Learning Management Systems

In the world of learning and development it seems like the words ‘learning management system’ or the letters ‘LMS’ are on everyone’s lips.

There have certainly been some major advances in learning technologies in recent years – driven by the possibilities of increased data storage, a more agile approach to working, and not least through targeting cost reductions. An LMS is regarded by many larger organisations as a ‘must-have’, if they don’t have one already.

But despite these advances, there is no doubt that Learning and Development professionals, let alone their colleagues, are struggling to understand the benefits of an LMS to their organisation and how to capitalise on them.

With a mix of product features, cloud solutions and brand names, it’s hard to compare apples with apples, and with pricing models ranging from the very simple to the mind bogglingly complex, it can be hard to know what you’re letting yourself in for.

What is an LMS?

A learning management system or LMS is a system that does three things:

  • Organises and administers learning
  • Delivers learning
  • Records learning

The first two of these – organising and administering learning, and delivering learning – are quite closely tied together, especially if the course content is to be produced and delivered electronically (i.e. via elearning). For ease of reference, you sometimes hear these elements being referred to as a learning delivery platform or system, with the acronym to go with it.

The other major constituent part of an LMS is a learning records system, sometimes referred to as a learning data system or LDS. As its name suggests, this is all about storing accurate, up-to-date records for all the learning that has taken place in your organisation, in a readily retrievable and analyzable format, in a secure environment.

Together, these two elements form the basis of an LMS that provides a systematic approach to learning across your organisation.

Learning delivery platform + learning records system = LMS

The combined power of a learning delivery platform (LDP) with a learning records system (LRS) forms a true learning management system.   Working together they deliver the most inclusive place of learning we are all familiar with…

It doesn’t have to be automated. Like any system, your LMS could be a manual one, consisting of course materials you’ve produce yourselves, delivered via Powerpoint slides in a classroom setting, with records stored in filing cabinets or in Excel spreadsheets. Still quite a common scenario in organisations throughout the world.

But new technologies have allowed L&D professionals to bring the various processes involved in learning and development into an partially or completely automated system in order to reduce manual input, improve efficiency and effectiveness of learning delivery, and provide real-time reporting on individual learner performance.

A partially automated LMS will allow the administration, delivery and records-management of traditional classroom, blended and elearning courses. As you can imagine, this requires quite a sophisticated solution in bringing offline and online training content and records into one place, but it’s very powerful if you get it right.

A completely automated LMS will only administer, deliver and report on elearning courses where the whole learning process takes place in digital format.  

It’s obviously not all plain sailing, however. Being charged with specifying an LMS, building your own or selecting a service provider solution can be a thankless task. The options are seemingly endless, there are likely to be a number of people involved in the decision-making process and in many cases – especially where L&D is a centralised operation acting as a business partner to a number of trading units – there may be a number of budget holders with differing needs and differing opinions on the value an LMS might bring.

“Many lack confidence in their ability to use learning technologies”

CIPD 2015 Survey of learning and development professionals

Among L&D practitioners, there remains a lack of confidence where learning management systems are concerned. The CIPD Learning and Development  2015 Annual Report notes that “just a quarter of respondents feel ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ confident in their ability to harness technology to increase the effectiveness of the L&D interventions.”

And among learners themselves there is still a fear of elearning in particular, borne out of experience of the low quality, tick box approach that has most commonly been associated with the medium up until now.

The pitfalls can be readily negotiated, but it helps to understand the key factors that impact on any decision to implement an LMS.

What are the benefits of an LMS?

For employers

Some of the key benefits of an automated LMS to employers include:

  • Apply a consistent standard of content and delivery across global operations;
  • Reduce inefficiencies in administering, delivering and reporting on learner performance;
  • Improve control of learner management through access to real-time data;
  • More readily map skills and competencies against intended course outcomes;
  • Develop a learning culture by making courses more widely accessible throughout the organisation; and
  • Ensure compliance with regulatory requirements in key areas (such as health and safety training, or in TUPE situations).

For learners

Some of the key benefits to learners include:

  • Greater flexibility: study anywhere, any time at a pace that suits them;
  • Clearly defined development pathways;
  • Improved social learning, through sharing with friends and colleagues;
  • Ability to refresh knowledge through access to a live knowledge pool; and
  • Greater sense of fulfillment.

How does an LMS work?

It might help to think of an LMS as being like a library, a central repository of knowledge that is contained in the various books on its shelves. The librarian will have identified the books they want to have in the library, and will have organised them into meaningful sections. 

If you want to access the knowledge in the library, the librarian records the books you’ve borrowed and hands them over to you to read (the learning delivery platform), to study at a pace that suits you. When you’re finished, you take them back, the librarian notes the date you returned the books and so there’s a record of what you studied, and when you studied it (the learning records system).

Of course, the analogy only stretches so far. The librarian doesn’t test you on what you’ve learned when you return the books – that might be a little intrusive! 

Over time, the library would be able to compile a record of all of the books you’ve borrowed and if they wanted to, the librarian could build up quite a comprehensive picture about you and your reading habits – something you might actually want to remain private.

An LMS works in the same way. Knowledge is created in the form of courses that are stored in the system, which can then be accessed by learners when they take the course (the learning delivery platform). The LMS will record when they’ve started and completed the course; but if the course involves an assessment the LMS is also likely to contain a record of the assessment too (the learning records system).

As with a reading history at the library, the LMS will build up quite a comprehensive picture of the learners in the system. As an employer, L&D professional or line manager you will want to interrogate and report on this in real time.

In an LMS you will want to record information such as who has passed or failed a particular course, how many people have not yet started a course, or perhaps – where a third party awarding body stipulates it – personal information such as their home address or identity number. As you can appreciate, data integrity and security is a vital part of any effective LMS.

In our experience, buyers tend to over-emphasise the importance of the learning delivery platform when specifying an LMS, while not paying enough attention to the importance of data storage, retrieval and security. This imbalance is also exacerbated by the LMS supply sector, which has expanded rapidly through the development of cloud-based ‘software-as-a-service’ (SaaS) solutions that allow for rapid content creation and delivery but do not necessarily integrate records into existing record-keeping systems.

Want to know more?

Whether you’re new to the world of online learning or have already invested in a learning management solution, contact our learning solutions team to discuss what International Workplace can do for you. 

Call us now on +44 (0) 333 210 1995 or email our course advisors