What is an LMS?


What is an LMS? Learning Management System Breakdown!

A learning management system is defined as a software-based application for the management, documentation, tracking, reporting, automation, and delivery of educational courses by all types of organizations.

Learning management systems are often called LMS for short. It's also referred to as a course management system, e-learning, e-training system, instructional management system, integrated learning system, learning social networks, personal learning environment, and Learning Content Management System.

The latter is simply an LMS platform that integrates an online editor that allows organizations to share training materials.


Learning management system gamification
(Photo credit: Getty)​​​​


Why do you need a learning management system?

Corporations of all sizes can use e-learning management systems to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of training programs. They are vital in automating the corporate training processUsing an LMS allows enterprises to shift physical instructor-led training to a virtual training program.

Higher-education institutions, government and government agencies, international organizations, NGOs, and medium-sized enterprises also use learning management systems.

Learning management systems are essential to the digitalization and transformation of organizations, and how they train workers. 

An eLearning platform can centralize resources, training, data and provide actionable insights. This results to continuous improvements, with the ability to identify gaps and opportunities amongst your workforce. Digital learning should be enjoyable and fun for LMS users.


What's the best learning management system LMS?

which lms is best - gamification?
(Photo credit: Getty)​​​​

This is a tricky question to answer. It depends entirely on your organization's requirements and finding the LMS technology that best meet those demands. 

Many different providers all claim to have unique features and be the best LMS.

The truth is, there's no single best system. The LMS is only helpful if it delivers what you need and the training course adds value to your users.

To determine the best LMS for your organization, it's essential to answer some basic questions. For example, what kind of content delivery are you searching for? Are you looking for a WordPress or Drupal-based LMS? Do you need a cloud-based LMS?

When determining the value of an LMS system, also consider its features: 

  • Content Delivery
  • Intuitive navigation
  • Collaborative learning
  • Efficient workflows
  • Gamification
  • Easy setup
  • ILT and VILT Support
  • Tools/software Integration
  • eCommerce Mobile and Offline Access
  • Customization
  • Multiple user roles
  • Multilingual language Support, especially Arabic or Chinese
  • Multiple learning paths
  • Built-in authoring capability, SCORM, H5P, TinCan API compliant.

*Some online training platforms are better for educational or governmental institutions, while others will be better suited to large corporations.


What is an LMS? What does it do?

A learning platform helps administrators manage, track and deliver eLearning courses to employees, students, partners, and customers. You can also use LMS software for the delivery of training materials to the general public.


learning management system dashboard
(Photo credit: Opigno.org)


What is an LMS? Open-source vs. proprietary

Each organization needs to consider important factors before introducing new learning programs to learners. These considerations include content management systems, training needs, course material, learner progress, course creation, customer training, support services, and the ability to manage eLearning courses and deliver training.

Any training program should have a defined strategy behind it and be linked to business objectives. Once you understand why you need the learning program, you'll be better positioned to develop it.

Identify what learning system platform fits your long-term needs. An open-source LMS provides software as a service through consultancy and customization fees. A proprietary LMS is subscription-based. Once you've selected the right tool for your organization, you'll want to identify all the learning management system features that will help you streamline the training automation.


Proprietary learning management system


Proprietary LMSs are reliable and have a dedicated team to support you 24-7. They offer training and are accountable for the delivery of a well-functioning system.

An essential component of propriety LMS is the straightforward and user-friendly interface. It makes elearning fun and engaging for users.

It's also worth knowing that some LMS platform companies create course material for clients. Usually, proprietary systems are cloud-based, meaning you don't have to manage the server, requiring no technical abilities.You can buy additional LMS features easily.

In a nutshell, proprietary learning management systems offer convenience. They have a template for almost any organization type. In addition, proprietary providers tend to have integration partnerships.


Proprietary LMS platforms are somewhat restrictive and are generally subscription-based. Also, customizing your internal learning portal is closer to a dream than to reality. They require yearly licensing fees, and the platform's code cannot be configured or altered. 

There are usually self-hosting restrictions. There are typically other fees related to setup and maintenance and license costs per user.

Trust is essential. Ensure vendors maintain the LMS for the duration of use, especially for updating security patches, fixing bugs, and other business impacts, such as if the vendor goes out of business.


Open-source learning management system


Anyone can change the original source-code of the learning management system software. It is given freely to the public to examine, use, and improve.

As a result, software creators of these LMSs are actively engaged with the online community, which includes passionate developers and users.

These learning management system software tools are innovative solutions ahead of the curve due to the community's willingness to contribute and experiment new ideas. This type of development environment leads to the generation of fresh solutions.

A LMS allow users' to tailor the learning system platform to meet precise needs and goals. Open source LMS are fully flexible, configurable, scalable, with advanced multi-tenancy freedom.

The latter provides ultimate freedom, and are more cost-effective because there are no user license fees. You're not tied down with any one provider. If your customer experience goes sour, it's easy to change LMS providers.

The LMS offers more extensive security and control of your data, which you can host locally. As a result, the platform helps organizations navigate and mitigate risk. This is why large government organizations and multi national corporations choose open source LMS for online training.

The best online learning system platforms for government agencies are typically Drupal-based learning management systems. Drupal is considered the most secure content management system (CMS) available. Organizations can efficiently administrate training courses directly inside the platform. A Drupal LMS offers full security and privacy protection, well beyond cloud-based LMSs.


It's a misunderstanding that open-source LMSs are entirely free. While it is free for download, the open-source business model relies on selling services. You may need to pay for hosting fees, setup, and maintenance.

In addition, you will need to pay to customize the learning management system. Hiring the service of a good LMS consultant and developer can be costly.

LMS Software packages require experience in administrating and maintaining a learning management system. Technical skills are necessary. Depending on the LMS platform, you will need some of the following abilities: PHP, databases, SQL, JavaScript, HTML, CSS, XML, and perhaps Ruby on Rails.


How much does an LMS cost?

The cost depends on which LMS you choose, how many users needs access, or if custom development is required.

Proprietary learning management system

  • A proprietary LMS for an organization with 10k learners could cost anywhere between $350k to 900k yearly.


Open-source learning management system

  • A customized learning management system for large organizations with 10,000+ employees can cost anywhere between $200k to $850k USD to develop, but with no additional yearly fees. If you decide to purchase maintenance, this could cost between $70k and 90k per year - but it is optional. 


What organizations use a learning management system?

All organizations can use a learning management system, from government and government agencies, multinational companies, international organizations to NGOs to medium-sized enterprises. All kinds of organizations and industries use learning systems. Let's take a dive to see how some industry sectors use it.


Enterprise LMS

A corporate LMS is used to deliver employee training and connect and engage with globally, regional, and local employees. Enterprises are drawn to the centralized advantages of online training and communicating with all learners across multiple locations and in various languages.

The training and development help develop employee knowledge and aligns business frameworks and policies. Learners can access online eLearning courses from any location or mobile device. This flexibility enhances the employee learning experience.

(Photo credit: Getty)

Corporate LMSs are used for employee compliance, training, and onboarding new employees. LMS use has become a fundamental cornerstone to most enterprises. Its multi-tenancy abilities allow large corporations to manage courses at global, regional, and local levels, enabling local managers to administrate. Learning content should be accessible and on-demand for most mobile devices.

With the Multi-tenancy option, eLearning content can be restricted to specific users and can be administrated locally. In addition, the multi-tenancy features can deliver specific online courses to your employees. Enterprises looking to incorporate e-learning courses for training will find value in learning management systems, especially during COVID-19.

Enterprises are increasingly leveraging e-learning platforms to deliver training materials and courses during COVID-19. As a result, in 2020, LMS use has increased 10x by Enterprises. An easy to manage learning management system is essential for enterprises. Ensure to obtain a learning management system with interactive microlearning, social learning, and bite-sized learning options. 

Higher-education use for LMS

Higher education institutions use an LMS to deliver learning materials and coursework to students. They pay particular attention to community-based LMS and user assessability, for example, students with hearing or vision impairment.

A sound learning system should be WCAG compliant and offer a screen reader as well as enhanced visualization.

Higher educational institutions use learning management systems to keep their students engaged and up-to-date with learning content, providing them with necessary development tools parallel to internal forums and chat communication tools to enhance the course experience. Higher educational institutions expect their LMS to create a community and look for video conferencing options to virtual streaming options to present a live course to students.

Higher education institutions benefit significantly from a centralized student training platform. Universities use multi-SCORM to package more than one e-learning and H5P to import large volumes of new courses.

Multi-SCORM enables higher education to combine multiple e-learning projects that contain Shareable Content Objects (SCOs). Make sure the e-learning system is WCAG 2.0 AA compliant. This is a requirement for some U.S. federal agencies and E.U. grants.

Universities use a learning management system to store and distribute course materials to specific classes or groups. This course material includes video presentations, PowerPoint slides, essential reading materials, and a calendar overview of key assignment submission dates. The ability to integrate eCommerce capabilities and securely process online student fees is also crucial.


Government uses of LMS

Governments use LMSs to help employees upskill across the public sector. They rely on the most secure LMS that can keep confidential information concealed with multiple levels of learning access rights to the content.

Public bodies use LMSs to increase employee engagement, boost workforce productivity, reduce the cost of training, and help manage compliance by educating learners on rules and regulations.

Government agencies avoid cloud-based LMSs because of the lack of security. Instead, they opt for a learning activity management system that is 'cloudless' and more secure. Government employees have access to learning materials internally or if the agency permits externally. Learning materials would need the option to be imported.


What are the primary functions of an LMS?

An LMS can help learning programs for any organization. There are several benefits you'll find to using the software, such as:

Reduce learning and development costs:

In-person training can be expensive once you factor in venues, logistics, travel, and the time it takes employees away from their work. An LMS reduces those costs by digitizing your training.

Reduce training time:

When you digitize your training program, you can present the same knowledge in a shorter amount of time than with in-person training. Plus, users can work through courses adapted to their schedules.

LMS Student tracking and reporting:

Organizations can track learner progress and scores. Most LMS dashboards offer a glance at overall student performance, who has completed which pieces of training, how they scored, and more.

The reporting also provides insight for educational content creators to improve gaps and optimize content delivery. It can also be used to assess student performance and grades.

LMS reporting dashboard
(Photo credit: Getty)


User-friendly learning management systems can increase engagement and retention. You can provide more accessible learning options; users are more interested and remember more of the content.

The benefits of using a SaaS LMS include learning flexibility for users. E-learning courses enable learners and new hires to work remotely. Training materials are web-based and online courses can be accessed from most mobile devices.

Most LMS also have discussion forums, internal messaging, chat and a community ecosystem available for users. The majority of e-learning systems offer a high-quality user interface for usability and intuitive learning. Moreover, LMS provides online mobile eLearning, which results in a better user experience.

Today's learning content systems are equipped with gamification options that give away points, badges, and certifications to learners. Gamification enhances engagement and motivates learners. It delivers a fun e-learning experience and leads to higher mandatory training completion.


Learning management systems: What should you look for?

When searching for a new learning management system for your company, you'll find a wide range of options available. It's vital to take time and demo different programs. Ask questions to find the most suitable learning platform for your organization. Consider your company's priorities and training objectives.

You should also review the support options available and identify if the LMS can deliver your specific requirements.

Ideally, it's good to have an LMS consultant help you determine what you need and understand the LMS marketplace. See if the LMS provider offers training, documentation, and ongoing customer service. Online reviews can be valuable sources of information but be alert that some of them may be paid reviews.

Let's dive into some of the must-have course features.

What is a LMS? UX & UI easy user experience.
(Photo credit: Getty)



Every organization is uniquely different. Customization is essential to ensure the platform meets your organization's unique needs and that you can add or customize features in the future as you scale. Future-proof your organization


As your organization grows, you should be able to scale and expand your LMS features. eLearning Courses are changing all the time, and scalability is essential alongside an easy-to-manage system.


Learners will need to access the training courses from different locations and devices. An LMS system that can be accessed from mobile devices is essential. A mobile app is even better when it comes to an online course.

learning management system gamification
(Photo credit: Getty)

Blended learning

  • You can also use a learning management system to organize in-person sessions or virtual live training along with digital content. You can add multiple blended learning into your training with most LMS's.

Authoring tools

  • Choose a learning management system that makes digitizing your content straightforward. There should be complete flexibility to present any course material imaginable and in any what imaginable. 


  • Some business training content can contain sensitive information. Search for Learning Management Systems that deliver the highest security and privacy protection standards.

Social learning

  • Internal messaging tools and forums help learners engage even more fully with the material within an LMS. Make sure you include this in your RFP


  • Ensure you're getting the level of detailed reporting you need to manage and improve your training program. Learning management systems can track and monitor analytics and user training and development progress.

Adaptative learning paths

  • eLearning should adapt to learners and their knowledge. Adaptive learning can change course if users get multiple questions wrong. It will be able to place them on an easier route to bring them up to speed. Some learners might be new in the industry, while others have been there for many years. It's worth taking into consideration. 

Legal and regulatory

  • Ensure that the Learning management system is compliant ready in your country and anticipate any future legislation. You might have to adhere to. This protects your organization. 


  • Multi-tenancy serves multiple people in and outside your organization. All are shared on a single database. Each tenant's data is isolated and remains invisible to other tenants. You can have an international company with offices in over 100 countries; each other tenant is isolated for that country and can be managed locally by administrators in that location. 

Easy course management

  • The management system should be easy to use. Any LMS should simplify course management and training content, communication, employee connections, coursework, learning tools, feedback loops, chat, and video.


  • You might need to integrate the LMS with your H.R. system, Salesforce, Microsoft Teams, SharePoint, or Microsoft Active Directory. Check this well in advance, and if it does not connect, ask if they can develop this option. 

White label learning Management System (LMS)

  • White-labelling incorporates your brand identity into the LMS. This enhances your brand identity and user experience. Learners will feel right at home as if they are inside their corporate ecosystem.

Single sign-on (SSO)

  • Make sure this is available to ensure your users do not have to sign on each time. 

H5P compliant

  • This is essential to ensure you can easily upload training content. 


  • Make sure your online learning solution supports all the languages you need now and in the future. Especially right to left languages, like Arabic.

SCORM compliant 

  • SCORM defines a specific way of constructing learning management systems (LMSs) and training content to work well with other SCORM conformant systems. What does SCORM stand for? SCORM stands for ''Sharable Content Object Reference Model''.



There is no doubt that a learning management system can transform your organization. But there are thousands of systems available in the market that all claim to be the best LMS systems. But the best LMS is the one that best fits your organization.

Take your time to select an LMS provider and be prepared to get in touch with at least ten for your RFP.

Do not compromise security. If you are based in the E.U., ensure your LMS is GDPR compliant and follows the privacy Directive (ePR). If your company is based in the U.S. or Canada, you will need to check for similar legal laws.

Ask lots of questions and request an accurate price and demo, which should include all additional features you'll need. It is essential as cost-creep can occur otherwise.

Decide if you prefer to own your LMS or if you want to host it on a third-party system. A cloud-based CMS will incur a lot of additional costs, so compare it with alternative options. Do not rush into making a decision. Involve all stakeholders in your organization, as they will be involved in developing courses.

The most critical factors are security, scalability, flexibility, support, regular updates, and protecting your organization's data, i.e., employee info, partners, customers, trade secrets. Consider if you want to manage this data in-house with more independence or trust a 3rd party provider to store your organization's data.


What is an LMS? - Infographic 

What is a LMS infographic
(Infographic Credit: Opigno.org)


Author: Adam Kennedy-Ripon

June 16, 2021