SaaS LMS: What You Need To Know

10 min
Eduard Grigalashvili
Technical Writer
Mary Novak
EdTech Digitalisation Expert

As of today, there are approximately 73.8 million LMS users and this number is only increasing. It clearly indicates the dynamic growth of the​ LMS industry and the demand for education-streamlining solutions. More and more organizations are investing in learning management software, and the first challenge they face is the choice between SaaS LMS and self-hosted platforms.

What is the difference between the two and which is better for your business?

This article aims to answer these questions.

As LMS developers with over 12 years of experience, we would like to discuss SaaS LMS solutions, describe their benefits, and compare them to self-hosted software. Hopefully, this article will help you choose the right learning management system to deliver the best learning experience to your employees.

Without further ado, let’s get started!

What is a SaaS LMS?

SaaS stands for software as a service. This is a cloud-based software licensing and delivery model where a cloud provider hosts applications and makes them available to the end user via the internet. In this model, the cloud provider is responsible for managing servers, databases, and other hardware required to deliver software to users. You, for your part, have to make timely payments for the service.

In other words, a SaaS LMS is a cloud-based LMS. Unlike a hosted LMS, a SaaS solution is not installed on a company’s servers. Instead, it is hosted online, allowing easy access to the system and the ability to scale up or down based on business needs.

SaaS LMS platforms are typically provided on a subscription basis or through the pay-as-you-go model:

  • The subscription model implies making monthly/yearly payments for the service, regardless of usage.
  • With the pay-as-you-go model, you pay only for the resources you use (for example, for a specific number of training courses created) and as you use them.
What is a SaaS LMS

What is a Self-Hosted LMS?

A self-hosted LMS (also called on-premises LMS) is a learning management system that requires installation on your company’s local servers. This gives you more control over data security, customization, and integration with other systems. On the other hand, you’re responsible for updates, upgrades, and maintenance. Thus, you will need an experienced IT team that will handle these processes, whereas with cloud learning management systems, you can rely on SaaS LMS vendors to do the job.

Self-hosted learning management systems require significant upfront investments: you will have to purchase the license for the software and regularly invest in its maintenance. However, it is considered more cost-effective in the long run.

As for scalability, self-hosted platforms may be limited by your organization’s infrastructure: whenever you need to scale up, you have to invest in hardware and additional resources. With SaaS LMS solutions, the case is easier, as you can scale up and down on demand, without having to purchase additional hardware (all you have to do is subscribe to a more expensive plan).

SaaS VS Self-Hosted LMS: Pros and Cons of Both Options

To make the comparison more clear, let’s analyze the advantages and disadvantages of SaaS LMS systems and self-hosted solutions.

SaaS LMS

Pros:

  • Easy deployment. A SaaS LMS is quick and easy to set up. It requires no installation and can be accessed from any device with an internet connection. Simply pay for the subscription and you can use the software right away.
  • Lower upfront costs. With on-premises LMSs, you have to invest in expensive servers, purchase a software license, and hire an IT team to maintain the system. All of this requires large upfront investments. SaaS LMS solutions, on the other hand, typically work on a monthly/yearly subscription basis. Thus, they’re better fitted for startups and medium-sized businesses with limited budgets.
  • No need for maintenance and updates. When it comes to SaaS-based LMS platforms, software maintenance and updates lie on the shoulders of LMS vendors. Cloud systems are updated automatically, so you and your employees will always have access to the latest features, security patches, and bug fixes, without the need to manually install them.
  • Scalability and accessibility. As noted multiple times, SaaS LMS software is more flexible in terms of scalability. You can scale up and down on demand by simply changing subscription plans. Also, since SaaS software works in the cloud, it can be accessed from any device with an internet connection, while on-premises solutions are typically developed with a specific platform in mind and may be not accessible from other platforms.

Cons:

  • Lower security. Popular SaaS LMS applications are often targeted by hackers, so your data may be compromised. When it comes to security patches, you’re completely reliant on the LMS vendor. If some vulnerability is found, you will have to wait for them to address the issue.
  • Less customization flexibility. Self-hosted platforms offer more flexible LMS customization options, allowing you to tailor them to your organization’s training needs. Cloud-based solutions may be limited in that regard, and the functionality you need may be simply unavailable.
  • Vendor lock-in. Transferring all of your training programs, LMS user data, and other files from one cloud LMS to another is usually complicated and time-consuming. Thus, before opting for any solution, you have to ensure it covers everything you need. Otherwise, you may find yourself in a situation where you don’t like the software but also don’t want to change it because it is too difficult and long to do.

Self-Hosted LMS

Pros:

  • Enhanced customization. With self-hosted learning management systems, you have full control over the software and can customize it however you need, fitting it to your company’s specifics and requirements. You can also integrate them with internal systems more effectively, creating an efficient ecosystem.
  • Higher data security. When using a self-hosted platform, you also have full control over the data and don’t need to worry about data security concerns. This is especially beneficial for organizations that have training programs that involve highly confidential and proprietary information, such as new and innovative products that your employees need to know before launch. With SaaS learning management systems, there is no guarantee that such information won’t leak.
  • Complete independence. When using a self-hosted LMS, you are not dependent on a third-party provider for uptime, support, or updates. You have the autonomy to manage the platform according to your own timelines and priorities.

Cons:

  • High upfront costs. Self-hosted LMS solutions require large upfront investments in software licenses, hardware, and IT resources, while with a SaaS learning management system, you have to simply pay for a subscription and can use the system right away. This is often a deal-breaker for smaller organizations with limited budgets.
  • Expensive maintenance and support. With on-premises software, maintenance and support lies on your shoulders, requiring regular investments. To ensure effective and uninterrupted employee training, you will have to regularly update the system, introduce upgrades and improvements, timely fix security vulnerabilities, make backups, and much more. All of this requires time and resource investments.
  • Deployment complexity. Self-hosted LMSs are harder to deploy, so you will likely have to allocate additional resources to configure the system properly.

Top SaaS Learning Management Systems

Now that you know the difference between a SaaS LMS solution and a self-hosted system, it should be easier to make a choice. Since this article is focused on cloud-based learning management systems, we would like to introduce you to the best SaaS LMSs currently available on the market.

#1 LearnUpon

LearnUpon

LearnUpon is a SaaS LMS that helps businesses unlock the power of learning. Combining their award-winning system and industry-leading customer experience team, the company prides itself on being a trusted partner to over 1,300 businesses.

Every day, L&D teams around the world choose LearnUpon’s intuitive, feature-rich, and deeply integrateable platform to deliver a connected learning experience to millions of learners across their employees, customers, and partners.

Features:

  • Course and user management.
  • Content library.
  • Third-party integrations.
  • Reports and analytics.
  • Artificial intelligence.
  • Portals (you can create unique learning environments for different teams and departments).
  • Notifications.

Pros:

  • Intuitive user-interface that allows for easy use and deployment of the system.
  • White-labeling functionality, allowing organizations to use the SaaS LMS under their own brand.
  • Competent customer support.

Cons:

  • Limited customization capabilities.
  • Pretty expensive compared to other LMS SaaS solutions.
  • Occasional bugs and issues when new users log in.

Pricing: The tool offers Essential, Premium, and Enterprise models. The exact prices are not specified by the vendor.

#2 Docebo

Docebo

Docebo is an AI-driven SaaS LMS solution with over 3,500 customers around the globe. The learning management boasts sharp design, advanced functionality, and the flexibility to scale for any team or use case. Docebo’s configuration engine lets you create audience-specific pages using flexible, drag-and-drop functionality to get your learning programs up and running fast. You can leverage free extensions, like certifications, automation, e-commerce, custom domains, audit trail, gamification, and more to configure your LMS to your exact use case.

Docebo supports over 400 integrations, allows you to drive growth with AI-based upskilling and reskilling, offers social learning capabilities, and has its own application for iOS and Android.

Features:

  • Course and user management.
  • Content library.
  • Third-party integrations.
  • Reports and analytics.
  • Artificial intelligence.
  • Mobile learning.
  • Cross-platform compatibility.
  • Notifications.

Pros:

  • Easy to set up and navigate.
  • Straightforward management of online courses.
  • Responsive customer support.
  • Clean user-interface.
  • Advanced customization capabilities.

Cons:

  • Sometimes the SaaS LMS is slow to respond.
  • Course management isn’t straightforward for some users.
  • Integrating the SaaS LMS with other systems may be complicated and confusing.
  • Troubleshooting bugs is difficult.

Pricing: Not provided by the vendor.

#3 360Learning

360 learning

360Learning is a SaaS LMS powered by collaborative learning that allows businesses to upskill from within. The system combines artificial intelligence and collaborative features to turn a company’s in-house experts into L&D collaborators. With 360Learning, businesses can remove the headache of picking, integrating, and running multiple learning solutions, relying on an all-in-one tool instead.

The learning management system is designed for compliance training, employee training, sales enablement, and frontline staff training. It boasts high course completion rates (91% on average), great employee engagement (11 daily activities per learner), and 100% collaborative learning. 360Learning is used by over 1700 enterprises, from small businesses to large organizations with thousands of employees.

Features:

  • Artificial intelligence.
  • Course and user management.
  • Content library.
  • Collaborative learning.
  • Reports and analytics.
  • Notifications.
  • Mobile learning.
  • Third-party integrations.
  • Live learning sessions (Zoom).
  • LXP functionality (learn about the difference between LXP vs LMS).
  • Quizzes, tests, and surveys.
  • Cross-platform compatibility.

Pros:

  • Easily accessible from any device.
  • Easy to deploy.
  • Combines LMS and LXP capabilities.
  • Support for artificial intelligence.
  • Collaborative features (course creation functionality is available to any users, not only L&D teams).

Cons:

  • The tool is sometimes a little buggy.
  • Issues occur with the platform’s internal search engine.
  • Navigation can be confusing due to lots of features and elements within the SaaS LMS.
  • No functionality for assigning passwords and modules to users.

Pricing: Starts from $8 per user. A 30-day free trial is available.

#4 Canvas

canvas

Canvas is the world’s most popular open-source SaaS LMS. The platform is versatile and fits every stage and style of education: it’s a great solution for students, K-12, higher education, and, of course, corporate training. Canvas offers a myriad of LMS features, including standards-based grade books, mobile learning, content authoring, assessments, badges, and more. The platform boasts a huge user community totaling over 2 million members.

Canvas features a user-friendly mobile app (Canvas Mobile), allowing learners to access the platform from an iOS or Android device. It also offers extended customization capabilities. For instance, business owners can customize online assignment settings however they want: they can choose when the assignment is visible to the assignee, what kind of submissions and documents are accepted, and more.

Features:

  • Open source.
  • Course and user management.
  • Content library.
  • Third-party integrations.
  • Mobile learning.
  • LMS gamification features.
  • Personalized learning.
  • Notifications.
  • Quizzes and assessments.
  • Discussion boards.
  • LMS reporting.

Pros:

  • Live chat customer support.
  • Easily accessible from any device and platform.
  • Simple to use.
  • Huge variety of out-of-the-box features for learners and tutors.
  • Customizable assignments.

Cons:

  • Some users experience slow loading times.
  • Customer support may take a while to respond.
  • Confusing UI in some sections of the tool.
  • Messages from tutors to students may come with a delay.
  • Some features are buggy and don’t work properly.

Pricing: Freemium model.

#5 Cornerstone LMS

Cornerstone LMS

Cornerstone LMS is an end-to-end AI-powered SaaS LMS that offers a personalized learning experience. Combining LXP and LMS capabilities, it allows organizations to govern, assign, automate, and track required training in one unified platform, instead of relying on multiple tools. Cornerstone LMS empowers employees to learn and collaborate anywhere and anytime thanks to the Cornerstone app and integrated enterprise and partner applications.

Cornerstone LMS has over 7000 customers in 186 countries and more than 30 awards for outstanding product, leadership, and innovation. It’s chosen by Siemens, Samsung, Nestle, Canon, Wendy’s, and other industry leaders.

Features:

  • Course and user management.
  • Content library.
  • Reports and analytics.
  • Mobile learning.
  • Notifications.
  • Artificial intelligence.
  • LXP capabilities.
  • Third-party integrations.
  • Accessibility.
  • Personalized learning.

Pros:

  • Combines LMS and LXP capabilities.
  • Attractive and user-friendly UI.
  • Extended automation capabilities.
  • Supports artificial intelligence for delivering personalized learning.
  • Advanced reporting and analytics.
  • Top-notch customization.

Cons:

  • Customer support isn’t always helpful and takes long to reply.
  • The system is not compatible with tablets (primarily iPads).
  • Users periodically encounter 404 errors as well as server errors.
  • The system is sometimes slow.
  • Administration is not on par with the rest of the product.
  • Quite expensive for large companies.

Pricing: Not provided by the vendor.

Wrapping Up

SaaS LMS platforms have many benefits over on-premises solutions. They don’t require large upfront investments, are easy to set up and configure, don’t need maintenance and support, and can be scaled on demand and accessed from any device. No wonder so many businesses, especially small and medium ones, are eagerly investing in them. With a quality SaaS-based learning management system, you can streamline online training and ensure high knowledge retention.

However, if you operate in a very narrow niche and your business is quite specific, it may be hard to find the right tool among off-the-shelf software solutions. In this case, you should develop a custom system.

AnyforSoft can help.

We have over 12 years of experience and specialize in LMS development, creating cloud-based and server-based systems of any complexity. Whether you need a feature-rich SaaS LMS or a highly customizable self-hosted platform, we can transform your idea into a tangible solution. Being a customer-oriented company, we take our customers’ requirements and product vision.

Contact us today and tell us about your project.

Want to work with us?