LCMS vs LMS: Do They Have Any Features in Common?

Image displays the acronyms LMS and LCMS surrounded by question marks.
January 28, 2020
7 minutes
Image displays the acronyms LMS and LCMS surrounded by question marks.

Recently, we talked about what a LearningContent Management System does in 2019. We focused a lot on how an LCMS is different from other eLearning tools, in order to answer that question.

Now that you have a grasp on how an LCMS and LMS are distinct solutions, let's look at some of the features they have in common and why those exceptions don't change the fundamental differences.


Recap: What's the Difference Between an LMS and LCMS?

A lot of people confuse an LMS with an LCMS because their initials are alike.  But they serve very different purposes.  

In fact, an LCMS has more in common with authoring software and Content Management Systems:

  • A Learning Management System (LMS) primarily delivers eLearning and tracks a learner's development.
  • Authoring Software creates eLearning content. Traditionally, authoring software lived on your desktop, not in the cloud.  However, today some are cloud-based.
  • A Content Management System (CMS) stores and organizes content for web sites. It also facilitates sharing and team editing. Your average CMS is ill-suited for eLearning content. For example, it can't open or edit complex courseware files.
  • A Learning Content Management System (LCMS) combines a cloud-based CMS with a cloud-based authoring system – then adds unique features to facilitate content reuse and team collaboration.  These days, the authoring capabilities of a good LCMS are as sophisticated as any standalone authoring software.

Those are the broad strokes, but it gets a little bit more complicated. Individual software's features can blur the lines, and there are commonalities that draw a picture more like this:

As you can see, a good LCMS covers (and improves on) the functionality of standalone CMSs and authoring tools for the development of learning projects.

But the overlap with an LMS is a bit more confusing.


What Do an LCMS and LMS Share?

Obviously, they're both tools for theLearning & Development industry.

They serve different stages of eLearning and different audiences:

  • LCMSs create eLearning content. Their primary users are content creators.
  • LMSs deliver eLearning content. Their primary users are learners (and those in charge of learning, like managers, HR, and L&D).

But since both interact with eLearning content, they need to have a few key things in common:

  • SCORM Compliance. An LMS can generally run SCORM-compliant files, and LCMSs produce SCORM-compliant content.
  • Basic Metrics. Both report on (at minimum) pass/fail and complete/incomplete data for courses and other learning projects.  (An LCMS also has the potential to report at a more granular level – more on this in a minute.)

Because of the similar names, people often confuse it as an either/or relationship. But in most cases, an LMS and LCMS are complementary – even synergistic.  


How Do an LCMS and LMS Work Together?

After you create content in an LCMS, you have the option to push the course package to an LMS (as you would with any authoring tool).

But many LCMSs can host the course content, instead. That allows rapid updating…or rather, it more efficiently presents learners with the most up-to-date version.

How does it work? Your integrated LMS simply points its "course" to an LCMS-hosted package. This simplifies the updating process. Updates become a single "save" or "publish" step – no need to download, change software, and upload.  

You keep all the functional benefits of delivery through an LMS.  You can assign, track, and build reports just as you would any learning object.

But you may gain additional utility. Some Learning Content Management Systems offer additional analytics beyond traditional SCORM data.  When your LCMS hosts course files, you can leverage these new (or more granular) insights. Even more data-reporting options are opening up with the growing use of the Experience API, or xAPI.

Finally, you can take those additional analytics and close a feedback loop, sharing insights with course creators right in the LCMS. That enables smarter course development and revision.


My LCMS Delivers Content to Learners. Doesn't That Make It the Same as an LMS?

Some LCMSs offer a learner portal.  This is one of the features that can seriously blur the lines between the two types of software.

But for most organizations, these learner portals can't actually replace an LMS.  

An LCMS with a learner portal provides access to its published projects and tracks metrics for the same.  That can be very useful for point-of-need and self-directed learning.

But if you ditch the LMS, you'll miss out on functionality most people need.  That includes:

  • Tracking Anything Beyond eLearning.  An LCMS focuses on digital training. If you need to track employees' participation in classroom sessions, seminars, conferences, and hands-on skills practice, an LCMS can't help you.
  • Tracking Digital Training Developed Elsewhere. If you use webinars, virtual classrooms, custom projects developed in other tools, or off-the-shelf eLearning from outside your organization, you won't be able to track any of that in your LCMS.
  • Storing & Sharing Learner Profile Data. If an LCMS stores learner profiles at all, it’s usually minimal. They typically aren't equipped to share learner data with an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, either.
  • Scheduling Events & Assigned Learning. Learner portals enable a learner-driven, on-demand, "pull" experience. While they may have some push learning capabilities, they’re limited. They usually can’t assign learning paths, for instance. And since an LCMS isn't built to track real-time learning events like classrooms (physical or virtual), it also can't schedule them.

An LCMS could only replace your LMS if your entire L&D program is contained in its learning delivery. That's not true for most organizations (nor should it be).  Therefore, most will need to pair their LCMS with a compatible LMS.


My LMS has Authoring Capability. Does That Make It an LCMS?

Some LMSs provide very basic authoring functionality.  But don't be fooled: these tools are bare-bones and proprietary.

If you're a one-person show with very limited authoring needs, that might work. But you'll find it difficult to grow or produce sophisticated content.

And when you move to a new LMS, you'll lose everything you created.  Anything authored in an LMS is intended to stay put in that LMS.

With a Learning Content Management System (or traditional authoring software), you don't have either problem.  Courses are SCORM and xAPI compliant, so they can be used with any LMS you like.  

And if you choose the right LCMS, authoring capability is now as advanced as any traditional option.  Only better, due to an LCMS's unique authoring, collaboration, and content-management potential.


How Do You Choose the Right Learning Content Management System?

Hopefully, you now understand that an LCMS is a different animal than an LMS, even when they appear to have features in common.

But there's one important thing to keep in mind: not all LCMSs are created equal.

They vary in sophistication and capability.  A good LCMS will have built-in workflow and collaboration tools to streamline your development process and facilitate large teams.  Some improve project supervision with reporting, custom project life cycles, and granular permission controls.

A good LCMS can facilitate multiple levels of reusability, from the reuse of individual graphics and learning objects to the centralized management of content themes and templates.  Some create parent-child relationships between content elements for efficient audience targeting.  Some simplify the translation process for global learning. Some enable broad-scale repurposing with single-source publishing capabilities.

But some solutions under the label "LearningContent Management System" will have much more limited features.  

Never assume functionality based on the software label – always check for the features you need.


Give dominKnow a Try

Our LCMS, dominKnow | ONE, was engineered to provide a full-featured and sophisticated authoring experience.  You can integrate with any PENS-compliant LMS to gain the LCMS hosting benefits mentioned above. Plus, you can track and measure dozens of interactions with our xAPI support, including custom statements and anonymized user data.

Want to learn more?  Contact us today for a free 14-day trial or to request a demo from our experts.

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