min read

What is a Learning Management System (LMS)?

Published on
May 29, 2021
Gwendolyn Jacobs
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And do we really need one?

Over the past thirty years, most large businesses have invested millions of dollars in learning management systems (LMS).

That might seem like an exaggeration until you add up the costs of the software, migration, implementation, socialization, gamification, administration, reporting, and sending increasingly less gentle reminders to people who don’t comply with using the system. And that doesn’t even count the cost of licensing “off-the-shelf” content or developing new courses.

But the costs are totally worth it. Most employees love using an LMS. Executives are thrilled with the return on investment. The legal team is happy, too––given the confidence the LMS gives them in supporting compliance needs and addressing federal Section 508 accessibility requirements.

Ok, some of the above is not true. The love, results and level of confidence aren’t even close to reality––but the part about the costs is.

The “one-size-fits-all” model

So, if you’re not a large company who has already fallen down the LMS rabbit hole, why would you even think of using an LMS? You’ve survived this long without one and it probably doesn’t sound like you’ve been missing much.

Or maybe you already have an LMS that is clunky, full of content no one wants, and is so user-vicious it might as well shock users with every key press? Why bother moving to something else when it’s just more work and cost for questionably different results?

Older Learning Management Systems were built for management (hint: it says it right in the name) and customized for the company. And even though the older LMS model was built with companies and management in mind, even they didn’t love these “one size-fits-all” systems.

Here’s where a user-centered learning management system comes into play

I’m going to say something groundbreaking. A modern LMS is one that is built for individuals and customized to individuals – where one size fits one.

Modern LMSs (like YesLMS) are designed to:

  • Streamline on-boarding costs.
  • Direct individuals to individualized learning paths on any device and at any time those individuals prefer. (Catching onto a theme here?)
  • Improve accessibility through Universal Design for Learning (UDL) for individuals with individual needs, learning preferences, and languages (no complicated logins, needlessly restrictive setting, or confusing navigation).
  • Simplify the creation of new materials to support each individual’s contribution toward achieving business objectives.
  • Reinforce learning to improve memory and application rather than compromising with course completions and “confirmations of learning.” (Sidebar: imagine how happy your legal team would be if your people understood, remembered and consistently applied standards outlined in Code of Conduct or Sexual Harassment materials, rather than just having a checkbox to print out to say, “See? We trained them!” when someone goes rogue).

As your organization grows, your people need to grow with you.

Learning is the primary way people grow, and most of us not only love learning but are willing to invest significant time and money to improve our knowledge and skills.

For example, “How To” is one of the top search categories on YouTube. Viewers watch more than one billion learning-related videos every day, according to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki.

But “learning” isn’t a part of every LMS.

Companies such as Udacity, Udemy, Canvas, Blackboard, and Coursera are now part of a multi-billion dollar industry serving people who will pay for access to quality learning content. Prior to their acquisition by Microsoft, LinkedIn bought (now LinkedIn Learning) for $1.6 billion.

Given these trends, your company’s Learning Management System (LMS) should be an easy-to-use, magical tool designed to help your people grow through access to courses, quizzes, assessments, activities, and knowledge.

But often, the reality is anything but “magical.”

Most Learning Management Systems are little more than Compliance Tracking Systems and overwhelming repositories of poorly organized content. “Learning” and “growth” are not words that most people associate with an LMS.

But, learning and growth go together.

What actually makes an LMS a good tool for learning and growing? The answer is different depending on what role you play in using the LMS. Whether you’re working with a Corporate LMS, an Enterprise LMS, or a State LMS, the basic breakdown looks the same:

Content Creators: want a simple yet powerful way of creating, migrating and getting feedback from learners to make their content more valuable and engaging.

Content Learners: want to learn and know what activities they need to complete, when they need to complete them, and the value of completing those activities.

Administrators: want to easily track and report progress.

Leadership: wants to see a connection between the cost of completing these activities and a return on that investment.

Most Learning Management Systems deliver on the first objective for learners – completing activities – but are far from intuitive or engaging. And that can be a barrier to actual learning. A common response to seeing an email message with a link to the LMS is, “I hate going into that thing! I can never figure out what I’m supposed to do and most of it is just a waste of time!”

What explains this knee-jerk reaction to many of the existing learning management systems? Over-complicated design interfaces, lack of compatibility with other systems, weak integration for migration of content from other platforms, and confusing or restrictive templates—all these factors can make content creation more painful than it needs to be. Designers often lament, “Our LMS actually makes it harder to do my job!”

Cumbersome Learning Management Systems result in liabilities.

Leadership often doesn’t see value beyond tracking compliance for courses that almost everyone dislikes taking (including them) and end up wondering what the point of the investment is.

To make matters worse, most Learning Management Systems fail to meet minimum accessibility standards, making their use a potential legal liability. 508 compliance is a requirement for Learning Management Systems, but even with this requirement, a lot of the top LMS options fall short.

When genuine learning happens, “growth” follows… in more ways than one.

A well-designed LMS should be something people want to use. It should guide everyone to relevant content and activities that help them increase their knowledge, strengthen critical skills, and ultimately deliver greater value to the organization. And the value of that investment should be clear to learners, designers, administrators and leaders alike.

YesLMS is a flexible, modern, cloud-first Learning Management System—and the first in the US with complete universal learning capabilities.

YesLMS was created with universal design in mind every step of the way, making it possible to deliver equal educational opportunities to every learner. YesLMS strives to be the best LMS when it comes to accessibility and ADA compliance.

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