LMS Overview: Different Types of LMSs

"A learning management system (LMS) is a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting and delivery of electronic educational technology (also called e-learning) courses or training programs."

Wikipedia has constructed a very simple definition of what a learning management system is, the process for finding the best LMS for your organization can be complicated and overwhelming. This LMS overview will help you understand the different types of LMSs and their distinct characteristics.

Different Types of LMSs

Learning management systems have matured a lot within the last decade - a time when LMSs were all very similar and generic. Over the last five years it is apparent that the LMS market has started to segment into specializations, and as of today it can be broken down into three segments: partner (or extended enteprise), employee and academic training.

A partner training LMS focuses on training among individuals who are selling or servicing an organization's product. This can include: associates, franchises, resellers, service contractors, agents, and brokers. Partner training is also used by manufacturing organizations to train suppliers.

An employee training LMS focuses on the training of an organization's employees. Training content is mostly focused on the employee's career development and HR compliance.

An academic training LMS is used to train k-12 and university students. Content within the LMS is used to support classroom instruction.

Partner LMS
A partner training LMS helps address the challenges faced when training individuals that are not employees of yours. Since the actual employee is unknown to the organization providing the training, it becomes difficult to assign and ensure training is completed. A partner LMS addresses these challenges by allowing users to request access and by providing certification programs.

Employees of partners often work at multiple locations, creating friction in a typical corporate employee career path. A partner LMS allows for a user to have multiple profiles in multiple locations all under one account. Similarly, owners who own multiple locations benefit from the multiple profile feature.

Most importantly, each organization has their own unique way of doing business that has made them successful. This includes unique training processes and workflows that are core to their mission and cannot be changed to generic workflows. A partner LMS allows for customization of user interface and underlying processes to support your specific business model.

Distinct features of a partner LMS:
  • Allows users to have multiple profiles under one account
  • Allows partners to belong to multiple field organizations
  • Sophisticated certification programs
  • Delegated user management processes
  • Allows for complete customization of user interface and underlying processes

Some examples partner LMSs include: LatitudeLearning, Tortal and Accord LMS.

Employee LMS
An employee LMS helps accomplish three main training initiatives: training new employees, career development, and compliance training.

New employee training is used to quickly transition new employees into their roles. Career development training is usually tied to an organization's annual review process. Managers assign employees training based on the what skills need to be developed. Compliance training includes HR policies such as sexual harassment courses, CPR course, or diversity courses.

Distinct features of an employee LMS:
  • Allows managers to easily track compliance
  • Easily integrates with Recruiting and Human Resource Information Systems
  • Allows managers to build personal training plans for each employee
  • Provides annual review functionality to easily manage yearly employee reviews
  • Grants access to HR departments to electronically manage succession planning
  • Allows the employee to do career exploration and advance to desired positions within the organization

Some examples of employee LMSs include: Saba, SumTotal and Cornerstone.

Academic LMS
An academic LMS provides a virtual environment for the students (and/or parents/guardians of students) and instructors to interact. Instructors can communicate directly with parents, or students, and share important resources. Instructors also have access to generate and post grades for all assignments, tests, final grades, and transcripts. Other LMSs are built to offer courses that last no longer than a couple of hours. Academic LMSs must manage courses that span over 3-4 months.

An academic LMS contains rich functionality to maintain their virtual and classroom environments. The process of managing the scheduling of classrooms, teachers and students outside of a virtual environment is very complicated and requires a lot of data exchange in order to accomplish.

Distinct features of an academic LMS:
  • Supports extended courses that last 3-4 months
  • Schedule classroom, teacher and student assignments over a long duration of time
  • Allows instructors to post and collect assignments and various resources
  • Allows instructors to post grades and transcripts that can be stored indefinitely

Some examples of academic LMSs includes: Sakai, Moodle and Blackboard.