Learning Management System: what it is, how it works, and examples

Learning Management System: you have heard this term, but you don’t know what it is specifically about. Or, you have realized that it is something to do with training, but you are still not clear what it is for and how it works.

Don’t worry! By reading this article, you will discover:

  • What is a Learning Management System, who uses it, and with what benefits;
  • How to choose an LMS for your organization, understanding how it works, what it allows you to do, and how much it can cost;
  • Some examples of LMS platforms, both free and paid. 

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What is a Learning Management System?

Let’s start by defining what a learning management system is: more simply abbreviated to LMS, it is literally a learning management system. Simply put, a Learning Management System is a software platform that enables the delivery and management of e-learning courses and online training programs to enable distance learning by providing everything needed for online teaching:

1. registration of the user and all those working on the platform;
2. teaching, course attendance, and knowledge verification;
3. communication with students and teachers;
4. viewing of lectures and various materials.

Organizations that typically exploit LMS are mainly schools and training organizations, but also companies to deliver training courses to their employees and collaborators.

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How an LMS works

As we have seen, an LMS is an IT tool used by a Training and Development department within an organization. Generally speaking, regardless of the type of organization, there are two subjects: the LMS software administrator and the user.

  • users who are to participate in the training course and whose objective is to learn;
  • the administrators who manage the platform: they provide the training course and the various learning contents, track the results, respond to user requests, and solve any problems.

function of learning management system

The operation of the platform basically reproduces the exchange between these two parties and is very simple. The software administrator uploads the e-learning courses intended for the user onto the platform. Thanks to access parameters, usually an e-mail and a password, the user accesses the system and takes advantage of all its benefits. Once logged in, the user, in fact, has at his or her fingertips a whole series of tools made available by the organization issuing the training course and which he or she simply uploads into the LMS software.

These can be videos, images, pdfs, audio files, and much more. The software administrator then takes care of solving any access problems and monitoring the results obtained by users if the platform makes this functionality available.

The operation illustrated above is, therefore, the basic one that all LMS software has. However, there are many Learning Management System platforms with different costs and functionalities. How, then, to choose the best one?

The answer is, as is often the case, it depends. The choice of a Learning Management System platform depends on the type of organization and what its objectives are. In the next paragraphs, we will see which aspects to take into account in order to make the right choice. We can distinguish different types of LMS platform users. Let us look at them in detail in the next section.

How to choose a Learning Management System

There are several aspects to consider when choosing the most appropriate Learning Management System for your organization, but they cannot be separated from the characteristics of the organization itself, thus considering its objectives, budget, and available resources, and above all, who will be the main recipients of the platform.

Who will use the Learning Management System? What functionalities will it need? What resources do I have at my disposal to implement the LMS software within my organization? We will explore these aspects in more detail in the following paragraphs. 

Types of LMS users

First of all, we have to understand who we (as an organization) are and who are the subjects to whom we want to deliver e-learning courses. In fact, Learning Management System platforms are used by different types of organizations. In short, those using this software are mainly:

  • Large companies: the main benefit of using an LMS by large companies is that they can organize the training of a large number of employees using only one software and consequently track their training quickly and easily.
  • Small to medium-sized enterprises: these enterprises can benefit from the use of a Learning Management System because they can manage training with reduced use of human resources.
  • Freelancers: freelancers can also take advantage of these mechanisms to be able to respond efficiently to customer’s diverse requests. They can work alone or in teams in a simple and intuitive way.
  • Schools: universities, public schools, public schools, and anyone working in the world of education can use this software to put their service online and reach distant people to amplify the reach of their business.

types of lms users

Depending on the type of organization that uses the LMS platform to deliver training courses or training sessions, different recipients of this training content can be distinguished:

  • Employees and collaborators: when the provider is a company producing goods or services, the primary recipients of training content are employees and collaborators. A classic example is the training of the sales network or the training of new employees in the process of integration into the work environment (so-called onboarding); 
  • Students: they are the main recipients of training when the provider is a school, university, or private training institution;
  • Customers: LMS platforms can also be used to train their customers. In particular, this is true for software companies that use this mode to educate customers about the use of their products. 

So there are types of LMS platforms that are more suitable for one or the other. Am I a company and want to train my sales force? I will most likely need a platform that allows me to deliver courses on mobile, as the sales team is often on the road and not stable in the office. Am I a school? Most likely, I will need a platform that allows me to give quizzes to my students to check their learning progress. 

In the next section, we will therefore delve into the different types of Learning Management System software.

Types of LMS platforms

Depending on the parameter being considered, one can classify LMS platforms into various types. Mainly four parameters can be considered: the cost, the type of installation, the pricing system, and the technical standard. Let us see them in detail.

LMS platforms by cost

As far as cost is concerned, we can distinguish between Open Source Learning Management System software and commercial LMS platforms.

cost of lms platforms

  • Open Source LMS: these are free online learning management platforms. Mind you, being free does not necessarily mean that there are no costs to be borne when they are chosen. Their peculiarity is that they are open source: this means that the administrators of these systems can intervene in the code and modify it to customize and adapt the platform to the needs of the organization using it. Obviously, to be able to operate at this level requires experience and advanced technical computer skills – which are by no means free.
  • Commercial LMS: these are the paid Learning Management System software. They are generally simpler to implement and are characterized by very intuitive interfaces for both users and administrators. In addition, those who choose this solution generally have 24/7 technical support included in the price.

LMS platforms by type of installation

Another distinction that can be made concerns the virtual location where these software packages are hosted. A distinction is thus made between cloud-based LMSs (SaaS) and locally installed LMSs. 

  • Cloud-based LMS: Cloud-based or, more properly, Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms are those hosted on external servers and remote from those of the organization using them. They are web-based Learning Management Systems, thus accessible to the user and administrators via the web. Maintenance and updating are the responsibility of the platform provider. In short, they are the ideal solution if you do not have an IT department within your organization with the appropriate IT skills.
  • Locally installed LMS: In this case, the Learning Management System platform is hosted on the proprietary server of the organization using it. The advantage of this model is that it simplifies everything concerning aspects such as the customization of the platform and the various integrations with other systems that are part of the ERP. The disadvantage is that it is much more onerous to manage since maintenance and updates are the responsibility of the IT department of the organization using the platform. 

LMS platforms for pricing system

When it comes to commercial LMS, pricing can vary depending on several factors: the functionality of the platform, the number of users who can access it, and more. Let us, therefore, see below what the main pricing models are. 

pricing system of lms

  • Payment per active user: in this case, the price is defined on the basis of the users actively using the platform. Let’s take an example: let’s say you need 2 system administrators and 10 users in your organization, and each user costs 10 USD. The cost to you will be 120 USD.
  • User threshold payment: the cost charged to the organization is fixed, regardless of the number of users actually using the platform. Taking the example above, let us assume that a package of 20 users costs 160 USD. Even if the platform is only used by 12 people, you will pay 160 USD.
  • Subscription: this is the case of payment on a monthly or annual basis. Generally, in this case, the price varies according to the functionality of the platform, while the number of users is unlimited.

Which pricing model is most suitable depends, once again, on the type of organization using the LMS platform and its objectives. 

LMS Platforms by technical standard

The parameter we consider here is very technical: it is the programming language of the LMS platform. There is no standard that is absolutely better than another: the important aspect to take into account is compatibility, i.e., the fact that the LMS platform “speaks” the same language as the so-called authoring tool, which is the system that allows the actual creation of the e-learning course, i.e., the content that is delivered via the Learning Management System platform. 

Without going into too much technical detail, the main standards for LMSs are AICC, SCORM, xAPI, cmi5, and LTI. AICC is the oldest technical standard and allows information to pass between the LMS platform and the authoring system in HTTP format. SCORM, on the other hand, is the most widely used and recognized standard and allows, for example, the setting of propaedeutic between lessons that are part of an e-learning course (i.e., if you do not complete lesson A, you cannot start lesson B).

However, it does not allow the implementation of various features of LMS systems, such as mobile content delivery, quiz delivery, and gaming. For these functionalities, one has to refer to more recent standards, such as cmi5 and LTI. 

Over the years, in fact, these platforms have evolved by implementing many features. Some of them now also use artificial intelligence to offer a unique and customized experience to each student.

In the next section, we will see an overview of what are the main functionalities that an LMS platform could offer. 

Main functionalities of an LMS

As mentioned above, there are a great many Learning Management System platforms, and each one has its own functionalities and peculiarities. However, we can identify some common features by distinguishing between the more basic and the more advanced ones and the monitoring and analysis functionalities. 

Basic functionality

  • User management: with this functionality, the administrator can give users access to the platform, assign them roles or remove them;

lms basic functionality

  • Course management: with this functionality, the administrator uploads courses and e-learning content, categorizes them, assigns tasks to users, and shares particular resources with specific users. 

Advanced Functionality

  • Task automation: this feature automates repetitive and frequent administrative tasks, saving system administrators a lot of time – and time is a precious resource!
  • Integration compatibility: the possibility of integrating the LMS with other business systems, such as CRM;
  • Class management: allows you to manage some typical aspects of a class of students, such as course timetable, class attendance, etc.
  • Customization of learning paths: thanks to artificial intelligence, some platforms allow users to enjoy a customized learning experience based on their behavior. the platform itself will suggest learning paths based on the e-learning courses already completed or the content formats are most chosen by the user;
  • Content creation: some LMS systems allow the creation of training content directly within the platform;

lms advanced features

  • Certificates and certifications: thanks to this feature, it is possible to have the platform issue a certificate of participation or certification of results at the end of the e-learning course. 
  • Mobile Learning: some LMS platforms offer users the possibility of using training courses also from their smartphones and, in particular, in some cases, do so via native apps;
  • Gamification: this functionality is very recent in education and concerns all those systems linked to the user obtaining badges, prizes, or rewards. it is a very useful functionality to increase the level of student engagement;
  • Social Learning: refers to the possibility of using the platform in a collaborative manner, thus using discussion forums, peer-to-peer chats for exchanging tips, but also social networks for sharing the knowledge learned;
  • Notification system: this feature allows users to be automatically alerted and kept up-to-date on issues such as deadlines, tasks, new content added to the platform, etc. 
  • eCommerce: an LMS with this functionality allows you to sell your courses online and monitor sales.

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Tracking and monitoring functionality

  • Adoption and utilization: The system administrator can evaluate aspects such as user access to the course, the number of accesses to the platform made in a given time period, the time taken to complete a module, and much more;

monitoring lms functionality

  • Progress in the learning pathway: with this feature, one can assess the student’s performance, for example, by considering the ratings he or she obtains at the end of a quiz or by monitoring progress. Analyzing these aspects is also useful for understanding the suitability of the course for the user’s training needs.
  • User satisfaction: some LMS platforms make it possible to provide, at the end of a module or course, user evaluation surveys through which the user assesses his or her training experience and expresses his or her opinion by providing suggestions for improvement.

Advantages of using an LMS

Beyond the platform one chooses to use, there is no doubt that adopting a Learning Management System to manage training within one’s organization brings countless advantages. The advantages of using a Learning Management System vary according to the type of platform, its functionalities, the objectives of the organization using it to deliver the training course or activity, and those of those who are the main recipients and users of the learning paths.

Let us see which are the most important, always distinguishing between users and administrators.

lms benefits

For the user, the main advantages are:

  • possibility of taking lessons wherever you want;
  • listen to explanations several times and have everything at hand even when you are physically far away from the course provider;
  • Acquisition of skills and knowledge useful for professional growth;
  • Improve work performance, especially when the Learning Management System is used by companies and enterprises to facilitate onboarding or train their sales network;

For the course-providing organization, the advantages are:

  • Reduction of training management costs;
  • Improved performance of course recipients (especially in the case of their own employees);
  • Increased employee retention;
  • Tracking and monitoring results, especially in relation to the impact of training activities on business performance. 

Examples of Learning Management Systems

LMS software is plentiful. It is not easy to choose which one is most suitable for us or our company. In order to be able to make the best choice, we need to understand what goals we have set for ourselves on a company or personal level. If reports and statistical data are important to us, we should opt for systems that support monitoring and reporting functions. If our goal is to be able to give our employees the opportunity to train, for example, on the move, we should consider mobile-compatible LMSs.

On the other hand, if we want to have the possibility of being able to modify the system as we wish in order to meet all our needs, we will opt for customizable Learning Management Systems. Always taking into account, of course, our initial budget!

In the following paragraphs, you will find some examples of the best-known LMS platforms, ordered by cost parameter, thus distinguishing between free (Open Source) and paid (Commercial) LMS platforms.

Examples of Open Source LMS

When we talk about open source programs, we are referring, of course, to programs offered for free or almost free. There are plenty of free LMSs. Just do a very simple search on Google, and we discover that there is much open-source software that manages online training. We have listed three of them in this article to give you a more general idea. 


Moodle is certainly the best-known and most popular LMS system. Created back in 2001, it is one of the first learning management systems. The software is managed by a community of teachers and students and has the main advantage of maximum freedom of creation. The program is, in fact, created in such a way that all users can create new modules and additional functionalities that are completely customized. Moodle is, among LMSs, the one that offers the greatest possibility of customization. This high degree of customization, however, makes it particularly challenging for new students who are not familiar with the software.

moodle lms

Moreover, the platform can sometimes be a little cumbersome in some respects, especially in comparison with newer Learning Management Systems, which are generally much more intuitive to use. Used in many universities, it allows the creation of a real virtual classroom where lecturers can upload lessons on demand. These are not live lectures, as the program does not allow this, but videos are uploaded on the portal that students can watch whenever they want. In addition to sharing files, students and teachers can chat online directly in the dedicated module.

Google Classroom

Google Classroom is a platform offered by Google. It, too, is completely free of charge and allows students and teachers to interact in a very simple and intuitive manner. In fact, the platform is organized in such a way as to make it very intuitive to use. Subjects are divided into modules. Each module is managed by the teacher, who can assign assignments, and tests, can communicate with his students (both privately and publicly), can insert videos, images, links to other websites, and much more.

 Thanks to the use of other platforms, again offered by Google and completely free of charge, classes can be brought together in online lessons, And not only that. The main advantage of this LMS is certainly its immediate compatibility with all other Google tools:

  • Meet for online lessons;
  • Drive for file sharing;
  • Gmail, Google Sheets, and more;

All with one service. And it is easy to use, even for less experienced users. Also perfect for slightly younger students.

Forma LMS

Forma LMS is an expandable learning system with a wide range of plugins. It gives the possibility to create webinars, monitor activities with tracking systems, and comprehensively manage training in every aspect. It can also create pdf certificates automatically upon completion of courses, with templates that can be fully customized by the company.

 Its main advantage is that it is fully responsive: an LMS created to be compatible with all mobile devices.

Examples of paid LMS

Of course, there are also many Learning Management Systems available for a fee. The main advantage of using these LMSs is the 24/7 support. They are also the ideal solution for organizations that need advanced functionalities and do not have in-house staff with sufficient technical expertise to customize the platform. Here is some software:


Docebo, used by many major companies, such as Alitalia, is one of the most popular paid LMSs. It was launched in 2005 and is a cloud-based corporate learning service that ranks among the top 10 eLearning solutions in the world. It offers a 14-day free trial and offers a flexible pricing model depending on the users accessing the course.

Using the potential of artificial intelligence, it is able to optimize the training process even when dealing with large quantities of materials.

In addition to the many functionalities that the platform provides, it is possible to integrate many other third-party applications to expand the functionality of Docebo. Furthermore, there is the possibility of selling one’s own online courses directly via the LMS, which becomes real e-commerce.

It also offers other features that go beyond the usual LMS features. For instance, gamification (which allows increasing learner engagement through badges, rewards, and rankings), customized domains, a fully optimized mobile learning experience (as well as the ability to create fully customized learning apps). Another important feature of this platform is the ability to add translations into many other languages.

Adobe Captivate Prime

Adobe Captivate Prime (now known as Adobe Learning Manager) is considered a next-generation learning management system. Suitable for small and medium-sized enterprises, it is structured in such a way that it can be used on both PCs and mobile devices, both online and offline. In fact, it is possible to download content to be viewed even without a connection. But don’t be fooled: even though it is widely used by small and medium-sized enterprises, it is still a very powerful software.

With a modern and easy-to-use design, it is considered one of the most efficient cloud-based LMSs.

 Thanks to initial video tutorials, the user will be able to move around the platform without any problems. A 30-day trial version is available.

iSpring Learn

iSpring Learn is organized to primarily manage employee training. All uploaded materials can be accessed from any device, even offline, and with no time limit. It offers statistics to keep track of employee progress. It also provides virtually unlimited storage spaces; the company can upload files without worrying about space.

ispring learn lms

In addition, it offers a gamification system to increase student engagement.

Prices range from around $160 per month for up to 50 users, but a price can be agreed with the vendor for other solutions. There is also a trial period here.

Summing up, we have seen that when it comes to delivering e-learning courses and conducting online training, Learning Management System platforms are crucial. Choosing the most suitable one is very complex as it depends on a large number of factors. However, by correctly analyzing what one’s objectives are, the resources available, and the target group for which the training is intended, one can make the choice process easier and more conscious. 


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