With the right learning management system (LMS), you can easily give your employees access to the training materials they need, and your employees can conveniently learn what they need to know. Choosing the best LMS for your business can be daunting, particularly as many LMSs can appear similar at first glance. Understanding the specific features in each LMS, and how they apply to your business, can help you make the right choice.

What’s a Learning Management System (LMS)?

An LMS is educational software that you use to train employees on work-related topics. Instead of handing out printed educational documents or scheduling in-person training sessions, you use the LMS to provide employees with training materials that they can access online.

What Does a Learning Management System Do?

When using an LMS, you upload training materials such as documents and webinars to the system. Employees can then access those materials from their computers or mobile devices.

A good LMS makes training more convenient for your business and employees. It’s easier to make sure your employees have the appropriate materials and training to effectively do their jobs. Your employees can access the materials whenever it’s convenient for them to do so, and they can complete them at their own pace.

What Are the Features of a Learning Management System?

All LMSs share a few basic features. Any LMS will enable you to provide employees with basic training materials and track your employees’ progress. Look a little deeper, though, and you’ll find that LMSs can vary quite a bit in the features they provide. For example, some may be easier to integrate with other business applications, more customizable or offer better mobile support. Some features may be included in the base price of the LMS, while others may involve additional costs.

Top 15 Learning Management System Features

Here are some of the most useful LMS features you may wish to consider:

  1. Content management. Every LMS offers basic content management, allowing you to add, update or remove training materials. But you may need more extensive control. For example, you may want to upload an entire course at once but make the contents available in stages at different times. You may want to ensure that employees complete one module before they’re allowed access to the next, or limit access to some modules to certain categories of employees. An LMS with strong content management features will give you significant control over how you make content available, who can access it, and when they can do so.

  2. Automation. Mitigating repetitive tasks with business automation can reduce effort for managers and training professionals as well as employees. For example, an LMS may be able to automatically create paperwork certifying that an employee has completed a compliance training module. When employees are promoted, the LMS may automatically authorize access to the training materials they’ll need in their new job.

    Automation can also be used to help employees complete their training more efficiently. If an employee is zipping through a series of training modules faster than expected, an LMS may give them the opportunity to “test out” and skip the remaining modules. An LMS that includes machine learning can recommend successive training modules for the employee based on their progress so far, helping them advance more quickly.

  3. Testing and assessments. Any LMS should be able to test whether employees are absorbing the training materials they’re provided, but some include more powerful testing features than others. For example, some LMSs may support only various types of multiple choice tests while others may enable you to ask questions that require a written response. An LMS may allow employees to skip some questions if they are consistently answering other questions correctly, and it may provide extra help and additional questions for employees who are having problems. After completing a test, an employee should receive feedback to help them understand what they may have missed. Some LMSs can test employees’ ability to apply the information they’ve learned by simulating a real issue that could arise in their job.

  4. Scheduling options. You may want to supplement online learning with live virtual meetings or one-to-one sessions with employees. Some LMSs allow you to offer employees a schedule showing your availability, so they can select a time that works for them. Self-service options and other workforce management features an LMS offers may be able to automatically schedule meetings when employees complete specific modules, so you can discuss the material with them directly. The LMS may also enable employees to set aside specific times to go through training materials, helping them stick to their target for completing a course.

  5. Notifications and alerts. An integrated notification system within the LMS will help employees stay on track and make sure you are kept up to date. The LMS should be able to notify employees which training modules they need to complete and when they need to complete the training. The LMS can also notify you when employees have completed certain tasks and tell you how they performed on the assessment. This helps you identify the next steps for employees and which responsibilities they’re ready to take on.

  6. Social media learning tools. Social media features can help employees learn and keep them engaged. An LMS may include forums that enable employees to seek advice from others if they are struggling to understand a concept. This can also make it easier for a group of employees to work together to complete their training, collaborating when they need to. Some LMSs incorporate game-like features that can increase employee engagement by making the material more fun — allowing employees to compete to see who can get the most points or complete the training with the fewest errors.

  7. Data management. One of the most significant benefits of an LMS is the information it provides about your employees. An LMS should help you understand whether your workforce is engaging with the training materials, and how well they’re taking in the information. If the LMS tracks when employees have completed certain training modules, you can follow up with those employees promptly. If the LMS tracks which portions of the training caused employees to struggle, you can use that feedback to improve it.

  8. Reporting and analytics. An LMS should be able to provide customizable reports based on the data it collects, so you can monitor trends and analyze the progress of individual employees. Analyzing data from broad groups of employees can help you shift the business’s culture or improve efficiency, while examining data on individual employees can help with decisions such as whether employees should be promoted.

  9. Security. An LMS contains many kinds of data, some of which may be sensitive. Besides training materials, an LMS may hold employees’ personal information and records of their qualifications and assessments. So an LMS should provide multiple levels of security, making some employee information and analytics available only to managers or other qualified staff and ensuring training materials are available only to employees authorized to use them. You may also want to be able to designate who has the authority to change educational materials or employees’ assessment scores.

  10. Integrations. Some LMSs are designed to facilitate integration with a variety of other business systems, such as HR applications and security software. This can make it easier to share information among different systems, and it also reduces administrative work. For example, it can eliminate the need to reenter employee data multiple times, while ensuring new employees are automatically provided with training materials they need. Integrating an LMS with a company’s human resources management software (HRMS) or human capital management system (HCM) can automatically notify HR staff when employees have completed compliance training they need for their jobs — such as the HIPAA training required in healthcare companies that handle patient information. Integration with the company’s existing security software can enable employees to log in to the LMS with the same username and password they use to access other business applications.

  11. Data migration. As your business expands, you may find that you’ve outgrown the capabilities of your current LMS and you want to migrate some of the training materials to a new system. Some LMSs make this easier by saving training materials and other information in a format that you can import into other systems. If you can’t easily move your data from your old LMS to a new one, you may have to choose between continuing to use a less-than-ideal system or recreating all of your materials from scratch.

  12. Support. If you have a problem setting up your LMS, employees have trouble accessing training materials, or a feature just isn’t working, it’s important to know that you can contact the LMS vendor and get the assistance you need. You may also need training on how to use the features of the LMS. The support you get from your vendor can be the difference between establishing the LMS as your organization’s primary learning tool and ending up with a system that’s barely usable.

  13. Personalization and intuitive user experience. An intuitive user interface makes it easy for employees to find relevant training materials and work through them. Employees should be able to easily navigate the system and complete their training as quickly as possible. An intuitive system also enhances employee productivity, because employees spend less time in training and more time applying what they’ve learned to the business. When employees log in to the LMS, they should be able to quickly find the training materials they need. If they need to complete multiple modules in turn, the system should make it easy for them to find the next module in the series.

  14. Branding. Adding your company’s branding emphasizes that the LMS is an integral aspect of your business. If that’s important to you, you may want to look for an LMS with a customizable user interface that allows you to incorporate your company’s preferred colors and add your logo. By designing the LMS to match your other business systems or your website, you can make it feel more familiar and engaging to your employees.

  15. Mobile learning support. Support for mobile devices enables employees to complete their training from anywhere, including while traveling. Some LMSs are adapted to work on phones or tablets with smaller displays and touchscreen interfaces as well as on computers, allowing employees to use the software efficiently on any device.

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Choosing the Right Software for Your Business

Every business is different, and the features that are important to another company may not be important to you. If everyone in your business uses smartphones for work, then mobile learning support is probably very important — but if everyone uses a computer, you may not need that feature.

If all your employees use the same set of training materials, then you may not need sophisticated content management capabilities. On the other hand, if you have many different types of employees and each requires different training materials, you will need a very high level of content management. Your business may also have specialized security and privacy needs, for example if your business’s training includes confidential documents or trade secrets.

Before choosing the best LMS for your business, take time to carefully compare products and examine how closely they match your needs — and how they fit with your human capital management system (HCM). Some LMS features may be essential for your business, while others may not add much value — in which case, they may not be worth paying for.