Many organizations looking to add more e-learning elements to their company training programs get stuck choosing between two similar-sounding, but ultimately different, systems: Learning Management Systems (LMS) and Learning Content Management Systems (LCMS). There are a number of similarities between the two, and recently many software packages have blurred the differences between them. However, there are a few key differences that organizations should keep in mind when looking for an online training system.
LMS: A platform for managing people
An LMS provides the simplest platform for managing the experience of students or trainees as they interact with e-learning content. One of the assumptions about an LMS, which will become clearer in the explanation of an LCMS, is that the content has already been created, and that it’s in the right format to be compatible with these systems. Beyond that, most LMS packages have several similarities in common:
- An emphasis on registering participants, tracking their activity, and gauging their progress through online coursework.
- Interaction with existing Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS), to track the pool of those eligible for participation, and for reporting back outcomes.
- Increasing the use of talent management functionality, which sometimes overlaps with functions being performed by HRIS.
- In some cases, tools for analytics and performance management are included.
LCMS: The platform for managing content creation
An LCMS provides a more complex platform meant for developing content used in e-learning programs. Many LCMS packages available on the market also contain tools that resemble those used in an LMS, and most assume that an LMS is already in place. The emphasis in an LCMS is the ability for developers to create new material. Most content-management systems have several aspects in common:
- A focus on creating, developing, and managing content for online courses, with far less emphasis placed on managing the experience of learners.
- A multi-user environment that allows several developers to interact and exchange tools.
- A learning object repository containing learning materials, which are commonly used components that are archived so as to be searchable and adaptable to any online course.
Organizations that have all their existing materials in commonly used business software formats – like Microsoft Office products – will find that few LMS platforms allow for them to simply be imported and modified. Those materials need to be created from scratch, and to do that you will need an LCMS.
The Unique Case of Managing Education Environments
A number of LMS platforms serve the education market, including some of the most well known, such as Blackboard. There are a few key differences that make education packages unique, and that may also obscure the boundary between LMS and LCMS.
- An assumption that a campus will already have a number of IT environments for managing registration and enrollment, so the emphasis is on compatibility with those systems.
- A number of content-authoring and creation tools that resemble those found in what are otherwise described as LCMS platforms.
- An emphasis on semester-long interaction with a teacher, leading to more options for communication such as email, discussion rooms, wikis, or sometimes blogs.
Which One Do You Need?
Despite the nuances and complexities of different packages, a few simple generalizations can help organizations make a choice when choosing between an LMS and an LCMS.
- The C stands for “create.” The C in LCMS actually stands for “content,” but in reality LMS and LCMS are both concerned with content. But if you need to create it, then go with an LCMS.
- An LMS is focused on managing how individuals participate in e-learning programs; an LCMS is concerned with how content for e-learning is created.
- An organization that already employs its own trainers and coaches should consider an LCMS that will allow these individuals to convert their existing knowledge into training materials that make sense for them; organizations content to purchase “off the shelf” components should choose an LMS.
Because of inconsistencies in the way different platforms are made and marketed, be sure to pay close attention to the details of any new product you select. Over time, these two choices will continue to evolve to meet changing demand for e-learning.
Image used under Creative Commons by Flickr user wilhei55.