Learning Management System, LMS, e-learning, virtual campus

Learning management system: what is it and why do I need one?

A Learning Management System, also known as LMS, is a software that implements a virtual campus or e-learning platform. If you have something to teach or your organization’s objectives includes training people, an LMS will be a very beneficial tool.

What does a Learning Management System (LMS) do?

A Learning Management System will create an experience for users so they can learn something new. This can include:

  • Text content: in the form of HTML texts that the user can read online or files to download and print or read offline
  • Multimedia content: videos, graphics, images, sounds, etc.
  • Interactive activities: engaging the user to respond after some type of prompt
  • Access to live training via videoconferences or webinars
  • Quizes: not-graded questions for the user to help fix content
  • Discussion forums: to interact between learners and instructors
  • Exams: tests that the user must pass to get an approval grade
  • Certificates: a proof of approval that the user can share in a resume or social networks
  • and basically anything that can be digitalized and uploaded to the web

But what makes a Learning Management System special?

So far, it does not look like anything different from any content management system. Nevertheless, a Learning Management System offers much more than storing content.

One of the most important features of an LMS is that it will identify the students before they can do anything. All students will have to log into the platform. Therefore all the activity is tracked and linked to a particular user.

Another important characteristic is that the content is organized in a structure that helps students keep track of their learning process. The main organization level is the course, which in turn can be subdivided in sections, classes, modules, units, etc. Additionally there may be common places to store reading books, handouts, student notes, etc.

Interaction with classmates and instructors is also an important aspect of learning. So a discussion forum is key to engage students to continue the learning process.

Students will have the experience of being in a virtual campus if you implement your e-learning project with a true learning management system.

Demystifying Learning Management Systems

There are many misconceptions about Learning Management Systems. Here we present a few of them.

LMS is only for free courses or MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses)

False. Although a Learning Management System is critical to implement a MOOC, you can use it in multiple business models. If your organization sells training you can benefit from integrating an LMS with an e-commerce site and start monetizing your training capacities.

For example, edX is a core provider of MOOCs. It’s service is built on Open edX, which is the software that implements the service, and powers thousands of commercial an non-commercial e-learning virtual campuses. You can read our article explaining the differences between edX and Open edX.

LMS is complex and difficult to operate

Even though a Learning Management System can tend to be a complex system, there are a number of options that can make your life easier. For example, you can contract a fully managed LMS, which means that a service provider will take care of all the technical complexities, while you care only for using the service.

We must have servers and IT infrastructure to run an LMS

False. Now most LMS can be run in the cloud without needing to buy servers or administering an infrastructure. Actually, the recommended setup is to install the LMS in the cloud.

All our courses are on-premise, therefore we don’t need an LMS

False. Even if your courses are primarily on-premise, you can benefit from having a virtual campus implemented with a Learning Management System. You can have a better control of enrolled students if they have to log into an LMS in addition to attending the classroom. Additionally you can distribute reading material easily via the virtual campus. Doing homework is much better in the LMS, which can also include corrections and tips. If your students have to submit some work, as an essay, doing this through a Learning Management System is much better as this allows better tracking and can ease the correction process.

In our blog we explain the installation options that offer Open edX.

An LMS is too expensive for our organization

False. There are a number of options that can fit your business needs and your budget. Check or pricing plans to see how we make an LMS closer to your plans.

How to choose a Learning Management System?

To choose the best LMS for your e-learning project you must take into consideration the characteristics of your organization and have a clear view of the goals you want to achieve. Here we present some typical dilemas.

Proprietary or open source?

Proprietary LMS were developed by a certain company and are usually tied to a service contract. The provider will support the virtual campus service as long as the contract is valid. If you want to change the company, you will have to move to another LMS. The migration process is usually complicated, if ever possible. Generally the code is closed and you don’t have the chance to see exactly what happens in the back end.

Open source LMS are not tied to a service provider. You can install your e-learning site and maintain it by yourself if you have enough technical resources. Or you can contract a service provider to help you with this. Usually there are two options to subcontract an open source Learning Management System: you ask a provider to install in your own infrastructure or cloud, or you contract a company to offer the LMS as a service (SaaS model). As the code is open source, you can always look at it to check how it works. The SaaS model is probably the most flexible, as you can pay for what you use and generally you can stop the service at any time.

Another advantage of open source is that, if you want to change the e-learning provider, you can select another one who can support this system. You are never tied to a single company or a long-term contract.

Insource or outsource?

If you chose to use an open source LMS, you have two options: do it by yourself with your own resources, or subcontract a service provider.

Usually the service providers are more up-to-date with the latest news, and have a broader experience with the system in other customers. Remember that a Learning Management System is a complex software, and building a team that can operate it can require too many skilled resources.

Installation and maintenance or SaaS, for a Learning Management System modality?

There are two main options when contracting a service provider for an LMS:

Installation and maintenance of LMS

The service provider will install the software in your cloud infrastructure. Optionally you can contract a maintenance and/or operations service in case something happens.

The installation cost can be high, but a one-time cost. But if you want to have the system up-to-date with lates upgrades and patches you will have to contract a maintenance service. Once the installation is complete, you own the system and can use it without additional payments.

You will have to pay for the cloud infrastructure and take care of its maintenance and operation. You should not minimize this effect, as it can have a big impact in your budget and resource allocation.

SaaS (Software as a Service) LMS

In the SaaS model, the service provider offers the Learning Management System as a service. There are many advantages: setup times are very short, the setup cost is null or minimum, you pay for what you use. In addition, service providers can offer a highly performant infrastructure at very competitive costs because of the escale effect.

If you contract a SaaS model for your virtual campus LMS, you will not have to worry about operating the infrastructure, making upgrades, applying security patches, running backups, etc., as these activities are part of the service provider routine.

Moreover, the cost of the e-learning infrastructure is included in the service.

On the other hand, if your organization has very demanding requirements, it’s possible that the SaaS offering does not include all the flexibility that you may need.

Learning Management System use cases

Here we present some typical use cases for leaning management systems.

Educational organizations

It includes from small academies to large universities implementing a virtual campus. Teaching is the core of their activity. Courses are usually grouped in programs or careers. Courses can be free and open, closed to a select number of users, or paid. When the organization sells courses, it is important to have an integration between the e-commerce site and the LMS.

Read more in our blog how we help universities build their virtual campus.


Enterprises can benefit from a Learning Management System to give training to employees, contractors, customers or any kind of business partners via e-learning. Internal training is usually managed from a training or HR (human resources) area. An importan application of enterprise training is compliance. In this use case, training is not the core activity of the organization, but is strategic for its operation. It is important that the LMS is integrated with other reporting tool, like the HR system.

Government and NGO

Both government and non-government organizations share a common objective: their mission is towards the community. They do not monetize through courses, but they can meet their strategic objectives through teaching. In this kind of organizations, it is critical to have an analytics tool that can help measure the impact of a training project into the community. An e-learning project helps these organizations to reach a broader audience.

You can read more in our blog about how we help NGOs build their virtual campuses, including the success case of Cap-Net.