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Many companies have made the switch to digital learning since the 2000s, and learning management systems (LMS) have enabled them to do so seamlessly. With powerful analytics, messaging, assessments, and more, learning through an LMS allows management to get an accurate, high-level view of employee learning. So, what is a learning management system, and is it enough to meet the learning needs of today’s world?

What is a learning management system?

Before learning with an LMS, many companies relied on printed documents or instructor-led training for onboarding, compliance, and other core employee training. Some still do, but many have made the switch to learning management systems. So what is a learning management system? A learning management system is an online hub where companies are able to store online learning courses, compliance material, track progress, communicate with employees, and more.

To put it simply, an LMS houses all of a company’s training and coursework, making it accessible to your employees and consistent in its delivery.

Quick history lesson on LMSs

Though eLearning wasn’t a widely recognized term until the 1990s, several developments led to what we recognize as the learning management system today.

1924: The testing machine

Invented by professor Sidney Pressey of Ohio State University, The Automatic Teacher was the very first electronic learning device intended to allow students to drill and test themselves. Pressey secured a few patents for versions of the machine, one in 1928 and the other in 1930.

1954: The teaching machine

A few decades later in 1954, psychologist B.F. Skinner invented the Teaching Machine, where he applied his learning theory developed while training animals to the human world. The box would house questions on paper discs, allow students to write their answers, and reveal the correct answer while hiding the student’s submission.

1960: PLATO

In 1960, PLATO, or Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations, became the first computer-based training program built by the University of Illinois, offering coursework to local schools and universities.

1980s and 90s: The first Mac and the Internet

In 1984, the first Macintosh computer was introduced by Steve Jobs for families to use from home, allowing the possibility of eLearning to expand. And in the ‘90s, several schools were formed that offered exclusively online classes, changing the reach and accessibility of education.

2000s and today: eLearning in business

Since the 2000s, companies all over the world began to turn to eLearning for onboarding, compliance training, and job role training — expanding learning and allowing employees to develop the job skills they need to succeed.

Features and functions

Every LMS has slightly different features, but generally speaking, an LMS includes reporting and data analytics, communication features, and most importantly, a way to store your online courses. What are the benefits of each feature, and how do they enhance learning outcomes?

Storage for online learning

First and foremost, a learning management system allows you to store courses, compliance, safety training, and any other required learning for employees to access in one convenient location. While some may believe an LMS to be unnecessary, they are important in regulation-heavy industries such as healthcare, manufacturing, or banking. By putting all training in one place, companies can avoid costly litigation or accidents that result from vital training not getting properly distributed.

Reports, assessments, and analytics

Before eLearning, companies had to rely on pre- and post-training surveys and assessments to measure learning outcomes and progress. With learning through an LMS, managers can observe key learning metrics as they happen, getting a bird’s-eye view of employee progress and potential blind spots. This enables companies to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to training, making way for new and better training to be created in the future.

Support for dynamic learning media

Without a learning management system, companies often have to rely on hiring instructors and hosting on-site training. With an LMS, instructor-led training can be digitized and distributed throughout your company, and be enhanced further with interactive features such as motion graphics, simulation, and live-action video.

Messaging and notifications

Another helpful feature of LMS learning management systems is messaging and notifications. Not only can employees access course work, complete certifications, and read up on mandatory compliance, but they can communicate with management throughout the process. For management, this creates a central location for training-related conversations to occur, offering a more streamlined learning process.

Competency management

With LMS learning, getting a high-level view of your team’s skills and knowledge has never been easier. Managers can easily view a particular employee’s skill set and measure it against company goals. Being able to view these things takes the guesswork out of determining what your team needs to grow.


Before zeroing in on a learning management system for your company, it’s also worth talking about learning experience platforms or LXPs. Similar to learning in an LMS, LXPs make eLearning more accessible by storing a company’s library of training and courses in one place. Many of the same features we love about learning management systems are available with LXPs, including assessments, analytics, messaging, and competency management. However, there is a key difference that could be a deciding factor for you and your company.

Closed vs. open system

The key difference between an LMS and an LXP is the type of system it is. LMS learning is a closed system — this means managers and administrators control and deliver learning content to its employees and users. Learning paths are set and often don’t change too much from one employee to another. This is also known as push learning.

LXPs operate as an open system, delivering content via AI to employees based on popularity, usage, job role, and interest. Using an open system (aka pull learning) encourages engagement by giving users more control over their learning path. It also gives company management added insight into what interests their employees, as well as how they best learn.

Why an LMS isn’t enough anymore

Despite the myriad of features learning management systems have, we believe they’re not enough for those who really wish to improve learning outcomes across their teams. Here’s why.

Learning management systems follow a top-down learning model

These days, top-tier talent look for companies that are invested in their wellbeing both in and out of the office. It’s not enough to provide thorough training anymore: how are you showing employees that you are invested in their growth as a person?

Because learning management systems primarily function to deliver a predetermined catalogue of training to employees, there isn’t a lot of room to inspire or encourage curiosity among users. More modern learning solutions like LXPs jumpstart this process by giving the user control over their learning path and giving them as many directions as they want to choose from.

LXPs supercharge the features of an LMS

Though the open system of LXPs can seem daunting, we believe they take the best features of LMS learning and supercharge them. LXPs, like an LMS, offer storage for coursework, messaging, analytics, and assessments. An LMS delivers pre-chosen content to its users, but an LXP can deliver mandatory learning, while also inviting users to build skills and further their growth through customized learning paths.

Like learning management systems, LXPs also support dynamic content, making coursework more interactive through video, AR/VR, or motion graphics. LXPs are a forward-thinking LMS. Need to see it to believe it? Demo our LXP, Loop, today.

The way forward is to create a culture of learning

Companies around the world owe much of their eLearning success to the learning management system — this clever technology has been a catalyst for training initiatives, team growth, and healthier company cultures. The LMS gave us a powerful learning foundation on which to build, and our job is to continue that process using whichever platform has the power to get us there.

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