What is an LMS (Learning Management System)?

12 min
LMS learning management system

An LMS is considered to be an important component of online learning. It is so much more than just an e-learning platform that you can use to create and deliver online education.

It is not like it is rocket science, because it’s not. Here, we are going into a deep overview of what is a learning management software (aka LMS), what are the types of LMS, what an LMS does, and how to choose the right one for your business!

P.S. If you are looking for an LMS, read our list of the best Learning Management Systems.

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What is a Learning Management System (LMS)?

A learning management system (LMS) is a software application that is used to plan, manage, and deliver elearning content.

An LMS is used widely in the elearning industry and acts as a management and distribution vehicle of learning programs in the form of online courses.

How do learning management systems work?

An LMS which has built-in course authoring tools can produce or develop training content to elevate the user experience. An LMS that doesn’t have these tools, can only manage and distribute training materials. Also known as ‘training assets’, these training materials are uploaded to the learning base of the system, where remote learners are able to access them from their desktop or mobile devices.

Who uses a learning management system?

The role and functions of an LMS may vary depending on the learning goals of the person or the company that is using it, and ultimately the industry they are in.

Here is a list of the most popular categories of individuals and organizations that use an LMS:

Academic Institutions

A school or any other academic or learning institution may use an LMS to help the teaching professionals assign online learning, share educational resources and materials (assessments, ebooks, quizzes) to students, and manage their grades.

Virtual and Elearning-based Learning Associations

Online institutions such as Linkedin Learning, Udemy, and Khan Academy offer the opportunity for people to learn through online courses. These are not considered free learning management systems, but learning marketplaces.

Corporate Training Departments

Research from Training Magazine shows that about 30 percent of LMS purchases are from small businesses, medium-sized companies, and large enterprises that want to offer to their existing and new employees an easily available and standardized learning environment as a training solution where they learn and grow.

A Corporate Learning Managemetn System (LMS) can work as part of a complete online corporate training program, , and help to deliver, assess, and manage the training of employees through elearning courses.

Franchise Businesses

Franchises also make use of an LMS in an attempt to reduce travel costs and learn all there is to know about a business, increasing consistency, and improving training analytics.

Nonprofit Organizations

Nonprofit organizations often don’t have the appropriate resources, people, and money, to train volunteers accordingly. They use an LMS as a training platform to help standardize the training process and make it available and accessible to all their internal stakeholders.

Nonprofits also leverage LMS systems to sell online courses as an additional revenue source to support their mission.

Content Providers

Content providers are the people who create training content, they promote it and sell it. With the right LMS that offers a monetization option, any online course instructor can create, manage and sell their learning content to those interested in increasing their knowledge regardless of which country they live in.

Wholesale Companies

An LMS simplifies the process of keeping distributors, resellers, and internal sales teams up to date with the latest products and promotions. It also enables collaborative learning among internal and external stakeholders (aka the learners), through tutorials, webinars, and many more collaboration tools and interactive learning activities.

How to use a learning management system?

According to the eLearning Industry, the most common use of LMS software is to deploy and track online training initiatives. With an LMS you can plan, manage and deliver training content for different purposes depending on who you are or who you represent.

These purposes may serve different functions such as the following:

As you can see an LMS can carry out all of these activities and be used in different ways to achieve a unique outcome. It sounds like it is the ultimate multi-tool.

What are the different types of LMSs?

Despite the fact that an LMS can do many great things, not every LMS has the capabilities for everything. There are many categories of LMSs just because each specializes in a certain category or seems to serve a specific purpose better than others.

LMSs differ in terms of:

Let’s take a look at these in more detail.

Deployment type

Open Source: An open-source learning management system (aka open source LMS) is the free version of an LMS in which the source code is open and free for anyone to use and adapt to their specifications.


Desktop Application: This is an LMS that works as a desktop application. Some desktop apps work on smart devices as well which can facilitate team collaboration, but not every LMS offers this option.

Mobile Application: An LMS that is accessible on smartphone devices and you can upload learning content while on the go.

Custom-built: A custom-built LMS is a tailor-made system, built and maintained by a team of developers employed or contracted by your company.

Industry-specific: An LMS that is developed for a specific industry and hosts training assets such as certifications, training activities, or games, that are related to industry-specific skills and knowledge.

Pricing model

Pay per active user: you pay for each user who is active during each payment circle.
Pay per learner: you pay for the number of learners regardless of their online/offline status.
Pay as you go: you pay for what you use – the number of users and what courses they take.
License fee/subscription: you pay a monthly or yearly license fee to use the system.


Free License: Free license LMS is usually an open-source system. Although this is a free LMS, it has an added expense to it which goes directly to the programmer or the IT team you hire to work the code and any additional plugins for you.

Paid License: Paid LMSs require a monthly or a yearly fee to be able to use them. While most systems work on subscription (recurring payments), some may offer the option to buy it upfront with a one-time payment.


Not every LMS supports the same elearning formats. To keep up with portability and the elearning standards, some LMS support one (or more) of the following formats:

These formats allow you to import the same content into a different standards-compliant LMS. For a learning management system to stay current in the LMS market, it needs to be able to support any of these elearning standards. So it’s important to look out for these when investing in an LMS vendor.

Customer types

An LMS may differ in terms of its target audience too. So it may specifically be for Enterprise training – targeting enterprises and other organizations (Partner LMS/Enterprise LMS), Corporate training – targeting businesses and corporations (Corporate LMS), or Academic education– targeting educational institutions or schools (Academic LMS).

What is an LMS for schools?

An LMS can be the backbone of the education management of a K-12 school. It is used as the software that manages the load of students and keeps their records up to date, storing students’ information including their contact details, their grades, and performance results.

The LMSs for schools have rich functionality that allows them to support virtual and classroom environments, asynchronously or in real-time. They also allow smoother communication between the learner and the instructor.

The increasing demand for LMS creates an unbelievable potential for those who want to invest in it – whether they are a school, enterprise, or organization, and offers the opportunity to leverage its benefits at large. And trust us, there are a lot!

The Advantages of LMS

Using an LMS has its advantages but this depends much on the features it offers. Every LMS is different because of what it can do for you.

According to Philip D. Long, the six elements that make up the concept of the LMS are interoperability, accessibility, reusability, durability, maintenance ability, and adaptability.

So, generally, every LMS is able to:

More specifically though, it can do all of the following for learners, businesses, and schools:

For learners

For businesses

For schools/educational institutions

The Essential LMS Features

Over the last decade, LMSs have advanced and expanded their toolkit in ways that it was impossible to do so before. Today, an LMS comes with different features and capabilities.

For an LMS to get the title of LMS needs to be able to comply with the list of the following features:

Apart from the key ones, there are also advanced features that you may look for in an LMS. These are the following:

While in the old days it would have been impossible for an LMS to author, create, and sell learning content and activities and keep your content as secure as it can be, certain online learning platforms including LearnWorlds allow you to do so.

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So the capabilities of an LMS largely depend on whether or not they come with such important features. Some LMSs may be able to manage and deliver training content while others have an added advantage to them by helping you create and sell training.

What to Pay Attention to When Choosing an LMS?

If you are searching for an LMS solution, make sure you know what you are looking for in terms of features, capabilities, and support and you have a rough estimate of how much you are willing to invest in it. This should help you align the LMS vendor’s strengths with your training objectives and budget.

How much does a learning management system cost?

While there are many different pricing models, the price of an LMS may range wildly depending on which type of LMS you choose, and for how many people you need it.

The price of the LMS you choose is important because it determines an expense that you will need to set for yourself – your course business, or on behalf of the business you work for or represent.

How to choose a learning management system?

The first step is pointing out what type of LMS you need cloud-based or an installed one? Currently, the cloud-based LMS seems to be the most popular choice.

This is because of the following:

Looking at these elements, it would be much more cost-effective to invest in a cloud LMS rather than an installed one.

Also, make sure you further distinguish your options. For example, are you looking for a corporate LMS or academic LMS? What are your prerequisites and what are your needs?

Look carefully into the features it offers and its capabilities and match it to your own needs, in the exact same way you would do when buying a smartphone or your next laptop.

Finally, make sure you try out free demos and trials.

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What are some examples of learning management systems?

Because of their prevailing features and capabilities, some LMS are better suited for academic, corporate, or enterprise LMSs.

Check out some examples for each.

Examples of academic LMS:

Examples of corporate LMS:

*As seen on the G2 list of Corporate LMS.

Examples of enterprise LMS:

*As seen on the eLearning Industry list of top Extended Enterprise LMS.

Top Online Learning Platforms:

Take these LMS examples as an indication of the wealth of options there are out there but make sure you choose the best according to your needs.

Looking for an LMS?

As education moves away from traditional learning, online learning becomes part of a larger knowledge-based society. This increasing trend in online learning encourages new businesses and freelancers to search for cost-effective solutions that improve productivity, provide effective training, and ensure performance.

What they are really looking for is an LMS that can do all of that.

If you are in the same dilemma, you can start your journey with a top-notch LMS platform like LearnWorlds, by giving a test drive through your free 30-day trial.

9000+ brands trust LearnWorlds to train their people, partners & customers.

Start a FREE Trial
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Content Creator at LearnWorlds

Kyriaki is a Content Creator for the LearnWorlds team writing about marketing and e-learning, helping course creators on their journey to create, market, and sell their online courses. Equipped with a degree in Career Guidance, she has a strong background in education management and career success. In her free time, she gets crafty and musical.