LCMS Exposed! Understanding the Differences between Learning Management and Learning Content Management

The Cost of Learning—a Very Brief History

Training (or learning) has always been viewed as a cost center (representing a cost of doing business similar to other employee costs such as salary, commissions, and benefits). That's why many organizations in the past have struggled with the challenge of justifying the cost of training in their budgets.

Today, organizations are making significant investments in technology—which includes solutions for training staff and further developing their career opportunities. Through e-learning, businesses can now reach many more people within their organization with a lot more content—for the same cost. It’s important to note, however, that while investments in e-learning do not reduce overall costs, they do allow these costs to be leveraged more efficiently across the organization.

HR to LMS, LCMS, and Beyond

Years ago, when an organization was put to the task of selecting software for training its employees, it would turn to the “run of the mill” human resource (HR)-type solution that included basic payroll and benefits. Some also offered a very basic training module that could handle administrative tasks, as well as track the learner’s courses, grades, etc. Today, however, training (or learning) has become so much more than what the HR systems of the past could offer.

Many of today’s organizations are moving away from the traditional HR solutions (with basic training modules) and implementing learning management solutions (LMSs) or suites instead, which often include learning content management (LCM)—either out-of-the-box or through a third-party provider. With a wide variety of solutions on the market to choose from, organizations can now put learning on their list of top priorities—right in line with their talent management initiatives.

What’s the Difference between an LMS and an LCMS?

An LCMS can be defined as “a multi-user environment where learning developers can create, store, re-use, manage, and deliver digital learning content from a central object repository.”

While LMSs deal with the management, tracking, and reporting of learning activities and learners, LCMSs are all about the development, management, and deployment of content (or learning objects). Understanding the difference between the two is often very confusing if you're looking to purchase a solution, because most LCMS systems also have some limited built-in LMS functionality.

The primary role of an LCMS is to manage digital assets used for authoring, managing, and publishing course content. An LCMS

  • stores content in a central database repository,

  • manages course content,

  • breaks courses up into learning objects,

  • tags objects that are then placed into a database (for advanced searchability),

  • represents or stores content as extensible markup language (XML),

  • provides the capability to  retrieve content for re-use across the entire enterprise.

The primary differentiator for LCMSs is that they offer reusability of learning content and are constructed using a learning object model. Typically, course content is stored as learning objects in a learning object repository database. The objects are described and tagged so these objects can be recalled and re-used by the course designer or others later on down the road.

Here are some key components of an LCMS:

  • learning object repository

  • dynamic delivery interface

  • automated authoring application

  • administrative application course catalogs

  • document filing and history

  • shareable content object reference model (SCORM) content manager with tools to disaggregate and re-aggregate courses

  • version control tools and archiving capabilities to store previous versions of content

  • check-out/check-in features

  • ability to publish to LMS (interoperability with third-party LMSs)

  • workflow

And here's a partial list of key benefits of LCMS technology (from

  • increased efficiency – increases the efficiency of the content development and deployment process and leverages skilled resources across more and more content programs

  • reusable content – stores and manages content from a single repository

  • adherence to compliance – delivers content online with strict control over content versions and historical account of changes (i.e., SCORM and Aviation Industry CBT Committee [AICC])

  • reduced training time – delivers dynamically more personalized content, such as prescriptive learning programs, to provide more relevant and customized training and reduce overall training time

  • delivers learning on demand – organizes content into smaller pieces and enables search and delivery as needed to meet the demand for just-in-time content

E-learning—Effective Content Delivery

Content Authoring

Content authoring tools equip users with a way to integrate a variety of media in order to create professional, engaging, and interactive training content. Content is created one time and can be published to a number of blended learning output formats. How does the LCMS do this? It does this by separating the content logic from the presentation logic—often using meta-tagging—and by following widely-used content standards like SCORM, AICC, etc. (see The LCMS enables authors to

  • rapidly develop content,

  • quickly and easily edit content when materials change,

  • republish content into printed materials and other forms,

  • develop multilanguage versions from the same source,

  • assign roles and responsibilities to content developers.

Content is created using an object model. Assets (i.e., images, text objects, animations, and video) are aggregated into pages, pages into lessons, lessons into modules, and modules into courses.

Course Authoring

The automation for course delivery in LMS has improved as SCORM and AICC standards have been established and widely adopted. Today, these standards dictate how content and learning systems should be designed so that content is sharable among disparate systems.

Most organizations need to develop their own proprietary courses. While most LCMSs provide the means for creating new courses, there are many stand-alone systems that do this as well. They are usually called course-authoring tools. They provide

  • templates for creating courses;

  • learning objects;

  • text, graphics, video, presentations (e.g., slideshows with audio);

  • animations and software simulations;

  • different types of questions for exhibits and tests: single-correct, multiple-correct, fill-in-the-blank, graphical-choice, drag-and-drop, item-match, true/false, and essay;

  • student course/lesson maps, for single-click access to any course location;

  • feedback on a lesson-by-lesson basis;

  • secondary windows for additional information, large graphics, animations, and demonstrations;

  • Web publishing.

Some companies prefer using third-party course authoring tools such as Outstart or Articulate.

LCMS—Solutions at a Glance

Some vendors provide one or more of the capabilities below in a single suite of products. Most will also recommend partners that they work with that can provide functions that they don’t offer directly.

  • LMS

  • LCMS

  • content authoring

  • virtual classrooms

Some of the biggest names in learning content management include

•    Cornerstone OnDemand – Talent Management Suite,
•    Outstart  - Outstart LCMS,
• - Learn Center,
•    GeoLearning  - GeoLCMS,
•    Saba - Saba Learning Suite,
•    SumTotal  - SumTotal Talent Development Suite,
•    CertPoint - VLS Content Creator,
•    WBT Systems - WBT Systems.

To start your own LMS/LCMS software evaluation, check out TEC’s LMS Evaluation Center.

During the course of writing this blog, I asked one of TEC’s consultants and President of Trimeritus, Don McIntosh, for his thoughts on LCMS. His response: “One thought regarding LCMS is be careful what you wish for.  To many organizations, the idea of a learning object repository which can be accessed by everyone who is developing training so that it can be re-used and re-purposed is a great idea but too often, they can't make it work.  The organizational culture and the trainers in particular must support the idea of sharing material.  Trainers are often very protective of their own material and, in a competitive organizational culture, knowledge is power and many don't want to give it up.  This just reinforces the idea that a proper needs assessment is required to determine if an LCMS is the right way to go.  Because many of the major LMS vendors (like SumTotal and Saba) offer LCMS in addition to LMS, it is often too easy just to tack that extra cost on without much thought to it.”
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