-3. What is a learning management system (LMS)?

- An LMS helps you manage complexity.

- An LMS handles the administrative tasks for e-learning —things like tracking students, enrolling students, etc.

- That administrative end can become very complex if you have hundreds of courses and hundreds of students to manage.

- An LMS will automate the handling of:

- Course catalog

- Course delivery

- Student enrollment and tracking

- Assessments and quizzes

Tell Me More

If you only need to deliver a single e-learning course to a dozen or so employees, your delivery task can be pretty straightforward and simple. You sign up the employees, run the course for them, and report how things turned out.

But if you're running hundreds of courses and delivering them to thousands of employees, your delivery tasks start to become complex. Keeping all the enrollments straight becomes a complex task. Delivering the courses, especially scheduling the instructors, and keeping everything straight, becomes a very complicated undertaking. And getting reports on what's going on becomes harder and harder to do.

What you need is an automated system to help you manage that complexity. Such a system is called a learning management system (LMS). An LMS uses Web technology to help you plan, organize, implement, and control all aspects of the learning process.

An LMS helps you with:

- Delivering the e-learning courses

- Showing the catalogs of courses

- Tracking users and providing reports of who did what

- Assessing users (quizzes, pretests, posttests)

The following short sections describe the main components of a typical LMS:

Web "Portal"

This is the Web site where users go for training. Think of it as the "front door" to the LMS. It leads to the course catalog and the other parts of the LMS. It might also include things like news, communications, and promotional "advertisements" for learning in your company.

Catalog of Courses

The catalog is a description of each of the e-learning courses available. Once a user finds an appropriate course, the student can immediately select that course. Depending on the type of e-learning course, it may be possible for it to start being delivered to the employee immediately.

E-learning Course Delivery

The e-learning courses themselves are stored in the LMS and are shown to a user from a catalog of courses. Users can usually select a course from the catalog.

Student Tracking and Record Management

This is the administrative part of the LMS that keeps track of the students. It tracks who takes what course and when. It provides reports to administrators and managers and generally handles all the back-office record keeping that you'll need.

Assessments (Quizzes, Pretests, Posttests)

Many LMSs include the ability to deliver pretests and posttests for e-learning courses. Some also include skills assessments—students can get an online assessment of their current skills as well as recommendations of courses to take to fill their skill gaps.

Many LMSs can handle the management of the administrative part of classroom training. So if your company has some courses using e-learning and some using classroom delivery, it's possible that you could install a single LMS to manage both.

-4. Are all learning management systems the same?

- No, they come in simpler versions and in more complex versions. In the same way, all automobiles are not the same.

- Almost all LMS systems will have a similar set of "core functions." Some will have selected extended functionality that make it easier to manage certain aspects of a complete e-learning environment.

Tell Me More

This is like asking whether all automobiles are the same. And you're going to get the same answer: "yes and no."

Like most things, LMSs come in a variety of shapes and sizes. You can get small-scale LMSs or large-scale LMSs. You can get LMSs with basic functions, or you can get them with almost all the functionality you could ever think of.

To help distinguish among LMSs, I find it useful to think in terms of three levels of functional richness:

1. Core functions

2. First extension of functions

3. Second extension of functions

Figure 1 shows these levels as concentric circles.

E-learning delivery capabilities.

Figure 1. E-learning delivery capabilities.

(Don't be alarmed if you see LMS functions shown in different ways by different people. It's a lot like the question "How many pieces does a pie have?" You can cut it into four, six, or eight pieces, or virtually any number of pieces, and it's the same pie. I like three levels of LMS functions because it gets the point across, but it doesn't lose you in the details.)

"Core" Capabilities for an LMS

If you're going to have an LMS at all, it pretty much has to do the following things:

- Student comes to the LMS, which looks to the user like a Web page on the Internet.

- Student finds a training course.

- Student takes the training course. Courses may be in Tier 1, 2, or 3 of the IBM 4-Tier Learning Model. The course is delivered as "connect and play" via a Web browser while connected to the Internet, or as a "download and play" course that the student runs on her personal machine without being connected to the Web.

- Basic reports are available to administrators about which students took which course and when they took them.

"First Extension" Capabilities for an LMS

If you need something fancier than the basic LMS, then these kinds of functions can be made available:

- Basic student testing after the course or after parts of the course

- Student feedback ("I liked this course"; "I hated this


- Extensive "searching for courses" capabilities

- More robust student tracking and report capabilities (more kinds of reporting options, to more kinds of people)

"Second Extension" Capabilities for an LMS

Beyond that, there are additional functions:

- Many different testing options (pretest, posttest, test out of course), possibly including certification testing support

- Many different administrative report options

- Student tracking over a long period of time through many courses

- A "student training record"

- Certificates giving proof of training completion to management

- Curriculum roadmap that guides students through a sequence of courses and shows how far they have progressed

- Personalized curriculum

- Collaboration with other students and/or mentors "outside of courses" in threaded discussion or chat-type pages

- Other: recommended next course, form for sending course recommendation to a friend, etc.

The implication, of course, is that more extensive capabilities will probably cost more to install and run. But don't let that put you off. If you have a robust learning problem, you will need robust capabilities for your solution. If you have to go to the moon, you need a rocket ship. Anything less just won't work.

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