What is an LMS and is it Right for Your Organization?
Year over year we find that leaders from organizations of all sizes and industries share that employee and leadership development are among the top challenges that they face in their business. Is this true for you?
To address this challenge head-on requires an organization undertake a system-wide approach, and one of the critical components typically is a Learning Management System (LMS). This begs the question; what exactly is an LMS? This article will delve into what an LMS is and address some other high-level questions that will help you determine whether an LMS is right for your organization.
What is a Learning Management System?
A Learning Management System (LMS) is an application tool that organizations use to create an environment conducive to employee development. LMS’ are unique from other development-related resources in that they provide specific functionality which can simultaneously help organizations manage, administer and track learning and development offerings all in one package and in real time. Since the administration and tracking occurs in one application, it provides organizations with the power to do a number of exciting things in the realm of employee development such as:
- Set specific learning and/or course objectives for staff
- Track employee progress towards learning objectives
- Report in aggregate on utilization
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Additional Functionality of an LMS
As with any system, an LMS can be built out and customized, or kept in an ‘off-the-shelf’ form as per the needs and resources limits of the organization that is using it. For example, an LMS system can be built out for new employee onboarding, integrated with the performance management system, linked to succession planning, or simply exist just to track progress towards completion of certain training offerings for staff. (Keep in mind, these options are meant to illustrate the range of organizational needs that an LMS can address, and are not an exhaustive list.)
What Are the Benefits of a Learning Management System?
Now that we have a better idea of what an LMS means, we can discuss in more detail what its benefits to an organization can be. As was noted above, LMS options can vary in their size and scope, and due to that variance, for the purpose of this article we are going to focus on an LMS solution that only performs the more fundamental aspects of an LMS (setting learning objectives, tracking employee progress, and reporting on utilization).
Benefit #1: The Ability to Set and Manage Learning Objectives.
- Organizations can decide what learning objectives should be set for the entire organization, or customize specific objectives for individual employees or groups of employees. While there is wide applicability for this, organizations that always see a large benefit to this sort of set-up are those that require lots of recurring compliance-based learning actions be taken by their staff (e.g. government contractors, financial institutions, health-care organizations, etc.).
Benefit #2: The Ability for Self-Directed Employee Development Within the LMS.
- An emerging trend in learning management is the idea that employee engagement levels can be increased via giving employees the tools to direct some of their own training initiatives. While there is always a line to walk where an organization is going to want to flow down some training/course objectives, the ability of employees to take an active role in their own development via the LMS is a popular trend.
Benefit #3: Tracking and Reporting of Learning Objectives.
- A major benefit of a Learning Management System is that it integrates learning experiences with tracking and reporting mechanisms. This cuts out the burden of self-reporting by employees or managers and instead allows LMS administrators to see in real-time what training courses employees have completed.
As with any system, the benefits of an LMS tie back to the needs of the organization. If the organization isn’t in a place where it would benefit from such a learning system, then it certainly shouldn’t expend any resources towards one; which brings us to our next question:
When Does an LMS Make Sense for an Organization? What Size Should We Be?
No one wants to spend valuable company resources on a learning solution that ultimately won’t provide a meaningful return to the organization. There typically isn’t a size-based restriction for organizations to use an LMS since flexible pricing options typically exist for organizations of all sizes, and you don’t have to ‘host’ the application.
To assist in your consideration as to whether an LMS might benefit your organization, there are a few basic questions you should ask:
- Does our organization have a learning strategy in place?
- Is there a learning or development need at the organization that is currently unfulfilled? If so, do we already have the internal resources to address that need?
- Would our organizations benefit from tracking employee development or progress against certain courses?
- Have employees expressed interest in self-directed training opportunities?
You can probably infer from your answers as to whether it may be worthwhile to at least pursue looking into the integration of a Learning Management System with your organization. In my mind knowing what learning objectives an organization wants to achieve is a precursor to spending money on learning-related resources, and if you answered ‘no’ to question #1, your organization is probably not ready to realize the true benefits of having an LMS. You need to first know where you’re going before you figure out how to get there.
A Learning Management System can be a great tool to help your organization realize its strategic training and employee development objectives while increasing employee engagement. To other organizations though, it can a solution that sounds good on paper, but one that the organization isn’t ready to fully leverage. Due to this, I can’t underscore enough that your organization should first develop strategic employee learning and development objectives so that it’s clear what your organization wants to accomplish. Only then are you able to intelligently assess whether an LMS makes sense for your business.