What is an LMS?

An LMS is another name for a Learning Management System. And a modern Learning Management System is essentally a software application running on a server conected to the internet or a local network. The features and capabilities of LMS's very widely, as do the costs, but a good Learning Management System should include:

  • An integrated authoring tool that lets managers and authors create online courses and deliver them without programming
  • User-defined options and parameters that determine the behaviors and work flow of the training activity
  • Reporting features that show learner progress, accomplishments, and ongoing activity
  • The ability to print completion certificates and to process course evaluations
  • The ability to define groups of courses to be assigned to groups of learners as individual learning paths

Using Your Learning Management System

The greatest challenge in implementing a successful online training project is in creating professional-grade learning content and building engaging, dynamic courses. Use the links below to help develop a winning strategy and step-by-step procedures that will work in your specific environment. The development phases presented here, and the steps under each, could be described as a course building "methodology." However, it's really nothing more than a set of organized guidelines based on years of content development work, online training management and widely-acknowledged best practices.

A modern, robust learning system allows you a great deal of flexibility in choosing file formats, developing online lessons, and organizing your ideas. These guidelines will help you make the right choices concerning developing learning material, and will allow you to maximize the effectiveness of your courses and stay within the boundaries of your skills and resources.

Planning Your Courses

The Planning phase of course development is a necessary activity for any successful E-learning project. The steps below should help lead you to a documented, sensible training development plan.

Steps in the Planning Phase

  1. Determine the scope of your training.
  2. Start by identifying groups to be trained. For example, online learners might include new hires, current staff, customers, sales reps or candidates for management positions. For each group, establish a training goal. Now you will have a list of target groups and the training to be accomplished for each group.
  3. Organize your (planned) material into courses.
  4. You may have some paper or electronic material, such as an Operations Guide or Policy Manual, which you can use as a basis for building your online learning content. Or, you may have no existing material at all. Either way, you need to identify what subjects and topics you will cover for each target group of online learners.
  5. Break the subject matter up (even if you have not created it yet) into reasonable-sized courses. Keep the amount of material in each course down to a level where it can be understood and mastered in less than a day, usually much less. You will probably end up with a preliminary list of several courses for each target group.
  6. Also, make a preliminary decision as to what electronic formats you will use to deliver your training. There are many choices available, including text, HTML, PowerPoint, Flash, Video, Audio and many others. A versatile LMS, like FlexTraining, supports practically any web-deliverable content, but the choice of format is always up to you. See the "Creating Learning Content" section of this Course Building Strategies guide for tips on structuring an effective course, which will be published soon.
  7. Lay out a course structure for each course.
  8. Give each course a tentative name, and break out the material to be covered into individual lessons. In many cases, you might still have no idea what kind of material you will use to build each lesson (text, images, video, audio, screen shots, etc). We'll address the content creation issues later - for now you just need to lay out a structure for each course. See the "Best Practices" artical for tips on structuring an effective course.
  9. Choose a Testing Strategy and LMS Policies.

FlexTraining offers a great deal of flexibility in how online knowledge assessments are done. Completing this planning step is a matter of asking yourself a number of questions and documenting the answers:

There are other policies and options you will set when you actually build your online tests, but these questions are sufficient to get you through the planning phase.

Besides a Learning System, You Should Now Have

As you complete this phase, you should have some form of training development plan on paper. It may be long or short, detailed or summarized, depending on your budget and the time you have spent on it.

At a minimum, it should identify what courses you will need, what lessons/topics will be covered in each course, how you will test to see that learning is occurring, and what electronic formats you expect to utilize.

One last thing: The plan should specify exactly who is responsible for all the work involved in organizing and developing your learning material and online tests. Every task in an E-Learning project should be someone's responsibility.

Success tips for the Planning Your Courses phase

Before you start to document a development plan, read and understand the remainder of this Course Building Strategies guide.

Don't get too caught up in the formality of creating a documented plan. Keep it simple and clean - there will be time later to add detail and finalize the document for presentation to management, if that's required.

If your learners will be required to take several courses in order to obtain a certification or to qualify for employment, consider grouping courses into Skill Groups. For example, FlexTraining offers simple but powerful Skill Group assignment and tracking to help you monitor your learners' progress toward their goals.

When considering various content formats, your best bet may be to stay with text and images, at least until you have established your training system and gained some experience. You can always move to more sophisticated formats later. Read more about File Formats in the "Creating Learning Content" upcoming article.

Key E-Learning Technology Terms

Learning Management System

A collection of software, database, learning content and infrastructure that provides online course authoring, course-delivery, progress tracking, and management reporting.

Training Management System

Another name for an LMS. This term is not as popular as the one above, and really has only come into common use in the last several years. A TMS is naturally comprised of software, database tables, various learning content and the hardware and connectivity that provides course creation, course-delivery, progress tracking, and filtered and time-sensitive management reporting.

Virtual Education

This is a term that can mean different things to different people. But the word "virtual" can be isolated and assigned the meaning "without an instructor in the room". It should be noted that this term describes situations where there is an instructor provided to assist with the online course, and where there is no instructor at all.

Question Pooling

This is an advanced techique used in testing as a part of an online course. With Question Pooling, a course author might create 50 questions for an online knowldege assessment. However, when a learner accesses the test, perhaps 35 of the questions are randomly seleted by the learning system to be delivered to the student. In this way it is guaranteed that no two students are given the same test.


HTTP is the primary protocol for web content delivery. It is the standard by which requests are made of a web server, and is usualy a request for a specific web page. In an LMS platform, the HTTP request that is sent to the server is often a request to deliver the next screen, lesson, exercise, or test. This is true whether the LMS is running on a local server, a customer-owned server, or "in the cloud".


The term Database is used in a general sense to describe a collection of structed data, in any form. More specifically, a database is a formal product and store of data in tables, each containing rows and fields of various types. An LMS would use a database to hold student records, course structures, training schedules, and progress records.

Programming Language

Web-based learning systems are written in some form of computer code, in one of several programming languages. When using the Microsoft ASP.NET architecture, web systems are usually writen in either C# (pronounced "see sharp") or VB.NET, also known as visual basic or "VB". For example FlexTraining is a ASP.NET platform, and is written primarily in VB.NET. This makes for easy expansion and scaling, and straightforeward maintenance.


Javascript is a programming language that is often used in web sites and web-based training systems. What is unique about Javascript is that is executed in the web browser on the user's computer. It does not run on the server to access data from a database or copy files, for example. It is used for browser-based tasks like validating form input, moving the cursor to a given field, and hiding or displaying a certain portion of the web page. Javascript essentially lives inside the actual web page.


ASP.Net is a popular software architecture used by many developers in the MS Windows environment. It replaced the classic ASP platform several years ago. ASP.net allows developers to create software using either the Visual Basic language or the C-Sharp programming language. The FlexTraining LMS, for example, is an ASP.Net application, written primarily in Visual Basic.


The concept of "scalable" or "scalability" is very important in the world of large, enterprise training systems. Whan an application is scalable, it can be used for just a few hundred learners, or for many thousands. And if it's truly scalable, it will run as effectively and easily with the larger number of users. A scalable learning technology is a very valuable tool.