Choosing the right learning management system
All criteria at a glance
Choosing the right online learning platform—known as a learning management system (LMS for short)—can be difficult. Not only because there are many providers on the market, but above all because online learning platforms have different features, strengths, and weaknesses. But what criteria can you use to distinguish between them? And how can you recognize a genuine professional tool that will also suit your eLearning project? Our article Learning management systems: Benefits and functions of learning platforms talked you through the benefits and key functions of learning management systems. The system that is right for your company depends primarily on the goals of your training strategy.
The basic functions of a good learning management system
A learning management system helps you to
- deliver and manage knowledge within one platform
- manage online courses centrally and deliver them to selected learners,
- distribute supplementary documents,
- engage in active exchanges with learners,
- ensure communication and discussion between learners,
- evaluate learning outcomes and easily create reports.
It gives learners access to a central, mobile learning platform through which they can access all their courses, deadlines, learning outcomes, and certificates at any time and on any device. It makes it easy for you to manage and report on your training as a company, as it enables you to map all relevant processes and results in a single learning management system. In order to take advantage of these benefits, your LMS should always include the following core functions:
Most organizations do not have one single person who manages all employee training centrally and allocate different tasks to different organizers within the management process.
Further decision factors: learners’ and the company’s individual requirements
In addition to these basic functions, you will of course also need to take into account other requirements relating to different target groups. The goal of every eLearning project is therefore to ensure that employees have up-to-date knowledge at all times and thus contribute to the company’s success and competitiveness. As such, it must focus on your learners’ needs for effective professional training and personal development. This will enable you to increase your attractiveness as an employer and offer company knowledge in a way that is ideally suited to your company, your corporate culture, and your employees. How the knowledge is offered depends on your company, its culture, and its employees. The type of preparation and the way your employees learn will differ from person to person and can be very individual even within a company. When choosing the right learning management system for you, it is important not only to look at the requirements of your company, but also to pay attention to the requirements of your learners. After all, they’re the ones who will be using it. As a company, you want to generate the greatest possible response and ensure that your employees are open to and engaged with the idea of training. So it’s worth taking a closer look at your employees’ requirements. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are my employees Internet-savvy and familiar with modern technology?
- Do my employees support one another and happy to compare notes as part of the learning process?
- Is it sufficient to provide my employees with theoretical knowledge, or do I need to offer practical workshops as well?
- Can the online courses be integrated into the working day?
- Do we have sufficient devices available?
The answers may result in different requirements from the learners’ points of view and the company’s point of view, and these will need to be reconciled. At the same time, you should consider questions such as:
- Do we need to include adaptive learning approaches?
- Does the system need to facilitate social interactions?
- Will gamification improve my employees’ learning outcomes?
These are precisely the perspectives that will bring you closer to a decision on your learning management system.
LMS adaptive learning functions
Adaptive learning refers to the adaptation of your delivery of knowledge to learners’ current knowledge levels and learning preferences. Professional learning management systems make it easier than ever to do what can be difficult or impossible within face-to-face sessions: Not only can learners choose where and when they prefer to learn, but the entire course system adapts automatically and flexibly to individuals’ levels of knowledge. Participants have the positive experience of being able to influence their learning processes and are never overwhelmed or under-challenged, making them demonstrably more motivated and making learning more fun.
They also allow teachers to specify completion criteria, e.g., require that 3 out of 4 courses be completed. One variant of learning paths is curricula, which present learning in a fixed order defined by the teacher. At the same time, learning paths can be used to control dependencies, so that learners can only access advanced courses once they have passed basic courses.
By the way: You also have the option to embed pre-tests within course content so that your authoring tool can integrate them into your course. Both options generate the same, individualized learning experience.
LMS social learning functions
Social learning refers to interaction between learners. It’s about people learning with and from each other. Learners access the knowledge provided on the learning platform and are able to compare notes directly with others, which results in more effective learning. In order to promote social learning within eLearning, you can use comment functions, instant messaging, video conferencing, forums, wikis, or virtual classrooms, for example. To do this you need an online learning platform that includes these features.
Your learning platform should provide the opportunity these kinds of exchanges. This reduces learners’ inhibitions about comparing notes with each other; it also limits potential distractions and takes place in the same location as the learning.
Depending on the tool, these have additional features, such as multi-user whiteboards, breakout rooms or polling, which are specifically designed for collective learning. One clear advantage of this is that video sessions can be planned and delivered on the learning platform.
As well as increasing learners’ motivation, they also enhance the learning curve. Your LMS should support the integration and evaluation of gamification apps.
LMS mobile learning functions
Personal development doesn’t have to happen in the office or during working hours. People often use train journeys or free time in the evening to get on with their learning. Short learning units can be completed on a smartphone or tablet whenever learners have a moment. Learners can take a flexible approach, deciding for themselves when and where to engage with the material provided and when the right time is in their working day. This is why your learning management system needs allow for mobile access to all content.
Find out more about this topic in our article: “Mobile learning for companies”
With the right software, you don’t have to choose between PC, tablet or smartphone.
LMS gamification functions
Gamification learning motivates your employees to invest time in their learning. At the same time, it enables you to offer self-directed, individualized learning experiences. When choosing your learning management system, you should therefore make sure that gamification apps can be integrated.
Find out more about this topic in our article: “Making learning child’s play: Gamification in eLearning”.
LMS video learning functions
Video content is very popular with learners. Moving images are easier to absorb than text and appeal equally to auditory and visual learners. This makes videos—along with VR and gamification—a memorable way of delivering content. If you want to offer your eTraining sessions in video format or to offer a mix of learning formats, you also need to ensure that your learning management system can support all file formats and allow them to be evaluated.
LMS blended learning functions
Blended learning is a mix of various forms of learning. The aim is to combine the benefits of analog face-to-face sessions, such as seminars or workshops, with the flexibility of digital learning. It is organized and centrally administered on a single platform. As a minimum, blended learning must include aspects of social and mobile learning; these can be supplemented with aspects of adaptive and mobile learning.
Find out more about this topic in our article: “Blended learning: Benefits, applications and software required”
Other key LMS functions
In order to take advantage of the benefits of a central learning management system and deliver your eLearning project successfully, your learning management system must meet even more requirements. These form the basis, so to speak, of every LMS.
Must-have features: These are the features your LMS should have
Since the introduction of GDPR—and at the latest since the cancellation of Privacy Shield—software operators have had to comply with new, more demanding data protection requirements—especially regarding the processing of personal data, as is usually involved with eLearning. Otherwise, even as a company, you run the risk of being cautioned. This makes it all the more important for you to choose software that meets the required data protection standards.
Of course, systems hosted from Germany still need to be carefully checked.
Other key criteria for your decision:
Learning management systems also offer other specialized functions and features. You should therefore answer the following questions, too:
Do you want a SaaS or SaaP solution for your LMS?
Learning management systems are offered both as software-as-a-service (SaaS) and as software-as-a-product (SaaP) solutions. With an SaaS, the software is located in a cloud and can be used anywhere and at any time with all devices that have access (by logging in to a website or via an app, for example). With an SaaP, you purchase a version of the software that you then host on your own servers.
In short, a SaaP gives you full control over the software, but also means that you have to take care of the overall functionality of the system, and any updates and bugs. In the case of an SaaS, the provider is responsible for the maintenance and, if applicable, the configuration of the system, and ensures that the system runs smoothly at all times. eLearning agencies also offer to manage the software themselves.
How do you want learners to register?
What do you need to evaluate progress?
Does the software provider offer support for setup and managed training services?
Companies often lack the in-house resources to manage their training courses. Their focus is on creating online courses. This is precisely why eLearning agencies offer specialized services: Managed training services. These include services such as:
- Participant management for training sessions on your learning platform
- Booking management for face-to-face sessions
- Regular, revision-proof reporting
- Internal communications and roll-out
- Provision of eTraining sessions
The bottom line
Choosing the right learning management system is not easy, but if you apply the criteria outlined here, you’ll quickly find your way through the software maze and be able to rule out a number of tools at an early stage.
If you can, you should also check our own learning management system, Knowledgeworker Share, which we have developed in-house, against your individual selection criteria. Since it always helps to take a look at the user interface, we are pleased to be able to offer you a free live demo without obligation or to provide you with your own test version.
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