What is a Learning Management System
Discover what a learning management system does and how the type of
training program being administered dictates the type of system you need

Learning management systems have matured a lot within the last decade. In the earlier years of its life, they were mostly used by Human Resource professionals to track employee training and compliance. Most employee training was instuctor-led, so learning management systems were all very similar and generic. Over time they evolved to accommodate the vast majority of companies converting to online training. Nowadays, there is estimated to be more than 1,000 learning management system vendors competing in today's learning platform marketplace.

A learning management system has the ability to take what we know as typical, lackluster training and make it fun, more engaging, and will help your learners retain information better.

Different Types of Learning Management Systems
As the demand for virtual learning has increased, the trend of specialized systems within the learning management market has also emerged. Companies are realizing the benefits of training and the power a learning management system that's specifically designed for their industry has. The learning management system market can be broken down into three segments:

  • Extended Enterprise LMS
  • Employee LMS
  • Academic LMS

Extended Enterprise LMS
Extended Enterprise is the concept that a company does not operate in isolation because its success is dependent upon a network of partner relationships. An extended enterprise (aka partner) training program focuses on training among those individuals within an organization's network of partners. Partner Networks have a unique training challenge that no other industry faces: managing a training program that has so many independent entities is complicated. An extended enterprise LMS (aka partner or channel LMS) has distinct functionality that address the challenges faced when administering training to multiple audiences.

Every 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 in order to fit into a learning management system that does not accommodate them. An extended enterprise LMS is the perfect solution to this problem - whether you are training your extended audience or not. These type of LMSs allow for customization of user interface and underlying processes to support your specific business model.

Extended enterprise learning systems allow you to manage content, users, customization, branding and rules for each audience all under one portal.

Distinct features of an extended enterprise LMS:
  • Allows performance metrics to be incorporated into your training program
  • Supports a matrix management structure
  • Enables users to have multiple job positions or roles under one profile
  • 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

Extended enterprise LMS vendors 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

Employee LMS vendors include: Saba, SumTotal and Cornerstone.

Academic LMS
An academic LMS provides a virtual environment for students, parents/guardians (in k-12 learning), and instructors to interact. Instructors can communicate directly with students and parents, as well as share important resources. Instructors also have access to generate and post grades for 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.

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. For this reason, an academic LMS contains rich functionality in order to maintain virtual and physical classroom environments.

Distinct features of an academic LMS:
  • Supports extended courses that span 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.

Selecting The Best Fit Learning Management System For Your Organization
Now that you understand what a learning management system is, and the different types of learning management platforms, you are well on your way to making an inform decision about which solution is right for your organization.

Not all training programs are created equal and they certainly have different levels. This fundamental aspect - that every training program differs from the next - seems to get lost when organizations begin their journey to finding the perfect learning platform. The different features and elearning tools offered from various learning management system vendors becomes apparent once you start doing research. But in order to truly find your best fit learning platform one must also evaluate their training program(s) to identify its unique characteristics and how a learning management system can aid instead of hinder them.

We created a guide that covers the main types of training programs with needs for an LMS and gives another look into the different types of LMS platforms found in today's market. It also helps you identify the type of training program you have and the functionality you require out of an LMS.

Another helpful resource for finding your best fit LMS is our decision tree infographic. It determines your best fit by focusing on the type of training program you are administering.