LCMS 101: What's a Learning Content Management System? And Why You Should Know

Blue background with stylized graphics and the dominKnow | ONE logo.
June 5, 2023
10 minutes
Blue background with stylized graphics and the dominKnow | ONE logo.

A Learning Content Management System (LCMS) is a one-stop-shop from content creation to delivery of your corporate eLearning. By creating learning content efficiently with a Learning Content Management System (LCMS), you'll not only save time, you'll improve business agility, enable employees faster, and save money.

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:

  • What is a Learning Content Management System?
  • How is it different from my current tools?
  • What does it provide that other tools don't?  

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 2023?

LCMS: That's an LMS with Extra Stuff, Right?

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: 

  • deliver eLearning content (like courses) 
  • manage learning activities (including classroom and hands-on training) 
  • and track learner information like history and progress

The primary purpose of an LCMS is to:

The work of an LCMS feeds into the work of an LMS rather than overlapping it.

LCMS Vs LMS: Why Are the Names So Similar?

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:

  • a centralized, cloud-based repository for content
  • organizational tools, like folders and tagging, that support multiple sorting methods at once
  • collaborative tools that control document access, enable co-authoring, and track file changes

‍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.)

So, an LCMS is Something New to Make Room For?


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.

I'll Bite: What Does a Learning Content Management System Do that My Authoring Software Can't?

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.

What are the Use Cases for a Learning Content Management System?

  • Content authoring for corporate eLearning
  • Centralized content management
  • Create a knowledge base from your existing content
  • Multi-format Publishing
  • Content Reusability
  • Collaborative Authoring & Workflow Reviews

Cloud-Based Authoring Promotes Version and IP Control

With traditional, non-cloud-based software, course files might be stored on individual computers. This introduces a number of problems:

  • Content Loss, should an author or their equipment suddenly become unavailable
  • Version Confusion, as multiple versions of the same file are passed between parties and updated in separate locations
  • IP Control Problems, since access to the file is dependent on the decisions of individuals who have a copy 

‍When your authoring software is cloud-based, these problems virtually disappear:

  • Content is safeguarded in the cloud and accessible to authorized parties at all times
  • Only one "current" version exists, with previous versions available for rollback or reference
  • Your intellectual property is protected by central control of read/write access and managed backup services

Built-In Workflow Tools Streamline Management & Communication

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: 

  • Track each project against your custom life cycles
  • Review all project activity at a glance with granular reporting
  • Control access, permissions, and even user interfaces with roles tailor-made for the authoring process 

‍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:

  • Schedule stakeholder and SME reviews with automated reminders
  • Leave in-context comments and replies on specific pages or elements for authors to easily address
  • Compile those in-context comments into a report for tracking and resolution

All of these features become even more valuable if your collaborators are scattered across different teams, departments, or locations.

Dynamic Content Production Enables Mass Updating

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.

Parent-Child Functionality Simplifies Audience Targeting 

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.  

Translation Tools Reduce the Headaches of Global Learning

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. 

Single-Source Publishing Broadens the Scope of Content Use

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:  

  • Long-form, traditional eLearning courses
  • Microlearning courses
  • Mobile learning
  • Print references
  • Job aids
  • Consumer-facing webpages
  • In-class teaching visuals
  • Searchable Knowledge Bases

‍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.

Is a Learning Content Management System for You?

In short, a Learning Content Management System is a powerful tool for collaborative authoring.  The right LCMS facilitates:

  • Large teams of authors, stakeholders, and SMEs working together without gridlock
  • Easier tracking of L&D projects through their life cycle
  • Continuity and security of your organization's intellectual property
  • Reuse of content at multiple levels for consistent messaging and efficient authoring and updating
  • Expansion of the formats in which your content can be used.

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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