Selecting a LMS: Which one is the right one for you?

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Find the right system is never easy, especially in today’s market.

Terminology can be confusing, certain systems are geared towards certain verticals, while others are in the “throw it against the wall and whatever sticks” mentality.

As a potential customer, selecting a system quickly, based on specific features is long gone.

Welcome to the wild west of LMSs, where some see themselves as magic elixirs that can solve all your problems.

Selection: Terminology

When assessing which system is the right one for you, the first step is identifying it by its space. That is to say, what covers “corporate” vs “education”, etc.

In the LMS space, the following are designated as:

  • Corporate (inc. all size of businesses, associations, non-profits)
  • Education – primary, secondary and higher education (inc. community college, technical college, for profit colleges, private)


In the e-learning world, the size of the business is essential. This includes non-profits.  A challenge that often comes into play is how to define a small business vs. mid size. Please understand that how the industry sees it, isn’t necessarily as how other industries see it, nor how you see yourselves.

  • Small business – 500 or less employees. Some vendors consider 300 or less, but the vast majority are 500 or less.
  • Mid Size businesses: three sub segments. Low mid size is 501 to 1,000, mid size is 1,001 to 5,000 employees, high mid size is 5,001 to 9,999 employees
  • Large size businesses: 10,000 or more employees
  • Enterprise ( a term that some vendors use, others just say Large) 50,000 or more employees. Think “Big Whale”. If a vendor lands this size of a client, it is like winning the lottery.

There are hundreds of vendors who do not try for this space and that makes sense. Only a few can really play in this market, although, many would love to – and waste resources trying to do so.

  • SMB – anything from 2 end users to 9,999 employees. Personally, the best market to hit is small business, but SMB is strong in general. The majority of businesses in the U.S. are small businesses. Plus, they tend to be very loyal, compared to other size markets.


As noted above, education includes the following

  • K-12. I have seen sub-segments specifically for primary and secondary
  • Higher education/academia – college, universities, 2 year colleges, tech colleges, community colleges, private and public


I would argue that the biggest problem facing the industry as it relates to end users, is identifying the right system, based on the above. Forget about specific verticals for the moment, rather focus on how you truly define what system or systems are geared towards one market versus the other.

It’s a small world or is it?

The education sector causes the biggest dilemma for folks. Unless the vendor specifically says that their solution is available only for education/academia or specifically for education/academia, then people have no idea.

Buzz Buzz

There are buzz words with these systems that can tell you if they are in the education/academia space or are targeting (primarily) this market.

  • Rubrics – The screams to me, K-12
  • Course Portfolios  or Eportfolios- K-12, academia
  • Lesson Plans – K-12, some times academia
  • Registrar functionality – academia
  • Gradebooks – K-12
  • Assignments
  • Teachers – K-12, academia (although the term should be different)
  • Student/Teacher/Parent touch points or communication: K-12 – can include e-mail messages
  • Attendance – K-12, academia
  • Homework – K-12
  • Subject resources – sometimes it is very easy, because they will say “classroom resources”, but “subject” should be a quick indicator
  • Class tools
  • Tie into SIS (Student Information System)

Ambiguous Terms

At one time these terms clearly said “education”. Honestly, if I was a vendor not focusing on the education space whatsoever and had these terms, I would change them:

  • Classrooms – some now say “virtual classrooms” – really, that is best you can come up with? This is widely used in the corporate side with some vendors, but it still screams education to me – there are better terms for corporate then this
  • Teachers – no corporate system should ever use this term – so, if you see it – very likely they are targeting education as a market
  • Students – used frequently in the corporate space – the term for business is “learners”.  Again, if you see students – ask yourself – if these guys don’t even know the term used in corporate training, how do I really know – that they know the corporate training side?

Education & Corporate – Shake Well

Have you ever mixed something then said afterwards, “what was I thinking”? If you have, then you know where I am about to go.

How this ever happened to you:

The LMS does not clearly state whether it is for education, corporate or education/corporate Or it has education clients, even though you can clearly see it is corporate driven (inc. associations for that matter). 

The system says “extended enterprise” and pushes that, but also states it is perfect for education/academia.

Considering EE is geared towards a company who has distributors/wholesalers/sales agents, and last time I looked education/academia, wasn’t in that scene (yes, for-profit colleges, might be).

The LMS offers multiple editions, including one for education/academia. The other editions are for the corporate space.

Take a deep look and examine the feature sets, the capabilities. Let me offer a predication on what you are likely to see – virtually the same feature sets/capabilities as their corporate side, with maybe a few new ones or ones removed. 

Review the above examples and now ask yourself, is a mixed system really meet my needs if I am in the education/academia market? Or if I am corporate and then system has some of the buzz words listed above, is it really best suited to meet my needs?

Typically the former statement above comes into play more than the latter. I have seen some really amazing systems out there – who pitch to everyone. Fine. Let’s not confuse that with whether they truly see themselves for everyone or rather more so for specific verticals.

The WalMart Syndrome

Generally speaking, Walmart’s audience is not the same audience as those who frequent Target. Nor is it the same audience as those who frequent Macy’s. However, in the past WalMart has tried to change that. They tried to capture the audience who shops at Target, by offering products tailored to that audience.  They failed.

Compare this to the LMS market. You will see similarities. Systems that have achieved great success in the education market are those systems who focus only on the education market.

They are not systems who have split their focus on corporate & education.  Similarly, systems that do well to very well in the corporate side are systems that do not split their focus with education.

To Accept or Reject – Different Perspectives

  • Vendors whose focus is corporate rarely reject end users from the education/academia segment
  • Education/Academia vendors who focus solely on the education side, often decline customers on the corporate side
  • There are vendors in specific segments that will provide systems only to customers in that specific segment, otherwise they are not interested.  I have seen this in Healthcare, the tennis and massage industries

Online Authoring Systems

First and foremost, these are not LMSs, and for the most part they do not advertise themselves as such. However, as you might expect they do advertise themselves under other wording, including training management.

An online authoring system is easy to identify. Here are some quick clues:

  • Their main focus – i.e. component is the course authoring tool
  • They offer a couple of reports, some are now adding basic analytics, batch upload of users and email messaging
  • You cannot upload 3rd party content into their system, nor can you upload content created by another authoring tool in their system

Lite LMS

A lite LMS is a LMS that is a stripped down system. Their feature sets are not as extensive as a standard system, but there are plenty of systems that are nice.

  • Analytics are limited, same thing with reports – the key essentials are there, nothing more
  • They include “storage” and list it as such with their pricing
  • Tend to focus on the small business market, although I have seen ones that will pitch up to 100,000 users – personally, I wouldn’t use them if my company was that large
  • Do not offer any social learning nor mobile learning – besides seeing it via your smartphone or tablet with your browser
  • Functionality is not as robust as a standard system
  • Do not offer e-commerce

There are exceptions. Litmos is a Lite LMS that offers social learning, mobile learning and e-commerce. That said, their analytics are not as robust as say your typical standard system (I will say I’ve seen some standard systems that are not as good as a few Lite systems – that standout).

Talent Management Systems

LMSs whose primary focus is on talent/performance management. These systems often will have features including leadership development, succession planning, 360 feedback and alike. More systems are offering compensation, payroll and even benefits.

While they do include learning as a component, if you were to really examine the system – 80% would be focused on talent/perf. management and 20% on L&D.  There are systems who are dropping learning (i.e. training angle) to 10%.  TMSs are a growth market, but there are people who do not want or see value with TM functionality.

If you are not using TM/PM now or anytime in the future, then I would not recommend selecting a system who offers it as a large chunk of their system.  There are vendors who offer it as a feature – but it is just one feature among dozens of features. What is nice is you can have them (for the most part) turn off this feature. 

Bottom Line

With continued growth in the LMS space, you can expect more systems which leads to more confusion.

Before you select or explore more deeply systems that have specific set of features and capabilities, first see if they are targeting your segment – as  primary.

If not, ask yourself,  is this something you want?

For me, the answer will always be no.

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  1. Selecting the right type of learning management system is very important. As said by you the difference between corporate and education must be first recognized. Thanks for providing this post. It will really be helpful in selection of LMS.

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