Your updated LMS – much more than the course catalogue

How old is your Learning Management System? Older than 5 years? Then it may be time to look for the future. A lot has happened in recent years. Today’s cloud platforms are much easier to use and engaging for the learner including social features, gamification, large amounts of external courses (e.g. through MOOCs). They are moving from being stand-alone islands with integration to talent processes and availability through intranets.

According to an article in Forbes, the LMS market has radically changed in recent years. Therefore, it may be time to review your system. Here’s a description of what to expect from a modern LMS.

Support for informal and Social Learning

A few years ago, we had to build on social functions outside our learning platforms with, for example, Yammer, Jive, or SharePoint. Today this is part of most systems. You can create your own profiles and post posts in your blog or activity stream as on LinkedIn. You can follow experts and their posts, discuss in forums, etc. The course evaluation is now supplemented with stars, comments and discussions.

An updated LMS

We know that formal learning, in classrooms or eLearning, is only 10-15% of all learning. We learn at work, by others, by searching, reading documents, watching videos, etc. Many modern LMS make it easier than ever to integrate external learning resources and organize learning into Communities or portals for different audiences.

CSOD social-learning-screen

Modern user experience with gamification

The list-based interface still lives on in many of the older LMS. Today´s trend is moving towards simplified interfaces with an engaging user experience.


Gamification is increasingly used to drive motivation and use of e.g. IT systems. Examples of features are levels and points. The employee get points, not only to attend courses, but to read articles, participate on webinar, follow experts, post, etc. For example, you can reach gold level in answering questions in a forum, or within a certain area of knowledge. Users also collect badges after reaching certain goals. Research has shown that game elements drive engagement and motivation. Many LMS now use gamification to drive use and continuous learning.


MOOC and thousands of courses

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) has been around for a while and been a way for universities to reach a wider audience. Today, thousands of courses are available completely free online. Udemy alone has over 25,000 courses and 6 million students. Coursera collaborates with 350 of the best universities worldwide. It is a popular format, according to a report by Bersin (Redefining MOOCs for Corporate Learning), the 5 largest players combined have 26 million users, most of whom (80%) already have a degree and a job. The format of a MOOC is a mix of video, virtual classrooms with integrated social features and tasks with social assessment. This is a method to convert classroom training and quickly reach a wider audience. One example is IBM, today systematically filming classroom training to convert to the MOOC format and quickly reach their 430,000 employees.

The main benefit is however to get access to the hundreds of thousands of high quality content already existing in course libraries like Coursera, Linedik In Learning, Udacity, FutureLearn etc. Below are some of over 200 sales courses at Udemy.


Many LMS (e.g. SumTotal Maestro, Saba Marketplace, Docebo and others) can integrate content from MOOCs and thus make large amounts of courses available. It is also common for the system to offer external courses as part of a monthly cost. One such example is BizLibrary which includes “thousands of courses, Netflix style”.

Skillbased learning

According to Craig Weiss, Association for Talent Development, (LMS Trends 2015) Skill management is “hot” this year. Skill management is certainly nothing new, but gets more impactful with integration to learning content, features to suggest learning activities, gamification to justify efforts, social functions for“peer ratings” etc.

Skill assessments become an active part in the development of the employee’s ability. A modern LMS recommends learning based on current skill gaps. An LMS development plan also contains much more than just courses; coaching, job shading, challenging assignments, conferences, links to websites, knowledge sharing, etc.

Another problem addressed is that employees in many organizations I have studied do not find the training relevant to their needs. Only 15-20% think the training is entirely relevant. With clear skill requirements and learning that are targeted precisely for specific roles and skills we are addressing that problem.


Examples of a LMS showing goals and skills on the employee home page. By choosing “close gap”, the employee receives suggestions for specific development/learning activities.

Intelligent suggestions

The development has gone even further than getting a recommendation based on a specific skill. xAPI, the successor to SCORM gives us new opportunities to follow up on how our employees learn. It gives a better picture of their abilities and interests. A modern LMS collects lots of data, in addition to role and skill level, e.g. what other courses we have taken, documents we read, what we thought of them, what experts we follow, where in the organization we work, what is popular, etc. Based on that information, then suggests system courses or other learning activities that it believes suits us according to the same technology as Amazon (“you would also like…”) and Spotify (“discover…”).


Mobile platforms

According to IDG projections, 260 million personal computers were sold this year, but 350 million tablets and 2,000 million mobiles. It is increasingly clear that the mobile/tablet is what we use to retrieve information, read, collaborate and learn. How does your LMS work on a mobile platform? Today’s systems are mobile and able to recognise the size of screen and automatically adapt.

A user should expect to not only be able to start videos or learning activities, but also have access to social functions and administrative functions on the mobile app. They should also be able to learn offline and sync later when there is connectivity.


LMS integrated in business systems

A problem with many LMS’s is that employees are rarely there. An employee attend an average of 4 course days per year, often in connection with the annual development call. In some of the organizations I’ve worked with, employees simply don’t find their way to the LMS at all.

The solution is to offer the training where the employees are working; on the intranet, the product portal, in the sales system, etc. Today it is easy to integrate an LMS with other systems, e.g. HR system for retrieving data, but also to provide access to courses, e.g. through the intranet. Small and large LMS can now be integrated in common intranet platforms.

The next step is integration with business systems, such as sales systems. For example, Cornerstone OnDemand has an integration with SalesForce where small learning modules can pop up in different situations in the salesman’s everyday life. In the image below, the seller gets aan advice to watch a video about the difference between negotiations in the US and Europe. It pops up when the seller puts in a new lead from Europe.


A few years ago, integration with other systems was somewhat difficult and cost a lot of time and resources. Modern systems offer API and autointegration with most important HR, ERP, CRM and other systems. In some cases, the employee can self-integrate with other systems by just dragging and dropping the desired system as per the picture below.

saba integration

Naturally integrated into HR processes

Most major LMS are today called Talent Management Systems and include most HR processes, from recruitment to succession, with skill management and learning as a central part. Learning becomes a natural part of the organization’s work in recruiting and developing employees. Personally, I find it difficult to see goal management, skill management and learning as separate parts. They’re closely connected.

The evolution in usability, agility, continuous assessment, social functions that I described above also exist within other HR processes. List-based administrative systems are replaced by systems that are more focused on creating commitment and continuous development among employees.

Support for the organisation’s external network

Yesterday’s LMS were closed and only for internal employees. A modern system also offers learning for the external network. It’s easy to sign in with, for example, your Google, Facebook or Microsoft account. Several offer opportunities to build communities and social capabilities to collaborate with customers and suppliers.

extended network

For many organizations it is important to be able to sell one’s knowledge, not least for educational organisations and for consultants like me. Marketing, customer portals, eCommerce and statistics features make it easy to sell knowledge.

CSOD _ eCommerce

Operations and costs

Today’s LMS are purely cloud-based, i.e. that only one version of the product is maintained. Instead of customizations, each organization configures the system for its own needs. This has led to a dramatic reduction in operating costs. A LMS is today mostly managed and maintain by L&D without the need to IT personnel. The annual subscription fee includes hosting, upgrades and 2nd level support.

In cases where I have been able to make comparisons, investment in a new system could have been paid for in 1-2 years. Expect costs around $10-15 per user per year for the “large” systems and $2-5 per user per year for simpler systems.

What to do?

As you can see, a lot has happened, over only a few years, really. A LMS today encourage a completely different approach to learning, which takes place continuously, informally and socially. The change in how we learn is fast. Today, employees expect to have access to learning that is more social and more just-in-time. New generations of employees also have high demands on the organization’s learning capabilities and expect to use new technologies.

Perhaps it might be time to revisit your learning strategy and technology roadmap. As a step, there may be more reason to look at how your current LMS is actually used and what it costs. It might be time to upgrade.

Author: Johan Skoglöf
Johan är visionär och senior konsult med missionen att hjälpa företag att skapa framtidens lärande organisation. Med över 25 år i branschen och kunder som Ericsson, Volvo, Scania, SEB, Handelsbanken, HM och ICA har Johan en bred erfarenhet i hur lärande organisationer skapas.

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