How To Conduct An LMS Features Comparison

This article first appeared on Acorn Labs in late 2020.

When you’re looking for a learning management system, it’s crucial to compare all the features and functionalities available to you.

An LMS features comparison is integral to matching your business needs to your LMS needs. Without understanding what features will help you meet your goals, your organisation’s eLearning experience may be expensive, arduous and even impede business processes.

Here’s our comprehensive guide to the most common LMS features and how to conduct your own comparison of LMS features in line with your goals.

Select the right LMS supplier with a features comparison

When purchasing the best LMS for you, choosing the right supplier comes down to a considered comparison of LMS features.

LMS are designed to provide benefits to your business that improve performance, by streamlining administrative processes, improving efficiency, reducing company costs and increasing employee engagement. Consulting internal and external stakeholders will help you review and refine the requirements you need to optimise your working environment, and define the goals you want to achieve through implementation.

Why this is important

If you don’t know what you need — or even why you are implementing an LMS — it’s easy to waste time and resources that might be needed elsewhere in your organisation. Suppliers usually work within defined industries or markets (education and corporate training, as just two examples). Without research, it’s easy to procure an ill-fitting system and struggle through a clunky user experience. This could inadvertently communicate that you don’t understand your learners’ needs, diminishing user enthusiasm for an online learning solution. To help during the selection process, we’ve created a detailed LMS Features Comparison Checklist you can use to compare functionalities across suppliers.

What are the most important features of an LMS?

There are five broad groups of features you’ll want to enquire about when comparing systems and suppliers.

Including content management and tools such as tracking, reporting, and workforce planning that enable you better control of the system.

Allows you to guide learner progress through learning paths, export user data and create real-time reports.

Beyond the usual online exam system, many LMS allow you to create and customise features like question randomisation, unique content and required responses.

Does your LMS allow for those considered to be industry standards, like REST API and OAuth? Then there’s those added integrations that streamline your processes, such as HR & payroll systems and CRMs and third party content providers such as Skillsoft or LinkedIn Learning.

Branding online courses and material is far beyond aesthetic — it allows you to create custom certifications and communications and makes the learning environment familiar for users.

Why these are important

We’ve seen too often the impacts of thinking all LMS are cut from the same cloth (or, more accurately, built from the same code). How authoring tools work for a university differs from how they might help a consultancy succeed. If you don’t compare the functionalities of features across systems, you may find yourself without the capabilities you really need, leading to poor user experience and wasted resources.

Download your LMS Features Comparison Checklist here.

An LMS features comparison of the most popular functionalities

In tech speak, functionality essentially refers to what a feature — or all features in a system combined — can do for a user. When comparing features, you’ll want to know what they’re meant to do for you given the field you’re in, your application for the LMS and your business goals. We’ve outlined the importance of key functionalities to help you determine the features your organisation needs.

An LMS is one of the easiest and most cost effective ways to onboard new employees, maintain industry certifications and ensure existing employees have clear career development.

Lacking regular compliance training, onboarding information and pathways for career progression, did you know employee engagement drops, company loyalty diminishes and potentially valuable skills are wasted? We’ve seen companies of all sizes pay that price, at the added cost of their own revenue, people and resources.

One sentence takeaway

eLearning keeps your employees informed, engaged and continually upskilling.

Content libraries enable agility with ready-to-go courses for specific job roles and functions. If your organisation requires custom courses, check if suppliers accommodate both that and pre-authored content.

Without a ready-made content library, you’ll likely find implementation delayed. Budgets and human resources may also take a hit, if instructors have to scramble to put courses together, and you might face fines for any compliance certifications that are dangerously close to expiring.

One sentence takeaway

An agile content library you can populate with custom content makes for a more personalised learning experience.

If you want to be able to pull content from elsewhere in the realm (e.g. LinkedIn Learning or Skillsoft), you’ll want to query suppliers about SCORM compliance. A SCORM (aka Shareable Content Object Reference Model) course can be shared across any compliant system, without the need for potentially expensive development.

Without SCORM compliance, your content cannot be viewed on multiple devices and systems, nor will you have access to material from third party subject matter experts. If you’re unaware of the version of SCORM used in an LMS, the type of content your learners can access will also be limited.

One sentence takeaway

A SCORM-compliant LMS means you won’t have to worry about SCORM, but it’ll sure make a difference to the quality of your content.

Any learning activity in which learners are interacting in real-time is known as synchronous learning. Web-based lectures, live streams, video conferencing, and instant messaging all facilitate synchronous eLearning in an LMS.

If you’re not fostering trust, building relationships or strengthening team dynamics, you won’t reap the benefits of social learning. Without this function, information is less effectively retained and collaboration could be seen as taboo amongst employees — which is detrimental for organisational structures dependent on teamwork.

One sentence takeaway

People retain information better when they can share it through social learning activities.

On the other side of the coin is asynchronous learning, which gives learners the opportunity to access course material in their own time and regardless of location. It’s cost effective and scalable for you, and convenient for learners. Online courses, blogs, classrooms and pre-recorded videos are all examples of asynchronous eLearning materials.

We’ve found that when users aren’t offered flexibility, they won’t engage with learning material — no matter if it’s mandatory. Sans mobile learning, many learners may be excluded from even accessing training, whilst your capacity to scale (and any revenue that comes with it) will be diminished.

One sentence takeaway

Asynchronous learning offers busy learners convenience and control over their online training experience.

A tool of assessment, gamification incentivises learning by offering points, badges and other achievements for course progress and completion. It does this by provoking a positive motivation (reward) instead of negative (punishment), a proven training technique for adult learners.

Everyone wins with gamification, but without it, we see a drop in engagement, progress and overall course completion. A lack of gamification often impacts solo learners’ drive to progress and interact with others, and muddies the view of their career pathways.

One sentence takeaway

Positive competition incentivises learning and boosts self-motivation and collaboration.

In industries with ever-evolving legislation, it’s crucial to question suppliers about the compliance management they offer. An LMS integrated with HRIS (aka Human Resource Information Systems) automates most of the process, regulating retesting, notifying you when procedural content needs to be updated, and reporting on user progress and certifications.

We understand the drawbacks of manual compliance certification and management; it’s costly, time-intensive and a monotonous chore for those taking it. For industries and job functions with strict regulatory requirements, it can also mean fines, loss of revenue and revocation of requisite licenses.

One sentence takeaway

Automating your compliance management ensures proper governance, minimises risk and prevents poor conduct.

Coursework should be reflective of your brand’s identity, language and ideals. Content authoring tools allow you to design courses with the information relevant to your organisation and processes, using the mediums of your choice (such as video, PDFs, animations, and quizzes).

If content is too broad, learners won’t engage enough with information to retain it. If it’s plain or displeasing to look at, they’ll be less inclined to view it. We’ve found that organisations without the ability to develop their own content struggle to maintain stakeholder enthusiasm in continuous learning. Low or non-usage leads to the risk important information could be missed or overlooked.

One sentence takeaway

Self-authoring means your content is representative of your organisation, positioning you as a subject matter expert to your learners.

People want to be able to complete training at their own convenience. Most don’t want a rigid study schedule in their calendars when they have to sit down and concentrate. A cloud-based LMS that is accessible on a variety of devices, outside of normal work hours and across multiple browsers is an easy way to boost user engagement.

We’ve learnt when organisations don’t change their browsers with the times, their learners get left behind. Internet Explorer 11, for example, is still used by many enterprises but not supported by a lot of new development products. By resisting integral changes and responsive design, you exclude remote workers, consultants and freelancers, negate self-learning opportunities and open yourself up to clunky UX. Other industry-specific factors should also be considered. For example, Australian government agencies need to have a WCAG compliance of AA+ so to be accessible for people with disabilities.

One sentence takeaway

Learners are more engaged when they can learn on anything (laptop, phone, tablet), anywhere (at work, at home, on the bus), anytime (in the morning, on their lunch break, on the weekend).

Most LMS will offer a broad range of built-in templates for eLearning assessment methods. Qualitative eLearning takes a ‘quality over quantity’ approach to online training, by using certain metrics and tasks to boost proficiency and productivity and identify areas for improvement in learner’s understanding.

If you don’t assess your learners, you won’t be able to identify gaps in learning pathways or intervene when necessary — rendering your LMS mostly redundant. We’ve seen how the lack of administrative understanding of learners’ comprehension impacts the ability to create personalised eLearning experiences, which in turn can negatively impact career progression and workforce planning in your organisation.

One sentence takeaway

Qualitative assessment tools allow you to track progress and bridge knowledge gaps.

A user-friendly dashboard for tracking and reporting is a staple feature of most LMS. Probe suppliers on how you might be able to monitor your training initiatives and learner progress and engagement, so to determine if they are on target or need adjusting.

How can you be sure you are on track to meet your business goals, if you don’t have the metrics to understand how your LMS is being used? We’ve often seen this lack of understanding stretch budgets, delay project timings and impact workforce planning.

One sentence takeaway

A good LMS will allow you to see how effective it is through robust reporting functionalities.

We work with many organisations whose brand identity is integral to their operations. It tells a story and unites organisational collateral under a cohesive theme. An LMS should easily integrate to represent your company equally well. This includes colour scheme, imagery, fonts, layouts and logos unique to you.

Without a customisable branding feature, your content won’t appear to be yours, costing your organisation a position as thought-leaders in the eyes of your learners. And lacking a clear view of existing branding, some users may feel like they are in uncharted territory and be less inclined to engage with their work.

One sentence takeaway

Brand customisation creates a familiar, emotional connection for your learners to engage with.

Integrated payment portals create a seamless user experience for learners, who can browse courses, pay for content and view it all in a central location — your LMS. Question suppliers on any costs associated with eCommerce features; some may include it for free, while others might charge you for an accumulative number of learners.

Even if your organisation doesn’t rely on paid content, you face a lack of control over functionalities such as pricing, payment methods and audience segmentation. If your wheelhouse is paid-for training, your ROI, revenue and customer loyalty could be affected by a clunky eCommerce feature.

One sentence takeaway

A one-stop online shop for browsing, purchasing and training increases your marketability.

A crucial element of success is how an LMS integrates with your existing internal HR and payroll systems. When data can be pushed and pulled between the two systems, admin is automated and your LMS is able to enhance reporting functions and spot patterns in human capital with zero error in data.

The impact of an LMS lacking integrations is felt in learning pathways and workforce planning. You’ll be less likely to see where and how learners are progressing, and those perfectly primed for promotion can slip between the cracks. This ultimately puts more pressure on HR departments to go down time-intensive traditional hiring routes.

One sentence takeaway

Integrations give a double whammy of streamlined processes and optimised learning pathways.

A software company which streamlines systems through human-centric innovative ideas and solutions. Our pride is Acorn, the fastest growing LMS in Australia.