In the early 1990ies, when the first LMS saw the light of the day, nobody could really imagine its skyrocketing evolution. And here we are today, unable to conceive modern education without the support of an efficient learning management system.
The LMSs and other instructional technologies now help some 41.7% of global Fortune 500 in instructing employees and support roughly half of all college classes (Source: eLearning Industry).
In other words, they have grown to become an essential foundation of all our learning practices.
Somehow naturally, this has all resulted in an intense proliferation of LMS products available on the market. Here’s how to decipher between their main types.
LMS Classification by The Type of Deployment
So, although learning management platforms have come a long way since twenty years ago, their primary purpose remains unchanged: to create, deliver, and manage online learning. However, they can significantly vary in the technical aspects of achieving this uniform goal.
One of the most important distinctions among LMS is their deployment, i.e., how they are incorporated in a specific setting (whether educational or corporate).
Most learning management systems today are cloud-based, meaning that they are hosted on an off-site server and accessed via secure login. Also called web-based or on-demand LMSs, this software allows users to have ready, out-of-the-box LMS solutions that they can scale to their needs.
Benefits of deploying a cloud product are numerous, including – but not limited to:
- Low startup costs
- 24/7 support
- Hassle-free maintenance
- Built-in cyber security
In the last decade, the SaaS learning management systems have become the absolute kings of the cloud-based market (or the entire LMS market, to be honest). Integrating them into your organization is as easy as choosing a subscription plan and letting the tech team behind the product do all the rest. Also, because they are intended for a broad audience with various needs, these pieces of software tend to have a simple learning curve and plenty of scalable options.
On-premise or installed LMS might make more sense if your organization has an in-house IT team that can handle maintenance, support, and frequent system updates. Typical on-premises are sold as a product rather than a cloud service and are hosted on an organization’s internal servers. That’s why they are also referred to as proprietary and closed-source software.
Even though an installed and custom-made learning management platform can seem like a great idea, most organizations can’t really afford it. There are high startup costs, including investments into software development, hardware placement and time-consuming maintenance.
As the term implies, an open-source LMS is offered for anyone to use without paying a fee. It’s a platform whose source code is freely available to customize, but that doesn’t provide full support to users who want to do this (something like a WordPress of LMSs).
Obviously, the most significant advantage of this LMS kind is that it doesn’t cost a dime to start with. On the downside, this usually means that it has a difficult learning curve. Only more sophisticated users can really extract all the benefits. As you may presume, full support in an open-source LMS is provided as a paid service.
Much like installed LMS solutions, the custom-built ones are hosted on a buyer’s servers and maintained by in-house teams. The only difference between the two is that a tailor-made LMS is designed specially to suit a particular organization’s needs. Aside from being costly, this model of LMS deployment is quite rare because most users will be able to achieve their educational goals by using the existing software.
Features That Mean (All The) Difference
Eventually, all the talk about LMS deployment types comes down to the issue of integration costs and maintenance. By contrast, the classification of learning management solutions according to their features is all about pure functionality.
Here are some of the built-in features that are especially important:
Although all the existing learning management systems offer the course distribution, there are nuanced differences in how they do that.
And sometimes, this can mean the difference between a successful learning outcome and a plain poor user experience.
For example, gamification and simulation are the most effective engagement tools that create immersive learning experiences and help learners progress smoothly between knowledge levels.
Be sure to assess precisely what could elevate spirits within your organization to see if the given LMS is a proper match for you.
In simple words, authoring tools allow users to create courses within the platform instead of uploading them from another source, referred to as LCMS (Learning Content Management System).
LMS products can come with in-built authoring tools, list them as an “upgraded” bonus, or offer software exclusively reliant on third-party educational material – in which case you must check whether it supports the international SCORM standard.
Integration & Scalability
There is no way of overstating the importance of these two LMS characteristics. Although they are more of an inherent functionality than a simple feature, integration and scalability are, in many ways, preconditioning foundations behind various features.
While integration implies the LMS’s ability to conjoin forces with other software your organization uses, scalability means that its functionality can grow hand in hand with your own growth.
A typical example of enhanced functionality described this way is a SaaS LMS – it offers various subscription levels and an opportunity to scale up. Also, it is usually made to work with any preexisting tools.
Last but not least, it’s worth noting that many LMS vendors nowadays specialize in designing their products for a specific industry – be it higher education, healthcare, or corporate training – just to name a few. Of course, it’s impossible to list all of the niches LMS can be targeted at, but it’s an important distinction to be highlighted.
So with that in mind, be sure to choose the one that’s tailor-made for your field of work.
Bottom Line: What is The Best LMS Out There?
Once you start exploring all the types of learning management solutions available, you may feel slight overwhelming dizziness.
Just go back to the basics, though: the best LMS is the one that can serve your needs the most efficiently and cost-effectively. Don’t get caught up in the labyrinth of exciting features you may never use. Write down your requirements and then try to find a perfect match.