An Introduction to LMSs

If you’re creating e-learning courses, at some point you’ll need to use an application called an LMS. Short for Learning Management System, an LMS is simply a tool that allows you to distribute e-learning courses to your learners and track their activity.

While you don’t have to use LMS software to deliver your online training courses, it does make things a lot easier. Luckily, there are all kinds of LMSs, from free, open source learning management systems to elaborate, expensive ones. Here at Articulate, we design our e-learning software to work with all kinds of LMSs, and so we thought it would be good to review the basics of this important part of your e-learning platform.

Why Use An LMS?

LMSs came about for 3 basic reasons:

  1. To control access to e-learning courses
  2. To track how far learners get with their courses
  3. To store and archive your e-learning courses

In addition to these basic capabilities, LMSs may offer advanced features such as:

  • Report generation: Allows you to export information about learner activity as a report, which can be useful if you need to provide other members of your team with information regarding learner activity.
  • Advanced user management: Lets you mass upload a list of learners, via an Excel file, for example. This feature is especially useful for large organizations that need to manage hundreds (or even thousands) of learners.
  • Systems integration: Makes the LMS and your organization’s intranet or website look like they are one and the same. This way, learners aren’t confused or disoriented because of multiple links and platforms.
  • eCommerce: Allows you to host and sell your e-learning courses, either individually or on a subscription basis, which is great if your company sells off-the-shelf training courses.
  • Automated certificate generation: Generates certificates for learners who successfully complete courses. This way, companies (and individual employees) have physical proof that employees have completed the course.
  • Multilingual interface: Lets learners switch the language of the interface. Perfect for global companies that want to use the same LMS for all their employees worldwide.
  • Collaboration tools: Adds collaboration through social media elements such as chat, forums, etc. These tools are a nice way to increase user engagement with your online training programs.
  • Mobile app: Allows learners to access courses via their mobile devices without losing the ability to track their activity. This feature is becoming more and more essential as employees (and therefore learners!) are increasingly on-the-go.
  • Learning paths: Enables you to create training programs for individuals or groups of individuals with specific learning needs. This feature lets you pre-build a custom training path for those learner profiles.
  • Assessment: Lets you create quizzes directly in the LMS instead of using an authoring tool. Perfect if you don’t have access to an authoring tool and you want to add a quiz to your PowerPoint presentation.

How Does an LMS Track Learner Activity?

When you upload your course to an LMS, you can get all kinds of information about your learners—termed “learner activity”—such as whether or not learners completed the course or their score on the evaluation. Depending on the LMS you’re using, you will be able to see more or less information about your learners.

But how does the LMS track learner activity? When learners take an e-learning course on an LMS, the course communicates information about their activity to the LMS using a set of technical standards or norms. These specifications were created so that course content could be used across a variety of different systems. Let’s take a quick look at the three common norms used in the e-learning industry today:

  • SCORM: SCORM, or the Sharable Content Object Reference Model, is by far the most widely-used norm in the industry. Get a helpful intro to SCORM here.
  • AICC: Developed by the Aviation Industry Computer-Based Training Committee, this standard pre-dates SCORM. While some LMSs still use this standard, most e-learning experts agree that it is more or less on its way out.
  • Tin Can API (also known as xAPI): This standard is based on the idea that learning can happen anywhere, not just within an LMS, so you should be able to track learner activity everywhere. Due to the complexity of this standard, not many LMSs currently support it, but it is expected to gain in popularity because of the wealth of information it is able to collect. Learn more about Tin Can API in this intro

But how do you make sure your course content is “speaking the same language” as your LMS? If you’re using an authoring tool like Rise, Storyline 360, or Studio 360, all you have to do is select the standard that your LMS supports when you publish, and you’re all set!

There are hundreds of different LMSs on the market, and each of them has their own unique set of capabilities. Stay tuned—more articles on LMSs are on their way! Can’t wait to learn more? Check out this compilation of forum threads centered around LMSs. Having issues with your LMS? Find out how to troubleshoot like a pro.

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and visit E-Learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning.