Learning Management System (LMS) Overview
What is a Learning Management System?
A Learning Management System (LMS) is a platform that helps instructors manage and organize educational materials online and conduct online courses. Learning management systems help streamline the learning process by providing a central location for accessing material online and developing content. LMS software is used by K-12 schools, higher education institutions, school districts, etc.
This software benefits administrators, teachers, and students. Students and teachers can access and upload course material such as calendars, syllabi, assignments, and grades. LMS platforms also allow instructors and administrators to track student progress on an individual basis and at the aggregate level. This software also helps minimize the use of paper materials.
Corporate LMS and Learning Content Management Systems
Vendors typically offer either education-focused or corporate-focused LMS. However, some companies offer platforms that can be used for both purposes. Corporate learning management systems are commonly used internally for employee training and externally for customer training. Corporate LMS that are used for online employee training may also be called training management systems, or eTraining/ eLearning portals.
Both corporations and educators may use learning content management systems (LCMS) to organize and create content for learning or training purposes. LCMS software focuses on digital learning as the primary educational medium and allows the instructor to create new content. Alternatively, LMS platforms do not focus exclusively on digital learning, they also manage in-person and off-line learning.
LMS vs. eLearning Software
While there is some overlap between LMS platforms and eLearning software, there are a few key differences between the two.
ELearning content software offers the user access to a curated digital library that can include videos, ebooks, and online courses/lessons. The primary function of eLearning software is to provide the user with a large content library for self-guided learning or integration with an LMS platform.
LMS platforms, on the other hand, may not offer content libraries at all. Instead, they focus more on managing the learning process and storing and tracking individual/ aggregate progress. Most vendors offer eLearning software that can be integrated with an LMS platform.
Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)
The term ‘virtual learning environment’ (VLE) is often used synonymously with LMS. These two terms essentially refer to the same products, but emphasize different aspects of the software.
VLEs typically have a larger focus on the collaborative aspect of learning. Products that are marketed as a VLE may have stronger discussion, forum, or student collaboration features. On the other hand, LMS has traditionally referred to products with strong performance tracking and analysis capabilities.
Another difference between the two terms is that VLEs are exclusively used in the academic setting. Alternatively, LMS can be used for educational and corporate training purposes. This category comprises mostly academic LMS, and corporate-focused LMS can be found in the Corporate LMS category.
LMS Features & Capabilities
Most LMS platforms offer a basic set of features:
Content creation: Allows instructors to author content and use web tools to embed files from the web or their own files into lesson materials.
Content management: Allows instructors to share materials between courses and upload materials from the web or their own files.
Assessment creation: Ability to create new questions/ assessments - including support for various question types, randomization of MCQs, the ability to import third-party question banks etc..
Assessment management: This can include automatic updating of questions and automatic and manual marking.
Learning object repository (LOR): An online library for sharing, storing, searching, and managing learning objects (e.g. content, specific lessons etc..)
Grading and feedback tools: This can include the ability to annotate student submissions and create student reports.
Course management: This can include course catalogs, course registration management, calendars, gradebooks, and virtual classrooms.
Student and instructor portals: Individual portals for students/instructors to access course materials.
Collaboration tools: Ability to comment and share on the LMS interface through channels such as live chat, blog articles, and discussion boards/threads.
Progress data and analytics: Ability to track student progress against standards such as Common Core or NGSS, identify gaps in individual learning, and set customized learning objectives.
SCORM/ AICC/ Tin Can Compliant: Ability for an eLearning software and LMS to interact over a standard protocol.
Some vendors offer more advanced capabilities or features aimed more at corporate buyers rather than education institutions:
Social media support: Ability to integrate social learning tools and keep track of student engagement.
Mobile app: Allows students and instructors to connect to the LMS interface using a mobile application.
Blended learning support: Ability to record, share, and assess off-line learning events such as seminars, workshops, demonstrations etc…
Gamification tools: Using game-mechanics in order to boost user engagement - including things like badges, trophies, leaderboards, or points.
E-commerce support: Ability to sell educational materials and/or online courses, track purchases, and monitor the performance of marketing initiatives.
Factors to Consider when Selecting an LMS
Since the LMS will be widely used by students, instructors, administrators, and sometimes parents there are a few key things to consider when making a purchase:
Mobile app access and quality
Institution size / scalability
Ease of use
Flexibility, scalability and performance of an LMS
There is a wide range of free or open source LMS software, for example Moodle, Canvas, and Google Classroom. However, these products can be costly to implement and customize, charge extra for non-basic features, and typically do not include support staff.
Commercial offerings such as Blackboard
and McGraw-Hill's Connect
are an alternative option. These LMS platforms have higher upfront costs (compared to the free versions), but also typically include a dedicated support staff and professional services.