Understanding the difference between an LMS, LCMS, and CMS
To best drive outcomes in your company, access to ideal tools is key — and an LMS or a CMS (or both) could be exactly what you need. In order to make the best decisions about these two different tools, it’s helpful to know exactly what their offerings are, their top use-cases, and what types of company profiles leverage them best.
What is an LMS – really?
A learning management system (LMS) is a software application or Web-based technology used to plan, implement, and assess a specific learning process. But what exactly is a Learning Management System (LMS)? Originally, LMS platforms were a response to the need to make learning more accessible and controlled in a company setting. A good LMS will provide a platform for company-wide training and the organization and delivery of consistent, approved content. For this reason, LMS platforms are most commonly used in corporate and higher education training environments. LMS platforms offer a secure space for companies to store and organize material, assign content to employees, create documents and tasks, engage employees with content (and track the usage), and analyze results.
Simply put, a good LMS most commonly allows users to:
- Manage learners
- Look at progress
- Record tasks and results
What is an LCMS?
A Learning Content Management System (LCMS) is an integrated multi-user administrative, authoring, and delivery platform that allows administrators to host, schedule, manage registrations, assess, test, and track online training activities. Distinct from a standard LMS, an LCMS is a focused platform that is primarily used for the creation of and storage of digital learning content. Courses in an LCMS tend to be more customized for each user. One of the biggest distinctions between and LMS and an LCMS is the user type: LMS users are the learner typically, while LCMS users tend to be the creator of the learning content itself.
An LCMS provides:
- Tools for learning content creation that is easily customized for individual learners
- Intended for training managers/leaders primarily
LMS and LCMS: What’s the difference, exactly?
The “C” in these two platform types might seem like a small distinction, but it carries a lot of weight. An LMS and LCMS, when compared side by side, are most notably different in the type of user that they aim to serve. An LMS serves the learner, an LCMS serves the trainer. Technically, a strong LMS should already do both — but in most (if not all) cases, an LCMS is all about serving the manager/trainer role.
LMS platforms provide the space for learners to absorb, train, test, and collaborate in some cases. The LCMS serves to help trainers create new content and customize existing content. In many cases, LCMS users are in specialized roles: instructional developers, managers for specific projects/teams, etc. An LMS will generally provide more opportunities for testing and collaboration, while an LCMS is purely focused on content creation (hence the “C”)
What is a CMS?
A content management system (CMS) is a software application or set of related programs that are used to create and manage digital content. A CMS provides the space for content to be stored and displayed or collaborated on with team members (WordPress is one example of a very common CMS). Rather than emphasizing the delivery of content and the tracking of tasks like many LMS platforms, a CMS primarily serves to facilitate the creation of content.
A CMS most commonly allows users to:
- Upload and organize content
- Set access controls
- Collaborate on content
For most companies, regardless of industry or size, having a baseline CMS is important for basic content management and for control over a public-facing site. Instead of having to ask a developer to update your site, anyone with CMS access can make needed changes without being versed in HTML. Additionally, having an accessible CMS allows team members to organize internet marketing strategies more directly.
Most CMS tools allow for basic organization: indexing, search, and storage are to be expected in terms of capabilities. Most CMS tools include formatting support via templates and other resources, and different content can be published or “unpublished” as needed.
LMS, LCMS, CMS: Key Distinctions
In short, the biggest differences between an LMS, LCMS, and CMS can be understood by the way that content is manipulated in each platform and who the key user is for each. An LMS is very learner-focused and emphasizes how the learner will use content that is delivered on the platform. An LCMS is trainer-focused and specifically serves the person in charge of creating custom learning content. Companies that require customized courses for their teams rely on an LCMS to make training material themselves.
A CMS is a broad storage system that doesn’t prioritize a specific user and focuses instead on the storage and organization of content. It can be helpful to think of a CMS as a learning tool, whereas an LMS is a true platform, allowing for more capabilities and dynamic activity.
Which tool does your company need?
Not every tool is best suited for each company or team. To understand which tool you should establish in your company, it’s most helpful to assess your top priorities and needs from a tool, then examine those requirements alongside the most commonly available features that each tool offers. When looking at an LMS, LCMS, or LCMS, it’s easy to know first if you need an LCMS — simply put, will your team be in charge of creating one-of-a-kind learning content? If the answer is yes, you’ll need to look into an LCMS, or an LMS that has more customization capabilities. For those weighing an LMS or a CMS, though, there can be more grey area depending on user needs.
Here’s a breakdown on the features associated with both an LMS and a CMS, in most cases:
|Key User||Learner||Content Author/Host|
|Content Access Levels||Yes||Yes|
|Content Use||Yes||No, only by site visitors|
|Track Users||Yes, by individuals & groups||No, only by content author|
|Share User Data||Yes||No|
|Update Content Easily||Yes||Small site changes only|
A closer look at LMS platforms and their evolution
Historically, industries that required a certain level of compliance in regards to content relied heavily on LMS features, which provided a black and white standard for company content. However, today’s modern Learning Management Systems provide a much broader, more dynamic set of features for companies to leverage — ultimately changing the nature of LMS platforms altogether.
Modern, robust LMS platforms allow for training, automation, employee communication, and much more. More and more companies are turning to LMS platforms to tackle a variety of needs that extend far beyond corporate training.
What is driving LMS adoption?
LMS tools today are much more dynamic than they used to be — to a point where most would regard an LMS as a completely new type of tool. This is important to keep in mind when considering tools to bring into your company. In some cases, a strong LMS will deliver the features of more than one tool.
The increase in LMS adoption in a variety of industries is primarily due to the evolution of LMS features offered by more modern platforms. Here are some of the key features that are driving this increase in LMS adoption:
- Flexible Pricing – Today’s LMS platforms, particularly those developed by modern startups and growing companies, understand that different industries and teams of varying sizes won’t all require the same features and capabilities in a platform. For this reason, many new LMS providers are willing to introduce new levels of flexibility in pricing. Modern LMS companies tend to offer a pay-per-user model, or a tiered payment plan based on company size. Additionally, most LMS companies now offer discounted plans for annual payment versus month-to-month. In short, modern companies that are revolutionizing LMS platforms are also innovating the way that companies pay for tools.
- Collaborative Features – Robust LMS platforms today now offer more opportunities to collaborate between users and managers and teams. This allows for unprecedented communication channels, faster adoption of training materials, and real-time updates between teams. Incorporating this level of communication and collaboration transforms a single-user LMS experience into a community or team-building opportunity.
- Customization – Most modern LMS platform providers also understand how critical customization is. Older LMS platforms can’t offer the same level of customization and modification features in many cases, which historically limited the way that users interactions with LMs platforms. Customization allows for both managers and learners to create profiles, adjust content, share content in different ways with one another, and ultimately shift how they want to engage with the material.
- Scalability – Older, bulkier systems of the past severely limited the rate at which companies could grow the reach of their given LMS platform. Thanks in part to cloud-based software, modern LMS platforms can support any number of learners within a company. Whether the number of learners goes up or down, the approach (and costs) can be adjusted to reflect the needs of the company immediately.
Whether you choose an LMS, LCMS, or a CMS, you’ll be able to manage content on all three — but the user who benefits most, and the way that the content is used, will vary fairly significantly.
It’s our believe that a good LMS should ultimately be able to do both (track and author content). Given the fact that companies have so much content they should look to centralize more than just learning but also complementary content that a learner might need. This ultimately benefits onboarding and creates a tangible process around training.
Still have questions? Get in touch with our team for a demo and to learn more about how to integrate the right tool at your company.