LMS vs LCMS: A Learning Management System Comparison

We are regularly asked about the terminology surrounding the various learning management tools, what they actually are, and what they offer. ‘What is the difference between a Learning Management System (LMS) and a Learning Content Management System (LCMS)’, for example, and ‘do we need to use both?’. This article aims to answer those questions and provide a better understanding of both systems, enabling you to decide what works best for your organisation.

What is a Learning Management System?

The core function of a Learning Management System, or LMS, is to provide an online platform for the hosting and sharing of learning content across an organisation, and then tracking learner consumption and achievement. All activity performed by the learner in the LMS is tracked and the tracking information can be reported upon, or exported to third party systems.

Some LMSs also offer additional features such as resource management, career development, competency frameworks and budgeting. A few provide reports that offer a detailed breakdown of user certification status including shortfall analysis, expiry dates and skills gaps by job role. For learners, having the ability to confirm compliance via a pre-assessment, with the option to skip the training, is a real bonus.

You can also create course content within some LMSs, including assessments and quizzes, as well as incorporate third party content such as videos, slide decks and documents. However, this content won’t necessarily be compliant and therefore won’t allow you to track learner progress. If you want more granular tracking and reporting, then you should use only SCORM, AICC or xAPI compliant content.

What is a Learning Content Management System?

A Learning Content Management System, or LCMS, offers a collaborative environment for Content Authors, Designers and Managers. It is essentially a web-based portal for learning content management and is primarily the platform used to manage the development of learning content.

The real value of an LCMS is that it can be the single source for all eLearning content within an organisation. A good LCMS will provide training managers or lead authors with features that regulate content design, including the use of templates and assets. Other functionality often available in an LCMS includes the creation and management of development workflow, an arguably crucial function when the development team is comprised of multiple authors in dispersed locations. Content Development Standards incorporating create, edit or review/QA stages can also be set up and reported on in an LCMS.

What is SCORM Compliance?

SCORM is a set of technical standards for eLearning which define how content should be written and structured. To be SCORM compliant, learning management systems must ensure that learner activity can be tracked and reported by the LMS. SCORM was launched in 2001 and remains the industry standard. Most LMS and LCMS platforms are SCORM compliant or certified.

SCORM Compliance and the LMS and LCMS

The traditional learning management platform based upon SCORM can only capture details of learning that takes place within the LMS, when the learner is consuming SCORM compliant content. Many of today’s LMS platforms, however, do enable learners to download their learning content for offline consumption and then upload data later. Typically, SCORM will track the learner’s activity at a high level – course started, course in progress, course finished, etc, whereas xAPI (the new eLearning specification launched in 2012) allows you to collect data about a broader range of learning experiences. Find more information about xAPI vs SCORM.

Comparing LMS and LCMS by functionality

If we delve into the functionality that makes an LCMS an LCMS, e.g. content creation, managing development workflow, version control, etc. and what makes an LMS an LMS, e.g. deployment and tracking of learning consumption, then we will see that, depending on the platform, there is often an overlap.

For example, LMS365 is an LMS but it includes a Module and Learning Object creation feature which can be used to create eLearning. In this respect it does have LCMS functionality. If you did not require any third-party SCORM content, then this may be sufficient without requiring a separate LCMS.

dominKnow | ONE is an impressive content authoring tool and LCMS, so would allow you to create much more engaging learning content as well as manage your development lifecycle and ensure your developers meet agreed standards, etc. However, it can also be used to deploy that content and associated assessments, although you would need an LMS to deploy based upon factors such as the learner's job role, department or geographic location.

There are other platforms available that offer some of the functionality of both an LCMS and an LMS, but often these are proprietary tools and therefore won’t allow you to use third-party content. When you bring in content that has been created elsewhere it’s no longer supported, for example it can’t be edited, however you can import media, etc. to be used to develop your course.

Depending on the functionality available, an LCMS can be used as a steppingstone to an LMS for organisations that want to ‘test the water’. For example, there are other tools that offer both an LCMS and what we would term a ‘Lite’ LMS, whereby content created can be deployed to learners via a branded online portal, with full tracking and reporting. It depends how far you wish to take your LMS and what functionality you need as to whether this type of tool would be suitable for your organisation.

What is the difference between LMS and LCMS?

In summary, the difference between an LMS and an LCMS is pretty straightforward. An LMS is for the learners and delivers and manages an organisation’s learning content, as well as third party content if required. An LCMS is for your content authors, helping them create and manage your learning content. These are the features we would typically expect to see in an enterprise level LMS and LCMS platform.

Features/Functions of an LMSFeatures/Functions of an LCMS
Compile eLearning, online or classroom training courses Create and edit training content
Build groups of learners by predetermined learning requirementsTrack and report development lifecycle of training content
Deploy mandatory learning to individuals or groupsCentralised Media Library
Allow import of SCORM, AICC, xAPI contentMulti-Author Environment
Allow import of multi-media content, eg. videos, documentation, etc.Version Control
Allow learners to consume content via desktop or mobile deviceInline Review Functionality
Allow learners to browse catalogue of content (non-mandatory)Audit trail of reviewer comments and author updates
Track and report at an individual or group levelPublish content for consumption by learners (could be SCORM, xAPI, AICC, etc.)
Assessment and certification of learners
Competency matrix versus job roles
Visual Dashboard of learning journey (individual, line manager or L&D admin level)
Leader Boards to incentivise learners
Export of training transcripts by individual or group level
Interface with third party business data reporting application(s)
Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI)

Do I need an LMS or LCMS?

So, to answer the question; 'do I need an LMS or LCMS, or both?'. It really depends on the type of content your organisation wants to produce, how you create it and what you want to track and report. The features outlined above will help you decide what your organisation needs. If there are features that you need that aren’t covered by the LCMS or the LMS alone, then yes, you need both. When you start to compare platforms, you will see that there is often a sliding scale rather than being one or the other, as some LCMS solutions will have LMS traits and some LMS solutions will have LCMS traits. What is important is that you make the choice that is most suited to your requirements – for content development, your learners and your organisation.