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. If that term has you heading for the hills—you’re in the right spot. In this article, we’ll walk you through what an LMS is, why people use them, how they work, and how to make sure your courses are LMS-compatible. Here we go!

What is an LMS?

An LMS is a software application that allows you to share e-learning courses with your learners and track key data about their activity—for example, the amount of time they spend on a course or the score they receive on a quiz. 

In many cases, LMSs don’t include robust authoring capabilities. So you need to create your courses with a separate authoring app and upload them to your LMS before you can share them with learners. Some LMSs, though, have integrations with specific authoring apps—such as Reach 360 and Articulate 360—which can make it easier to get courses into your LMS and ensure they communicate clearly with each other.

Why use an LMS?

While you don’t have to use an LMS to deliver your online training courses, there are a few reasons you might want to:

  • To host your e-learning courses. You need to put your e-learning courses somewhere so that your learners can access them. LMSs are a safe and secure place to store your proprietary learning content.
  • To control access to your courses. LMSs allow you to share your courses with specific people and ensure that the general public can’t view them.
  • To track learner activity. Whether you need to prove that learners have completed training material for compliance reasons or you just want to ensure everyone has the necessary information to do their jobs, housing your courses on an LMS allows you to see how learners have interacted with your content. Have they viewed the entire course? Did they pass the final assessment? The LMS tracks those kinds of activities and more. 

How to choose an LMS

There are hundreds of different LMSs on the market, each with its own unique set of capabilities. Some LMSs are free, while others can be quite expensive. Choosing the right one really depends on the needs of your organization. The articles below will help you define your needs and narrow down your options:

What alternatives are there?

You might be wondering how to share your course if you don’t have or can’t get an LMS. Here are a few other options:

  • A web server. If you don’t need to control access to your courses or track learner activity, you could simply upload them to your website using a web server. Learn more about how to do that here: How to Get an E-Learning Course Online.
  • Learning Record Store (LRS). If you want to track learner activity across multiple platforms—e-learning courses, websites, or apps, for example—an LRS might be a good option. Just make sure you choose one that allows you to host your courses as well, or you might end up needing both an LRS and an LMS. Learn more here: An Introduction to LRSs.

How does an LMS track learner activity?

When learners take a course that’s hosted on an LMS, the course communicates information about their actions to the LMS using a set of technical standards or norms. These specifications were created so that course content would work across a variety of different systems. 

There are four commonly used norms used in the e-learning industry today: SCORM, xAPI, cmi5, and AICC. You can find out more about them in this article: A Quick Introduction to LMS Standards

How do you make sure your courses work with your LMS?

All this talk of LMS standards can make things seem overly complicated, but if you’re using the industry-leading authoring apps in Articulate 360—Rise 360 or Storyline 360—you just need to know which standard your LMS uses so you can select that option when you export or publish your course. It’s that simple! 

If you’re using Articulate 360 apps, check out these resources to learn more:

More Resources

Now that you know what LMSs are, how they work, and the other options out there, you can determine which option makes the most sense for your organization.

If you feel like you still need more information before making that call, head over to this helpful article series: All About Learning Management Systems.


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