Published On: August 11, 2022By
LMS Workflow Automation - What should you know about learning systems features in 2022? Our Lead Analyst, John Leh, shares the latest research findings

LMS Workflow Automation is Leveling Up

Our firm’s recent research has confirmed a surprising finding about learning management systems. Vendors are upgrading their LMS workflow automation capabilities in multiple ways and the business implications are significant.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. What could possibly be new about LMS workflow automation? After all, learning management systems were invented 40 years ago specifically for this purpose. They have always automated processes for course assignments, email notifications, manager approvals and reporting.

But now, LMS workflow automation is much deeper, more flexible and more sophisticated. It’s also more configurable, so administrative processes can be uniquely defined for each client. And all of this is, well, more automated than ever.

How do I know? As a part of the standard vendor review process for our 2022 Talented Learning Systems Awards, we’ve surveyed almost 100 platform providers over the past year. We’ve researched their capabilities in detail – including LMS workflow automation.

Here’s our top takeaway:

71% of vendors tell us their buyers consider LMS workflow automation a critical feature set. Not surprisingly, 0% say it’s unimportant.

Decisive response. But what’s behind this statistic? Let’s look closer…


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CRMs Point the Way Forward

For decades, LMS workflow automation stood still. Then customer relationship management systems (CRMs) like Salesforce and HubSpot transformed the marketing function, and our industry began to see the light.

From day one, CRMs were designed to help organizations build, drive and measure marketing workflows. But what exactly is a “workflow“? It can be as simple as a single-step process.

For example, when a website visitor submits a landing page form for a marketing brochure, the system automatically responds by ensuring that the requested document is sent to the email address provided.

More complex examples often include a series of conditional “if/then” branching scenarios. For instance:

  1. If a site visitor submits a form, then send a brochure via email.
  2. If the recipient opens a) the brochure email only or b) the email and the brochure, then send a follow-up email X hours/days later with an invitation to schedule a demo via online calendar.
  3. If the recipient requests a Zoom meeting, then send an email confirmation to the requestor and assign an appropriate inside sales rep to initiate the session.
  4. If the recipient does not open the brochure email (or brochure) within X  hours/days, then send a 2nd message as a follow-up reminder.

Now LMSs essentially think and act just like CRMs.

Other Ways to Enhance the Learning Experience

Most LMSs also include the concept of automatically assigning content to learners based on details in a user profile, such as job role and/or organization. In addition, specific due dates can be associated with any of this assigned content.

Alternatively, some LMSs make it possible to use these same capabilities to create a static group of diverse learners and assign the same content to everyone in that group. These connections are hardwired only once by administrators and can support learning programs for decades without further intervention.

In other words, think of LMS workflow automation as the opposite of labor-intensive manual administration.

LMS Workflow Automation “Engines”

LMS workflow automation engines are one functional category where you’ll see significant differentiation among vendors. In my opinion, the best vendors provide an actual software “engine” where learning administrators can create rules and automation paths to support a spectrum of scenarios, from very simple to highly complex.

At the core of an automation engine is Boolean “if/then” logic.

The “ifs” are called triggers. These are prompts in the LMS (or outside of it) indicating that a response is required. The engine continuously monitors activities to detect any triggers. The “thens” are called actions. These are the automated activities an LMS performs whenever a trigger occurs.

Triggers and Actions

The more triggers and actions an automation engine provides, the better and more powerful it is. The possible combinations are endless. Here are some examples…

LMS workflow automation “ifs” could include these triggers:

  • A customer, not a customer, a long-time customer, a former customer, or another organization’s customer
  • Lives in Germany and speaks Japanese, has earned X degree, or Y certification
  • Register, start, finish, almost finish, start but not finish, no access in x days, fail, fail a 2nd time, pass with x score, login, not login
  • Buy (or not buy) a piece of content (or product) in the LMS (or outside of it)
  • Post a comment, follow a thread, submit content, like content, share content
  • Submit an assignment, upload an external certification
  • Receive a webhook from any other application (such as a survey, event, CRM, advertising or any other external event)
  • Any combination of the above, using “if”-and-“if” or “if”-or-“if” logic

LMS workflow automation “thens” could include these actions:

  • Recommend or assign content, with or without a due date
  • Award points, badges, awards, assign a thumbs up
  • Send a custom text, email or social post
  • Provide a coupon, discount or enter a promotional contest
  • Subscribe to a new interest thread
  • Enroll in a webinar
  • Send an invite to a LinkedIn group
  • Send a webhook
  • Send information to an existing employee performance appraisal
  • Any combination of the above, using “then”-and-“then” or “then”-or-“then” logic


(NOTE TO LMS VENDORS: Want to schedule a product briefing with me? To start the process contact me here.)


Above and Beyond Features

To kick it up yet another notch, the best LMS workflow automation engines also make it possible to build multi-level combinations. This means you can create an infinite number of combinations.

But wait. It gets even better. Some vendors now also embed Workato or Zapier into their automation engine scheme, so you can automate triggers and actions in potentially thousands of different third-party applications.

The possibilities are mind-blowing.

Best LMS Workflow Automation Vendors

Which vendors are driving this feature set forward?

All learning platform vendors have at least some LMS workflow automation features. However, not all vendors focus on this feature set as a core differentiator.

Some of my favorite vendors at the forefront of automation innovation include:

Acorn LMS, CD2 Learning, LearnUpon, Cypher Learning, Docebo, Growth Engineering, LearningCart, NetExam, Thought Industries and Training Orchestra.

Top LMS Workflow Automation Features

You’ll find tremendous differentiation when you compare LMS workflow automation feature sets across vendors. No two companies provide exactly the same functionality.

But keep in mind that most vendors are actively investing in this feature set, and collectively, their efforts are advancing automation capabilities across the industry.

Top LMS workflow automation features in 2022 - from TalentedLearning Research


In today’s market, LMS workflow automation is setting industry providers apart in impressive ways. Innovation is happening in all LMS use cases, including extended enterprise learning, employee development, training content businesses and academic applications.

Leading the pack are LMS providers that specialize in helping organizations sell instructional content. This makes sense because these vendors have the requisite marketing expertise to understand the significance and competitive advantage that comes with LMS workflow automation.

But whatever your needs and whatever direction you take, just remember this – the opposite of manual administration is LMS workflow automation. This, alone, should give you a reason to investigate what these capabilities can offer you.

Thanks for reading!


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About the Author: John Leh

John Leh is Founder, CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning and the Talented Learning Center. John is a fiercely independent consultant, blogger, podcaster, speaker and educator who helps organizations select and implement learning technology strategies, primarily for extended enterprise applications. His advice is based upon more than 25+years of learning-tech industry experience, serving as a trusted LMS selection and sales adviser to hundreds of learning organizations with a total technology spend of more than $100+ million and growing. John would love to connect with you on Twitter or on LinkedIn.

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