Aside from being similar sounding acronyms, the LMS, CMS, and LCMS have similar meanings and functions. Let’s first dive into the definition of each system before exploring their key differences.
What is a Learning Management System (LMS)?
An LMS is a digital system where you can store and manage learning content and track your learners’ results. For example, if you’ve created corporate training materials for your organization, you can use an LMS to store this content as well as assign it to staff members, all while keeping track of their progress.
There are both cloud-based and desktop versions of the LMS, although cloud-based LMSs have recently become the more popular option.
What is a Content Management System (CMS)?
CMS is also a digital system where you can store and manage content, but its key differentiator is that it allows you to create content too.
A well-known example of a CMS is WordPress. As a website publishing tool, WordPress not only allows users to create all kinds of websites but also to store their content and track their analytics directly on the platform. This literally makes it a system for managing content.
What is a Learning Content Management System (LCMS)?
As you may have already guessed from its name, an LCMS encompasses qualities from both the CMS and LMS. It’s a digital platform for content creation – like a CMS – that facilitates learning experiences – like an LMS.
This way, the LCMS acts as a comprehensive corporate learning tool, allowing you to create, manage, distribute and maintain learning content, all in one place.
So, now that we know each system’s definition, what are the differences between an LMS, CMS, and LCMS?
One differentiator separating the LMS from the other two systems is that it doesn’t allow content creation. To use an LMS, you’ll likely need a separate authoring tool to create content before importing and storing it within the system. Though some LMSs have also started to include built-in authoring tools. CMSs and LCMSs already include content creation features. They also enable diverse sharing formats, ranging from links to embed codes to SCORM exports.
Speaking of SCORM, it serves as another key difference between a learning-focused management system and a content management system. SCORM is the most common technical standard in e-learning. Many courses and e-learning content are published as SCORM-compliant files. However, only an LMS or an LCMS has the learning functionalities to handle these files. A CMS, on the other hand, cannot handle SCORM-compliant content.
As you may have guessed from the absence of the word “learning” in its name, the CMS does not specialize in learning content – unlike the LMS or the LCMS. This makes the CMS more of a general content tool. For example, most LMSs come with features to support quizzes, mobile learning, gamification, collaboration, and even webinar scheduling tools. LMSs are also known for providing data reports that shed light on your learners’ progress – like if they’ve completed a course and whether they passed or failed. LCMSs tend to offer even more detailed insight, allowing you to identify knowledge gaps among your learners and make informed decisions about how to update your content. A CMS misses out on such e-learning features and, therefore, cannot cater to corporate learning needs the way an LMS or an LCMS can.
Most CMSs and LCMSs allow multiple editors to collaborate on the same content. It’s, therefore, no surprise that an LMS misses out on this function because it lacks content creation tools, to begin with.
Importing legacy content
Even if your organization uses a digital content management system, you might still have legacy (paper) documents to keep track of. For this reason, many CMSs and LCMSs offer unique import functions to digitize paper documents. However, this feature more commonly found in Document Management Systems (DMS).
Differences aside, the LMS, CMS, and LCMS do have one important characteristic in common. In addition to enabling content management, they are all complex systems that often require additional training to master. When it comes to an organization’s corporate learning solution, this means that the tools will likely be managed by a central figure or team, which could slow down the learning process.