Rebecca Lane

By: Rebecca Lane on August 28th, 2021

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Knowledge Base vs LMS: What Are Their Roles? How Do They Differ?

There are a lot of software options when it comes to training your employees these days. With advancements in technology, today’s workforce is more agile than ever.

So what is the best way to train your employees and with what software should you train them? In this article, I’ll show you two types of software systems that can support your training strategy: a knowledge base and a learning management system (LMS).

As the Content Marketing Manager at ScreenSteps — a knowledge base software company — I’ve seen how both a knowledge base and LMS system can help employees gain the skills they need to do their jobs.

Below, I’ll explore the two unique software options and what roles they play in training. Then I’ll explain why you may want to consider getting both a knowledge base and an LMS to train your employees.

Knowledge Base

A knowledge base is a system for organizing reference materials that can be used on a regular basis. It simplifies the process for creating, storing, and sharing information across a company.

Since a knowledge base is a cloud-based software, it makes the content you store in it accessible to your employees. They can then use those resources to complete tasks on the job.

These resources — also referred to as learning assets — include tables with information, checklists, decision trees, call flows, workflows, how-to guides, Q&A, SOPs, policies, etc.

Knowledge Base 101

Knowledge base variations

There are different levels of involvement and intricacies for knowledge bases. On the most basic level, there are document libraries.

A document library (or document repository) allows you to upload documents and works more like a shared drive. You can share documents throughout your company in the cloud, but that’s all the knowledge base does — store and share content.

A more advanced knowledge base works more like a website. In these knowledge bases, you can create web pages. Then you have additional options for organizing the documents into categories and subcategories so that it is easier for employees to find the resources they need.

Beyond the ability to store and share content, you can also create content within the knowledge base. Plus, depending on the software, you have more customization options for your knowledge base site.

🔍 Related: 3 Different Types of Knowledge Base Software

Where, when, and how to use a knowledge base

A knowledge base is great for in-the-moment learning. The pages in your knowledge base (whether they’re documents or web pages) can also be referred to as learning assets. That is because employees can use the guides to help them do their job while they are in the workflow without needing additional, traditional training.

The purpose of a knowledge base is to make knowledge that employees need, available within a few clicks so that they can learn and apply information as they go without needing to ask anyone for support.

Employees apply what they learn during formal training (e.g. classroom or e-learning) with support from your knowledge base resources.

Some scenarios where a knowledge base can support your employees include:

  • When employees need to know how to perform a task in a system
  • When employees need to troubleshoot a problem
  • When employees need to look up the policy for submitting expenses for reimbursement
  • When employees need to submit an expense for reimbursement

Cost

The cost of a knowledge base has a wide range. It can be confusing when comparing the cost of knowledge bases because each company charges differently. The cost is dependent on multiple factors (as well as others):

  • Number of users
  • Number of content authors
  • Which features are included
  • Number of articles

If you break it down for cost per user, a knowledge base can cost you anywhere from $5/user per month up to more than $400/user per month. There are some free knowledge base options available, but they have limited capabilities.

Most companies have a discount for an annual subscription.

Features and Tools

Each knowledge base software company has different features and tools — and each company’s tools work differently. Generally, most advanced knowledge bases have these features and functionality:

  • Knowledge Base Authoring ToolsAuthoring tools (ie: design elements, screen capture, linking, etc.)
  • Content template options (ie: checklists, Workflow Articles, FAQs, Manuals, etc.)
  • Version Control
  • Permissions management
  • Integrations
  • Software Security
  • Advanced search engine
  • User feedback
  • Embed video
  • Reports and analytics

Missing learning features

Typically, knowledge bases don’t include learning features found in an LMS. Though, some knowledge base software might include these as a bonus feature. Some of these features you are less likely to have with your knowledge base include:

  • Quizzes
  • Ability to upload SCORM files
  • Learning activities
  • Video upload

Benefits

The benefits of a knowledge base are that it provides your company with a one-stop shop for all of your resources and information that can be brought up in the moment employees need that information. If employees have a question, they know exactly where to go to get their answers.

These resources are available to your employees 24/7. They can reference them whenever they need help without needing to wait on anyone else.

A knowledge base complements your formal training. By providing your employees with resources they can use and learn from in the workflow, you save time and money. That’s because you don’t have to pull someone off the job to train them.

🔍 Related: 5 Tips For Choosing the Best Knowledge Base Software For Your Business

Learning Management System (LMS)

An LMS system is for organizing e-learning,  custom-built courses, and tracking classroom training. Basically, when using an LMS, you can provide a library of courses to employees.

The purpose of an LMS is to provide and track one-and-done training/e-learning experiences for your learners.

technology students group in computer lab classroom

LMS variations

Different LMS software companies serve different purposes in the industry. Overall, there are two basic uses of LMS available.

First, you can purchase off-the-shelf courses such as professional development, security awareness training, and other compliance-driven courses and upload them to your LMS. These courses are more generic and apply to anyone in any company.

Another option is to create custom courses on your own. You can create customized courses using built-in authoring tools within the LMS or by using tools such as Articulate and Captivate.

An LMS will then allow you to drop in quizzes that are specific to your company. For example, if you have a policy about how to schedule time off, then you could create a course and include a quiz that would only apply to your employees.

Bonus Tip: LMS course creation tools are often very limited. Usually, you will need to create materials in another system such as PowerPoint (for basic courses), Captivate or Articulate (for more interactive e-learning), and Screenflow or Camtasia for producing videos.

Where, when, and how to use an LMS

An LMS is great for teaching the basics so that learners understand the context of what is going on. Typically, you would use an LMS to onboard a new employee, teach employees about a new software/system, or ensure compliance training.

The purpose of an LMS is to provide training that employees can complete on their own time during the workday.

Some situations where you would use an LMS include:

  • A new hire learning about company culture and their role
  • Employees learning the basics of using Excel
  • Employees learning the basics of time management
  • Employees going through compliance training (safety training, ethics training, security awareness training)

Cost

Many calculations that play a part in the cost of an LMS. Depending on the LMS, you’ll need to factor in initial setup costs on top of the monthly subscription. You’ll want to budget for a one-time license fee and setup fee.

For a cloud-based LMS, there are a few factors that influence the cost or how you pay for your LMS:

  • Pay per course 
  • Pay Per learner, per use
  • Pay per user/learner (Some have a minimum number of users required)

For a monthly subscription that includes 100 users, the rough range of cost for an LMS is $210 per month to more than $800. Then you’ll need to add in the implementation and licensing fees, which can cost thousands of dollars.

Features and Tools

Every LMS tool has its own features and tools with varying levels of advancement.

You’ll want tools that will allow you to assign courses to learners, track completion, include quizzes, give passing scores, provide badges, etc. A non-comprehensive list of common features and tools includes:

  • Course management
  • Library of pre-packaged courses
  • Assessment tools
  • Gamification
  • Performance tracking and reports
  • Notifications
  • Calendar integrations
  • Certifications
  • Social learning tools
  • Organizational management
  • Integrations for HR systems and CRM

Benefits

There are many benefits to having an LMS as part of your training strategy. If you go with an LMS that includes a pre-packaged library of courses, then you have a large library of lesson options that are already prepared for your employees to use immediately.

Having courses that your employees can take helps them develop their professional skills as well as prepare ahead of time for the tasks they will be doing on the job. They receive the background knowledge they need to tackle their assignments.

Since employees can take LMS courses on their own time during the workday, they are able to learn at their own pace. This means they can stop and review things they might not initially understand.

Benefits of Using both a knowledge base and LMS

An LMS and a knowledge base really aren’t an either-or decision. They serve different purposes.

A comprehensive training strategy often requires a technology stack, meaning a collection of software to help in different areas of training your employees.

If employees need help performing tasks, then they would reference a knowledge base when they have questions.

If employees need to learn something brand new (or expand their knowledge on a topic) that requires a formal learning experience, then you would use an LMS.

How to use them together

If you are teaching employees about a new system you’re about to roll out, you can use an LMS to take them through foundational training.

Within the training, you could include links to resources in your knowledge base that walk them through performing specific tasks within that system. These are the articles and guides they will ultimately be using while performing their job.

For example, if you are teaching employees about a new loan processing system, the LMS would give them an overview of what it is, examples of when you would use it, and examples of what you would use it for.

Then, you could include links to specific knowledge base articles that walk them through the process of where to click and what to fill out. That way, after they are done with the course, they could go back to those knowledge base articles when they need help remembering where to click and what to do.

Build a training strategy that supports your employees everywhere they need it

Both a knowledge base and LMS serve a different role in training. However, they each have different benefits and areas of expertise.

By having both a knowledge base and an LMS in your company, you will be prepared to support your employees in the moment they need help. LMS courses prepare employees to enter the workforce while a knowledge base teaches your employees in the workflow.

At ScreenSteps, our knowledge base software supports training employees by providing a searchable knowledge base where it is easy to find resources. Our customers have simplified the search process from 5 clicks to 2 clicks to reach the answers they need.

Plus, ScreenSteps works hand-in-hand with LMS systems to train your employees and support them on the job.

Want to see an example of how a knowledge base and LMS work together? Learn how ScreenSteps fits into training with an LMS.

See How ScreenSteps Works with Your LMS

About Rebecca Lane

Content Marketing Manager