Companies often struggle when trying to choose the best learning tool to support their needs, especially when looking for one system that does everything — which just isn’t possible.
There are multiple learning tool categories, and a myriad of tools within each category, so making sense of them all isn’t an easy task.
Let’s get some clarity by distinguishing among these four categories:
- Learning management systems (LMSs)
- Learning experience platforms (LXPs)
- xAPI learning record stores (LRSs)
- Learning portals
Learning Management Systems (LMSs)
Historically, the LMS has been used as a centralized way for organizations to find and launch learning. It provides a place for storing data so a returning learner can bookmark the position in a course and return to it later. It also has tracking and reporting, which gives a record of what learners have completed. In addition to listing required training learners must complete, an LMS usually has a catalog of elective training learners can take to help them advance in their careers. This feature could be beneficial for helping foster a “culture of learning” within an organization. However, the benefit can be limited in cases where there really isn’t all that much training to take or the course catalog isn’t very user-friendly.
Learning Experience Platforms (LXPs)
An LXP aims to improve the experience for learners looking for elective experiences. The search experience makes the catalog easier to browse in several ways, including having better categorization and search functionality, an interface that is easier to swipe through on a mobile device, and recommendations based on the learner’s role or content taken in the past. Often LXPs are provided by vendors that also sell off‑the‑shelf content, which helps solve the issue of not having enough training for employees to take. On the flip side, sometimes there are so many offerings, it can be overwhelming to the learner. You will also often find that LXPs don’t have as wide a variety of features found in the top LMS systems.
xAPI Learning Record Stores (LRSs)
Typically, an LMS requires learners to login to the LMS before launching training to establish a session that identifies the learner and the training content. An xAPI LRS is useful for tracking learning that can’t be launched from an LMS (e.g., an article, attendance at a professional association meeting, content within a mobile app or a virtual reality experience). An xAPI LRS goes beyond tracking completion and scores. It also allows detailed activity-logging in a standard way that is transferrable from one xAPI LRS to another.
When looking into xAPI LRS systems, it is important to realize that an xAPI LRS is just the storage space and the communication protocols for sending data to the storage space. Some xAPI LRS systems don’t include any reporting capabilities. These systems need to be connected to an analytics platform to generate meaningful reports.
A good learning portal provides a user‑friendly interface that allows learners to start in one place and find learning content regardless of where it resides. This could be helpful for organizations that have multiple LMS, LXP and/or xAPI LRS systems. You might be surprised at how scattered learning content is within an organization and how that has led to companies negotiating deals for multiple LMS instances (and sometimes even multiple instances from the same LMS vendor). If an organization doesn’t have multiple systems, there can still be off‑the‑shelf content licensed from external content providers, as well as content that is stored in intranets or SharePoint sites. Even if this content doesn’t need to be tracked, it still needs to be found by learners.
Also note that not every portal is meant to organize all content for the entire organization. There could be learning portals that just help organize content for a specific learning domain (e.g., sales training or leadership training). There are also times when portals are put in place to make it easier to find content when browsing from mobile devices — if the existing LMS doesn’t do this well.
While many of the features in LMS, LXP, xAPI LRS and learning portals overlap, you most likely can’t solve all enterprise learning needs with just one of these systems. Technology changes quickly, and a system becomes obsolete if it doesn’t keep up with new delivery platforms, authoring tools and tracking standards. Understanding how they complement each other and taking a deeper dive into the exact features of particular systems is required to really make sense of what they can provide.