More learning management systems are now serving as career-planning tools.

Spending on learning management systems will grow 21 percent in 2014, totaling more than $2.5 billion, according to research from Bersin by Deloitte. Since 2012, global spending on LMSs has increased by a whopping 52 percent.

The LMS market is growing rapidly in all geographies and segments, but "The big story here is rebounding growth of LMS sales in larger organizations in North America," says David Mallon, head of research at Bersin by Deloitte. A key reason for this is that the LMS is evolving from a training administration tool to a platform for integrating talent management processes.

These "talent management suites" can be used as career-planning tools that connect employees with internal development resources and opportunities—whether that's an e-learning course, an internal competency model, a profile of a senior colleague who can serve as a mentor, or details about the skills required for a certain management position. They also can be used for storing and interpreting data from performance reviews, which helps HR and managers identify or even predict skills gaps.

"Career pathing" is quickly becoming the feature most requested of talent management systems, says Mallon. Turning the LMS into a comprehensive professional development tool is supposed to improve retention by facilitating employees' mobility within the organization, although there is no research yet to support that theory.

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According to the report from Bersin by Deloitte, traditional LMS functionalities such as e-learning and classroom management are becoming less prominent as consumers gravitate toward more holistic talent management features. Such functionality is beginning to overtake the course catalog as the face of the LMS.

To get the most out of your LMS, know your training goals, Mallon says. If your goal is to manage a high volume of training, you don't need an LMS that focuses on talent management; you'll need a more traditional one. If your organization is focused on integrated talent management, you'll want a system that puts more emphasis on career development planning, learner profiles, and organizational competency models, with the traditional LMS capabilities "operating behind the scenes."

And remember, with the sudden proliferation of LMS providers (there are currently more than 650), this is a buyer's market. More organizations are now going with software-as-a-service–based solutions that offer flexible pricing models and a fuller range of capabilities.