How to Set Up a Free or Low Cost LMS for Your Small Business

It is possible to set up a learning management system in your business and get the features you need without straining your budget. In this post, I will bring a few of the most popular options out there.

Some of them are free, open-source programs, others are proprietary ones. But all of them have the potential to significantly  enhance your business' learning program.

LMSs are Not Just for Big Corporations

Some of the big players in the learning management systems market, names like Dupont, Raytheon, and UK-based Cornerstone OnDemand, offer a dizzying array of features and an equally dizzying price tag. For this reason, small business owners facing limited resources may quickly dismiss learning management systems as a Big Corporation tool. But the truth is that today there are plenty of learning management solutions out there that are particularly suited to the needs of small businesses, and they won't cost you an arm and a leg either.

LMS Basics: What is it and Why Would Your Small Business Need One?

If you go and look up a definition for a learning management system (LMS), you'll find some handy explanations like this one courtesy of Wikipedia, "[An LMS]... is a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting and delivery of online education courses or training programs." Basically, if your business is involved in any kind of online training or education, then an LMS would be your platform for doing it.

Why would you need a LMS platform? There are several possible reasons. Do you need to train remotely located workers? Do your employees require continuous professional eduction or compliance training? Have you developed a proprietary online course or webinar series? Do you need a robust collaborative learning solution? Any of these will do.

When it comes to smaller companies, there are typically four main features that will make an LMS indispensable:

  • Administration- There is one central system where all learning or training content within various mediums can be centralized, organized, deployed, and tracked. Permissions features for both users and administrators are also common.
  • Data collection- Many LMSs will also give administrators information on course completion rates and learning performance measures as well as downloading a viewing statistics.
  • Personalization- An LMS typically will enable personalized content offerings, as well as "self-service" type learning and knowledge reuse so that users can access the content that applies to them at their own pace. Their progress can also be stored.
  • Collaboration- Another important feature in the age social media is the support of application sharing, discussion threads, user input, and instructor feedback.

There are some other points to consider as well. The cost of an LMS will really depending on feature sets, the size of the learner community, and the vendor. An LMS can be acquired as a stand alone software package, it could be a self-hosted solution, or it can be a third party, cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS). Finally, the majority of practical LMS solutions will need to be SCORM compliant. SCORM is the defacto set of technical standards for e-learning software products.

Free and Low-Cost LMSs for Small Businesses

First, the free LMS options:

  • Moodle LMS – Open-source learning management system that's easy to learn, easy to use, and free of technical issues.
  • Epignosis eFront LMS- Another great open-source option with an active support system and user community; there's also a robust proprietary version.
  • And I also found this post that will help you turn your WordPress site into a rudimentary LMS (for tech savvy users).

Low-cost Proprietary LMSs:

  • BizLibrary- This LMS geared towards small and mid-sized companies, has a brand new user interface and particularly good for video-based learning
  • Totara- A low cost solution based on the open source LMS Moodle mentioned above, but chock-full of features
  • Docebo-  A robust SaaS elearning program
  • Inquisiq R3 - Feature-rich with strong mobile capability
  • Anewspring- A web-based LMS with an impressive set of add ons.
  • Thinking Cap- A decent UI with a strong feature set including live chat, forums, streaming, web conferencing, and integrated e-mail
  • Litmos - An easy-to-use and "lite" LMS.
  • Feathercap- Securely distribute, sell and track your learning content.