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Is an LRS an alternative to an LMS?

Recently, many have asked if an LRS is an alternative to an LMS. So in this post we want to clear things up. It can be a confusing learning world with so many acronyms and each one claiming to be the most important thing just like the last. In general, an LMS and an LRS serve different but parallel purposes. Let's start by defining the two...

An LMS or a "learning management system" is software designed to help with the administration, documentation, tracking and reporting of a course (elearning). It reports on things like - username, time spent on the course, score, and course status.

An LRS or a "learning record store" is often referred to as the heart of the xAPI because it is sent and stores all of the learning activities collected by xAPI. It is the central repository for storing bits of learning data. The LRS reports are custom, tracking the learning activities that you choose to based on the data you are trying to get.

What most companies don't realize is that this is not a technology competition. The question isn't whether an LRS is an alternative to an LMS, the question is how do you build the best ecosystem of technology to fit your needs? An LMS - traditional, one-stop-shop, or an LRS - part of a multi-system approach with ample flexibility. The table below gives great insight into the benefits and challenges that come with both approaches.


Learning Management System

Multiple integrated systems

One single system for the learner to log into and find what they need.

Single sign on and branding can help to create a seamless experience.

Some elements of the ecosystem (such as the LRS and credentialing platform) may work behind the scenes anyway.

One vendor to work with, potentially reducing commercial complexity.

Multiple vendors with different creative ideas.

Fixed features; you get what the LMS provides.

Build the solution you need from a variety of best of breed products.

Difficult to replace when your requirements change.

Easier to swap out individual components and add or remove products from the ecosystem as your requirements change.

May not be possible to customize and add to.

If you have the capabilities, you can add in-house developed tools to augment your solution.

Reliant on the LMS vendor to architect the overall solution based on the needs of the average organization.

You have the freedom and responsibility of architecting the overall solution based on the needs of your organization.

Great for providing and supporting formal training.

Allows you to include products that support, facilitate and record social and informal learning outside of the LMS.

table courtesy of TinCanAPI


After reading the information above you might have thought, "we need to stick with our LMS" or "I need to start research for our LRS multi-system approach". It's also important to understand that sometimes the answer can be both! You can pull LRS reporting back into your LMS so that they work together if that makes the most sense for your goals. Companies will be drawn to an LMS and/or an LRS for different reasons and no approach is wrong. What your company decides to make their own should be a response to the constraints and opportunities that you have as an organization - do what makes sense for you!

Not sure what makes sense for your company?

That's ok, we get that all the time and we can help you figure it out.

Talk to a Strategist!
Sydney Hill

Not to mention refreshing, positive and downright invigorating. Should we expect anything less from a personality that absolutely bubbles…

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