Learning Content Management Systems – Part 2

learning content management systems

We talked about Learning Management Systems (LMS) in a previous post and in this post we’ll discuss Learning Content Management Systems (LCMS) and the difference between the two systems. Whereas LMS is software that automates the administrative tasks of training and a system that serves as a platform to deliver eLearning to students, an LCMS is primarily focused on managing and delivering the appropriate e-learning content for learners when they need it.

In essence an LCMS provides a system that can be used to rapidly create, modify, manage and reuse content for a wide range of learning. This contrasts with the logistics of managing learners and their learning activities, as well as competency mapping provided by an LMS. The tools within the LCMS are used mainly by course developers, rather than by learners. Typically they offer features such as object repositories for learning objects where they can be searched, reused or adapted.

A learning object is a self-contained chunk of instructional material. It typically includes three components:

  • A performance goal (what the learner will understand or be able to accomplish upon completion of the learning)
  • The necessary learning content to reach that goal (such as text, video, illustration, bulleted slide, demo, task simulation).
  • Some form of evaluation to measure whether or not the goal was achieved.

A learning object also includes metadata, or tags that describe its content and purpose to the LCMS. Therefore, with the focus on creating courses most LCMS include authoring capabilities with which comes the management functionalities. These include the ability to launch and track courses. However, the launch and track features are often limited when compared to some LMS products.

The following features are usually found in a LCMS:

  • Based upon learning object model (LOM)
  • A content repository with versioning (and archiving) of files and/or content objects. Content is not tightly bound to any specific template and can be re-deployed in a variety of formats
  • Authoring application used to create reusable learning objects that are accessible in the repository
  • Interoperability with third-party LMS
  • System provides workflow tools to manage a multi developer team environment
  • Ability to manage diverse and complex object types
  • Web interface directly to the content; A dynamic delivery interface to serve up learning object based on learner profiles, pretests and or user queries, etc. Navigational elements are not hard coded at the content/page level
  • Administration application; Used to manage and track learners, launch e-learning courses from the catalog which includes the ability to search to enable discovery of content objects and/or files

The table below highlights the key differences between LMS and LCMS

UsersTraining managers, instructors, administratorsContent developers, instructional designers, project managers
Management of…LearnersLearning content
Management of classroom, instructor-led trainingYes (but not always)Sometimes, but not primary goal.
Performance reporting of training resultsPrimary focusSecondary focus
Learner collaborationYesYes
Keeping learner profile dataYesNo
Sharing learner data with an ERP systemYesNo
Event schedulingYesNo
Competency mapping – skill gap analysisYesYes (in some cases)
Content creation capabilitiesNoYes
Organizing reusable contentNoYes
Creation of test questions and test administrationYesYes
Dynamic pre-testing and adaptive learningNoYes
Workflow tools to manage the content development processNoYes
Delivery of content by providing navigational controls and learner interfaceNoYes

Like LMS, LCMS are used primarily in business and government training communities. It is worth noting that the term LCMS is sometimes used to refer to an LMS that has extended to include an authoring capability. However, this is without meeting the spirit of the functionality described for a true LCMS. The main advantage of LCMS over LMS is that LCMS enable assembly of courses, usually dynamically, from a variety of smaller source content objects. Therefore, if your environment requires output of a variety of materials from a variety of sources, this is probably a good choice of a system.

An LCMS has several additional advantages over LMS, namely:

  • They include an integrated authoring tool
  • Individual assets and learning objects (including screens) can be managed, not just courses
  • Assets can be version controlled
  • Master copies of content objects ripple changes through all outputs
  • Competencies and objectives can be mapped explicitly to any level of course organization and to learner progress
  • Course units and assets can be easily reused

However, LCMS don’t have it all their own way and thus have the following disadvantages compared to LMS:

  • The student management functions tend to be less robust, since the system concentrates more on the authoring, assembly, and delivery of content.
  • Their capabilities are usually predicated on doing everything within the LCMS system. They may not interoperate well with other systems (for example, an external authoring tool).
  • Navigation controls for courses usually are provided by the LCMS, not the content (this is especially true where the content is assembled dynamically)

For organizations to successfully select the right LMS and/or LCMS there needs to be several important factors in place. For example, a learning blueprint that describes the current learning environment and desired future state, as well as buy-in from all the stake holders, particularly IT. To help organizations define the learning blueprint, a vision and planning effort with a number of assessments, including a strategic analysis and IT infrastructure assessment, should be completed. Of course when it comes to procuring the right LMS for your organization there is more to it than just a blueprint. I will spend more time on this in a future post!