There is a tapestry of eLearning tools available for creating, delivering and measuring online learning. These tools can be bucketed into several categories, based on factors such as their deployment model, target industry or training goals served and feature offerings. Be sure to consider each of these categories in your LMS comparison process, if you plan to purchase an LMS in the near future.
“Deployment model” is the broadest category for drawing distinctions between the available LMS solutions. There are four types of deployment models. The first is a cloud-based learning management system, also known as a hosted LMS. With this deployment model, the LMS vendor hosts all data, programs and applications on their server. No installation is required, and updates are automatic. The second is an installed LMS. In this case, the customer purchases a license and installs and maintains the LMS on their own server. The third type of deployment model is an open source LMS, with which the source code is open and free for anyone to use and adapt to their specifications. Finally, we have the custom-built LMS, which is a tailor-made system, built and maintained by a team of developers employed or contracted by your company.
An LMS may also be designed to serve a specific industry (such as higher education, hospitality, healthcare, IT and more) or cater to a particular use case (such as sales enablement, customer service training and professionals selling online courses). This type of LMS is considered a vertical solution, whereas an LMS that is industry and use-case agnostic is called a horizontal solution.
LMS software can also be distinguished by LMS features. While there are, no doubt, dozens of features that distinguish one platform from the next (see the following section), one is especially significant. The term “Learning Management System” traditionally refers to a high-level solution for performing all steps involved in the planning, delivery and management of a full online learning program. Some solutions take a different approach to learning management by enabling course content creation directly within the platform. These companies refer to their software as “Learning Content Management System (LCMS),” “Modern LMS,” “Learning Software” and “Training Software” to distinguish their product from the traditional LMS. The goal of these solutions is to remove the learning curve and democratize course content authoring for any professional, from Instructional Designers (with extensive knowledge of eLearning) to business unit leaders (with little to no eLearning knowledge). The use of an LCMS-type solution is most effective for creating smaller units of learning content that are delivered when and where the learner needs it.