This article will assist learning leaders in understanding the many benefits of investing in an LCMS. First, we will explore the component functionality of a robust LCMS in today’s marketplace. Then, more importantly, we will provide a clear overview of how the different technical features help:
A revealing statement recently encountered from a very large organization with thousands of employees, hundreds of courses and more than 25 course developers was, “Our divisions all have their own courses, instructional designers and preferred vendors. They don’t share content so we have no need for an LCMS.
” When asked if there weren’t at least a handful of compliance courses, health and safety, systems, process and people management topics that crossed divisions, the reply was, “Of course! A lot of our content is mandated nationally but each division likes to have their own course with their own customer examples.”
This manager was confined to thinking that the sole benefit of an LCMS is to support content reusability when, in fact, only about 5% of content is typically used exactly as is.
What this manager was missing was the fact that content reusability comprises only a fraction of the overall business benefit of an LCMS as compared to development cost savings, productivity gains, risk management of corporate assets and reduction in learner time that can be realized through use of an LCMS.
To get started, let’s review the difference between an LMS and LCMS. You likely understand the basic concept that one system manages learning content (LCMS), the other manages learner information and learning activities (LMS). However, the confusion begins when you consider that many LMSs have functionality that crosses over with LCMS functionality, such as assessment authoring and learning path/curriculum management. Refer to the following simplified chart for a general overview of where typical functionality resides:
The above chart provides a basic overview of the differences between an LMS and an LCMS but, in many cases leads to more questions:
Of course, the answer to all these questions is, “It depends”.
It depends on the following key factors:
To better understand the business benefits related to each of these factors and decide whether an LCMS is right for your organization, it is critical to understand a bit more about the core functionality found in a robust LCMS. From there, you can decide what level of functionality is important to your organization and be better prepared to research the various systems you will find in the marketplace. Sure, all LCMS solutions will “manage content” in some way but the notion of what constitutes “content management” varies from vendor to vendor—in some cases implying only tagging and storing content, while, in others, facilitating all aspects of content development and deployment. Technical functionality lists will tell part of the story, but it is not until you experience how easily course production and maintenance tasks can be performed and see the productivity increase and the associated frustration decrease within your learning team that you will truly appreciate the differences between LCMS offerings.
A fundamental premise to mentally adopt before looking further at your needs for LCMS functionality is the concept of dynamic content production versus static content production.
Content produced through an LCMS resides in a database. Each content object is tagged and stored as a unit of information that can be pulled into a presentation template for viewing by the learner. The learner’s “page” is dynamically generated at the time of linking to that page, calling forth the appropriate content elements from the database. This dynamic construction method allows for three very powerful content production benefits:
While the benefits realized through dynamic content authoring are often sufficient to make the business case to move to an LCMS, there are other features that bring great benefit as well.
With North American pricing for an LCMS ranging from free (Open Source) to almost a million dollars for a large scale enterprise system, learning practitioners really need to educate themselves on the features they want and need and not rush the shopping process. The three key functional differentiators of advanced LCMS solutions over lower priced solutions are:
Enterprise class systems will offer robust, integrated content authoring capability whereas others will restrict their scope to content classification and storage and rely on external off-the-shelf authoring tools for content production. We really should describe some systems as an LCMS –Learning Content Authoring and Management System to distinguish them from those systems that rely on third party authoring tools.
The key benefits to utilizing an integrated authoring tool are:
While advanced developers will likely feel confined by the functionality available in most integrated authoring tools, these individuals can still easily work in applications such as Flash, or audio/video editing software, and contribute their final learning objects to the content repository for learning designers to assemble into the courseware as desired.
Another critical differentiator in LCMS offerings in today’s market (and a technical functionality worth its weight in gold when adopted) is workflow or some form of collaborative authoring capability.
Many organizations struggle to produce rapid learning—due largely to the time needed to gather content from SMEs and manage review cycles. By adopting a collaborative, web-based workspace where all writing, editing and reviewer comments are input and viewed online, a content production team can greatly reduce the time needed for e-learning production. Imagine eliminating the need for amalgamating multiple versions of tracked changes in a word processing document, or worse, having each reviewer try to describe their edits in an e-mail. More advanced workflow functionality even comes complete with the ability to automatically notify team members to perform a task. This is the kind of functionality that truly wows production managers and makes stand-alone content development tools seem archaic.
Sophisticated LCMS systems will include tools to help you report on e-learning successes and identify areas requiring follow up or revision, based on user data collected as learners take courses and assessments. An example is the ability to report on learner responses to assessments down to a very granular level, such as individual choices made within specific test questions, for example.
Such tools help ensure that no assumptions are made about the success of an e-learning experience.
Despite the productivity benefits and enabling opportunities provided through an LCMS, it is fair to say that LCMS adoption is still quite low, but not surprisingly so given the overall state of e-learning adoption. With LMS implementations complete and business processes fine tuned, most medium and large companies are just recently beginning to turn their attention toward effective content management solutions after amassing volumes of content over the last five+ years.
In Training Magazine’s annual 2007 Industry Report of the state of training in the US market, 38% of the respondents indicate that they are using a LMS and only a mere 12% are taking advantage of LCMS technology. From a learning governance perspective, it is disconcerting to see that while only 12% are using an LCMS, a further 12% also claim to have content in an EPSS/Knowledge Management System, 15% have podcasting content, 56% are sharing content using virtual classrooms and 20% are using rapid learning tools for content production. This fragmented approach to content storage, production and delivery speaks to a great deal of room for efficiencies in how content is produced, shared, re-purposed and governed.
A similar statistic was also published by Bersin in their 2005 report on the LCMS industry, stating that the surveyed group had a rate of adoption of 42% for Learning Management Systems and 28% for an LCMS. The difference in these LCMS adoption statistics is solely related to the fact that the group surveyed in 2005 were early e-learning adopters who had been offering e-learning from 2001 to 2004, whereas the group surveyed in 2007 included all industries and company sizes, with many respondents just beginning their e-learning journey.
Leading the LCMS adoption are those companies who have been offering e-learning for at least two-three years, with courses being created for multiple audiences. The story is similar across many organizations—they dabble with in-house production and maintenance but also rely on vendors for a lot of course development. Either way, learning leaders are still unsatisfied with the speed at which they can produce content, the effort needed to maintain courses and the overall rising costs and complexities with file management as their course volume grows. Most organizations start with network shared drives as the first step in managing a central repository of learning content. Others may have “been there/done that”, filled various shared drives and are now exploring other corporate content management solutions. However, those who have adopted LCMS solutions have become wise to the shortcomings of corporate content management solutions and are now producing and managing learning objects in a productive, cost-effective manner and are equipped to offer adaptive learning, mobile learning and performance support solutions.
Regardless of the current state of industry adoption, learning leaders should not ignore the need to invest in an LCMS to drive effective content management and course production:
Considering the many business benefits of an LCMS, drafting a business case to outline the cost savings and future value is not a small task but also not impossible. If you stay focused on calculating the savings derived just from the following three areas, you may be surprised at how easy it is to make the case to invest in an LCMS.