What Is a Learning Management System?

A young woman in an audience raises her hand.

 Cecilie_Arcurs | Getty

A learning management system (LMS) is software that allows an organization to host, deliver, and track employee or customer training. Using the LMS, you administer courses to your employees or customers. These systems are designed to make the onboarding process more engaging and fun, often using gamification to help employees learn everything they need to know to become a successful part of your team, or to educate consumers on how to get the most out of your product or service.

LMS Hosting Options

There are several LMS solutions on the market today, at a variety of price points.

Some are Software as a Service (SaaS) hosted on the cloud, so there’s no equipment for you to maintain or upgrades to manage.

Self-hosted solutions require you to download and install the software on your own equipment, but offer more control over branding and personalizing the dashboard.

Some LMS options offer desktop applications that are accessible on multiple devices for easier collaboration. Mobile applications are also available.

LMS Pricing

Pricing is often based on the number of licenses required, with each team member or customer you seek to train requiring their own license. While there are many free, open-source, options available for small businesses on a budget, the money you save on licensing fees may have to be spent on IT staff if you lack the programming experience necessary to customize the system. 

As you choose the right solution for your needs, you need to have a clear idea of what you expect the users to achieve at the end of the program. The level of interaction you require from the user will determine features you should look for. 

Consider your current IT setup and opt for something that will easily integrate. Involve the end users in the evaluation process, because if it’s not easy for them to use, they won’t use it.

Basic Functions and Features

At a minimum, your LMS should have most or all of the following features.

  • Reports and analytics: This allows you to see who’s completing the coursework, and whether or not they are on track. You should be able to monitor people as a group in addition to the individual level.
  • Responsive design: This ensures your content can be viewed well from multiple devices.
  • Intuitive user interface: It doesn’t matter how many awesome features there are if people can’t easily navigate and use the system.
  • Adequate customer support: Each vendor offers its own level of customer service. Find out what’s included in the support and whether you can pay for additional support, if needed.
  • E-learning assessment tools: These are necessary to determine whether there are any gaps in learning and if you need to intervene. 
  • Gamification features: Earning currency or badges that translate to real-world rewards can be a great motivator to increase participation.
  • Social learning support: This feature allows users to interact with their peers and share their experiences.
  • Localization: If you’re working with a global team, localization provides multilingual support for your training resources.
  • Compliance and certification support: If your organization provides company policy and compliance training online, you must look for an LMS with these features.

Popular LMS Services

To help you get started on your search, here are three LMSes to consider.


Moodle is a free LMS, but is only an ideal choice for organizations that have the know-how to do everything themselves. It’s an open-source (user supported) system with more than 100,000 installations and 160 million users, according to Moodle. You can add features with more than 1,500 plugins to address everything from webinars, content management systems, and more. If you’d rather not host it yourself, Moodle can set up a paid hosted solution for you. Currently, the system doesn’t integrate with HR or payroll systems, and lacks social learning support.


TalentLMS offers everything you need to host and track training built-in, with the majority of features available on the free plan. The free plan allows for up to five users with 10 courses, while the paid plans allow for more of each. Additional features include: video conferencing, surveys, and learning paths. You can create your own custom courses, or purchase courses from TalentLMS to cover common areas such as sales, safety skills, and IT.


Docebo can accommodate up to 300 users on its Growth package, with custom enterprise solutions, and offers a free trial to test the features. Pricing is available only upon request. Additional features include Salesforce integration, ecommerce, and gamification to boost engagement and retention.

Before committing to an LMS for your company, consider testing trial versions of a few with your learners.