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4 LMS Types
That Can Power
Your Online
Education Program

Learning Management Systems (LMS) come in all shapes and sizes, so if you’re planning to purchase one (or upgrade an existing one), consider these 4 types as well as the pros and cons of each.

Northpass is the LMS companies like BambooHR, Freshworks and Shopify use to power their industry-leading learning programs.

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What you’ll learn during the search for your next learning management systems (LMS) is that each type could work, but choosing the best one is much more strategic than blindly picking one and making it work. 

To pick the right type of LMS, you’ll need to consider your budget, the size and the bandwidth of your teams, including design, L&D, development and customer success.

You’ll also want to consider how much time it'll take to get your learning program off the ground (LMS implementation included). The type of LMS you choose will depend on it. 

That said, just because you have a massive team with a big budget doesn’t necessarily mean you want to custom build your academy from the ground up. Likewise, just because you don’t have a big budget doesn’t mean you can’t create the academy of your dreams. All of these topics and talking points will come into play when deciding which type of LMS is right for you.

The 4 Types of Learning Management Systems (LMS) to Consider 

SaaS LMS (Cloud-based)

If you want to get your LMS up and running without using many design or development resources, a SaaS LMS is going to be your pick.

Usually, this type of LMS is hosted by your provider and gives you a relatively simple, online, plug-and-play platform to create your academy. (Full disclosure: This is where Northpass fits in.)

LMS vendors that provide SaaS-based solutions offer a range of capabilities and integrations to give you and your learners the best experience. 

Pros: Simple to create and fast to get off the ground. All you need to do is create the content and upload it. 

Cons: Not every SaaS-based LMS is super personalized or customizable to create relevancy for your learners. As a result, you could end up with a jarring experience that diminishes engagement and knowledge retention.

Installed LMS (On-premise)

Do you want to host your academy on your servers? Installed LMSs aren’t as common as their SaaS counterparts, but this option gives you more control over how and where you host your data.

You can use a third party or build your own 100% custom LMS. Using an installed LMS is a good choice if you prioritize security above all else and have the in-house resources to manage the technology and keep the operation running smoothly as your program scales. 

Pros: You’re in charge of your server and its security.

Cons: As your academy grows, it can take up a lot of server space and become much more costly to maintain.

Open-source LMS

Like many open-source applications or code, open-source LMSs are free to use and adaptable to your specifications.

However, you’ll need some amount of design and development resources to pull this off since you'll have to take the code and make it work for your company.

This is a good in-between if you’re looking to create something 100% custom, but don’t want to start from scratch.

Pros: It’s free and takes a lot of the guesswork out of creating a custom academy.

Cons: Making updates is not always as easy as it was to do the initial setup.

Custom-built LMS

Do you have a big budget and a very specific idea of what you need and want your academy to do?

A custom build is a tailor-made system built and maintained by an in-house or outsourced development team. You'll have control over every aspect of the final outcome and process.

Pros: You'll get the exact specification you want; it’s no hold barred here.

Cons: It requires a lot of time, cost and human resources to bring to fruition and to continue to maintain.

One Last Consideration: LCMS vs LMS? 

When you’re evaluating the types of LMSs available to you, you’ll most likely come to another fork in the road. This time, you’ll have to decide between an LCMS and an LMS.

While they sound the same, the two are fairly different and give you different inherent advantages one way or another. 

An LCMS enables content creation directly in the platform. The goal of these solutions is to remove the learning curve and democratize course content. The use of an LCMS-type solution is most effective for creating smaller units of learning content. 

How is this different from an LMS? LMSs give you the ability to organize content and deliver it in meaningful ways. While some LMSs allow you to create some content in the platform, most will still need to be built independently.

Final Thoughts: Picking the Right LMS

The type of LMS that fits your needs depends on several factors, including the amount of design and development resources available, departmental budget and the size of the academy you plan to build.

It can be an overwhelming experience to sift through all the options out there. The best decision you can make is one that’s good for you, your team (if you have one) and your company.

You want to keep in mind how you’ll use the LMS in one year, two years and five years down the line. Don’t just base your decision on what you need right now; you want to choose the right type of LMS for your online academy to grow into. This might be hard to think about from day one, but it’ll save a lot of time, effort and budget in the long run.

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