December 21, 2021
Learning management system features: key options and criteria
Technology Research Analyst
For a non-professional, it may seem that teaching and learning are all there is to education. But the actual transmission of knowledge in a class or through self-study represents just the surface of an ecosystem that is founded on a painstaking work of course design, lesson scheduling, student enrollment, and many other organizational tasks.
The advent of new technologies in the education industry, further catalyzed by the two years of lockdowns, quarantines, and other more or less strict forms of social distancing, have ended up revolutionizing the purely didactic aspects of this sector. Just think of the massive breakthroughs driven by eLearning and edtech as a whole.
Such changes, as expected, could not fail to be reflected also in the way we take care of the aforementioned "paperwork". And so, while new technological tools spread across the most diverse learning environments and pave the way for innovative didactic approaches, the implementation of software solutions that could meet the ever-evolving administrative and managerial needs of educational service providers has become an absolute priority. And this is where learning management systems come into play.
Learning management systems (LMS) are the "Jack of all trades" of eLearning, without necessarily being "master of none". In other words, we're talking of comprehensive software applications based on rather complex architectures and designed to cover every aspect of online education. In fact, LMSs facilitate the design, administration, and delivery of eLearning and corporate training services while offering a fairly extensive set of features dedicated to analytics, reporting, and learning experience.
Despite their holistic nature, however, learning management systems tend to be slightly more management-oriented than other eLearning solutions, as the name itself might suggest. This means, for example, that they are generally equipped with numerous advanced administrative features for overseeing online courses delivery, registering students, tracking learner attendance and activity, performing assessment and proctoring tasks, and many more.
On the other hand, learning management systems may not rely on the functionalities of a learning content management system (LCMS) in terms of eLearning resources authoring, offering instead a range of more basic tools for content creation. They might not even incorporate the first-class analytical capabilities of an education analytics solution specifically built for this purpose.
Nevertheless, this does not constitute an issue, as learning management systems are extremely flexible tools and can also be integrated with additional types of software to complement their built-in features. As a result, the range of potential LMS configurations to choose from can be pretty vast.
To help you make an informed decision in this regard, we'll give you a rundown of the recommended features for designing an impactful LMS and some core parameters to consider, including integrations. However, we recommend seeking advice from a team of experts in LMS consulting to properly frame your business requirements and receive further insights.
But before delving into features and integrations, let's briefly talk about the impact of LMS on the edtech market.
The actual influence of adopting learning management systems across the education industry can easily be spotted in market statistics. According to MarketsandMarkets' LMS Market by Component Global Forecast to 2025 report, the global LMS market size is set to grow from $15.8 billion in 2021 to $37.9 billion by 2026, at a CAGR of 19.1%.
The rising adoption of eLearning among educational institutions and the shift towards remote work and enterprise mobility during the COVID-19 outbreak, along with the advancements of AI in education, have acted as the main drivers for this massive growth.
However, the implementation of learning management systems seems to be heterogeneous in terms of learning scenarios with some operational restraints potentially hindering their deployment. For example, top-tier academic organizations tend to embrace these technologies with greater conviction, while smaller institutions with a more limited technological background and less determination to adapt their didactic approach may opt for other software solutions such as collaboration tools.
Other relevant insights into the impact of learning management systems come from Capterra, which surveyed K-12 and higher-education institutions to shed light on the dynamics underlying the LMS market. According to their 2020 Top Learning Management System Statistics Impacting Education report, 74% of users surveyed said that implementing an LMS resulted in higher student satisfaction and teachers' productivity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The same study also reported that the top factor in selecting a suitable LMS was functionality (cited by 39% of users), while the main reason for changing current LMS software was poor usability, followed by its excessive cost and a general lack of necessary features.
Having mentioned features as one of the core elements of a good (or bad) learning management system, it's worth elaborating on this topic. As we've already said, LMSs are typically all-encompassing, which means that the list of potential features implemented in such kind of software can be pretty extensive. As a matter of simplicity, we'll split them into four macro-groups.
Let's start our overview with all those features enabling the effective organization and provision of educational services. Here are some of the most common ones.
We’ve already highlighted the general superiority of LCMS over LMS in terms of content management. However, this does not exclude the fact that learning management systems can be equipped with several features designed for this purpose.
The general trend in modern education is to shift the focus more and more to students. Speaking of learning management systems, this learner-centered approach is reflected in the growing implementation of feature sets aimed at enhancing the end-user experience.
Since we've just mentioned the potential implications of data analytics for customizing the student experience, let's expand this topic to all those LMS features leveraging data to improve the quality, impact, and profitability of your educational services. The role of these tools consists of gathering data from your LMS or any other integrated sources, processing it to extract meaningful insights, and visualizing such information through intuitive dashboards, charts, and other graphic representations for easier sharing and reporting.
After enumerating this long list of features, you may feel a little bewildered and wonder how to navigate this maze of different tools. Here are some factors you should take into account when selecting and implementing a suitable feature set for your learning management system.
Equipping a learning management system with a massive array of embedded features is not necessarily the only way to take advantage of them. As mentioned above, learning management systems can be integrated with other types of software by setting up API layers. These act as a bridge between different applications and allow a synergistic exchange of data while complementing your LMS' built-in capabilities with an additional range of “external” features. Among the most common integrations, it’s worth mentioning:
An LMS can be created from scratch, fully customized, and hosted locally, but it can also follow a SaaS (software as a service) model, which typically means choosing a ready-made LMS hosted by the vendor and accessed through the web.
Choosing between a custom LMS and a SaaS LMS has a significant impact on the range of features that can be selected to set up your system. If you expect to freely choose from a myriad of different features and configure a fully tailored LMS, the only option available is a custom solution. If, on the other hand, full personalization is not on top of your list of requirements but you'd rather benefit from lower upfront costs, a SaaS system might be the right pick.
The scope of learning management systems is broad yet you’ll most probably have to select a finite amount of suitable functions to configure your LMS within reasonable development costs.
As you might expect, the choice largely depends on the learning context, the type of users, and the didactic approach you'd like to embrace. Generally talking, we can identify three main scenarios reflecting such parameters:
The scenario in which your organization operates will determine which LMS features suit your educational needs best. For example, online education providers should configure a learning management system with solid ecommerce features to maximize the profitability of their services as well as with good analytical capabilities to understand what their customers need and meet their requirements.
Speaking of corporate training, the focus should be on flexibility. This means adopting multitenancy and role-based access features to provide trainers, staff members, customers, and corporate partners with different tools and learning resources. Companies should also consider integrating their LMS with HR software to deliver personalized training based on employees’ roles and departments.
Educational institutions, on the other hand, might prefer investing in efficient blended learning features to successfully combine in-class and remote education, along with proctoring tools to supervise tests and exams. Another staple in this scenario, especially in the K-12 context, is gamification, as it represents a great tool to motivate and engage young students with a short attention span.
LMSs represent full-spectrum edtech solutions capable of streamlining eLearning services administration and educational content management while enhancing the learning experience and offering valuable business insights thanks to their analytical capabilities.
On the other hand, the wide range of potential feature combinations to configure a learning management system, along with the vast selection of integrations with additional types of software, might end up being quite disorienting. Framing your operational scenario and, consequently, your business requirements is typically the first step to making the right choice and setting up an LMS that will positively impact every aspect of your educational offer.
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