I recently attended a project workshop where the purpose was to discuss the high level requirements for the procurement of new Learning Management Systems and to plan the project going forward. At the meeting a stakeholder asked me to explain the difference between a Learning Management System (LMS) and a Learning Content Management System (LCMS). It is true that the lines between these systems are becoming increasingly blurred as an LMCS can add LMS functionalities, and the same can be said of an LMS. In other words they can overlap in their capabilities.
The purpose of this post is to explain and highlight the features of both an LMS and an LCMS. This post is written specifically for individuals researching whether procuring an LMS or LCMS is the right system for their organization or educational institution. I will provide details about both systems, as well as a detailed comparison between the two systems.
What is a Learning Management System?
So what is a LMS? Well, it’s typically a web-based software system designed to manage, track and report on training events. To expand on this definition, an LMS is a server based software system used to manage and deliver various types of learning through a web browser, particularly asynchronous e-learning. The types of learning delivered can be online, in the classroom or a blended solution. In addition, these systems are used to track and manage the different types of learner data, especially learner performance.
LMS have evolved over time and they generally have the following functions and features:
- System – The organisation of learning related functions into a system with efficient access to these functions via layered interface navigation.
- Security – Including authorization for users, protection of data and administration functions.
- Registration – Learners can find and select courses, or be assigned to a course or curriculum.
- Delivery – Delivery of learning content. This involves the medium in which the content is delivered. For example, classroom or online. Also this refers to the method. For example, instructor-led, self-paced or blended.
- Interaction – Learner interaction with content and communication between learners, instructors and course administrators. This also refers to communicative content.
- Assessment – As well administering assessments, LMS collect, track, and store assessment data. Based on the results of assessment further actions could be taken and possibly in other systems. For example, HR. Many LMS include the ability to create assessments for learners, feedback and survey tools to evaluate training, etc. These tools can help developers build and refine learning programmes over time.
- Tracking – The tracking of learner data, especially information such as learner progress and course usage.
- Reporting and record keeping – The storage and maintenance of learner data as well as the reporting of that data.
- Configurability and personalization – Functions to enable administrators to configure interfaces, functions and features. Learners can also have the capability to customise their user interfaces.
- Integration and interfaces – The exchange of data with external systems. Typically, these systems include HR to facilitate enterprise-wide tracking of learner performance and transfer of user data. They can also include portals, content systems, registration, etc.
- Skills Management – Some LMS include functionality for skills assessment and management capabilities revolve around learners assessing their competency gaps.
- Administrative – A feature set for purpose of managing the LMS and all its functions.
- Adherence to standards – An LMS should attempt to support standards such as SCORM or AICC.
LMS are typically used by organizations that are in regulated industries such as financial services or pharmaceutical. These types of companies use LMS for compliance training. LMS are also used by educational institutions to enhance and support classroom teaching and offering courses to a larger population of learners.
What is a Learning Content Management System
Now we’ll talk about 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
|Training managers, instructors, administrators
|Content developers, instructional designers, project managers
|Management of classroom, instructor-led training
|Yes (but not always)
|Sometimes, but not primary goal.
|Performance reporting of training results
|Keeping learner profile data
|Sharing learner data with an ERP system
|Competency mapping – skill gap analysis
|Yes (in some cases)
|Content creation capabilities
|Organizing reusable content
|Creation of test questions and test administration
|Dynamic pre-testing and adaptive learning
|Workflow tools to manage the content development process
|Delivery of content by providing navigational controls and learner interface
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.
A 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.