Choosing a learning management system is a core task for anyone creating an eLearning course. However, there are many kinds of LMSs, and they all come with different features, making it hard to pick one.
In this article, we’ll look at different types of LMSs and their main features and ultimately explain why we believe creating a WordPress website integrated with an LMS plugin like Sensei LMS is the best approach. To round things off, we’ll showcase the top 10 features any learning management system must have!
What are Learning Management Systems (LMS)?
A Learning Management System (LMS) is a software application that helps manage and deliver educational content and training programs. LMS software is typically used by educational institutions, corporations, and organizations to deliver online courses, training programs, and assessments to learners.
In fact, all kinds of educational online content can be made with an LMS. Whether you want to deliver high-level corporate training courses to your employees, or whether you’re a course creator looking to sell courses to your website, you will need some kind of LMS to make that happen.
An LMS can also be used to track and manage learner progress, performance, and engagement, as well as provide analytics and reporting to assess the effectiveness of the training programs.
Types of Learning Management Systems
Before we talk about essential features in an LMS, let’s explore the different types of LMSs available. If you’ve started researching the different LMSs available, then you may have come across a few different terms used to describe each type. Let’s clear up what these terms mean; then we’ll tell you what kind of LMS we think you should invest in.
LMS vs. LXP
LMS stands for Learning Management System, while LXP stands for Learning Experience Platform. An LMS is typically more focused on delivering structured online learning content and tracking learner progress and performance, while an LXP is designed to provide a more personalized and social learning experience that is learner-centric, rather than content-centric.
An LXP is more like a learning platform that is designed to curate and aggregate content from a variety of sources and deliver it to learners based on their individual needs and preferences.
Cloud-based vs. installed solutions
A cloud-based LMS is hosted on a cloud server, meaning any user can access it through a web browser. It also means they can access the learning materials, modules, and course content from anywhere in the world – and on any device.
An installed LMS is a more old-fashioned approach that’s usually reserved for educational institutions or companies. Here, the system is installed on a local server and needs software installation and regular maintenance. The course content can only be accessed by devices with the LMS installed on them. Needless to say, Cloud-based LMSs have become more popular in recent years for modern eLearning because they require less IT support and maintenance and are accessible from anywhere with an internet connection.
Free vs. commercial options
Some LMSs are available for free, while others require a license fee or subscription. Free LMSs typically have limited features and may be supported by ads or require users to provide their data for marketing purposes.
Commercial Learning Management Systems need to be paid for (usually monthly or annually) yet offer a wider range of features. They’re ad-free, and you can typically pick a plan that suits your needs, so you only pay for what you need. Free options seem like a great idea, but commercial ones are typically better because you get so many extra integrations and functionalities.
Open-source vs. proprietary systems
An open-source LMS is a software application with its source code open to the public. This means anyone can modify and customize the software to suit their needs. It sounds beneficial and is widely used by organizations or educational institutions that want as much control over their LMS as possible. The downside, though, is that these systems can be very technical, which doesn’t make them ideal for the average user.
If you don’t have a lot of technical know-how and would rather have a more user-friendly LMS with professional support, proprietary systems are a good option. They’re commercial learning management systems without publicly available source code, so all updates and changes are handled by the vendor. It means you rely on them for support and to implement new features.
What kind of LMS platform do I need?
This answer largely depends on why you’re using an LMS. Which of the following categories do you fall into?
- You’re an online course creator who wants to sell courses for money.
- You work within an academic institution and need to deliver educational content to students.
- You operate a business and want to provide corporate training to employees.
There are other uses for Learning Management Systems, but most people fall into one of these three groups. Regardless, you want a solution that’s feature-heavy and helps you deliver great educational content for your target audience.
Most likely, this means you’re less concerned with having an open-source solution, which is why we recommend setting up a website using WordPress. From here, you can extend it with an LMS plugin that gives you all the functionalities you need to develop really good online courses. As an added benefit, everything is hosted online, so no personal server space is taken up (though you will have to pay for the services of a hosting provider), and learners can access your courses from anywhere.
One fantastic LMS plugin for WordPress is Sensei LMS. It was developed by Automattic, which WordPress fans may recognize as the team that actually created WordPress.com and Jetpack. In other words, it’s a learning management system created by experienced people and designed to work flawlessly with WordPress sites.
You have two options with Sensei LMS:
- Create your WordPress site independently, and purchase and install the Sensei LMS plugin.
- Create a brand new course website on WordPress.com which includes all of Sensei’s functionality at an extremely discounted price. This package is called the Sensei Bundle and is the easiest way to kickstart an LMS website!
You may be thinking, why Sensei LMS? Well, as you’re about to see, it possesses all ten of the essential features you should be looking for in a learning management system!
10 Must-Have LMS Features
No matter which LMS you choose, it needs to have all of these essential features:
- Integration with your CMS
- Course management features
- A student portal
- Assessment and grading functionality
- Gamification and interactive elements
- Group learning
- Communication and messaging
- Certification functionality
- eCommerce functionality
- Course reporting and analytics
#1 Integration with your CMS
The ability to integrate your LMS with your content management system makes life so much easier for instructors and learners. As an instructor, you’re able to create courses and update lessons directly from your WordPress dashboard. It’s then automatically updated, and students can view everything from their end. This is a lot more convenient compared to creating a course that you need to upload entirely into your CMS or having a course landing page that directs users to a third-party course website.
With Sensei, not only can you create courses directly in WordPress, but the plugin is designed to seamlessly integrate with the Gutenberg block editor. This is the same user interface that most people use to create posts and pages, so you’ll be able to create courses using the familiar block system. You can see what this looks like down below:
#2 Course management features
Your LMS needs to offer a range of features that let you manage all aspects of the course, from content to delivery and even assessment. Some key features you may need include:
- Course creation: The ability to create and structure courses with modules and lessons and add all relevant training materials.
- Course organization: The ability to organize your content into specific modules and lessons to create clear learning paths.
- Enrollment management: The ability to manage course enrollment, add new students, remove old ones, etc.
Sensei Pro is the premium version of Sensei LMS that gives you course management features like these, and more, while offering excellent value for money. You can create courses using so many different lesson variations, schedule or drip-feed lessons to students, manage enrollment, and much more.
The screenshot below shows how easy it is to see how many students have signed up, check what courses they’re enrolled in, and see when they were last active.
Moreover, you can seamlessly manage courses from a birds-eye view. Look at every course and make changes to it at the click of a button while also seeing how many students are enrolled.
#3 A student portal
A student portal is a fantastic LMS feature that allows students to view course content. When logging in, they see all of their courses, complete with progress bars, and everything else they need to study. Here, they can communicate with instructors, speak to other learners, and remain well organized.
It’s a crucial feature that can be added to your course with ease using Sensei LMS. We actually have a guide on how to create a student portal in WordPress using this plugin.
#4 Assessment and grading functionality
As an instructor, you need to know how your students are performing. This is crucial for any type of eLearning – be it an online course you’re selling or corporate training. There has to be evidence that the lessons are sinking in and students are making progress.
The ability to add assessments and grade learners is super beneficial. It allows you to monitor progress and restrict access to course material until learners pass checkpoints. You can also use the assessments to offer feedback on where a learner could improve and what keeps going wrong. Moreover, assessments provide a level of accountability and motivation for students. It gives them goals to aim for and makes them feel like they have to try, as they don’t want to fail.
Sensei Pro lets you create multiple assessments using loads of different questions or formats. As displayed below, you can choose from 7 types of quiz questions to make engaging assessments that don’t bore your students.
#5 Gamification and interactive elements
Adding interactive elements and introducing gamification make the learning experience better, and encourage students to take a more active approach to learning rather than just reading pages and pages of content. This drives more engagement and boosts the chances of people actually completing courses.
We’ve already touched on one form of gamification in online courses, which is progress bars. Just like when playing a video game, a progress bar motivates learners to keep on taking lessons and see the bar slowly move up. It encourages them to study regularly as they see there’s an end in sight. At the same time, it’s kind of like a form of self-feedback for the learner. After completing a lesson, they see what that means in the grand scheme of things and how much is left.
From a learning experience, gamification is also better at helping learners take in information. Using things like interactive videos or audio lessons gives them a new way to digest course content that makes it stick in their brain more.
Sensei LMS has an abundance of features that fall under the gamification category. Perhaps the biggest is Sensei Blocks, which is a group of interactive blocks you can add to lesson pages with the intention of driving engagement. There are lots of different blocks to choose from, such as:
- Image hotspots
- Task lists
- Course Progress
What’s the best LMS for WordPress?
Sensei LMS, of course!
#6 Group learning
Group learning is an ideal feature in many situations, for example, if you’re delivering corporate training to a number of employees or students, or if you want to create access periods for your course so that it’s only available at select times during the year. This way, multiple people will be able to enroll at once.
You can create groups in Sensei Pro with minimal fuss. Simply navigate to the Groups tab via the plugin on your WordPress dash and choose as many groups as you like. You’ll be able to see how many students are in the group, what courses are assigned to it, and much more. Instructors also have the ability to auto-enroll new students in specific groups, which is ideal if you are using groups to restrict access to course content.
#7 Communication and messaging
Communication is crucial when you operate an eLearning course of any kind. There has to be a simple way for students and instructors to contact one another. What if a learner has an issue with a lesson and needs help? What if there’s an error with the course, and it’s not loading up?
The good news is that Sensei LMS lets you add a Contact Teacher button to any course page. It can be placed under lessons, so students can click it and immediately be given the opportunity to contact a teacher and get help.
It’s also important for instructors to contact students whenever they need to. This could be to provide updates on courses or to deliver marketing material that encourages them to enroll in your new course. Whatever the reason, Sensei integrations with MailPoet, which is a newsletter plugin for WordPress. You can use this to send students notifications or to create newsletters around your eLearning content.
#8 Certification functionality
It’s difficult to retain students and encourage people to enroll in courses if nothing is up for grabs. Your LMS needs to create and present certificates to any students that pass. This gives them the motivation needed to actually do the course – but they also help you if you’re trying to gain accreditation for your course.
In corporate or educational settings, course certificates are non-negotiable. You have to present students with something that explains what they have achieved and what they’re now capable of doing.
Sensei LMS lets you create your own certificates or use a default template (as seen below).
If you need to get a bit more creative with your certificates, you can easily navigate to the Certificates tab on your WordPress dashboard. From here, you can add fields and truly customize the awards you give out.
#9 eCommerce functionality
Many people want to sell courses online, which means your learning management system HAS to have eCommerce integration. At the very least, there needs to be a payment system where students add courses to a cart and buy them.
Sensei Pro is perfect for this as it integrates seamlessly with WooCommerce. This means Sensei can integrate with any payment gateway or extension in the WooCommerce network, which means you can easily sell courses as one-time payments, memberships, subscriptions, etc.
As an added benefit, the WooComerce integration helps with a previous point we made about student portals. When a student purchases something, WooCommerce automatically creates a portal for them where they can view course materials.
If you need more help with WooCommerce and selling courses, we’ve got a detailed guide to help you get started.
#10 Course reporting and analytics
Finally, any decent LMS should have course reporting and analytics. This lets you see how many students are enrolled in your courses, what the average completion rate for each learning program is, the average grade, and much more.
You can do this on Sensei LMS, which also lets you see the last time a course was used by a student. It’s a helpful way of determining which courses might need to be promoted better as nobody is enrolling in them. Likewise, if students are enrolled in a course but hardly anyone gets beyond 50% progress, it tells you the structure of the course needs to be changed so people remain engaged enough to complete it, or that the user experience of your course website could use some work.
We’ve got a comprehensive guide on how to access student reports with Sensei LMS, too. This feature lets you look at each student and how they’re performing. You can see the courses they’re enrolled in, their grades, progress, etc.
It’s also worth noting that the benefit of creating your course website on WordPress.com is that you automatically get Google Analytics and Jetpack integration, which means you can see live reporting and advanced stats relating to your site traffic, and much more.
Get started with Sensei: The best LMS for WordPress
There are plenty of learning management systems, but most of you will want something that’s user-friendly, easy to install, and requires minimal maintenance.
As such, one of the best options is to create a website on WordPress and use the Sensei LMS plugin. Sensei includes all of the features listed above, plus so many other ones that make it a fantastic all-around learning management system for any course creator.
Try Sensei today if you want to create engaging courses that learners will love, with all the essential features that we looked at in this article.