We live in a time of online learning. If you had asked someone twenty years ago if they had taken an online course, you would be lucky to find that they had.
But today, online courses are so ubiquitous that many have taken one at some point, whether for their education, their career, or even their driver’s license.
COVID-19 has only accelerated the shift to online learning. With governmental lockdowns and travel restrictions in place, many students are forced to learn online. So whether we like it or not, e-learning is here to stay. Consider the following statistics reported by eLearning Industry:
- 77% of U.S. companies used online learning in 2017.
- The e-learning industry grew 900% since the turn of the century.
- For every dollar spent on e-learning, companies make back $30 in productivity.
Businesses are not just forced to adopt e-learning, they want to. There are a lot of benefits that come along with online learning that make it attractive, like cost savings and improved productivity. But before you can take advantage of e-learning, you need to choose an LMS.
What is a Learning Management System?
A Learning Management System (LMS) helps you create, manage, and deliver online courses.
In a way, LMS is just a fancy acronym for online learning software, but a lot goes into a good LMS.
LMSs first appeared in the higher education sector, but they are also used by nonprofits, businesses, and government organizations from your local city council to the United Nations.
Recently, there has been a shift in focus toward the corporate market because businesses are beginning to recognize the real ROI of e-learning programs.
In business, LMSs are used to train employees, onboard new hires, retain employee knowledge, train partners and customers, provide compliance training, and maintain standards across the company.
Benefits of an LMS
Investing in a good LMS has many benefits. The following list gives you a taste of what you can look forward to:
- Save money. With a good LMS, you will save on most traditional training costs. You will no longer need to pay for live instructors, their travel and teaching fees, or facilities to host the training. Everything can take place remotely on computers your business already provides.
- Save time. Employees can progress through company training at different times, doing away with cumbersome scheduling and saving trainers and learners the time needed to travel.
- Maintain standards. Having an LMS allows you to maintain knowledge standards across the company and even partners and affiliates. Everyone is on the same page. You can also maintain compliance with company policies this way.
- Update content quickly. Revising company training content can be a quick installation to the LMS. Updates are then automatically passed on to students. With a centralized LMS system, there is no need to fuss with tedious curriculum revisions.
- Train remotely. An LMS makes training material accessible from anywhere at any time. Employees can learn from home or on the go with simple login credentials.
- Engage and motivate learners. Interactive media and gamification offer new learning methods easily implemented into an LMS. Nobody likes a boring lecture. Spice up your training with videos, pictures, games, and more.
- Consolidate platforms. An LMS can be your all-in-one learning center. No need to direct students to separate websites, videos, or books to be trained. Keep learning materials in one central place.
- Track results. Any good LMS allows teachers and students to track learning progress. A simple course completion metric will do. Furthermore, you could have metrics that gage training effectiveness or its impact on business performance. After all, data is money.
What to Consider in Choosing an LMS
Now that you know the benefits of an LMS, there are a few more things you should know before choosing one. Here are some fundamental considerations when it comes to finding the right LMS for you:
Open Source vs Closed Source
Open source software (OSS) is software that allows anyone to access and modify its source code. For an LMS, this means you can customize it to fit your needs. But perhaps the main advantage to open source LMSs is that they are free. Anyone can use them. This can be a huge benefit if you are on a small budget.
But keep in mind that open source LMSs tend to have a higher learning curve. You will need coding experts to sufficiently customize them to your needs, which can be a lengthy and costly project. The support system may be limited or unreliable. Most open source LMSs rely on online forums for help.
If you prefer software that is ready to go out of the box, consider buying commercial LMS software. Commercial software is closed-source, meaning only authorized users can use it, i.e. people who buy the software. Obviously, commercial LMSs cost more money, but they tend to be much easier to deploy and use. Plus, you usually have a dedicated support staff that can help you.
As with many things, the question whether to go with an open or closed source LMS is a cost-benefit analysis. If you want to save money, choose a free open source LMS. If you want a reliable LMS solution fast, you might be better off with a commercial LMS.
Cloud-based vs. On-premise
Consider whether you want an LMS that is cloud-based or installed on-premise.
Cloud-based LMSs are stored in the cloud, so you don’t need to worry about installing them locally. Plus, they are typically offered as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). This means you usually pay for the service on a monthly basis in return for regular updates, support, and scalability. Basically, the vendor takes care of everything for you. In that way, SaaS LMSs are the more hands-free option. Plus, they are perfect for growing businesses who might need to ramp up their LMS as they get more employees.
Locally installed LMSs require you to have your own IT team to customize and maintain it. That said, on-premise LMSs usually offer more flexibility in customization. It can be a powerful solution if you already have an IT staff in place.
Choosing a cloud-based or an on-premise LMS comes down to preference. A cloud-based solution is easier but perhaps less individualized, while an on-premise LMS is more customizable but requires more in-house IT staff.
Finally there are several features that can distinguish an LMS. Below I will first go through some basic features found in most LMSs. Then I will list some advanced LMS features worth considering.
- User management—Any LMS should allow you to manage users. Users can range from administrators to instructors to learners. Managing them efficiently is key to a good learning experience.
- Course management—Unless you only plan to deliver one course, you will need to manage multiple courses. You might require employees to take certain classes relevant to their position. Or you might have them advance through courses that build on each other’s content. Whatever you do, having a course catalog is important.
- Progress tracking—Tracking learner progress lets you see where learners are at in their training. This is important data for reporting purposes. By comparing learner progress with business performance, you can measure how effective your e-learning program is.
- Intuitive Interface—Having an interface that is easy to understand is important for any LMS. Users won’t want to use the LMS unless it has a user-friendly design. So make sure your LMS is not too complicated for the average user to navigate.
- Content creation—Some LMSs only help you distribute and deliver e-learning courses. Others allow you to actually design and create custom courses. Ideally, content will abide by SCORM standards so it is compatible across many LMSs. SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model) is the industry standard format for e-learning courses.
- Mobile version—A good LMS will offer a mobile version so learners can access it from anywhere. This way, users can learn on the go.
- Notifications—We all need reminders sometimes. An LMS with notification features helps you keep learners on schedule. Send event-specific push notifications or email reminders to targeted users. Or integrate the LMS with other software like Slack to send out notifications.
- Gamification—Making the learning experience fun will boost your participation and results. An LMS that can implement games, points, rewards, contests, and leaderboards helps engage and motivate learners.
- Testing and Grading—Without a way to assess students, you will never know if they are learning the skills or retaining the information they need. Testing features let you assess students via multiple choice, short answer, true/false, and other types of questions. Grading features allow you to measure answers to an answer sheet for easy grading. Or you can opt to grade manually.
- Certification—If you need employees to certify in certain skills, the right LMS can help. Some LMSs allow you to create certification programs quickly and easily so employees can certify to do a particular job.
- AI—Artificial intelligence (AI) has come a long way in the last decade. When integrated with an LMS, AI can give course and format suggestions to personalize learning paths. Just like Netflix and Spotify, your LMS can curate personalized content depending on the learner’s needs. Plus, you can use AI for virtual coaches that guide learners along in the curriculum. AI is a valuable feature because it makes work easier for both learners and administrators.
- Automated admin tasks—With so much administrative work that goes into work training, it’s nice to automate some of it away. So choose an LMS that features automated grading and reminders and does other tasks for you.
- Integration—If you want to be efficient, make sure your LMS can integrate with software you already use. Salesforce, Slack, or calendar integration are just some examples. By integrating with existing business software, an LMS can make your life a lot easier.
- Microlearning—People have short attention spans. Sometimes they want to take in information in bite-sized chunks. An LMS can design the learning curriculum in a way that learning can take place in shorter spurts. The LMS makes sure training happens in a sequential manner that makes sense, so learners don’t need to think about their progress. The language learning app Duolingo is a good example of this.
- Social learning—Learning is more fun with others. Social learning features like collaboration tools, discussion forums, peer mentorship programs, and competitions are good ways to engage learners. Not everyone likes learning alone, and with the prevalence of social media, it’s easier than ever to implement social learning features in e-learning.
- Support for multiple languages—Having support for multiple languages is especially helpful for big companies that have employees in different countries. This way, you can keep everyone on the same page across different languages.
LMSs will vary from one to the next. Just find one that fits your needs. If you realize you only need some basic features, then don’t worry about your LMS having everything. However, if you are a growing business, you may benefit from some of the scalable features listed above.
Market for Learning Management Systems
There is no denying that Learning Management Systems have become a major part of any business. They are simply the most efficient way to train employees. Not only that, the education and government sectors are seeing huge benefits as well. And these trends will not stop anytime soon.
The market for Learning Management Systems is expected to grow from $13.4 billion in 2020 to $25.7 billion by 2025, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 14.0%. Needless to say, LMSs are here to stay.
Working with Dev.co
If you want to develop an LMS for your business, custom develop an open source system or optimize an existing one, Dev.co is here to help. We can help you make a comprehensive e-learning platform catered to your needs.
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