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LMS vs LRS: What’s the difference? When do you need them?

What’s the difference between an LMS (learning management system) and an LRS (learning record store)?

Tracking formal training exclusively limits your ability to pinpoint the remaining learning preferences of your workforce and how they correlate to on-the-job performance.

By integrating a learning record system (LRS) with a learning management system (LMS), you get granular and expansive insights into how employees learn. This allows you to track, test and optimize corporate learning programs for higher employee engagement and performance.

Keep reading to find out what an LRS is, and why you might want to use one alongside your LMS to create an ideal learning ecosystem.

What is an LMS?

In contrast to an LXP or LRS, an LMS focuses on the management of learning and users.

Traditionally, learning management systems have focused more on formal learning such as compliance-based training, but they handle multiple operational tasks that launch, facilitate and manage formal/informal learning experiences.

LMS-specific functions include, but aren’t limited to:

Hosting and delivering a library of content

An LMS gives your organization a platform to store, host and deliver technical content—which ranges from extensive instructor-led training, e-learning courses, assessments, PDFs and more—to a diverse pool of learners.

Simplifying administration and scheduling

An LMS may also handle roster management, reminders, waiting lists, subject assessments, gamification, simulations and more.

Totara Learn, for example, ships with seminar management and blended learning features that allow you to streamline learning programs with:

  • Resource tracking
  • Self-booking
  • Customizable assessment/certifications


Ensuring legal and regulatory compliance

If you are in a heavily regulated industry, like food and hospitality, chances are that you have recurring training and compliance requirements.

(Employees might have to take OSHA-regulated “Food Hygiene” certifications every year, for example.)

By showing learning records, generating compliance reports and reminding you of training expiry dates, an LMS will ensure that you’re up to date with regulatory and legal training requirements.

What is an LRS (learning record store)?

Despite having similar-sounding acronyms, the LRS and LMS are two different products with distinct purposes.

An LRS is invisible to learners. It holds, retrieves and helps interpret data about learning experiences across multiple systems and channels.

This enables the tracking of a wide variety of learning experiences, which may include capturing real-world activities, actions completed in mobile apps, social networks, or even other talent systems.

Data from these experiences are stored in the LRS as a series of statements and can be shared with other management information systems that offer advanced reporting or support adaptive learning experiences.

Collecting and representing data sourced by an xAPI (an interoperable L&D technology that collects and communicates learning experience data from many different learning tools and systems), an LRSs main job is to store xAPI data (or statements.)

As well as holding xAPI data, an LRS may include analytical features like dashboards and reports (key strengths of Totara Learn), so you can interpret and extrapolate insights from your data.

This serves as a central hub to help you interpret your learning and performance analytics, and in turn, will reveal:

  • The effectiveness of your training programs
  • How your learners are performing based on what they learn
  • Where to focus your efforts to improve the effectiveness of your training


Example use case:

An organization wants to monitor user-specific learning data outside of formal courses contained within their LMS.

To do this, they use xAPI on their website to see which pages employees view, resources they consume and courses they start.

Inside the LRS, this xAPI data is used to create a report that provides insight into the rich learning experiences that occur outside of the LMS. The report reveals that online courses and video guides are favored by all employees, whereas PDFs and articles are the least popular.

With this new insight, the L&D team walks away with ideas to improve their next compliance course and alter learning pathways.

An LRS alongside your LMS can enhance learning

Refining your understanding of the employee learning experience is a game-changer. It helps:

  • Refine learning programs

  • Inspire trainers with important insights

  • Engage employees

  • Explain how learning KPIs connect to broader business objectives

But with constantly emerging tools and learning technologies, the possibilities for designing and optimizing learning programs seem endless.

Should you use gamification with your LMS?

Launch more online courses?

Or create department-specific collaborative workplaces?

Finding the right answer requires data on how your training programs and learners are performing.

This is where a strong LMS, paired with xAPI technology and an LRS, (especially within a large enterprise) will pinpoint exactly how you can create learning experiences that boost employee performance.

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