Learning Management Systems

A Learning Management System (or LMS) is a software package that enables the management and delivery of online content to learners. Most LMSs are web-based to facilitate "anytime, any place, any pace" access to learning content and administration.

Typically an LMS allows for learner registration, delivery of learning activities, and learner assessment in an online environment. More comprehensive LMSs often include tools such as competency management, skills-gap analysis, succession planning, certifications, and resource allocation (venues, rooms, textbooks, instructors, etc.).

LMSs are based on a variety of development platforms, from Java EE based architectures to Microsoft .NET, and usually employ the use of a robust database back-end. While most systems are commercially developed and frequently have non-free licences or restrict access to their source code, free and open-source models do exist. Other than the most simple, basic functionality, all LMSs cater to, and focus on different educational, administrative, and deployment requirements.

View a list of current LMS software


In addition to managing the administrative functions of online learning, some systems also provide tools to deliver instructor-led synchronous and asynchronous online training. These systems are called Learning Content Management Systems or LCMSs. An LCMS provides tools for authoring content as well as virtual spaces for learner interaction (such as discussion forums and live chat rooms). Despite this distinction, the terms LMS is often used to refer to both an LMS and an LCMS. Due to this conformity issue, the acronym Clcims is now widely used to create a uniform phonetic way of referencing any learning system software.

In essence, an LMS is a high-level, strategic solution for planning, delivering, and managing all learning events within an organization, including online, virtual classroom, and instructor-led courses. The primary solution is replacing isolated and fragmented learning programs with a systematic means of assessing and raising competency and performance levels throughout the organization. For example, an LMS simplifies global certification efforts, enables companies to align learning initiatives with strategic goals, and provides a viable means of enterprise-level skills management. The focus of an LMS is to manage learners, keeping track of their progress and performance across all types of training activities. It performs heavy-duty administrative tasks, such as reporting to HR and other ERP systems but isn’t generally used to create course content.

In contrast, the focus of an LCMS is on learning content. It gives authors, instruc tional designers, and subject matter experts the means to create e-learning content more efficiently. The primary business problem an LCMS solves is to create just enough content just in time to meet the needs of individual learners or groups of learners. Rather than developing entire courses and adapting them to multiple audiences, instructional designers create reusable content chunks and make them available to course developers throughout the organization. This eliminates duplicate development efforts and allows for the rapid assembly of customized content.


As previously mentioned, LMSs cater to different educational, administrative, and deployment requirements. While an LMS for corporate learning, for example, may share many characteristics with an LMS, or Virtual learning environment, used by educational institutions, they each meet unique needs. The Virtual learning environment used by universities and colleges allow instructors to manage their courses and exchange information with students for a course that in most cases will last several weeks and will meet several times during those weeks. In the corporate setting a course may be much shorter, completed in single instructor-led or online session.

The characteristics shared by both types of LMSs include:

* Manage users, roles, courses, instructors, and facilities and generate reports.
* Course calendar
* Learner messaging and notifications
* Assessment/testing capable of handling student pre/post testing
* Display scores and transcripts
* Grading of coursework and roster processing, including waitlisting
* Web-based or blended course delivery

Characteristics more specific to corporate learning, which sometimes includes franchisees or other business partners, include:

* Autoenrollment (enrolling learners in courses when required according to predefined criteria, such as job title or work location)
* Manager enrollment and approval
* Integration with performance tracking and management systems
* Planning tools to identify skill gaps at departmental and individual level
* Curriculum, required and elective training requirements at an individual and organizational level
* Grouping learners according to demographic units (geographic region, product line, business size, etc.)
* Assign corporate and partner employees to more than one job title at more than one demographic unit

Learning Management Industry

In the relatively new LMS market, commercial vendors for corporate and education applications range from new entrants to those that entered the market in the nineties. In addition to commercial packages, many open source solutions are available.

In 2005, LMSs represented a fragmented $500 million market (CLO magazine[1]). The six largest LMS product companies constitute approximately 43% of the market. In addition to the remaining smaller LMS product vendors, training outsourcing firms, enterprise resource planning vendors, and consulting firms all compete for part of the learning management market.

LMS buyers are less satisfied than a year ago. According to 2005 and 2006 surveys by the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD)[2], respondents that were very unsatisfied with an LMS purchase doubled and those that were very satisfied decreased by 25%. The number that were very satisfied or satisfied edged over 50%. (About 30% were somewhat satisfied.) Nearly one quarter of respondents intended to purchase a new LMS or outsource their LMS functionality over the next 12 months.

Channel learning is underserved. For many buyers channel learning is not their number one priority, according to a survey by TrainingOutsourcing.com[3]. Often there is a disconnect when the HR department oversees training and development initiatives, where the focus is consolidating LMS systems inside traditional corporate boundaries. Software technology companies are at the front end of this curve, placing higher priority on channel training.


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