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 tool, 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.