The Flavors of CM: LCMS and LMS

A lot of the systems we tend to talk about are focused on either technical publications or on generalized publishing. But there’s another focus area for content management that we haven’t talked about a lot that should be talked about: Learning materials, aka training materials. Enter Learning Management Systems (LMS) and Learning Content Management Systems (LCMS).

LMS systems provide functionality to support the online learning process, but not the learning material content creation process … you need an LCMS for that.

Let me explain.

Let’s say you’ve created a course. You would load that course into an LMS, where it would then be available to students. Of course, you would want to manage students too, so LMS’s usually have functionality to support enrollment (registration), curriculum management (which courses can a student take), and evaluation (did they pass?). Depending on how fancy the system is, it might include things like chat capabilities for teacher/student interaction. But from the content creation perspective, an LMS system only comes into play when you are done.

On the other hand, Learning Content Management Systems (LCMS) are content management systems that support the learning materials content life cycle and the components of learning content (e.g., text, graphics, simulations, multimedia). Most systems support only web-based learning but some support print-based and PowerPoint generation. LCMS support text-based content, but they also support multimedia components (sound, video, animation).

Many of these tools are actually web-based learning authoring tools combined with a content management system that handles traditional CMS functionality, reuse and delivery. In addition to standard web-based authoring, the LCMS may include tools for the creation of simulations and animations. Some contain Learning Management System (LMS) functionality such as registration, course tracking, evaluation, but most integrate with a separate LMS. LCMS were specifically designed to manage the web-based learning content management life cycle and so most are HTML-based and are frequently not much good for things like students workbooks. There are a couple that use XML as the data source and do a better job of outputting to both web and paper (via PDF).

You might have heard that LMS and LCMS vendors are big on reusable learning materials. It’s true. Vendors have been worked hard to implement SCORM (Shareable Content Object Reference Model, a standard rapidly being adopted by the learning industry) to ensure that their customers can create reusable e-learning materials. But, we need to define the size of the reusable chunks here. For most vendors, the reusable chunk is a lesson or lesson module. If the module is SCORM-compliant, it means that you can load that module in any SCORM-compliant LMS. It is important to understand, though, that SCORM is reuse at the delivery end, it is not reuse at the creation end of the lifecyle. There are a very few systems that provide the kind of reuse creation and management that we deal with in a CCM. For most LCMS systems, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to reuse an individual topic in different lessons or modules.

Finally, a question we frequently hear is “Can I use my CCMS for learning content?” Sure. If your primary focus is on classroom materials and simple “page turner” presentations. But if you want to include multimedia, interactive activities, or online evaluations then you probably need an LCMS. And if you need to be able to create and share reusable components between areas like training and documentation you need to take a real hard look at the functionality of the LCMS to make sure it will meet your needs.

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