The Ultimate Guide To Learning Management Systems

Discover the comprehensive guide to Learning Management Systems, empowering you with knowledge to effectively manage and enhance learning experiences.
The Ultimate Guide To Learning Management Systems

Learning management systems (LMS) have skyrocketed since the pandemic spurred the shift to remote working. However, there’s a fair chance that you or your organisation either didn’t keep up with the change or still have some questions, which are both perfectly understandable. After all, what kind of LMS guide would this be if we didn’t acknowledge that learning is a lifelong pursuit?

What is a learning management system? How much does one cost? Hell, what does LMS even stand for?

Whether you’re new to the world of e-learning or just want a question answered then you’ve come to the right place. Our ultimate guide to learning management systems is for both instructional designers and their students.

So let’s jump right in and define exactly what a learning management system is.

Man opens book which emits light

What is a Learning Management System (LMS)?

An LMS (Learning Management System) is a digital learning platform that provides a wealth of features to help you improve and deploy e-learning software in your organisation. On the surface, LMS systems look similar but they perform many core functions differently. Knowing their differences can save you time and money on unnecessary training, development, and purchases.

Who Uses LMS?

organisations of all sizes use Learning Management Systems (LMS) to provide access to learning resources. From accounting firms that employ 3 people to consultancies with a staffing roster stretching into the millions. LMS systems can deliver training content, facilitate collaboration and communication among team members through the integrating of your business phone system, and track employee progress.

The types of organisations that typically use LMS include:

Large Corporations

Corporations use LMS for a whole host of activities including improving employee performance, increasing knowledge and expertise and enhancing customer service.

The first case to be made for corporations leveraging LMS is simply one of scale. Large corporations simply wouldn’t be able to train their entire workforce without LMS. The real estate required to train a global workforce of over a million people would simply cripple most companies, and that’s before we’ve even examined the logistics of such a monolithic operation.

Corporate buildings

The majority of LMS allow companies to track employee progress and provide the resources they need to succeed at their jobs. They also allow employees to access course materials from anywhere, so they can study on the go or whenever it’s convenient for them.

LMSs make it easier for companies to provide employees with the training they need to excel at work. The ability to track an individual employee’s progress may sound Orwellian, but it enables both a micro and macro view of an individual’s learning path. If they’re failing then you can begin to ask why, compare them to their peers and even easily assign a mentor.

Employee training has changed dramatically in recent years and upskilling has become increasingly important. Instead of hiring employees who already have the skills needed for their job, many companies are now hiring people with the potential to learn new skills. This means that their training needs aren’t just about filling in gaps in knowledge — they are about developing future leaders who can help your company grow and thrive.

Learning management systems allow major corporations to deliver training and upskill their employees at scale. Thereby ensuring that they can recruit, retain and upskill a workforce capable of constantly delivering value in multiple business areas.

Small Businesses

It’s not just the corporate behemoths that leverage LMS to improve their employee’s training experience. Small businesses often have more nuanced training needs and can also find a lot of value in using an LMS.

If corporations are the great whites of the business ocean then small businesses are the seals. They’re smaller and weaker, but often go after the same food. That means they have to exploit their agility factor to stay one step ahead of the competition. Deloitte (one of the sharks) strongly argues for employee training investment, claiming that “for companies, upskilling enables them to build a future-ready workforce”.

Investing in upskilling is one of the ways that small businesses can distinguish themselves from their larger competitors. This empowers them in both the fight for new talent and the battle for winning new business.

Schools and Universities

It’s unsurprising that educational institutions would be amongst the first to see the value in a learning management system. A greater proportion of the population is attending university, which has led the institutions to increasingly rely on LMS in the previous decade as they’ve exponentially increased their intakes.

How do schools and universities use LMS?

Schools often use LMS in conjunction with virtual classrooms to manage an entire module, or even an entire course. More advanced LMS allow students to participate in online classes and collaborate on projects with other students worldwide. The entire workflow, everything from tasking, resourcing and even submitting can be managed via an LMS.

This has, to some extent at least, democratised upskilling and enabled those who would otherwise be unable to attend a traditionally delivered course the opportunity to engage with and benefit from the material.

Instructional Designers

How many times have you sat through a course and wanted to scratch your own eyes out just so that you had something to plug your ears with?

We’re guessing it’s a lot!

Well, the good news is that not every course is like that. And that’s where instructional designers enter the picture.

These folks are LMS wizards! They blend a genuine passion for learning seamlessly with an ability to craft engaging training content before managing it’s seamless delivery to their clients. Large corporations are increasingly recognising the value of having someone on hand who can creating course content that people actually want to use.

Instructional Designers exploit LMS functionality to create eLearning modules, quizzes, and assessments before exporting their courses and delivering them through web pages and e-learning marketplace platforms like Udemy.

So if instructional designers are wizards, what tools do they have to create magic with?

Different Types of LMS

Broadly speaking, there are 2 different types of LMS. “Self hosted” or “installed” LMS and “web based” LMS. That may sound complicated but it’s all actually fairly simple and basically boils down to who owns the server the LMS is hosted on.

The former option is your old school e-learning software. You own the server, it’s installed on it and you have to maintain the software and infrastructure. The latter option is hosted on a remote server and delivers content to you via a medium (usually your web browser).

Self Hosted LMS

A self-hosted LMS is a licensed online application customised to your needs. Which is a fancy way of saying that you need to prepare yourself for a bucketload of work and responsibility if you choose this route.

Installation, updates, upgrades, backups, system administration, and maintenance are all handled by you. As a result, back-end management takes longer.

LMS security is basically determined by you as it’s hosted locally on your server of choice (further increasing the need for you to know what you’re doing). Customer service is provided, although the amount of assistance is determined by the licensing conditions and you’ll likely have to pay extra if you want to ensure that your students are enjoying the best experience possible.

Self hosted LMS are extremely scalable given the high degree of autonomy. However, “with great power comes great responsibility” (was uncle Ben wrong about anything?).

Private Cloud LMS

On the other hand, an open-source LMS is web-based yet self-hosted and maintained. Anyone may change and adapt the source codes to their liking because they are free and open source.

This type necessitates some programming knowledge, and user assistance is limited. You can hire or outsource a programming team to custom-build, manage, and upgrade your LMS.

There are no licensing or hosting expenses with an open-source LMS. The dedicated IT team you’ll need to scale it is another matter though. It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that it’ll incur significant additional expense.


A SaaS (Software As A Service) learning management system (LMS) is a cloud-based, ready-to-use learning management system. This tends to be the option that most folk opt for as they’re hosted on the provider’s server and are scalable. You also get access to built-in features and content libraries.

However, that all usually comes at a cost and the built-in features will restrict personalisation. This makes it imperative that you choose an LMS that is regularly updated with new material and features to continue producing high quality, engaging courses.

These LMS usually benefit from an intuitive UI and therefore minimise the time required between setting up and hosting content.

Each generally has a variety of price plans to choose from, with each including vendor-provided technical assistance as well as regular updates.

Related: Host your Articulate 360 e-learning course in 30 seconds.

Open-Source LMS

On the other hand, an open-source LMS is web-based yet self-hosted and maintained. Anyone may change and adapt the source codes to their liking because they are free and open source.

This type necessitates some programming knowledge, and user assistance is limited. You can hire or outsource a programming team to custom-build, manage, and upgrade your LMS.

There are no licensing or hosting expenses with an open-source LMS. Maintaining a dedicated IT team, on the other hand, incurs additional expenditures and resources.

Wrap Up

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a consumer or creator, the world of learning management systems can be a complicated one. The expansion of the internet has resulted in them becoming an integral part of our lives, whether at school, work or even home.

Instructional designers, small businesses and major corporations can all find something should have armed you with everything you need.

For many, the internet has democratised the learning experience and we’ve never been so privileged with regards to knowledge access. LMS’ are awesome tools to leverage to ensure that you’re getting the most out of that unprecedented knowledge, whether you’re a consumer or creator.

Related: Ready to create your first course? Check out our guide on how to create an online PDF course.