LCMS and LMS: What is the difference?

Global firms are scrutinising their learning technology, as it becomes increasingly necessary to reach colleagues frequently in the ‘new normal’.

Similarities and differences between LCMS and LMS

Therefore, it is now timely for us to take a look at the fundamental features of a Learning Content Management System (LCMS) vs a Learning Management System (LMS), as we will do so here.  First, let us briefly discuss the application of learning technologies.


Overview of learning technologies

You might categorise activities based around learning content technology into three main types:

  – Content development – comprises tools and technologies used to ‘author’ or create content. Examples include common office productivity tools (e.g. Microsoft PowerPoint, Word, etc), media production and editing tools, authoring tools and content packaging tools;

 – Content management – focuses on the platform for storing content, meta-tagging and classifying content, reviewing content and putting it through workflows. Examples include Learning Content Management Systems (LCMS), Digital Asset Management (DAM) systems, document management systems, and other digital repositories; and, finally

 – Content delivery – this is the “retail” component of learning technologies, where the end-user (or ‘learner’) typically interacts with the content. Examples include Learning Management Systems (LMS), mobile and offline content players, and custom ‘learning portals’.


Interaction of LMS & LCMS technologies

Note that large enterprises may often have multiple technologies in each of these three areas.

Learning standards provide the framework for these technologies to interact with each other via APIs, Web Services, Data Models, and other industry-standard techniques. So, for example, if an organization is strongly ‘wedded’ to a particular Authoring Tool, then that external Authoring Tool can still be integrated with a separate LCMS, which will have its own Authoring functionality. Therefore, multiple tools can work together. However, some organizations may prefer the process and resource efficiencies that can be brought by using an ‘all in one’ (LCMS) tool across the enterprise.

Similarities and differences between a LCMS and a LMS

As we have discussed the types of activities that learning technologies can support, let’s take a look, in turn, at the Features of LMSs and LCMSs, beginning with LMS features.

LMS: Overview

LMS-delivered content is most often composed of courses and modules that can run anywhere from minutes to hours, in terms of seat time, and requires participation in the somewhat ‘formal’ confines of the platform. You might describe an LMS as having a ‘learner-centric’ focus.


LMSs are very much focused on the management of the learning process. LMS technology allows for the planning of the learning content, along with the tracking of the learning process to analyse the impact of the learning journey on individuals and overall learners (as far as is possible). LMS analytics provide information such as:

– course completion data;

– pass/fail information; and

– other useful data granularity, such as overall success of courses on the learning population.

Most LMS will also entail many automated processes by way of those performing ‘Administrator’ roles assigned by the system, such as scheduled emails to assign courses, scheduling email reminders to learners to begin or complete courses, etc. You can read more detail about the breadth of ‘Administrator functionality’, in this excellent  elearning industry article.

Tracking and delivery

All of this can be very helpful where you may have compliance obligations to prove training roll-outs to regulators. LMSs will also allow you to meet Regulatory obligations by being able to extrapolate management information, via tailored reports on, for example, the execution of repeat learning, schedules for annual training and course pass rates for analysis. LMSs also facilitate the ‘delivery’ of courses, whether that be via a specific portal, laptop or mobile channel (eg, tablet or smartphone).

So, to summarise, LMSs comprise:

–       administration;

–       tracking;

–      reporting; and

–       delivery.


LCMS: Overview

You might say that the LCMS performs better on ‘discoverability’, compared to the LMS. You might also consider that LCMSs are more ‘content-centric’, than a LMS. For example, imagine the scenario where you may have accumulated a large amount of legacy content (in whatever form – eg, Word, PPT, PDF, etc). It can all be created or edited within the LCMS. Importantly, content ‘chunks’ can also be stored within the LCMS and from there be retrieved and repurposed/updated very easily.


LCMSs are ultimately an ‘all-in-one’ learning technology system.


Most LCMSs have their own ‘authoring tools’, which can allow users and/or ‘subject matter experts’ to create content within the tool, with no need to integrate external ‘authoring’ technology. However, most LCMSs can be integrated with any preferred 3rd party authoring tool (although it is not necessary).

Digital repository

LCMSs contain a ‘digital repository’ that allows for the ‘ingestion’ of legacy materials and all their associated resources. This in turn allows organizations to index and store (in a centralized repository) each single granular asset for easy searching, rapid editing and multi-course re-use. Items can be tagged, and/or grouped in a number of ways, according to the users’ preferences and purposes to form collections in any way that might be useful for the organization’s needs.

Project Management and Workflow

With most LCMSs, assigned ‘project managers’ can retrieve and report project overviews, including users efforts, working times, planned deadlines, current content status, ongoing activities and tasks. Depending on the provider, systems can typically provide functionality such as:

–     creation of projects;

–     associating a team with specific projects;

–     sharing content; and

–     assigning tasks and deadlines.


This is not an exhaustive list of functionality, but, by way of example, in the eXact LCMS, content reviewers can perform tasks such as:

–     adding graphical, editorial and technical comments to each content page and item;

–     track each comment history, store it, report it and export it;

–     comments and revisions can be assigned to single users and can be dead-lined; and

–     reviewers can submit content of any kind into the digital repository directly from sources such as  (for example) Word, PowerPoint and Outlook.



To put this into context, imagine that as an organization you are either having a ‘rebrand’ or have been involved in a recent merger or acquisition. You can easily rebrand all of your desired content assets stored (or ‘ingested’) in the digital repository by easily retrieval and editing/authoring, in a highly-efficient project management process. LCMSs can also provide the ‘delivery’ element. There is no need to have other content tools.

So, in addition to the features that we have discussed above, in the context of LMS functionality, LCMSs also provide:

The very nature of these additional features mean that content creation and course delivery can be undertaken in a highly collaborative, and seamless fashion.


Not forgetting Localization

Both LMSs and LCMSs can also provide ‘Localization’ services. That is, ‘content adaptation’, in line with local cultural sensitivities. Videos, images, audios, etc, can be easily changed to be aligned with any local customs and traditions.

Additionally, many LCMSs are integrating Artificial Intelligence (AI) to provide automatic translations. This complements localization services  for global organizations with large, diverse, multi-lingual audiences.

 Further LCMS considerations

Since digital repositories and LCMSs have been widely used across a variety of large enterprises, their roles in the learning enterprise have steadily evolved. Organizatons initially used these technologies primarily to store and tag content with metadata. These technologies are now being used to serve up content directly via web services to learning portals or simply directly from the user interfaces these technologies provide. The ease and flexibility of being able to offer informal learning and microlearning directly from an LCMS or digital repository has provided organizations a much broader landscape of options and creativity when designing their learning programs.

Additionally, the LCMS is rapidly being adopted for non-eLearning content such as Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), Intellectual Property (IP) and product documentation. There are a multitude of other applications that make LCMSs an appropriate technology.


Learning technology implementation

Also note that both LMS and LCMSs might be deployed in the ‘Cloud’ or ‘on Premise’, but both types of deployments are not necessarily made available by every learning technology provider. Many may support one type of deployment only – it is worth checking that the provider you may be shortlisting will provide the type of deployment that your business may require. For instance, when working in highly-regulated or sensitive sectors (eg, Defense, etc) you may need an ‘On Premise’ only solution.



Some potential questions to consider when choosing between an LCMS and an LMS for your learning content needs:

–  Is your content focused on regulatory or compliance issues where audit trails are expected or mandatory?

–   Are there other compelling reasons to support traditional learning tracking standards?

–   Do you have sufficient resources to be able to manage and train for multiple learning platforms?

–  Are you hoping to combine your technology into one tool?

–  What environment does the learning truly need to take place? Eg, in a formal ‘learning lab’ at a home office or in a hotel room, while client-facing colleagues are ‘on the road’?


Conclusion and other considerations

Are you looking at technology that you can ‘scale up’? Do you require an ‘on premise’ or Cloud service? Do you have a requirement to have one tool that provides you with more ‘formal’ elearning and ‘informal learning’?

If you are in the process of selecting new learning technology, you may find it helpful to read our co-authored Case Study with Merck on ‘Selecting & Implementing Learning Technology’. Or do get in touch if you would like a copy of our Webinar on the same subject.

Finally, for a simple illustration of the differences between a LMS and a LCMS, you can click here for our Infographic, or contact us for a PDF copy.

eXact learning solutions is the leading, global, provider of a Learning Content Management System (LCMS), and the only LCMS provider to be awarded ‘Top20’ accreditation for its Authoring tool for the last three years running, by Training Industry. For more information about our scalable LCMS technology, or for a free demo, then please contact us.