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Top Features for Learning Management Systems

June 15,2020 Learning and Development
By Dom Nicastro

A majority of managers are not happy with the state of employee development in their companies. According to a report by the Harvard Business review, about 75% of managers are dissatisfied with their company’s learning and development function. There are several breakdowns, such as learning for the wrong reasons, learning the wrong things and a lack of application of the what's learned on the job.

One way to start improving your organization’s learning and development program is with technology and that usually comes in the form of a learning management system, or LMS. An LMS is designed to manage the development, tracking and delivery of learning content and experiences to the workforce with the goal of improving workforce skills and productivity, according to Lisa Rowan, vice president of HR, talent and learning strategies research for IDC

“LMSs are increasingly integrated with employee performance management systems to prescribe development activities to ameliorate skills gaps or gaps in performance,” according to IDC.

Principal Features of an LMS

What are some of the principal features for an LMS? According to Rowan and IDC, they include:

  • Course cataloging and searching.
  • Competency and skills tracking.
  • Development planning.
  • Delivery of online learning.
  • Administration of pre- and post-training assessments and tests.
  • Online commerce for payments associated with training.
  • Tools for trainers to manage class lists, syllabi and resources.
  • Training resource allocation.
  • Content development tools.

Getting the most out of the LMS requires businesses to use those features to engage employees in their own development and collect and analyze the results.

Reporting and Analytics

Part of the reason managers are dissatisfied with the learning function has to do with reporting. Historically, organizations have struggled to measure the outcomes of learning at a level more sophisticated than basic learner satisfaction. Lack of data analysis skills within the learning function and an increasingly complex learning ecosystem have been some of the biggest hurdles, according to David Wentworth, principal analyst of learning and development for the Brandon Hall Group

“As a result, learning continues to rely on course completions and smile sheets as the only measures of their efforts,” Wentworth said. “Companies need an LMS with powerful, easy-to-use reporting and analytics tools to help them see the impact learning is having on the business.”

Consumer-Grade Search

Successful employee development is increasingly driven by access and usability. Employees are accustomed to having immediate access to knowledge and information as they make their way through life, Wentworth said, and expect their work environment to operate in a similar fashion. 

“If someone needs an answer or a quick tutorial on how to do something, they don’t want to wait for a scheduled class two weeks from now. They want the answer right then and there,” Wentworth said. “The modern LMS needs to provide that same consumer-grade experience to help people do their jobs.”

Related Article: Why Remote Learning and Online Learning Are Not the Same

Variety of Content Options

Employees consume information in different ways and formats. A flexible LMS recognizes that variation and offers learning through videos, MP3 files, written documents and recorded webinars, to name a few options, according to a 2019 post from Bobby Kaighn, director of partnerships at Higher Logic. “The best learning management software also includes live webinar tools, podcasts and newsfeeds, as well as micro-learning and blended-learning options,” he wrote. “Your members can tailor their educational experience by choosing courses with the material that works best for their learning style.”

An effective learning environment offers multiple opportunities for learning, according to Wentworth. In addition to formal courses and classes, learners need smaller, bite-sized learning opportunities like videos, quizzes and other opportunities to refresh and reinforce their skills and knowledge. “Things like simulations and games are also very effective,” Wentworth said. “The LMS needs to support a wide variety of learning content and opportunities, making it easy for the learner to get what they need, when they need it. This means support for mobile as well.”

Personalization, Contextualization

In addition to search functionality, people want consumer-grade personalization in their learning experience. The platform shouldn’t just give them access to everything all the time, but rather present learners with the content that is right for their role, the path they are on, or the question they are asking, according to Wentworth.

“This also leads into learning recommendations that are based on what the system knows about the learner,” Wentworth said. “It is important that the learner can see the connection between the learning opportunities they are presented and their needs and objectives.”

Related Article: What Is a Learning Management System?

Strong Tech Support 

David Brandt, an independent LMS consultant, blogged in 2019 that LMS buyers need to ensure they buy a system that features quality tech support. Three qualities organizations should look for in an LMS vendor’s tech support are: 

  • Prompt response to requests.
  • Effective troubleshooting.
  • Availability via a variety of communication platforms.

Integration

It used to be that the LMS was the only piece of technology under the learning umbrella. In today’s modern business, there are typically more platforms in the mix: authoring tools, experience platforms, microlearning platforms, video platforms and more. "That means the LMS needs to be able to integrate with, or at least communicate with, many other existing and future systems," Wentworth said. "The LMS also needs to integrate into the larger talent technology ecosystem — performance management, compliance, Human Resource Information System (HRIS) and others."

Recognizing the Business Desire

This is by no means an exhaustive list of LMS features. Each organization will require its own LMS features based on specific business functions. And if your organization is new to an LMS, it needs to be aware and potentially address common problems such as difficult-to-use interfaces and lack of support. 

Rowan of IDC provides some known LMS vendors in the space, such as:

Other vendor-list resources include:

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