If you're new to the concept of a Learning Content Management System (LCMS), it's almost painfully difficult to find clear and up-to-date answers to the most basic questions. Questions like:
Attempts to "clear up" the relationship between an LCMS and other alphabet-soup eLearning tools often get too tangled up in the minutiae to clarify anything. Plus, individual software varies a lot in terms of functionality and features, regardless of label.
All that can make it hard to understand the purpose of each type of software. To give you a clearer lay of the land, let's set aside exceptions and speak in generalities.
So, then: what purpose does an LCMS serve? And how does it fit into the eLearning ecosystem in 2019?
In a word: no.
It's a natural point of confusion. The initials are similar enough that you want to group them together. Even when you spell them out – Learning Management System vs Learning Content Management System – your brain emphasizes the sameness.
But an LMS and an LCMS are more different than similar.
The primary purpose of an LMS is to:
The primary purpose of an LCMS is to:
The work of an LCMS feeds into the work of an LMS rather than overlapping it.
Your brain wants to see the acronym as "L(C)MS" because "LMS" is such a familiar term.
But it's more accurate to see it as "(L)CMS." Because an LCMS is a
Content Management System
for what ends up in your
Learning Management System.
A Content Management System (CMS)…does what it sounds like. It manages content. Specifically, it provides:
Your typical CMS is useful for managing large amounts of content, but ill-suited for eLearning projects. For example, assessment capabilities (a key aspect of eLearning) are simply not available in a CMS. And courseware file types aren't supported outside basic presentation software. You typically have to download the files and work on your desktop to make changes (which completely destroys the point of using a CMS).
So, a specialized type of CMS was born to solve these problems. A CMS for learning content. (An LCMS.)
An LCMS won't replace your LMS, but it can replace something: your course authoring software.
This wasn't always true. For years, an LCMS could only replace authoring software on a very limited basis. It was primarily useful to the development of basic, almost book-like content. Early Learning Content Management Systems provided strong management capabilities, but they were slim in the areas of content authoring. And often, they weren't terribly user-friendly.
What they did produce was structured material you could easily output into a variety of formats. They harnessed the power of reusability more effectively than "copy, copy, copy; update, update, update." This was a huge time saver.
Some Learning Content Management Systems still operate in this space.
But others have recognized the trap that limited authoring capabilities create for their clients. LCMSs were born because CMSs were missing key capabilities. That forced users to work outside the system and undermined the tool's utility.
The exact same problem results from an LCMSs with inadequate authoring. Clients end up cobbling together a detour outside the software to make up for what their LCMS lacks. That waters down or even negates the power and savings Learning Content Management Systems can offer.
Thus, some LCMSs focused on developing more sophisticated authoring capabilities in response.
By this point, the right LCMS offers tools as advanced as any traditional authoring software. But better.
Because with a good LCMS, you can leverage its cloud storage and content management properties to make your entire authoring process easier.
A good LCMS improves on traditional software in a number of ways. But the two most important methods are:
Let's take a look at how that can make your life easier.
With traditional, non-cloud-based software, course files might be stored on individual computers. This introduces a number of problems:
When your authoring software is cloud-based, these problems virtually disappear:
Moving content and creative functionality to the cloud allows smoother collaboration. But a good LCMS also provides workflow management tools.
With traditional authoring software, your tools for collaboration might include a handful of separate tools for project management, tracking, and communication. Some of these tools might even be “integrated.” But you may have to juggle manual updates in each tool, and communication gets tangled when it's happening across several channels.
By moving communication, project, and content tracking into the authoring tool itself, the right LCMS removes roadblocks. You can directly involve more resources – like Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) – while reducing the bottleneck involved in adding more people.
A good Learning Content Management System improves project supervision by letting you:
LCMS tools facilitate co-authoring, whether the contributors are working simultaneously or at different times. Some let you to restrict the scope of a user's editing capabilities so they can't get in over their head with advanced tools.
The right LCMS also simplifies the review and comment process by providing tools to:
All of these features become even more valuable if your collaborators are scattered across different teams, departments, or locations.
Now that we have everyone working together smoothly, let's talk about helping them work smarter. Let's talk about how an LCMS supports multiple levels of reusability. First up? Think small.
Tell me if this sounds familiar: your company just updated its mission statement, its About Us blurb, or its logo. Something so ubiquitous, it's repeated across a thousand and one unrelated documents.
Are you actually going to update all the documents? Maybe you intend to. But you're rushed, so you only update the most recent, most urgently needed documents. You'll "get to the rest later."
Over time, these tiny changes snowball, so that only 5% of your assets are ever accurate at any one time. And no one can remember what's outdated and where.
In an LCMS, you can prevent that snowball from rolling. Your content can be stored in smaller content units (like your company mission). That unit ("learning object") gets tagged and stored in the LCMS “database”, where you can call it into any number of content projects.
When your mission statement information changes? You update in one place. Presto, anyone looking at a project with the mission statement sees the new version.
What about delivering very similar content to 3 difference audiences, with scenarios relevant to their particular concerns?
Even with the content units we discussed above, creating and updating all 3 could get tedious. Maybe you'd be tempted to go old school: build a project out of little units once, duplicate, customize, and repeat.
That would give you some centralized editing efficiency, sure. But you'd still have to make any number of changes at the project level. For example, if you needed to add a new section, it would have to be added in each project.
This situation calls for a different level of reusability.
What you need is a parent project and three children. The parent contains the overall structure and universal content for one-stop updates. The child projects reuse appropriate parent content by pulling it in dynamically alongside audience-specific objects.
That makes creating and maintaining targeted content much easier.
Similarly, we can centralize and streamline content creation in multiple languages.
When you have an LCMS with strong translation functionality, there's no need to carefully manage a copy for each language on your desktop or a separate CMS. Like the parent-child model, the LCMS can maintain a link between translated versions. You can easily view the translation and the original at once.
And your translators don't need to fuss with a course editor. You can export the content for translation, then import the translated text once it's finished.
Maybe you've noticed that we're using the word "project" more often than "course" while talking about these features.
Here's where you need to think more broadly about how you can use your content. It's not just about reuse between different eLearning courses. It can be so much bigger.
The right Learning Content Management System can help you distribute the same content in many different formats, like:
If it's worth documenting once, it's probably useful in a dozen places. But you might have entirely different departments working on various pieces – courses by Learning & Development, public webpages by Marketing, and a Knowledge Base maintained by Support.
Maybe each department is starting from scratch, using their own tools. Maybe you're reusing content occasionally, but you have to copy and reformat every single time. (Plus, you have to be aware that another team's content is available.)
An LCMS with single-source functionality will allow your organization to create, review, and edit content once, then export in multiple formats. Most importantly: each format will be optimized for the medium where it's consumed. (This is not your grandma's presentation print-out.)
Your information will be consistent across all channels, and you'll save some time and money.
In short, a Learning Content Management System is a powerful tool for collaborative authoring. The right LCMS facilitates:
We engineered our LCMS – dominKnow | One – to provide a seamless authoring experience with the features we've discussed today.
But we have one more trick up our sleeve to ease the transition from traditional authoring. dominKnow One comes with two authoring options: Flow and Claro. Flow provides single-source publishing, truly responsive content without a hassle, and all the latest bells and whistles. Claro provides a more traditional fixed-pixel authoring experience so you can retain existing courses just as they are, while still reaping the benefits of an LCMS. And, for creating Software Simulations, you also have our desktop hybrid tool, Capture for Mac and Windows.
Interested in learning more? Contact us today for a free 14-day trial or request a demo from our experts.
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