Online Learning Platform vs. LMS – A New Approach (in 2020)

Online Learning Platform vs LMS

Last Updated on August 17, 2020 by Gunnar

In recent months, there has been a massive boom in online learning. It is becoming more difficult to attend physical classes, and the number of online learners is ever increasing.

Students are finding out that it is more effective to learn at their own pace. That is why students and employees of all ages are increasingly learning from home.

As demand increases, so does the pressure on companies to produce better online learning platforms. Online systems need to be more fun and engaging to keep your user’s attention. Offering an excellent online learning experience is more important than ever before.

But how can you tap into this growing lucrative market? Which tools should you use to market and sell your courses?

When you are getting started, there is a lot to take in. There is a lot of jargon. You want to make sure to get started the right way.

Should you use an Online Learning Platform or a Learning Management System?

Here I look at the crucial difference between the two. I’ll explain what you need to look out for when choosing the right platform to host your online courses.

If you are ready to get started in the wonderful world of online education, then you are in the right place!

What exactly is an Online Learning Platform?

There is no clear definition of what an online learning platform is. Most websites define it vaguely and even Wikipedia doesn’t have a page dedicated to it.

For me, an Online Learning Platform is any web-system that supports virtual learning. It provides an environment where trainers can share structured information with learners.

An Online Learning Platform is a system that makes it possible to share learning tools. You can track and manage the courses and learners’ progress.

Online Learning Platform or LMS

What Are Some of the Common Features of Online Learning Platforms?

Educational curriculum

Online Learning Platforms have a defined curriculum for students to follow. It allows them to work independently. Students determine their rate of learning. Once they complete a course, they receive a certificate to prove their knowledge.

Content storage

Online learning platforms store all learning materials in their system. The course administrator does not need to worry about data storage. All materials are then made available to the learners to engage with.

To allow for offline learning, materials can often be downloaded from the platform.

Communication

Most Online Learning Platforms allow learners to gain knowledge and skill online without the need to sit in a physical classroom.

They let students interact with their tutors online.

There are different ways this can be achieved. It could be either during live sessions or using the given contact information in case of pre-recorded material.

What is a Learning Management System (LMS)?

A Learning Management System (LMS), on the other hand, is a type of online learning platform. It is a piece of software with clear distinguishing features, such as extra communication and management tools. A good LMS lets learners engage with one another and with their instructors, building a sense of community.

It also provides more refined supervision of the learner. You can oversee both the training and the development of the user.

What are the Key Features of a good LMS?

Administration

You can carry out administrative procedures with ease. The LMS will take care of the enrollment of learners and the saving of biometric and contact information.

It should also have tools to assist the administrators in creating content and publishing it.

Other features, such as fee payment and receipts can be accessible under this section.

Documentation and Content Management

Any good LMS should have enough storage space for the learning materials and supporting documents.

The content should be easily manageable.

It needs to be retrievable, and shareable to different groups of learners.

Learning and Development Program

Because there are different types of learners, tutors can assign relevant content to different groups.

It is possible to have specific learning and development programs assigned to each particular group of students.

Tracking

It is possible to track the progress of the users as they interact with the content.

Tracking helps to know if the objectives of the course are being achieved. This allows the tutor to re-evaluate the effectiveness of the course.

It also helps to identify the areas that need to be improved or expanded.

Social Interaction

Any good LMS should have inbuilt tools to enable learners to have online discussions and interactions with each other.

Tutors can also respond to individual or group messages, as they would in a traditional classroom.

Most learning happens when students interact with each other and discuss their new knowledge in an informal setting.

The system should provide this feature which is particularly important for enhanced learning.

Gamification

Sometimes learning can tend to be boring. So, as a way to keep the learners engaged and interested, gamification is used to spice up the learning process.

Gamification is the use of gaming elements in the software user experience.

It is a way to keep the learners engaged in the content and increase their interaction with the LMS.

Gamification does not imply turning the entire LMS into a game.

It can involve simple tweaks, such as having a leaderboard or giving learners rewards for using certain system functions.

By doing this, users will be encouraged to engage more with the content and use the LMS much more often. The playful interaction also speeds up their learning process in the meantime.

Assessments and Testing

An integral tool for any Learning Management System is the ability to test the learning and skills of the students. This is typically done through online examinations, just like in conventional school setup.

There are as many different kinds of assessment tools, depending on the LMS. When I create a course, I select the type of evaluation based on what I intend to achieve in the course.

Depending on the learning outcomes of the course, you can test the students with multi-choice quizzes.

I particularly like to use multiple answers or image map features. In a more formal setup, students might have to perform the learned skills directly in front of an online tutor.

Reporting and Analytics

With an LMS, you can receive comprehensive reports of the system. It will provide you with a detailed analysis of user engagement with the course.

It is also possible to have learner specific reports, allowing you to have a glimpse of a user’s progress.

The reporting is centered around three components:

Individual Learners

The report can show the transcript of individual learners and their progress through the learning material. It also highlights their achievements and badges earned in case the LMS is gamified.

Such a report is helpful for both the learners and administrators.

The learner can look back and see what they have covered and then make an informed decision on what to tackle next.

The Course Content

The LMS can report the number of people that have completed the entire course. It also shows which material has not been covered by those that are yet to finish it.

The reporting should give the test scores for individuals or groups. This allows course creators to fine-tune the tests, based on the analysis provided.

The entire system

On this level of reporting, it is possible to see how people are engaging with the system. It indicates the number of logins and the time people were online and what they were doing.

There will be data on social interactions and coverage of the course material. This report is particularly important for any LMS.

If people are not engaging with the system, it means they are also not learning.

The reports and analytics give feedback on what material works best and which needs improving. If interpreted correctly, the numbers generated can go a long way in maximizing the system.

Certification

Once a student has passed all elements of the course, the LMS should automatically generate certificates. These should be customizable for each course.

The user can then easily download and share them.

Certificates serve as evidence of acquired knowledge. They help successful learners apply for jobs and further opportunities.

Mobile Optimization

In the current world, people use their smartphones and tablets for almost everything.

With a ‘mobile-first’ approach in mind, the LMS should be able to work well on mobile devices.

This will help the learners maximize their time on the system and engage more with the content. You will be able to use the LMS on the move, whether you’re sitting in a café or on the train to work.

Learners will engage more and learn faster if the information is readily available to them whenever they need it.

What is the difference between an Online Learning Platform and an LMS?

All LMS are considered to be Online Learning Platforms, but not all Online Learning Platforms are LMS. An online learning platform is simply a content repository for electronic delivery.

A Learning Management System, on the other hand, has more features. Besides delivering the content online, you can track, report, and analyze trends of user engagement with the material.

There are many features that are unique to an LMS. These include gamification, social interaction, certification, enrollment processes, reporting, and analytics.

The difference between an LMS and an Online Learning Platform lies in the application design and the features of the system.

5 Top Factors to Consider when Selecting an LMS

The number of vendors selling LMSs across the globe is in the thousands. Selecting the best LMS for one’s needs can seem like an impossible task.

It is important to know what to look for to get the best system for your requirements.

Fortunately, you are in luck! I have compiled a list of features to consider when selecting an LMS. This should help you find a perfect fit for your business needs.

Pricing

All vendors offer different packages for their products depending on your needs. Prices for these are based on the specific features that they provide.

For example, the pricing can be based on the number of users engaging or the total usage volume.

It is important to make inquiries on the criteria a vendor uses to charge its users. Check out our article on the best online learning platforms of 2020 for a detailed list.

One of the most popular systems, Mindflash, offers three pricing plans: Standard, Premium, and Enterprise. These start at $3500 per year.

In contrast, Edmodo offers creators a free trial with final prices ranging from $1– $2500 per year.

Customer support

Before signing up for any LMS, you should consider the kind of customer support offered. Being able to get assistants in the shortest time possible in case of an emergency should be a key consideration.

Some companies will work on weekends and holidays, while others will not.

If you are offering your content to a high volume of customers, you can’t wait for a long time to get through to customer support.

You should furthermore consider how friendly and professional customer support is. Companies should also offer email and telephone support for ease of communication.

Before committing to an LMS, I suggest putting customer support to the test to get an idea of what to expect. You should never settle for less than top-notch customer service.

Mindflash is particularly quick in responding to user inquiries, which is critical when you encounter a problem. It is no surprise that they consistently received excellent reviews for customer support (9/10) from its customers.

Although not as fast as Mindflash, Edmodo’s customer support (7.3/10) is known for being extra helpful and attentive to customers’ concerns.

Mobile support

Good mobile device support is essential for any LMS. This is one of the first criteria that I look at when choosing where to host courses.

With the majority of people consuming content on portable devices, this is an integral part of learning nowadays.

Limited mobile technology might severely impact on the number of registered users for your course. I would, thus, always suggest to carefully check how mobile-friendly the system is.

Most systems offer excellent support for most iOS and Android mobile devices. However, you should look carefully at the list of features on offer.

While Mindflash is very mobile-friendly, Edmodo‘s app is missing several basic functions. These are available on its web platform though.

Posting assignments and quizzes are not very intuitive in their app. Although it is possible, it is much easier on the web version.

To test the features and user interface, request a demo of the system. Most companies will happily provide one.

Hidden Costs

Hidden charges can be a very nasty surprise when encountered during a project. Some vendors charge additional costs for extra administrators or uploading extra content.

Even cancellation fees are often levied unexpectedly. There might also be extra costs involved in customizing the layout or data migration.

The extra costs of app customization and the data migration on Mindflash’s system are a perfect example of hidden costs.

Edmodo, on the other hand, does not charge for app customization access to its social platform.

Most extra costs will come in the form of premium upgrades, which you should look at beforehand. Like selling cars, most of these upgrades are nice to have but completely unnecessary.

Although it is tough to predict all eventualities, I’d suggest covering at least a few bases. Before committing, you should have a good idea of what happens when you exceed quotas.

When committing to an LMS, I always make sure to know exactly what features come with each package and which features I need.

I always consider what I might need in the future and check how much this will cost.

Integration with third-party apps

The LMS you opt for should connect with other third-party apps such as social media and email. If it is not easy to do this, it means that the LMS is limited and may not be helpful in the long run.

For example, it should be easy to edit a document in Microsoft Word or Google Docs and upload it to the LMS.

If such a simple task is difficult, then I would avoid the LMS altogether.

You would be surprised, but this is a hurdle at which some of the big systems fall. Edmodo for example only offers third-party integration with Microsoft Office and Google Apps.

This might be enough for most. If you need to connect your system with apps, such as Beekeeper, Gooddata, Google Analytics, or Azure, Mindflash might be a better fit for you.

Like with hidden costs, you need to consider which features you really want.

Do you need integration to all those extra systems and are they worth the hike in costs?

Reasons why everyone should use an LMS

Time and money-saving

LMSs cut out the need to physically attend training sessions. Thereby, they limit the overhead costs associated with in-person education.

Online teaching materials are only produced once and updated each year. While, traditionally, companies had to hire teachers each year and pay for rooms, insurance, heating, …

By using an LMS, you can spend the money and time that saved on sales and marketing or creating more courses.

Better management capabilities

Administrators can control the learning processes more easily.

Processes such as enrollment of learners, communication with tutors, and management of the course outline can all be done on a single platform.

You can analyze the progress of the learner at the press of a button, which makes management of courses and decision making easier and faster.

Build a skilled workforce more efficiently

Finally, organizations can assemble a skilled workforce at a cheaper cost.

As an organization, you can track the progress of your employees and their engagement with the course content.

This will allow you to train and support your staff much better.

This way you’ll be able to grow the skills of your workforce and increase your overall capacity to succeed.

In a Nutshell

Online learning will soon be the primary way of learning across the world.

Choosing between an Online Learning Platform and an LMS can be tough.

Although both make it possible to teach online, LMS provides more helpful features. The ability to track the progress of students with detailed reporting and analytics are some of the crucial features of LMS.

When you are choosing your Online Learning Platform or LMS, ask yourself the questions we have looked at.

Do you need to have close interaction with and between students? Do you want to be able to track their progress and issue certificates?

Have a clear set of features in mind before committing will make it much easier for you to compare between different systems.

And as always… beware of those hidden costs and features that you don’t need!

What do you take into consideration when deciding on an online learning platform or learning system for your courses? Are there key features that I have missed in my analysis? Please let me know in the comments below.

Blogging Academic - Gunnar Mallon
Gunnar Mallon

Dr. Gunnar Mallon is a full-time Assistant Professor at the University of Groningen and passionate blogger. Join Gunnar and over 10,000 monthly readers on BloggingAcademic.com to learn how to start a blog like an academic. Gunnar also publishes academic journal articles on the topics of statistics, education, and climate science.

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The blogging academic - online education
About Gunnar Mallon

I put over a decade’s worth of experience, writing modules for some of the world’s top research universities into writing to 10,000 readers worldwide about creating engaging online educational content.

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