Am I an LMS? And if so..

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A few weeks back, I was speaking at an event and was asked a question, “What do you look for when you select an LMS?”  I thought for a few moments because my response would vary, such as “as an analyst”, “expert”, “consumer – purchasing them on my own in the past for companies I worked at”, “client perspective” or a combination of factors.

I went with my takes from an analyst standpoint and my expertise standpoint – as in what I believe are the necessities to have a successful LMS for you (the buyer and your learners).

When I write my Top 50 report, I wear multiple hats ensuring that all factors are considered, beyond just the weighting and point totals (based on many tiers of data and information).

Thus, the question wasn’t  as easy and just “I look for X or Y”.  Personally, if someone couldn’t get specific with me, I’d be like, “What’s up with that?”

So I went specific.  I went in detail.  I explained the “standards” I see are requirements for any system to be called an LMS (and various subsets).

The Alternative Vendors of Learning

As in years past, there are plenty of vendors in the e-learning world who love to call themselves anything but an LMS.  “We are the anti-LMS”, “Non-LMS”, “Knowledge Learning Platform”, “Training Management System”, “Neuroscience learning platform” and so on and so on. 

Part of the reasoning I believe behind this approach is the idea that calling yourself an LMS is saying you are old and stodgy (neither of which is true) or “traditional” – a marketing term that many vendors love to toss out, just as they would toss “Free anchovies” if they sold pizzas (okay, no proof here). 

The idea that you are something other than an LMS only works if you fail to have the basic standards that any LMS should have and would have.   These are not some “secret” you can’t know or something so radical as “built-in Maserati engine”.

Do you Have a House?

Because if you do or you are looking at buying/renting one, there are items that are fairly consistent with any home out there.

  • Walls  – made of whatever material – but a house has them
  • Door – At least one. 
  • Window – At least one.  Sure, there could be no windows, but that is not the norm.
  • Bathroom – Regardless of size.
  • Sink – somewhere you have one.
  • Kitchen – size truly doesn’t matter here  (and yes, I know what some of you are thinking)
  • A room – maybe you have many, maybe you don’t.  But you are sleeping somewhere.

Houses come in all shapes and sizes.  They vary in color, design, appearance inside and outside, amenities too. 

Some people buy cookie cutter homes, others purchase or build customized homes.  There are people who love tiny houses (200 sq feet – ugh), mobile homes, castles, manors, capes, modern something, colonials, ranches, split-level ranches, two-story, single story, three-story and more.  The point here is that there are lots of houses out there, lots of options, lots of possibilities including location.

Oh and price.

But when you reduce them down, you still have the basics (a door, walls, window, bathroom, sink, kitchen, a room).   At the end of it all, you have a place you call a “home”.

I mention the above “house” because you can in a way see it as an LMS.  Lots of options, types, names, features and capabilities and yes, even price.

The Standards of an LMS

A vendor can call themselves whatever they want if it makes them happy or sad too, I guess.   But if they have the basics below, they are an LMS, regardless of how they view the learning system world.  

Oh and if they don’t have the basics, then yeah, they are not an LMS and personally, I wouldn’t ever buy one or recommend that you do too.

Nuts and Bolts – The Basics

In no particular order

  • Ability to see/view, select/pick courses (and nowadays content too) somewhere in the system
  • Course catalog
  • Ability to add learners (users) to your system, regardless of method
  • Ability for learners to pick their own courses, course, content, etc. from a course catalog
  • Ability to assign learners (users) to a course or multiple courses including combination (i.e. you can assign one course to a learner, and then assign several other different types of content/courses to the learner – who knows, maybe you just want them to feel overwhelmed)
  • Ability to add groups
  • Ability to assign learners (users) to a group or groups
  • Ability to assign a group or groups a course or a set of courses (including content, i.e. one piece of content, multiple pieces of content)
  • Ability to upload a course built in a 3rd party authoring tool (not just PowerPoint, which uh, is not an authoring tool)
  • Ability to upload a course or courses from a 3rd party course/content provider (example: Wiley, Skillsoft, etc.)
  • Some type of learning environment online (I know a shocker huh?)
  • A calendar –  Should have scheduled items on it, could be webinars (online only), seminars (ILT), online group whatevers,  days you can’t be bothered, etc.  In 2000, this wasn’t a standard feature, today it is. 
  • A user interface – see below (must have learner/admin sides/options)
  • Has a learner side – regardless if it is user-friendly or not, although we all want user-friendly
  • Has an administrator side – again, regardless if it is user-friendly or not or has several choices or hundreds of choices (in that case, way too many)
  • Has at least one assessment feature (example: it offers M/C or pick out which Muppet is the best – I’m picking the two old guys in the balcony – I see them as “one”)
  • Notifications – At least by e-mail.  Again, have one – congrats that is all you need, although honestly you should offer more
  • Has at least one course standard (Standards : SCORM, SCORM 1.2, SCORM 2004 3rd edition, SCORM 2004 4th edition, AICC, PENS, xAPI, CMI-5).  As long as it has one of these..
  • At least one item of social (yep, just one, of course, more is better or merrier)
  • Multilingual – At least two languages
  • Mobile – as in you can see it in a mobile web browser
  • Mobile responsive – all systems are nowadays, so anyone who hypes it, is just hyping for the sake of hyping.  Look you can view it in a browser too! Yippee!
  • Gamification – In 2014, wasn’t a standard nuts, and bolts; today it is.  The market changes, so uh, get going (for those vendors who still have ZERO)
  • Analytics  – Doesn’t matter if it is robust or a pie chart. If it offers analytics..
  • Reporting – Even if it is one report.  Doesn’t matter. If it offers reporting…
  • Browser Agnostic – at least viewable in one browser.  If you are running Maxthon good news – plenty of LMSs work in it, same with Opera and Avant.  Just in case you were wondering.

That’s it. Those above are the basics, the nuts, and bolts.

Now beyond that, there are lots of stuff you could add, but it varies all over the place with vendors.  There are items that the majority of vendors offer and other items that are limited or at “infant” stage.

For example, classroom management.  If you are doing any form of ILT, you will want your LMS to have classroom management.  If you are 100% online only with ZERO ILT and never will have it, then you do not need classroom management.  Thus, it is not a “nuts and bolts” feature. 

E-Commerce is another non-nuts and bolts feature.  I personally want a system to have it, but only if they are targeting internal B2B or external B2B or B2C.  If they are 100% internal with none of their customers or targets I should say, who will use any form of e-commerce then they do not need it.

I have worked at places where we had business units and would charge them for our online courses/content.  So, yeah, we were internal but needed e-comm.

Integration is nowadays a feature I see as a “must”, ideally with an API, but it is not a nuts and bolts standard. 

What I look for

For me, my “basic requirements” go beyond just the standard nuts and bolts.   And when I look at any LMS, regardless if it is for a client, exploration, analysis including my rankings, I expect to see the nuts and bolts AND what I view as must have features for that vertical(s) or horizontal(s) or target audience(s).

I’ll give you an example.

If I’m looking for an LMS with compliance as its horizontal, then I expect to see them offer digital signature in their system.  It may not be one that is integrated (behind the scenes) with some type of a third party, it just needs a simple “enter your name” where you type it in and it becomes a signature.

Ideally, I would like to see it in a mobile on/off synch app, but that is rare. 

Beyond the nuts and bolts, here are my top nine requirements when looking at any system, regardless of what they call themselves. Oh added a bonus when it comes to an LRS (for those that offer)

  1. Modern UI for learners, easy to use and navigate – Every vendor will tell you their system is modern.  No one says, “hey if you loved the song, “1999” you are in for a treat, because our system hasn’t been updated since then”)
  2. Prefer seeing a learner dashboard when they enter. 
  3. Admin dashboard on the back end.  First thing I want to see.  If it is easy to use, modern in appearance and offers such delights as “bookmarks” or “favorites” – that get’s my attention and keeps it.
  4. Drag n drop on administrator side – wow, lots of ways to go with this, so why are there only a few vendors who are doing so?
  5. API integrations – Show me what I can expand on
  6. Reports – How many canned and can I do ad-hoc? If yes, what are the components within that?  Filters? Drag n Drop option too
  7. M-Learning- I ideally want on/off synch and capabilities in your mobile app beyond viewing/taking courses and assessments. 
  8. Social – Collaboration is old school, show me something that “gets it” for the next tier of social.  Do you offer P2P (Peer to Peer sharing with videos, content, etc.) – then now were talking.
  9. Gamification – What can you do? Reward center – nice.  Virtual wallet – nice.  Game based learning in the system and if yes, can I change my avatar or customize it with look?  If I can, call me – I want that system.  No, just kidding, but call me.

The ones listed above are the initial essentials for me. But yeah, I go much much deeper than that and ask to see a lot more.  

If you have it

  1. Video – What can I do beyond just adding it my course or adding a video as a piece of content.  Can I upload videos from my mobile device?  Will the video auto convert to the highest quality possible?  Can I change the speed and frames per second while watching the video? Do you have video streaming – at no charge to the learner and buyer?  Do you convert the video to SCORM 1.2 video thus expanding on tracking and analytical data.  What about a video report?
  2. Deep Learning – Do you offer it?  Are you using an algorithm?  Do you allow the administrator to change the weights and decide what is relevant to be included or not included in the algorithm?  There are vendors who penalize folks who do not complete a course using their algorithm and yet, the whole reason WBT was created in the first place was to offer folks the ability to bounce around a course anywhere, anytime, and at any place.  Thus they focus on what they want/need to know – which allows for non-completion, rather than having to linear and complete A to Z.  

The same with Ask an Expert (very new in the space), content curation that goes beyond links – you can tie that into P2P and thus social.


  1. If you have an LRS, can I see more analytical data beyond what you are listing?  I mean I should (err you should), but many many vendors who have added an LRS limit the amount that can be seen without charging you any additional fees and even some just won’t let you have it.  I surmise they get “coal” in their stocking

Bottom Line

If you are seeking out a system, UI (user interface), UX (user experience) and the nuts and bolts should be the bare minimums.  The system has to be something you like and you believe your learners will like.

Remember that an LMS is very much like a house.

Similar in so many ways (analogy not literally).

Especially when it comes down to that little sentence in your head

“Can I/we afford it?”

E-Learning 24/7

Good news – will be returning to weekly posts. 
Now every Monday!  Next week, I’m in London, but the post will be on the “Top 10 Authoring Tools for 2016”. 




  1. Good, thorough checklist! It might go around in the web of maybe abbreviated and transformed into an infographic.

    Generally the repurposing feature is nice – if you can attach materials in different formats and prepared by different media to your courses – you never know what your employees and learners like to use.

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