LMS versus online training software, learning management systems and eLearning…after a while, it all starts to sound like a bunch of jargon! What’s the difference between these things, anyway?

Many of the differences in features and terminology come from who’s using the software most often–and how they’re using it.

Although the fields of eLearning and educational technology are broad and growing, there are three main sectors that use these platforms. The users in each category have slightly different needs, and software companies usually focus their products on one kind of user, although there’s some overlap and a few exceptions.


Typically, users in this category are involved in the formal educational system, whether that’s K-12, university, community colleges, or vocational schools. This category is usually broken down into elementary and secondary (K-12) and post-secondary (everyone else).

Companies like Canvas, Moodle, and Blackboard are some of the big players in this arena, particularly at the university level. Learning management systems first became popular in colleges and universities and are well established in the sector.

LMS software has become increasingly popular in the K-12 system in recent years. Some of the major players are the same–Blackboard and Moodle, for example–but others include Pearson and Google Classroom. This article describes other options for elementary and secondary school systems.

At all levels, learning management systems focused on education typically include features like a gradebook, collaborative tools, and ways to offer assignment extensions.

Although we tend to think about the student users when we talk about LMS and the educational system, in practice most educational institutions also use this software for informal staff and faculty trainings, formal professional development programs, and even online teacher training and continuing education programs.

Content creators in this category are usually the instructors in charge of the specific course, and users are most often the students enrolled in that course. Students get grades and other markers of completion that count towards an ongoing tally, such as credits needed for graduation or continuing education hours to keep a teaching certificate current.

Image of a heart monitor: online training software can be used in healthcare

Organizations: Corporate Sector, Nonprofits, Government, Healthcare

Users in this category are much more focused on completion, and the software platforms cater to this need for focused delivery systems. You won’t find as many features like gradebooks, but systems offer things like certificates of completion, rewards, or other platform-based incentives for completing the trainings.

Although there’s a wide variety of jobs that people in these sectors perform, in general these users need targeted information, usually in smaller chunks. In a formal educational program, whether that’s in elementary school or a graduate degree program, each individual course contributes in some way to a larger whole–an educational foundation.

In contrast, courses aimed at working professionals tend to provide participants with information that they can apply immediately. Often, people need to brush up on things they haven’t used in a while or acquire new skills that will let them advance in their careers. Even leadership and development programs, which are often focused on the long-term, are usually focused on professional applications of the content.

Content creators in this category tend to be trainers or others knowledgeable about the practices and policies specific to the training program. Users are most often employees within the organization; sometimes the trainings are voluntary, as with a leadership course for state employees, and sometimes not, such as a safety training course required of all new employees.

Sometimes an organization will use online training software to train customers, volunteers, or other people outside the organization.

Entrepreneurs: Selling Courses Online

Over the past few years, more and more people have begun selling courses online, often using e-commerce sites such as Shopify to handle the business details. Companies such as Skillshare and others have sprung up to cater to this new category of users.

As opposed to users in either the educational system or in an organization, the users in this category are most often individuals who are interested in acquiring skills for personal or professional use. Skillshare, for example, offers mini-courses in things as varied as photography, baking, and social media marketing.

The content creators in this category are people with a particular skill set who have a knack for sharing that with others. In some instances, as with a life coach selling her services, the course creator might have a certification. In others, such as a Skillshare class on web design techniques, the person might simply have the necessary experience and skills to give them credibility.

The outcome of completing a course in this category is probably going to be personal satisfaction, although continually adding to your professional skill set, even without formal certifications, can be a way to advance professionally.

These kinds of software–whether you call them an LMS or online training software–all have the goals of making the teaching and learning process easier. They all provide ways of streamlining communication, organizing instructional materials, assessing learner progress, and certifying completion. In all three categories, the actual learning can take place online, in person, or through some combination of the two (hybrid trainings).

The ways they do these things are tailored to the needs of the specific industries they cater to, so it pays to figure out which features you really need for the users you’re working with most often and then find a platform that fits those needs.

Kirsten Drickey

Kirsten Drickey

Chief Marketing Officer at Avizr

I'm endlessly fascinated by how people learn, and I'm happiest when I'm in the process of learning something new myself.

When I'm not working on marketing for Avizr, I can be found teaching Spanish, working with my student teachers, hanging out with my dogs, and exploring the many trails around Bellingham.
Kirsten Drickey

Latest posts by Kirsten Drickey (see all)

Share This