Whether you’re searching job posts or just reading articles to learn more about instructional design, you’ve definitely seen the acronym LMS. So what is an LMS and why should you be familiar with them? I’ve got an amazing breakdown for the newbie instructional designer!
What is an LMS and What Should an Instructional Designer Know About Them?
There’s a lot of information out there about learning management systems (LMS), so a quick Google search may have left you feeling overwhelmed! Don’t worry, I’m going to break down all the relevant information so you have a condensed answer to the question “What is an LMS?”
This background will help prepare you for interviews and give you some base knowledge to use in your role as an instructional designer.
What is an LMS?
LMS is a common acronym in instructional design or learning and development. It stands for Learning Management System. Fun fact, even when you’re describing them in the plural, learning management systems is still LMS!
Think about it this way. If you create an eLearning module, how will your learners access what you create? The answer is through a Learning Management System. Simply put, they are software or websites that can host training.
You (or your kids) may have interacted with an LMS like Canvas, Blackboard, or Google Classroom as a student. As an instructional designer, you’ll encounter all different kinds of LMS. We’ll name some of the more common ones later on.
How do companies use an LMS?
Corporations typically only use their LMS to host their training and for basic organization of training resources.
As you’ll see later on, organization is a huge selling point for bigger companies. Their LMS can act as a one-stop shop for mandatory training for employees.
Different systems have different capabilities, but for the most part, the LMS helps a company organize, deliver, and track training completion.
What is an LMS used for in Higher Education?
Typically, universities use their LMS to organize full courses versus the more infrequent training required of corporate employees.
A university’s LMS may contain multiple modules that students complete in order. Modules can contain required readings, discussion posts, and assignments/assessments that must be turned in. This is compared to a one-off eLearning or video module that a company might be hosting on an LMS.
Feedback is also typically a larger part of a university’s LMS. So the LMS used by the university needs to allow users to communicate amongst themselves and with the facilitator. The university’s LMS will also host user’s grades on assignments and assessments, which isn’t a necessary feature for an LMS used by a company or an individual.
How do small business owners and individuals use an LMS?
An LMS used in higher ed and in the corporate world needs multiple functionalities. And of course, the more an LMS can do, the more it will cost you!
But there are also LMS that cater to individuals, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. These LMS users may have courses that they’ve created themselves and are selling to an audience. They don’t usually need an LMS with all the functionality that a larger company or university would need.
What are the Benefits of Using a Learning Management System?
As an (aspiring) instructional designer, you should know why organizations choose to partner with an LMS. After all, they can be expensive. They might also require a dedicated LMS administrator to offer system support.
So why use an LMS to host your training anyway? If it’s a video-based training you could just email your audience a link, right? Not so fast! As a new instructional designer, you know just how much planning and time goes into creating a training. How frustrating would it be to have gone through all that effort only for your training to get lost in the participant’s inbox!
Here are the main benefits that you should understand as an instructional designer:
Any company, school, or small business that offers training needs a way to organize the training. An LMS is the one-stop-shop for storing all training materials. Employees are familiar with the layout of the LMS as it’s the one place they always visit to complete training.
It also stores training resources after the user has completed a session. This means if someone needs to revisit the training materials for reference sometime in the future, they can do that without any fuss.
From an instructional designer’s perspective, this is ideal! Learners who can easily find the training content we create are much more likely to complete the training. Plus, the ability to revisit the content helps fight the forgetting curve.
Easy Implementation and Delivery
Learning management systems make implementing training a piece of cake! First, the instructional designer delivers the course files to the organization. From here, implementation of the training is largely up to the organization.
An LMS administrator loads the course files into the LMS and schedules the training rollout. Then, the website or software will notify employees that new training is available and when it’s due.
Tracking data & Learner Progress
Another benefit of using an LMS is that most platforms have built-in tracking. They can collect data like who has completed training and how long employees spend engaged in the content.
Sometimes the LMS also offers insight into how participants are responding to knowledge checks or end-of-course assessments.
Tracking data is useful to the organization so it can keep track of who still needs to complete mandatory training. For the instructional designer, learner data can be used to improve the course in an update.
What are some popular learning management systems?
There are so many learning management systems out there! As an instructional designer, you don’t have to be an expert in all of them. But it’s good to have a few that you’re familiar with in case you’re asked about them in an interview.
What is the Instructional Designer’s Role in Learning Management Systems?
So now that you know what an LMS does and why different groups of people might use them. What should you do with that information as an instructional designer?
Here are some tips:
Know your goals
New instructional designers might be thrown off by job postings that require LMS support. It’s not uncommon for an organization to lump together the instructional design and support positions.
It’s up to you to weed out positions that focus on support if that’s not what you’re interested in doing. Should you ignore all job postings that mention an LMS? Absolutely not! But go into interviews armed with the right questions so you know if the job is right for you.
Basic LMS support is something many instructional designers pick up over time. Plus, if you’ve ever worked with one before (like most teachers) it’s already a skill that’s in your wheelhouse.
So, decide how involved you want to be with the learning management system to start out.
Another way to position yourself in the LMS world as an instructional designer is as a consultant.
I know it’s hard to believe, but some smaller organizations have little experience with using LMS. They might pay for one and not fully understand its capabilities, or they might not have one yet and look to their instructional designer for advice.
What’s great about consulting is that your broad knowledge of learning management systems comes in handy here. You can advise clients on the benefits of using an LMS that you just learned!
If you want to take it a step further, some instructional designers partner with a specific LMS. Then, they receive a commission from the platform as an extra source of income.
Design with the LMS in mind
There are plenty of instructional design positions that don’t require you to touch an LMS. But, if your course will be hosted on an LMS, you still need to make sure your content plays nicely with the platform.
That’s why you should be able to design with the company’s LMS in mind. Once you get an instructional design job, part of the analysis phase of your first project should include understanding how the content will be delivered. Once you have that information, you can make sure you develop a training that’s compatible with the delivery method.
For example, if you’re working on an eLearning course for a large company that uses Litmos, you wouldn’t throw in extras like a discussion board topic, even though that kind of learning activity might have been a good fit for an online Intro to Psych course you worked on for a local university.
What’s nice about this is that it’s not LMS specific. Your understanding of ADDIE and the instructional design process prepares you to create training that fits the intended delivery method.
If you’re still early in your instructional design journey, this might be new to you. Consider checking out this Instructional Design and Tech Accelerator program. It starts with the basics, so it’s a good fit for beginners.
Do your research
Here’s my best advice if you’re just learning about learning management systems for the first time: before you apply for a job (and definitely before you interview) spend a little time familiarizing yourself with an LMS.
For example, if you’re interviewing for a position with a university, take a look at the promotional material and websites for Blackboard or Canvas. If you’re interviewing for a larger company, check out Litmos.
You might even be able to find out the specific learning management system an organization uses with a little bit of research.
Wrapping it up
Whew! You didn’t think I’d be able to give you this crash course in one short article, did you? Now, the next time you’re reading a job description or prepping for a job interview, you’ll be prepared to talk about learning management systems like a pro!
Additionally, be prepared to connect your role as an instructional designer to the use and benefits of an LMS.
So what if you don’t have an interview lined up yet? You can still prepare your knowledge for your future instructional design job. If you’ve used a learning management system as a student, teacher, or learning and development professional, make sure this experience is included in your resume.
If you have work samples in your portfolio that you developed for a certain platforms- mention this in the sample’s description.
Similarly, if you implemented one of your work samples using an LMS, include this information for future clients!