Learning platforms or learning management systems - "LMS" for short - have evolved rapidly over time.
Just 5-10 years ago, it was mainly about rudimentary systems designed for short learning modules, exams and tests in an academic environment.
Today, not only educational centers but especially industrial companies use their own LMS as a crucial growth lever.
The areas of application for learning platforms have multiplied: Training of new employees, training of specialist customers, retraining, further training of managers, salary training, quality assurance, knowledge transfer, marketing of own product range, implementation of online learning events and much more:
A modern LMS has long been much more than a simple learning system!
The "Learning Management Systems" industry, as a subset of an even much larger e-learning industry, has become a thriving industry in its own right. With more than 700 Learning Management Systems available on the market today worldwide, organizations looking for an LMS are spoiled for choice.
In this article, I would like to discuss the criteria by which MaxBrain, as a provider of one of the leading LMSs in the German-speaking world, is regularly evaluated by customers and in comparisons with competitors.
There are the criteria that make the difference between a cheap standard software in the short term and a solution that increases success in the long term.
A good LMS helps achieve specific goals.
The first versions of learning management systems consisted of simple training videos and presentations provided by training managers. The goal was to teach someone something.
The modern LMS, on the other hand, has become an economic success factor in many places.
What does that mean?
It means that companies define specific goals that a learning platform should make an indispensable contribution to fulfilling.
What are the goals?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this. The goals are set by the decision makers of an organization. A good LMS provider addresses these goals in depth and focuses on delivering the underlying KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) as results.
The most common goals we encounter at MaxBrain and against which our own work is measured are usually:
A modern learning platform is intuitive and user-friendly.
User experience is considered a basic requirement among almost all LMS providers.
The tolerance threshold of modern users with regard to complicated systems is minimal: Even at low levels of complexity, people lose their patience and become annoyed with the entire offering in an undifferentiated manner.
How do you recognize a good user experience?
The answer is simple: by allowing someone who doesn't know their way around to get around right away.
An already aging saying goes:
What does this mean in concrete terms for an LMS?
Offer only the features that are really needed and self-explanatory.
Don't overwhelm learners and educators with features they'll never use.
Modern LMSs offer the possibility to switch features on and off precisely according to the needs of the organization.
A good LMS adapts to your corporate identity.
Companies are usually proud of their brand, and for good reason:
A brand tells a story and connects your company to a promise of quality, customer satisfaction, or some other value.
A brand helps employees identify with their workplace.
To represent your company well, an LMS should be customizable in terms of look and feel and never be perceived as a foreign body in your organization.
Custom colors, layout, logo, fonts, images, labels, terminologies. - Details that make a Learning Management System of your learning platform.
A good learning management system offers a comprehensive range of basic functions.
Of course, simple user interfaces and an aesthetic design adapted to your corporate identity alone are no guarantee of success.
Does your learning platform offer the features and tools that learners expect, demand, or find useful?
People today are mobile, impatient, communicative, visual or auditory, want to be entertained, see a meaning in their activity and win the recognition of colleagues. Always and everywhere.
A good LMS manages the balancing act between intuitive simplicity and far-reaching, user-oriented functions.
The minimum features of an LMS in terms of functions today are:
A good LMS can be technically integrated with existing technologies and platforms.
As in many software industries, learning management systems were only developed as a proprietary solution or in an open source model without cloud technologies about two decades ago - when Internet connections were slow and mobile devices were just phones.
On the one hand, this had many disadvantages (e.g. cost and scalability), but shapes customer expectations to this day:
Most long-term oriented companies and educational centers want a high level of customization that goes beyond rudimentary "look and feel" customization.
Adaptations are often expensive and time-consuming. In addition, attempts are made to develop features and functions that specialized technology providers have long since published much better and more successfully.
A good LMS offers a rich set of integrations and integration options.
Innovative technologies are integrated via interfaces - also known as application programming interfaces, or "APIs" for short.
In the SaaS industry, the motto has already been true for a few years: APIs are the basic prerequisite for successful SaaS companies.
When it comes to embedding an LMS in the existing system landscape, good LMS providers at least proceed as follows:
Step 1: Clear understanding of the solution and the value of the LMS within existing systems.
Step 2: Develop a solution outline, or system design, that seamlessly integrates the LMS into the business environment.
Step 3: Check with the company's IT department whether this solution can be implemented easily, quickly and cost-effectively.
Ensure that the LMS can be optimally connected to your existing systems.
The most popular integrations relate to technologies that have reached the mass market, for example Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Surveymonkey and more.
A good e-learning platform is adaptable to one's objectives in the long run.
There is no patent recipe for a learning management system that fits all companies and training centers.
An organization can also change over time, define new goals, open up new markets and ideas: For this, the LMS must be able to grow with it.
The requirements are often very different, dynamic and therefore require different functions within the established processes and for the achievement of the respective goals of a company.
A good LMS must therefore offer customization options in general, in addition to the possibility of integrations, so that companies can adapt it according to their wishes; either themselves or via an experienced service provider.
Regular updates and innovation: the long-term requirement for a good LMS.
The learning industry is changing rapidly.
It is also not isolated from the rest of the world:
Digitization, technologies, devices, user preferences are characterized by ever faster innovation cycles.
Personalization, artificial intelligence, referral marketing, new learning concepts, and more are changing learner expectations and present exciting opportunities for companies using a learning platform.
It is therefore critical that the LMS evolves not only with your organization, but also with the market and long-term successful trends.
In-house developments or locally installed software has a clear disadvantage here: Innovation suddenly becomes a job that is usually not part of a company's core competencies.
A good LMS does not compromise on security and privacy!
As with all Internet applications, security and data protection are a basic requirement for a professional learning environment, even for learning platforms.
Good LMSs not only comply with the requirements of the European General Data Protection Regulation(GDPR) and implement the latest IT security measures:
They undergo regular testing by external auditors, follow industry standards for information security, and have ISO 27001 certification.
Customer Care and Customer Success: A good LMS is not a system, but a solution.
Companies want to solve one or more problems with an LMS according to their objectives.
A good LMS provider focuses not only on providing a powerful platform, but on achieving the goals of the clientele as well as possible.
The solution to a problem sometimes goes beyond the capabilities of software: personal communication and support from a member of the LMS provider's staff is then required.
When choosing an LMS, pay attention to whether an LMS provider has a dedicated Customer Success team and what the service offering looks like in detail.
The best Customer Success teams are those that not only solve their customers' problems and answer questions, but also proactive Make recommendations to improve the learning experience and better achieve business goals.
A good LMS offers existing general courses and services for creating individual learning content.
A learning platform without learning content is at best a framework without content, without life.
From the user's point of view, educational content determines whether a learning platform is accepted or not. Education content must be new, exciting, insightful, understandable, entertaining, and motivating.
Learners do not distinguish between technology and its application. - If the learning content is boring or uninspired, the entire learning platform is criticized across the board - no matter how great the technology, innovativeness, design or user guidance are.
A good LMS therefore offers solutions for learning content that inspires and promises high learner engagement. Learning content can be produced in-house or purchased externally.
Online learning also offers an exciting opportunity:
No learner is the same, so why shouldn't that be true for individual continuing education?
Thanks to automated, intelligent data processing, very good LMSs can recommend individual courses to learners that exactly match a person's knowledge level.
Personalization can take many forms, but in any case, it allows users to focus on the areas they need to improve the most, rather than wasting time repeating information they already know.
The ability to create personalized learning paths is a useful feature for creating engaging, customizable courses.
A good LMS supports blended learning formats.
Blended learning ("mixed learning"), also known as hybrid learning, is an approach to education that combines web-based courses with traditional, on-site teaching methods and instructors.
Learners benefit from the advantages of both worlds: Flexible e-learning and face-to-face classroom instruction.
A good LMS offers the possibility to realize these modern forms of teaching: The freedom of individual learning paths is combined with the possibility for teachers to communicate specifically with learners, to understand progress and to help where there are gaps in knowledge.
Feedback features: A good LMS should help to optimize courses on a regular basis.
Course quality is critical to learner acceptance and progress.
The best learning management systems therefore offer functions that allow courses to be optimized as specifically as possible.
An important element here:
The feedback function; that is, the ability for learners to rate courses and make suggestions on how courses and teaching methods could be improved.
Make sure that an LMS either offers survey capabilities out of the box or, better yet, provides as seamless embedded integrations to tools like SurveyMonkey or GoogleForms as possible.
You can see the integration of SurveyMonkey using MaxBrain as an example here:
A good LMS enables the collaboration of all participants on the learning platform.
The trend today is as clear as it is long-term: collaborative work tools such as Google Drive, Figma, Slack dominate the everyday work of many companies.
Who still wants to send documents back and forth via email when you can collaborate directly and in real time on one platform?
A good LMS should enable course administrators, teachers, and learners to work collaboratively and thus efficiently on the learning environment.
Integrated online chats, discussion forums, group functions, access to online learning content and much more make the difference here between an extremely fast and a labor-intensive learning management system.
The learning platform as mobile apps is in line with today's lifestyle.
It's no longer a secret: the vast majority of Internet use takes place on mobile devices, not desktop computers. The smartphone is the constant, indispensable companion for many people.
So it's not surprising that more and more learners want to access learning content on the go via their smartphones.
Learners expect a fully functional LMS experience on mobile devices and are happy to be surprised by useful, mobile-only features.
Locally installable mobile apps are particularly useful in this regard, combining speed, ease of use, and a permanent local presence of course providers on learners' home screens.
Thanks to apps, companies can reach their learners quickly and directly via push messages, offer mobile-optimized learning aids, and much more.
Good LMSs therefore always offer the option of mirroring and meaningfully supplementing the learning environment on individual mobile apps.
Dashboard and analytics for better achievement of set goals.
As written at the beginning, concrete objectives are at the beginning of every decision for or against an LMS.
However, goals make little sense if you do not later measure how well you achieve them. A good LMS enables the individual measurement of key performance indicators (KPIs) and success-relevant metrics.
Individual goals aside, data and analytics are hugely important to any learning environment:
To better understand learner progress and engagement, identify the best courses, uncover knowledge gaps, etc.
A good LMS provides clear dashboards and analytics to ensure both individual KPIs and general insights into how the learning environment is working.
A good LMS is evolving toward a Learning Experience Platform (LXP).
E-learning has been undergoing a paradigm shift for several years: corporate learning is becoming more and more learner-centric.
The (good) Learning Management System (LMS) is therefore increasingly developing into a Learning Experience Platform (LXP).
Personalized learning content and learning paths are among the key features of an LXP.
Personalization means that increasingly, via data analytics and artificial intelligence, learning objectives are derived from learning measures and course modules or continuing education programs are recommended; depending on the individual learning progress and preferences of a learning person.
The development of artificial intelligence for learning environments is still in its infancy in many places.
However, cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers have many advantages over locally installed, on-premise software solutions: They can collect data across companies and utilize it in such a way that it benefits the entire customer base of an LMS. SaaS providers are therefore in the best position to learn from the market and the users themselves.
Therefore, make sure that your LMS provider has a "community" of customers who share their experiences through the LMS provider or with each other, allowing the LMS provider to offer a long-term leading solution.
Good LMSs perform as marketing and sales channels.
A good LMS inspires learners and is therefore used frequently:
On our own MaxBrain learning platform, we see that learners log in on average at least 8x per course day.
There are quite a few companies that record hundreds of logins and thousands of page views for each learner.
In marketing speak:
An LMS offers very many touchpoints to reach users.
What does that mean in business terms?
It means that you can use an LMS very effectively to promote products, services, events, company assets and much more. Examples:
a. Commercial education centers can promote your course offerings to generate up-sell and cross-sell revenue.
b. Industrial companies can train specialist customers and link further training directly to the promotion and sale of products.
c. Companies can promote corporate events, trade shows, webinars and more.
An LMS can thus suddenly become a revenue-relevant platform.
You can see how an LMS becomes a marketing channel using MaxBrain as an example in the following video:
A good LMS is offered at a lucrative cost-benefit ratio.
The bottom line for for-profit companies is that the cost-benefit ratio is obviously important in evaluating an LMS.
Benefits and costs are often not so clearly determinable:
The benefit essentially depends on whether a learning platform supports your organization in achieving the above-mentioned goals. The question of benefit can often only be answered individually.
After countless discussions with customers, I can confirm that many companies are unable to fully assess the opportunities and thus the benefits of a learning platform. This is often due to the fact that learning is not seen as a far-reaching business-relevant factor and the goals are therefore only set commercially to a limited extent.
An often seen example:
The head of HR at a larger industrial company is looking for a learning platform to accelerate productivity - such as training new employees - and make it more scalable. This goal makes perfect sense from an HR leader's perspective and aligns with your personal objectives.
However, in a broader business context, the learning platform could also train specialist partners and representatives. Learning would suddenly serve as a starting point for exciting marketing opportunities and ultimately even revenue growth. - The learning platform as a sales channel!
However, this idea is beyond the scope of an HR leader's responsibility and would need to be discussed more with the marketing manager or general manager, who are responsible for revenue development.
While the cost of an LMS is easier to compare across companies, it in turn contains some pitfalls that the layperson is quick to overlook.
For example, open source software often sounds much cheaper than comparable cloud-based software-as-a-service platforms. This is because the low one-time license costs of a software can quickly give the impression that the annually recurring costs of a cloud-based solution are unattractive.
However, open source solutions could become very expensive on the bottom line. That's because licensing costs are often just the tip of the iceberg.
As soon as a Full Cost Accounting software, the costs for maintenance, updates, development work, training, administration, security updates, data protection, scaling, mobile accessibility, etc. are taken into account, solutions that were initially "inexpensive" suddenly become very expensive.
Modern, cloud-based SaaS solutions can be much cheaper in Full cost view on the other hand, despite their annually or monthly recurring license costs, can be much more favorable again. This is because the entire cost block, which is not apparent at first glance, that results from the long-term use of open source software simply falls away.
One final point:
There are costs of low-cost solutions that are very difficult to calculate at all: Opportunity costs.
Applied once again to the above example:
If you use a learning platform only for training new employees, you miss the opportunity to use the learning platform as a marketing and sales channel; a revenue-relevant opportunity especially for industrial companies.
What does this reduced use of a learning platform cost?
On paper, nothing. -
Compared to the full potential of a learning platform as a marketing and sales channel, hundreds of thousands or millions of euros if necessary.
Sometimes cheaper is not automatically better.
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