Learning Management Systems

With the advent of the internet, online learning has captured our imaginations and saved both students and teachers countless hours. Let's look at how web-based learning led to the creation of a new breed of teaching, what is LMS software, and how it fits into the big picture of modern businesses and education.

What is LMS?

LMS stands for Learning Management System, and it is software that helps design and deliver training, and track student progress.

The first learning management systems were created in the 1990s for the higher education space, and they co-evolved with the e-learning industry.

E-learning focuses on different methods of delivering information and designing exercises to improve learning in an electronic format.

These days e-learning through multimedia lessons is so commonplace, it’s easy to forget that there’s an entire field of researchers who put together the best instructional design techniques to improve online learning.

The history of LMS tracks with the move from online universities and schools offering distance learning, to now most companies, governments, and entrepreneurs making the most of online training.

Different Types of LMS Software for Different Markets

Although most LMS programs share the same goals of delivering training and tracking progress for administrators, who those administrators and stakeholders are impacts what the software highlights.

Academic LMS

In the world of academia, offering e-learning and distance learning to students means that more people can get an education without stepping into the classroom. Often online courses are paired with in-class seminars and discussions, to make the most of the in-person resources and professors.

E-learning in academic settings takes a lot of forms and should easily be able to deliver course materials like videos, text, quizzes, assessments, homework, and exercises.

Reporting is especially important in academic LMS systems because students are usually going through a course in order to get a grade. Teachers also need to be able to see the overall progress and success of their students, to see if any additional lessons or clarity should be added.

Screenshot of Blackboard Learning Website
Screenshot of the Lemon Mobile Learning website

Corporate LMS

There’s been a rapid uptake in corporations setting up both internal LMS and client-facing course systems. That’s because having an educated workforce gives employers a strategic advantage, and because everyone wants opportunities to learn and expand on their skillsets.

When it comes to corporate LMS software, there’s a focus on new employee onboarding training. This is the type of multimedia training that can replace a traditional “standard operating procedure” handbook.

It might not replace the hands-on training that a supervisor or manager is responsible for, but it does standardize and streamline the way new employees learn the basics of working at a company.

Beyond employee onboarding training, corporations use LMS tools to deliver ongoing training in a broad range of topics from compliance, new technologies, and specific skills like sales or programming.

Often the focus for corporate LMS software is on reporting across several levels: from the immediate supervisor to those who are responsible for human resources and employee retention.

Small business LMS

Learning management systems aren’t reserved for large institutions, they can make a great addition to all kinds of small businesses, too. For employee training, it makes even more sense for a small business to use an LMS because time is of the essence when there are fewer employees to train new hires.

Another use for course software in a small business is as a paid offering, where a business packages and sells their expertise into a course.

Many small businesses are leveraging their know-how and turning it into a new stream of revenue in the form of both virtual facilitated group training and self-paced digital courses online. In fact, some small businesses are built around the training and content membership model, where they have customers paying them every month to access courses through an online LMS.

The focus of these LMS platforms tends to be more comprehensive, with the ability to take payments directly, deliver courses, and also manage members as they join and cancel over time.

Screenshot of TalentLMS website

What's a Headless LMS?

Headless LMS Definition

A Headless LMS is a Learning Management System that separates the content layer from the display layer, so the content can be presented in different formats across different channels and devices.

You might consider using a Headless LMS platform if have two different teams working on your learning programs: the educators and content creators who may not be as technical, and the developers and designers who are responsible for making the content accessible through an API.

An example of a Headless LMS might be: Adobe Captivate to create video and media content, and then embedding this content into a WordPress LMS site, mobile app, and audio player through an API layer.

Why are Headless CMS and LMS options gaining in popularity? Because the old way of embedding content itself with the instructions for how to present it in code like HTML or CSS is starting to fall short, due to the number of new ways of consuming content on different devices.

Who Learning Management Systems Are For

Depending on the organization that is deploying an LMS, there will be a different set of stakeholders and users of the software. Some of these include:


Are the beneficiaries of e-learning, and they can often self-direct their training based on their interests and pace themselves.


Are sometimes able to login as an administrator and see their children’s coursework and progress, as well as give them access to new materials.


Are setting the standards for e-learning and giving students the option of taking classes online, and combining online and in-person training.


Are choosing to leverage online learning to engage and train their members, whether it’s a non-profit, an association, or a church.


Are creating course materials or leveraging existing curricula, and reviewing student assignments, quiz results, and answering questions.

Business Owners

Business owners are using LMS software to train their teams, as well as creating a new line of revenue by packing their expertise and selling it.

Why use LMS software?

You might be thinking that a regular web page with some videos and text can do the job just fine, when it comes to online education. That may be fine for some situations, but there are a number of reasons why LMS software is worth investing in, both financially and time-wise.

Tracking learner progress

One of the big benefits of using an LMS is the ability to track learners’ progress, as well as assess their understanding of the material.

If someone is reading a book or watching a video in isolation, there’s no way to know whether the information is being absorbed… or how far into the content the learner is.

With progress tracking in most LMS programs, an administrator or course creator can see which lessons a student has started and finished. Often it’s possible to see how much of a video has been watched, and it’s a great idea to implement quizzes to test understanding and help reinforce the materials so they stick.

Organized lessons and course hierarchy

With regular web pages or in-person training, there’s no pre-defined process or flow of information for students to follow.

An LMS gives you the ability to design the course structure that will benefit your learners the most. Whether that means breaking down a big topic into several modules, or sub-dividing it into lessons.

It’s also easy using LMS software to re-organize your materials when you get feedback from students or your LMS reporting is telling you that there are more difficult lessons that you need to emphasize more.

Plus with modern LMS tools that integrate with email systems, you can use a student’s activity or inactivity to kick-start email reminders and encourage them to keep going when the going gets tough.

One to many teaching

Teaching is a practice toward mastery, and it’s only with a lot of student feedback that a teacher can improve their methods and teaching materials.

With an LMS solution, it’s possible to offer the same course to many learners at once and to continue to iterate and improve the course materials over time. This means a teacher doesn’t need to re-invent the wheel each semester or each time they launch a course to sell.

It’s also a way to scale a teacher’s impact, because they don’t need to focus on delivering the material live. Instead, a teacher can be more present during office hours or by providing time for live question-and-answer periods.

Reusing the same content with many teachers

In some cases, the course material may be provided by another source like another company or school. From there, multiple teachers can use the same curriculum, but offer their own take on the material while saving time and still being able to invite and manage their students through an LMS.

This kind of “e-learning white labeling” means that teachers save time, students get the same foundational knowledge, and the creator of the source material can be compensated for their great content.

Often described as bulk course enrollment or having umbrella accounts, this LMS feature can be hard to come by but it is well worth it for those who need to be able to package their training for other groups.

Distance learning

LMS solutions make it possible for anyone to learn without being present. This can be especially useful for large organizations that have offices in many locations, where doing in-person training that includes travel would be expensive.

It’s also great for students who need to be away or are doing some lessons through homeschooling. There are also hybrid education models that do a mix of in-person and online learning, too.

In short, distance learning is not only possible with an LMS, but it’s practically a prerequisite that ensures the success of students.

Employee training

What’s an LMS, if not an amazing tool to design, monitor, and administer employee training? It works for remote teams as well as companies that have physical locations.

Employee training takes place through a learning management system, and the details of an employee’s progress are then sent back to management or HR. This gives a lot of transparency to department heads, and it also offers advancement opportunities to employees while they improve their skills or get cross-trained.

Certification programs

Whether it’s for continuing education or a certification in a new methodology, the ability to use an LMS to deliver a certification program is incredible.

Instead of having to organize an in-person, multi-day training, with all of the expenses that go along, you’re able to package the information into a digital format.

With quizzes and more advanced assignments, a trainer can review and ensure that students are truly grasping the concepts before then delivering their own customized certificate of completion.

Some LMS software solutions automatically generate these certificates, so the whole process of getting a new student certified really becomes efficient and hands-off.

Selling courses

Selling courses online is a growing industry, with reports saying that sales will reach $325 Billion by 2025.

That’s why learning how to set up and make the most of an LMS plugin or tool is a great idea. It’s also why business owners in the information marketing space are some of the most successful small business owners online today.

You can use an LMS to sell courses, take payments and manage student enrollment, and then deliver the lessons. It all happens online, so the market for course customers is wide open.

Some online course creators are even translating their courses and seeing the benefits of offering their training in different countries.

Explore More LMS Features in Depth

Now that we’ve covered what is LMS and what options are out there, you might want to take a look at some specific LMS features and how they can help you run incredible online courses.

3 Screenshots showing video and progress tracking

LMS Pricing

You might be curious to know exactly how much an LMS costs. As you’ve seen, there are a lot of different types of LMS software companies and these all cater to different types of organizations.

That means you can find LMS plugins that are free, because they’re designed for schools or smaller businesses. You can also find LMS platforms that start at the $10,000/year range, because they’re for larger businesses or those who need to sell online courses.

There are also LMS tools at every price point in between, and knowing what your learning management needs are can help you decide on your budget and the solution that will be right for you.

One thing to watch out for when looking at LMS pricing is how your fees will change as you grow.

You want to beware of “per user” or “per course” costs, since these will start to add up over time as you grow. You might think it’s not a significant sum today, but in a few years when you have dozens of courses and thousands of students, it can really take a chunk out of your earnings.

Where to start when looking at LMS Platforms

Now that you know what an LMS is, who it’s for, and what you can do with it, let’s look at the different options for getting started.

Cloud LMS or SaaS Platforms

There are many LMS options that are hosted in the cloud, meaning that another company will handle all of the software set up and all you need to do is bring your content.

These are often run on the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model, which means that you pay every month or year for access to your teacher portal and student portals.

The benefits are clear: you don’t need to do much to get up and running. The downsides are that you’re building your courses on “rented land” and that these services might increase prices, become unavailable due to high traffic, or tie you into their proprietary formats so you can’t remove your content down the line.

WordPress LMS Options

Another way of setting up an LMS is to use the world’s most popular content management system WordPress on a web hosting account.

In this format, WordPress is your foundation and you’ll install one or more different WordPress LMS plugins and add-ons to create the learning experience you’re looking for.

The costs for a WordPress solution are comparable or more affordable than cloud solutions when you account for any transaction fees the SaaS options charge and the fact that some plugins and themes are free.

The benefits for using WordPress to host your courses include the fact that you own the website and the content, you can swap out plugins and still keep your platform running. You also have a lot more flexibility in what you can do, and how you design your courses and websites. The downsides are that it can have more of a learning curve, and it’s not as “move-in ready”.


Joomla is another popular content management system that offers the ability to extend it through plugins and add-ons. There are some very popular LMS plugins in the Joomla space, including JoomlaLMS.

Joomla has been around since 2005, and it has won several awards for best free CMS in the open-source community.

Many of the same benefits that you get with a WordPress LMS are also true with Joomla. The downsides of Joomla are that there are fewer people who are trained on the platform and that it’s not as active of a developer community when compared to WordPress.

Custom-coded options

As with anything in the software world, it’s always possible to make your own. With a custom coded LMS, you might hire or develop your own learning management approach.

Some of the benefits of custom-coded solutions are that you can design your LMS to do exactly what you want it to do. You can integrate it to other systems you use, and make it look the way you want.

The downsides are that it’s often way more expensive to code your own LMS than to pay for an off-the-shelf solution. It’s also going to be more expensive to maintain over time, because you or your developers are the only people who can update the code and keep it running.

That’s one reason it’s not recommended for 99% of people to develop their own LMS. Focus on your core business and being a teacher, instead of re-inventing the wheel. Especially because there are literally thousands of LMS options on the market to choose from.