20 November 2020
What is a learning management system (LMS)?
Let’s explore learning management systems, build your understanding of what an LMS does and answer the question: what is a learning management system?
Much like a well-known brand of quick drying woodstain, a learning management system (or LMS for short) does exactly what it says on the tin: it’s a system with which to manage learning.
Moodle and Totara are examples of popular learning management systems that are used by organisations to store and track information relating to their learning programmes. As we will go on to discuss later, the organisation in question could be a corporate enterprise, a small or medium-sized business, a charity or a university – any institution that needs to deliver training or learning to a group of people. Usually, though not always, the learning in question is online learning.
As for the learners, they could be employees, students or even customers. The people using an LMS can be anybody that a particular organisation wants to educate or train.
Beyond that basic purpose, an LMS performs various roles that assist in the management of all aspects of the organisation’s learning process.
So, what is a learning management system?
Let’s have a look at some of the many things that an LMS can do for an organisation in more detail to find out what is about an LMS that makes it an LMS. We’re looking here at the practical things an LMS can do (we’ve covered the benefits of an LMS in another article). Here are some of the key functions an LMS may perform for an organisation.
An LMS is a hub
In some respects, you can think of an LMS as being the technological equivalent of a training centre or school. It performs the functions of an enrolment centre, lecture hall, classroom, seminar room, coursebook, workbook, noticeboard and much more besides.
So, a key role of a learning management system is to provide a hub through which the things that would normally be done in those rooms can be achieved digitally. It also stores all the vast amounts of information you might expect to be used in any of those rooms. That means your LMS is a place where:
- Teachers and administrators can manage and host courses.
- Learners can browse and enrol on courses.
- Learners can undertake courses and access learning materials.
- Learners can communicate with their teachers and their peers.
- Teachers can monitor the progress of learners.
An LMS is a course catalogue
An LMS is a place where all of the courses provided by your organisation to its learners can be hosted, edited and browsed. The advantage is that it places all learning materials in a single place, where they can be accessed by anyone who needs to access them. It puts an end to disjointed course management that varies between different members of staff.
Complex chains of manuals and spreadsheets can be replaced by a single, uniform structure. In this way, an LMS is a useful tool for providing consistency and sustainability in your learning, regardless of staff illness or changes in personnel.
It’s not just the main coursework that is hosted on an LMS. Relevant videos, podcasts, blog posts and other media can be collated together to build a comprehensive learning resource on a single topic.
Once all the courses are in place, the LMS serves as a catalogue where learners can browse the learning options available to them. In that sense it almost doubles up as a prospectus.
An LMS is an enrolment tool
When a learner finds a course they want to take, the LMS becomes an enrolment tool. It could become a self-enrolment tool, with learners signing up to courses and training events they want to attend.
Depending on the LMS you’re using, it could equally become an automated enrolment tool in which your learners are automatically signed up for a course or sequence of courses that are relevant to their role, studies or interests.
Signing up to an LMS might involve a simple registration process or could be done automatically by integrating an LMS with an existing system that is used by all learners.
An LMS is an automated admin system
We’ve touched on this in relation to enrolment, but there are many other things that an LMS can automate. Learning pathways and reporting are other examples of areas in which time-draining admin can be easily automated by a learning management system.
The result is that an LMS has the potential to save your organisation huge amounts of time (and therefore money) that would otherwise be spent on very basic administrative tasks.
An LMS is a learning delivery platform
With your courses set up and your learners enrolled, your LMS can take on what is perhaps its most important role: delivering learning to your learners. With an LMS, geography and time don’t matter. Your learners’ classroom can be anywhere in the world and lessons can start at any time of the day or night that suits them.
Quizzes, tests and any other method by which you want to measure learning are all completed within the LMS. For your learners, there are no complicated submissions – it’s all in one place and is completed while signed into the LMS.
An LMS is a reporting system
A learning management system contains a wealth of data on just about every aspect of the learning that is being undertaken (or, just as importantly, not being undertaken). It’s impossible to cover everything that an LMS can help you to find out about your learners, but here are some very simple examples:
- Who has not yet completed a compulsory course?
- Which of your learners have completed training in a particular competency?
- Which learners have fallen behind on a course?
- Which learners are underperforming or getting low scores?
- What are the most popular courses?
- Which learners are engaging with group activities?
Even those very basic examples demonstrate how useful an LMS is in ensuring compliance with professional, legal or safety standards; identifying skills gaps within an organisation; succession planning; and intervening with particular learners when necessary.
Your organisation might have a very specific question to answer or auditing requirement to meet in relation to the learning that’s being delivered. If it’s done via the LMS, you can bet that the data is on the platform and can be exported in the form of a report.
Remember we were discussing automation above? Reporting is another area in which an LMS can help you to automate processes in order to save time and money. You can build reports that are automatically produced as regularly as needed. This might include detailed reports on a particular course or department, or an overview of learning across the organisation.
So, once a month you can send your head of IT an automated report on compliance in the IT department. You can send the senior management team a weekly report on learning across the organisation. An LMS makes it really easy to get relevant learning data to the people who need to see it.
An LMS is a monitoring system
It’s a similar point to the LMS as a reporting system, but still a point worth making. Whether it’s a high-level view of the organisation or the specific case of an individual learner, an LMS allows you to monitor what’s going on in your organisation.
You can spot issues before they become major problems, and take action to address them. That might be providing extra support to a learner who is in danger of failing a course, targeting training to close a skills gap in the organisation, or taking action against a specific department that isn’t taking its learning obligations seriously.
An LMS is a data storage centre
We’ve discussed a fraction of the vast amount of data that can be generated through the use of an LMS. As well as generating and reporting on this data, an LMS also provides a secure and scalable platform in which to store all of that data about your learners.
An LMS is a communication tool
An LMS is a place where your learners can communicate with teachers and with fellow learners. You can choose the communication methods that are best suited to your organisation. Instant messaging, forums and video conferencing are some of the communication tools that can be embedded within LMS.
This serves to:
- Encourage engagement with the platform among your learners.
- Gives learners a simple way of contacting teachers to ask questions.
- Promotes peer-to-peer discussions and feedback.
- Formalises the appropriate channels of communication around learning.
By promoting the channels through which you want communication to take place, you lower the chance of potentially important insights from your learners being lost in private WhatsApp or email conversations and instead encourage them to be shared with your learning community.
An LMS is a certification platform
Your learners can use the LMS to monitor their progress, check their results and obtain certification relating to your courses. Many learning management systems include a learner dashboard that collates all relevant information relating to an individual’s learning, including a progress bar or chart showing how close they are to completing their current course.
An LMS is an educational tool
Learning management systems were initially developed to serve the education sector. They remain widely used in further education and higher education given that they make storing, delivering, performance monitoring and certifying learning far more efficient and cost-effective.
For colleges, universities and other educational institutions, an LMS ensures more time can be spent on maintaining the quality of learning and supporting learning, rather than carrying out laborious administrative tasks relating to the delivery and management of the learning.
An LMS is a corporate training platform
Learning management systems are also firmly established in the corporate world as a preferred way of delivering learning to employees. An LMS cuts out the travel time, costs and disruption associated with trips to HQ or a training centre to undertake training. With an LMS, training can be completed in any location at a time that suits the individual employee and the organisation. It can be postponed at short notice at no cost to the organisation.
An LMS also makes the administration and management of corporate learning far easier for HR and L&D professionals. Onboarding, compliance training, learning pathways and certification are just a handful of processes that can be easily automated through the use of an LMS.
What is a learning management system going to mean for your organisation?
There you have it. That’s an overview of some of the main roles performed by a learning management system.
As we round up this article, what is a learning management system? The short answer is that it’s a platform through which to manage and deliver learning. The longer answer is that it performs a wide variety of different roles depending on the needs of the organisation and learner.
It’s worth considering that different platforms have different features, which may impact on the role they are able to perform. What is a learning management system equipped with everything one organisation needs might be totally unsuitable for another. At Synergy Learning, we’re not tied to any single LMS so we will always guide you towards the technology that’s right for your requirements.
If you’d like to have a chat about the role an LMS might play in educating your learners and supporting your administrators, please feel free to fill out the form below and we’ll give you a call.