10 Must Have Learning Management System (LMS) Features
Any discussion or comparison of Learning Management Systems (LMS) will inevitably turn to features. They're central to the entire system, yet only 39% of users rate their LMS' features highly. What are the other 61% of users looking for that their systems aren't providing?
There are almost as many answers as there are users. Check out Christopher Pappas' post for a list of 99 LMS features that might be essential - or useless - depending on your needs.
Determining the most important LMS features for you requires careful consideration of your needs and the goals of your training program. What sort of an organization do you represent? What form does your training take? What do you need the LMS to integrate with? Do you need e-Commerce? How will your needs change in the coming years?
This post will describe a series of Learning Management System must have. After reading, you should have a better understanding of the features that are relevant to anyone out there comparing LMS solutions.
1. Ease of use
The Brandon Hall Group, a Human Capital Management (HCM) research and advisory services firm, found in 2016 that 44% of companies using an LMS are thinking about replacing them. The number one reason for changing is the search for a better user experience. Reason #2? A better administrative experience.
A good LMS interface is intuitive and user-friendly - whoever the user. It should be quick to learn. After all, a series of courses on how to take a course is hardly how individuals and organizations want to spend their time, energy and resources. Ease of use is a must-have LMS feature for everyone.
The Brandon Hall Group study also found that three-quarters of organizations considered integration capabilities necessary, making the ability to easily share data across organizational systems another must-have LMS feature. You might need to integrate with any or all of the following systems:
- Talent management
- Workforce management
- Compliance platform
- Human resource information system (HRIS)
- Enterprise resource planning (ERP)
- Customer relationship management (CRM)
- Payment processor
3. Content management
When you compare LMS solutions, you will see that content management is a very basic component of a learning management system. But if you take a closer look some do it better than others. Questions to ask include:
- Does the LMS support the latest international standards for eLearning? SCORM and Tin Can/xAPI are widely-recognized standards for eLearning content that are compatible with much eLearning software.
- Can you upload existing documents, videos and exams, and link learners to web content hosted elsewhere?
- Can your curriculum, learning materials and evaluations be organized into a meaningful and effective learning path? A learning path is the series of courses, events or learning experiences learners must complete to achieve a goal.
- Can learning materials and events be shared between courses or learning paths?
4. Support for mobile learning
Mobile learning is the delivery of training or education materials or learning support on a mobile device like a phone or a tablet. You may have heard about responsive design, designing online content to adjust to different screen sizes, but responsive design is just the beginning of mobile learning. Due to the demands surrounding the mobile format, mobile learning tends to be heavily interactive and delivered in short segments.
This ties in with the Brandon Hall Group study mentioned earlier, which found that mobile learning and interactive, social technologies are companies' top priorities for the learning environment.
Another survey, this one by Software Advice, had similar results. It asked users for the most important LMS features for fostering learner engagement. The top request was for learning to be broken into multiple, smaller segments. Users also wanted more social engagement, with learners able to communicate through discussion boards.
Discover more about mobile learning and the LMS features that enable it here.
5. Support for blended learning
LMS tend to be very effective at presenting and recording e-Learning, but what happens when the best way to learn is offline? You can learn all about the rules and theory behind soccer online, but at some point you need to get out and practice kicking the ball. Lectures, seminars, workshops, on-job demonstrations and opportunities to practice skills may all deserve a place in a training program.
In these cases, LMS support for blended learning is essential. Offline learning events must be tracked, recorded and assessed along with online ones.
An extensive list of LMS features may be needed to effectively support offline learning:
- Can you register learners for classes, seminars, workshops and other events through the LMS? Can learners register themselves?
- Is there support for synchronous and asynchronous learning?
- Can eLearning and offline learning be combined in a learning path?
- Is there support for documenting and tracking offline or even external certifications and other qualifications? Can they be included in learning paths?
6. Testing and assessment
Flexible testing and assessment options are almost always considered important LMS features, although they're not always available. Think about how many of these features you might have use for:
- Does the system support pre-tests and post-tests?
- Are formative assessments supported, or must learners pass all evaluations?
- Online exam systems are ubiquitous, but how flexible is the system?
- Are all available questions asked, or can random questions be pulled from a test bank? From different topic banks? Weighted banks?
- Can multiple choice answers be randomized?
- What question types are supported - multiple choice, text entry, short answer, long answer?
- Does the LMS support both automatic and manual marking, or are users limited to one or the other?
- Are there provisions for proctored exams?
- Can the results of offline exams and on-job evaluations be entered?
- Can assignments and tests be weighted?
- Are learners' complete assessment portfolios stored as long as necessary?
7. Reporting and tracking
Enhanced reporting capabilities was another need identified by the Brandon Hall Group Study. Key reports address learner progress, content quality and e-Commerce:
- Learning item reports: Reports on which learners have completed particular learning items and which learners have not.
- Learning path reports: Track learners' progress through a learning path.
- Exam reports: A good LMS doesn't just assess learners, it helps the organization assess the learning system. Exam reports analyze exam performance to help ensure the validity and accuracy of the exam.
- E-Commerce reports: Track purchases, revenues, the performance of marketing initiatives etc.
Security of data in the LMS is another must have feature. An LMS holds not only the personal data of a multitude of learners, but the learning material is usually proprietary or of commercial value.
- Sign-on is the first point of contact. Is it secure?
- How is sensitive data protected? Where is it hosted?
- How are user authorizations handled? Which users can access what data? Many Learning Management Systems restrict the number of users who can be given administrator privileges, but this strategy often backfires. When people who have a legitimate need for access aren't granted the necessary privileges, they often resort to sharing passwords, compromising the security of the entire process. Access becomes uncontrolled, and records of administrators' activities are no longer accurate. It's better to choose a system that allows unlimited administrator roles so you can be sure your needs will be met in a controlled manner.
- How is data integrity maintained? It's not just about who can see sensitive data; it's also about who can change it. Data modification is another level of security.
9. Customization and branding
Organizations can put their own branding on white label LMS. This feature is important to many organizations, particularly those engaging in e-Commerce.
For companies who want to generate revenues by selling courses, an LMS must include e-Commerce functionality. When you're looking for e-Commerce features, consider the following elements:
- Tracking and reporting: Can you track purchases and generate revenue reports? What reports are available? What format are they in?
- Payment gateways: Can users use their preferred method of payment? Are credit cards accepted? PayPal? Does it support multiple currencies?
- Notifications: Can you email receipts and notifications?
- Support for marketing initiatives: How are marketing initiatives supported? Can you offer discounts? Cross-sell courses by making product recommendations based on a user's browsing history or shopping cart? How are up-sales, cross-sales and marketing initiatives tracked and reported?
The must have features in your LMS will depend on your goals and requirements. When selecting an LMS, identifying the features you need, as well as those you want, will help you make the best decision for your organization. For more tips on choosing the right LMS for you, see 7 Tips for Choosing the Best LMS for Your Organization.
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Sarah is an Instructional Designer at BaseCorp Learning Systems and is currently completing a PhD in Educational Technology. Her research focuses on implementing competency-based learning systems in all types of organizations. When she doesn't have her nose in a book you can find her at the gym, on the ice, on the ski hill, drinking wine or in a coffee shop … with her nose in a book.