A headless learning management system (LMS) is an eLearning approach that offers organizations the best of customization and the power and capabilities to connect trusted platforms seamlessly. So, how does a headless LMS work, and what’s the story behind the name?

In this article, we’ll start a deep dive into the approach and technology to help you decide whether or not a headless LMS is right for your training strategy.

The Early Web

The headless LMS is just one example of headless architectures. Before we dive into the unique features of a headless LMS, let’s look at how headless is used to manage content, a core element of training programs.

One of the first uses of a headless architecture was the headless content management system (CMS), which arose as a better way to create, manage and render content. In the early days of the web, content including text and images was stored on the page that displayed it or in a discrete, static spot on a web server.

As internet services got more complicated with social media, mobile apps, and increasingly complex web and ecommerce sites, storing content within individual platforms — like a website — created a serious content management and continuity headache. Even straightforward tasks like updating a logo required catering to the unique ways the website, the app, the newsletter platform, and so on, stored and used that resource.


A headless approach separates the content itself from the code, software and platforms that deliver the content. To make this work, application program interfaces (APIs) allow platforms to pull content from a platform-agnostic repository to display it. It’s like going from a world of private book collections to a world of public libraries. In a headless architecture, any training platform can access any resource it needs, for any purpose, and doesn’t need to have that resource in its own “private collection.”

By decoupling the content “body” from the platform or user interface “head,” content teams can do their work independently without worrying about how their works will be rendered, and software developers can focus on creating interfaces with the best user experience without concern for what the specific content will be. Critically, content is now flexible, accessible across all digital properties, easily updated and consequently more valuable.

How It Works

With a headless LMS, all the advantages of a headless CMS are available for creating, managing and updating course content. For example, if you have an instructional video, that resource can be referenced by different courses on different platforms. But because headless architectures are built around the use of APIs to integrate discrete, decoupled services, there are far more possibilities for a headless LMS than just content management.

With a headless architecture, an organization can create a user interface (or learning environment) tailored to the needs of learners. By creating custom “heads” for the same “body” of course content, organizations can turn their LMS into a partner or customer education portal, create convenient and familiar entry and access for learners, place the LMS within existing learning paths, and incorporate the learning experience within an existing workflow such as support, development, and creative initiatives.

A headless LMS also allows content and experiences to be drawn from other platforms — bringing in things like virtual and augmented reality (AR/VR), social and gamification tools, for the LMS to use however it wants, without having to build those services into the LMS itself.

By understanding that a headless LMS works by leveraging APIs to draw diverse services together to create a rich, custom learning experience, organizations can start to see the vast world of possibilities for deploying one.