What are the different types of Learning Management Systems?



The earliest form of the Learning Management System is believed to have been the teaching machine invented by psychology professor Sidney Pressey in 1924. The machine, originally developed as a self-scoring machine, administered multi-choice questions but also demonstrated the capability to teach. Since then, the mechanical device evolved into an electronic device, with the latest LMS becoming online learning tools.

LMS has become popular not only in the educational sector but also in the corporate world. They help educational institutions and corporations to manage and deliver online courses that can be accessed remotely by learners. In the corporate context, HR professionals use LMS for training employees on skills required for their jobs and upskilling team members that may graduate to roles with more responsibility and skills needed.

The LMS market is estimated to be the US $28.1 billion by the end of 2025, even as the global corporate LMS market is expected to grow to US $12.48 billion by 2024. There are different types of LMS being used by organizations to manage and deliver online courses to their employees. The core objective of different LMS remains the same—to enable learning and development professionals to deliver course material and assess the performance of a distributed workforce; the features and capabilities of the system differ.

Types of Learning Management Systems Today

We have classified different LMS to help you understand the commonalities and differences so that you can make an informed choice for your organization. 

  1. Installed LMS software and Web-based LMS

Based on the software delivery model, LMS can be classified into installed and web-based LMS.

  • Installed LMS

Installed LMS is based on the client-server architecture in which client applications installed on user workstations access remote servers for information. The remote servers are owned by the organization and located within their premises.

The organization’s internal IT team manages the infrastructure required to host and run the application. An installed LMS can only be accessed locally within the premises where it is installed. Installed LMS can be platform-specific as well as cross-platform, depending on the programming language used. 

Installed LMS have high setup fees and annual maintenance costs, which are the responsibility of the organization. The initial setup fees include the licensing cost, which is usually the number of client applications installed. 

  • Web-based LMS

A web-based Learning Management System uses web browsers to access the application over the internet. The application can be accessed through compatible browsers from any device in real-time.  

Web-based LMS does not require any client-side application installation and IT infrastructure maintenance by the internal team. The product vendor manages the application and updates, along with the IT infrastructure required for hosting and running the application. LMS does not have any location constraints and can be accessed from anywhere, at any time, with any device. The scalability is not a concern since data is not stored locally. This LMS is platform-independent since they require only a browser to access the application. It uses a multi-tier architecture, unlike the two-tier architecture of installed LMS. 

Web-based LMS is cost-effective for the organization, with low setup fees and maintenance costs. The price model is typically on a per-user basis with the flexibility to scale up or down the number of users as per the requirement.

  1. Free LMS and Commercial LMS

The classification is based on LMS availability to users as free or paid versions.

  • Free or Open-Source LMS

Open-source LMS is free to use with an open-source code that enables organizations to customize it to meet their unique requirements. You can manage and control features and course management options. You also have greater control over your data, which is important for privacy and security. With open-source, you can prioritize features and releases and schedule them according to your organization’s convenience. You don’t have to depend on commercial vendors for new feature additions. You will also save on monthly license fees, and there are no restrictions on the number of users that can use the application.

However, open-source LMS require in-house technology capabilities to make modifications and are more suited for sophisticated users. They lack reliable customer support, which is usually a forum or a paid support service offered by some organizations. 

  • Commercial LMS

Commercial LMS is closed-source or proprietary software that is controlled by the LMS owner. It is available as Software as a Service (SaaS) applications hosted on the cloud.  This type of LMS is easy to deploy, with a dedicated customer support division helping customers with installation and configuration. Previously, commercial LMS were available as installed LMS, but currently, cloud-hosted solutions are preferred. 

If you don’t want to devote dedicated resources to developing and managing LMS applications, then commercial ones will be a better option for your organization.

  1. Non-Course Creation LMS and Course Creation LMS

The classification is based on LMS functionality to enable the creation of training content or course material. LMS can be divided into two categories, one that has the functionality for course creation and the other that doesn’t.  

Another criterion to distinguish LMS is the ability or functionality of an application to create training content. Some LMS are just tools for the distribution of course content, and you have to use a Learning Content Management System to create content for your course. They come with authoring tools that enable trainers to create the content. Some LMS vendors offer course distribution and course creation as separate modules, giving flexibility to organizations to purchase integrated solutions or stand-alone applications as per their requirements.

If your organization wants to source course content developed by a third party, then the course material must comply with SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model) standards. SCORM defines technical standards to enable e-Learning content and LMS to work together. It enables interoperability between different LMS. 

  1. LMS Integration Capabilities

As LMS has evolved, one key capability that has been added is the ability to integrate with other applications within your organization. This classification is based on the integration ability of LMS. Either LMS allows integration with other applications, though the number of applications that it integrates may vary, or the LMS doesn’t allow any integration.

  • LMS with Integration

Application integrations help independently design and develop applications to work together. An application integration capability improves its utility, as organizations can derive more value from information exchange between applications. LMS can integrate with performance management, talent management systems, and other human resource applications. It also enables integration with social media applications, email, and other internet applications to facilitate user data exchange. 

  • LMS without Integration

In some instances, LMS may not have any integration with third-party applications. Such LMS offers core features, but their utility is limited for organizations because of a lack of integration capabilities. 

You need to assess the integration capabilities of LMS required for your organization since 52% of respondents have mentioned integration with other digital platforms as a key barrier for satisfaction with LMS.

Wrapping up! These four major categories of Learning Management Systems have evolved from mechanical devices to online applications hosted on the cloud in the last century. 87% of users have preferred web-based LMS because of low cost, simplicity, and ease of management. As the communication technologies evolve rapidly with new devices and applications entering the market, the integration capabilities of LMS will be a significant factor influencing the selection. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a permanent shift in the way we work and learn. Learning and development professionals have to select the LMS taking into account current and future organizational requirements. Remote learning is now a permanent feature of the new workplace. You should create a long-term plan to strengthen your organization’s online learning initiatives, starting with a sound learning management system.

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