businesses. Explore various sales scenarios with LMS features you’re considering before you make a final decision.
Group management is another important LMS feature to consider if you plan on selling courses to B2B customers or large groups of learners. This feature allows you to create and manage groups within the LMS, assign users, assign training content, track progress, and generate reports. Some LMS systems offer role based management of users, with special privileges for clients to manage their own learners.
With over 50% of web traffic now coming from mobile devices, your LMS must have a responsive design that renders well on all screen sizes. The authoring tool used to create your courses will also impact responsive design. For example, Articulate Rise 360 is more mobile-friendly and renders better on all screen sizes than Articulate Storyline.
Gamification is the use of game mechanics in learning experiences to engage learners and encourage them to complete courses. This can include LMS features such as badges, points, leaderboards, and certificates. Gamification can also bring elements of competition into learning when used in a group.
Gamification will be dependent upon SCORM or Tin Can files and/or the LMS system. Some video hosting services provide the ability to have an interactive video without a learning management system, but the features are limited.
COMPREHENSIVE REPORTING AND ANALYTICS
Reporting and analytics are an important LMS feature for understanding how your courses are performing and where learners might be struggling. A good learning management system will provide you with comprehensive reports that you can use to assess learner progress, identify areas of improvement, and make changes to your courses.
It’s also important to consider what data points the LMS tracks. Some systems only track course completions while others track things like quiz scores, time spent on each page, and interactions with other learners.
MEMBERSHIPS AND SUBSCRIPTIONS
Some course authors want to offer a large number of courses as a collection available through membership and subscription. Subscriptions can provide learners with a sense of value by providing many courses for an annual or monthly fee.
If you plan on selling memberships or subscriptions to your courses, you’ll need an LMS with the ability to manage these types of sales. This includes the ability to create and manage memberships, track payments, and give access to content accordingly.
Social learning is a type of learning that takes place within a social environment, such as a forum, chat room, discussion board, or online community. It’s an effective way to engage learners and encourage them to interact with and learn from one another.
KNOWLEDGE CHECKS AND QUIZZES
Testing learners is the best way to gauge comprehension. Multiple choice questions are a fairly common LMS feature, but fill-in-the-blank, drag-and-drop, multiple choice, and essay questions aren’t available in every system. Some systems track every interaction within a course, while other systems only track quiz results.
CERTIFICATION AND ACCREDITATION
If your course is going to offer certification or accreditation as part of the enrollment, you’ll need an LMS that can assess the learner’s knowledge at a certain proficiency level and then issue a custom certification of completion.
An affiliate program is a type of online marketing where you offer commissions to people who promote your products. In the context of an LMS, an affiliate program would allow you to give your affiliates a commission for every person that they get to sign up for your courses.
The affiliate program would need to be managed through the LMS so that you can track who signs up for your courses and how much commission they earn. Some LMS systems have this capability built in, while others will require the use of a third-party affiliate platform. LearnDash with WP Affiliate is a great, cost-effective choice.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE CAPABILITIES
If you plan to offer courses in multiple languages, you’ll want to check with your LMS and authoring tool to see if foreign languages are an LMS feature that can be easily implemented.
INTEGRATION WITH OTHER BUSINESS APPLICATIONS
Being able to connect your LMS to your customer relationship management system (CRM) or your email management system allows you to send data into other systems that can be acted upon with automated workflows.
Some LMS systems will have integrations built into their platform. A cost-effective alternative if the integrations don’t exist is Zapier. Zapier connects two or more software applications and allows them to pass data back and forth. No programming skills are needed and the entire process is point and click.
In this chapter, I’ll examine the unique needs of small businesses and entrepreneurs when choosing and using a learning management system.
Small business has requirements that are very different than educational institutions and enterprise level organizations. In addition, small companies are usually more price sensitive and have lower budgets to work with.
By the end of this chapter, you’ll be able to compare features, benefits, and pricing of three LMS systems to determine which one would be the best fit for your small business.
TalentLMS is a versatile LMS for both small, medium, and large businesses. It focuses on employee onboarding, compliance training, and team member training for in-house and remote workers. TalentLMS is mobile friendly and offers responsive design.
The system features a built-in course authoring tool with numerous quizzing options. The group management and multiple user roles within TalentLMS allows organizations to customize the back and front-end experience.
TalentLMS has gamification elements and leader board options. Its video conferencing and messaging tools are seamlessly integrated, which allows a great blended learning experience.
Teachable is a popular LMS for video courses. Its flat fee pricing model makes it a favorite with small businesses, consultants, and entrepreneurs. The clean, modern design makes content consumption easy on any type of device.
Teachable has a unique set of features for consultants to charge for hourly time, in addition to selling courses. It also has a built-in affiliate program for sharing course revenue with other authors.
This solution enables users to create online quizzes, coupons, and custom certificates that will auto-generate when learners pass their course with a preset proficiency level. A built-in email system can send limited types of emails in bulk to students.
LearnDash is a learning management system designed for use with WordPress. It is open-source with customization features that make it flexible and robust enough to be used by enterprise level clients, but affordable enough for small business.
LearnDash is SCORM compatible and offers group management, subscriptions, memberships, e-commerce capabilities with WooCommerce, affiliate marketing, quizzes, drip feed content, lesson timers, flexible prerequisites, discussion boards, blended learning options with Zoom, custom certificates, bundled courses, and much more.
As with any WordPress site, a LearnDash site can add additional features by installing various plugins.
Big business has requirements that are very different than educational institutions and small business. From thousands of users to advanced reporting and customizations, enterprise level LMS systems can meet exacting specifications for unique use cases.
By the end of this chapter, you’ll be able to compare features, benefits, and pricing of three LMS systems to determine which one would be the best fit for your enterprise organization.
An award-winning LMS, iSpring Learn is the LMS side of the iSpring group of products. iSpring Suite is a built-in authoring tool that features PowerPoint integration.
iSpring Learn has seamless integration with Zoom and Microsoft Teams. The system rules allow users to be automatically assigned to any course by job position, group, department, or other preset filters.
Specific learning paths can be created for various departments or groups within organizations. iSpring offers a one-stop shop for enterprise LMS while also being mobile friendly and easy to use.
Docebo is a powerful LMS for enterprise that allows scaling from several hundred learners to thousands quickly and easily. This system has a built-in learning library of over 20,000 e-learning courses from content providers such as OpenSesame and LinkedIn Learning.
Made for international use, Docebo is available in forty languages. Docebo is focused on creating business impact by increasing the speed with which clients can onboard, develop, and educate their employees.
LearnDash’s open-source format and robust customization capabilities make it a good choice for not just small and medium sized business, but also large organizations and enterprise level installations. Johns Hopkins, Infusionsoft, and Tony Robbins are just a few of the names that use LearnDash.
Group management features with additional plugins, such as Uncanny Owl, give the platform increased flexibility with managing large numbers of learners and SCORM capabilities.
LearnDash has subscriptions, memberships, e-commerce capabilities with WooCommerce, affiliate marketing, quizzes, drip feed content, lesson timers, flexible prerequisites, discussion boards, blended learning options with Zoom, custom certificates, bundled courses, and much more.
Designed as an LMS for schools and universities, Canvas by Instructure, is one of the best choices for education. Schools of all types and sizes, from individual classrooms to large universities with asynchronous or synchronous learning, can use it.
This extremely flexible and adaptable LMS is also open-source. It features mobile-ready teaching tools and responsive design. It offers comprehensive integrations with a variety of other platforms and apps.
Canvas focuses on learner engagement, giving students the ability to record and upload video messages and share a variety of types of materials through message boards, interactive video, and social integration.
Blackboard Learn is a favorite of academic institutions. It’s an interactive LMS used by universities, K-12, government, and business clients. It’s available in a managed hosting, self-hosting, or SaaS implementation.
Blackboard Learn features responsive design and is mobile friendly. The software features built-in content authoring capabilities, virtual classrooms, certification management, gamification, e-commerce, and social learning features.
It has become known for enhanced student engagement.
Brightspace from D2L brings gamification and video assignments to education in asynchronous and blended learning courses. Both K-12 and universities use D2L’s accessibility features and dynamic platforms (learning environment, learning repository, and ePortfolio) to enhance engagement and a best-in-class learning experience.
Brightspace features a built-in authoring tool and is SCORM compatible. A multimedia environment focuses on audio, video, and digital content in courses. Analytics include performance tracking of all course components.
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