Understanding Learning Management Systems

In the ever-evolving world of online applications, many of us website and intranet managers have used or know something of content management systems (CMS). As with most technologies these are now becoming more specialized in their application. Enter Learning Management Systems (LMS) and Learning Content Management Systems (LCMS).


What is the difference between an LMS and an LCMS? The primary objective of a learning management system is to manage learners, keeping track of their progress and performance, in essence the administrative side of a learning initiative. Learning Content Management Systems, on the other hand, manage the delivery of the course content.
More educators are discovering the benefits of being able to deliver such things as streaming video presentations and virtual meetings. By using synchronous tools for collaboration these kinds of learning tools can be made available across an entire enterprise. Other tools include:
  • Live chat
  • Application sharing
  • Online polling
  • Discussion groups
The aim of this effort is to effectively mirror a live classroom setting in a virtual community.
An LMS is designed to support a collaborative learning community, offering multiple modes of learning. This might include self-paced coursework or scheduled classes and group learning. LMSs are often compared to enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions; by streamlining the delivery of learning initiatives in the same manner ERP streamlines back office tasks.

Learning content management system (LCMS)

An LCMS, manages the delivery of course materials. A good LCMS offers numerous advantages: rapid content creation and deployment, collaboration tools, reusable learning objects, and an intuitive student experience. The latter is the most complex factor that must be delivered. Despite our knowledge and comfort level in the digital age, concentrating on computer delivered coursework can be a difficult task. Given this, an LCMS can assist by providing regularly updated content in a varied delivery style.
The differences between LCMS and LMS functionality can be very confusing because most of the LCMS systems also have built-in LMS abilities. In fact, according to a research paper by Dr. Brandon Hall (a leading expert in e-Learning)...
  • 81% of the LCMS systems include LMS functionality as part of their system.
  • 100% of the LCMS systems list themselves as being interoperable with third-party learning management systems.
  • 54% have actually performed interoperability tests with leading LMS products.
A good LMS provides an infrastructure that enables planning, delivery, and management of learning programs in any chosen format. It will support multiple authoring systems and integrate easily with the leading LCMS systems. As a catalyst for the overall learning environment, an LMS can integrate LCMS learning objects and assume responsibility for all content management, including:
  • Delivery and tracking
  • Storage in a content repository
  • Assembly and re-assembly of content objects
  • Incorporation of content objects into blended curriculums
  • Tracking learner progress through courses
As Krista Skalde, a senior consultant specializing in learning and performance support processes, tools and systems, highlights:  “The LMS and LCMS tools available today make it possible, in ways never before seen, to truly ‘serve up’ a learner-centric intervention: what the learner needs to do her job, when she needs it.  And, the integrated capabilities between an LMS and LCMS mean that the tracking of these interventions occurs at both ends: did the learner get value from the intervention and perform better and did the developer create compelling and relevant content?”


Another of the main, and perhaps most compelling, differences between an LMS and an LCMS are the analytic capabilities that each of these solutions provide. Learning Analytics features have become more and more prevalent in vendor offerings over the past few years, with the promise of more robust enhancements to come.  Typically, the analytic capabilities in an LMS help organizations understand the various levels of learning evaluation (i.e. Kirkpatrick Levels of Evaluation). In other words, an organization is able to analyze...
  • Number of completions
  • Number of “pass” versus “fail”
  • Number of successful completions in Business Unit A versus Business Unit B
  • Etc.
Of greatest interest to the executive sponsors of these initiatives is the ability to compare and analyze successful completion of a learning intervention with an increase in performance (i.e. learners who successfully completed an intervention sold 42% more widgets than those who did not). These features are the ones that assist learning and development professionals to justify the costs associated with their programs.
An LMS and LCMS combination can provide all the necessary tools for your enterprise to carry out effective online training programs
On the other hand, an LCMS’ analytic capabilities are able to measure and analyze the results of a specific learning intervention at a more granular level. These capabilities are meant to drive an increase in performance of the content developers themselves so that they can better serve the needs of their “clients” (i.e. learners). An example of this is the ability for an LCMS to drill down into the results of a test found at the end of an online module. If 90% of the learners did not answer a specific question successfully, content developers are then able to drill into the material covered by the question. Fundamentally, this type of analysis helps answer the question: Is it the learners or is it the material?
An LMS and LCMS combination can provide all the necessary tools for your enterprise to carry out effective online training programs. By utilizing a content repository, content can be re-used for different training segments without having to be rewritten or redesigned. Should redesign be necessary to better suit a different learning group, this can be facilitated through the LCMS without programming knowledge or special server access.

Technology Selection

There are several articles available which rate the top systems in this segment. Which is the best? The answer, of course, lies with the end user. With so many systems available, it is extremely important that the one you choose fits with what you are trying to accomplish rather than you trying to fit your content to the parameters of a particular system.
Selecting an LMS or LCMS vendor in today’s landscape can be an overwhelming task. Many vendors, old and new, are more than willing to show you their wares through online flash demos, brochures and websites.  All of them seem to have great features and functionality. Some vendors boast of their extraordinarily powerful and flexible collaboration including:
  • Online capabilities
  • One-to-one personalization
  • ERP/CRM integration
  • Virtual repositories
  • Robust search
But are all these bells and whistles going to meet your needs?
Understanding your company’s requirements is paramount before considering any vendor selection. Failure to develop an integrated plan that accounts for an organization’s business, stakeholder and user requirements can result in failure.
Gartner estimates that one third of IT projects in small to mid-sized companies exceed budgets and schedules by almost 100%.
When choosing any software product, functional user and stakeholder requirements must be clearly defined. A structured methodology needs to be invoked to not only ensure that the proper vendor is chosen, but that the product has a productive lifespan. Gartner estimates that one third of IT projects in small to mid-sized companies exceed budgets and schedules by almost 100%.This represents a lot of wasted time and money due to ‘scope creep’.
Scope creep happens when the scope or deliverables of a project change during the project implementation, mainly because of weak planning that doesn’t fully account for the business requirements of the organization.
A thorough assessment and overall plan, along with documenting the needs of the organization and securing the necessary buy-in from multiple stakeholders and business managers will greatly reduce, if not eliminate scope creep.
Prescient's LMS Blueprint assists a company in choosing the proper LMS vendor and end solution. It includes our proven methodology for gathering requirements, a robust LMS Evaluation Matrix, an overview of the present LMS vendor landscape, RFP management and more. For further information contact us.