What’s the difference between an authoring tool and an LMS?

If you’re new to e-learning or considering upgrading your existing e-learning tools, it’s important to fully understand the options you’ll encounter on the market today. Many companies are already familiar with learning management systems (LMS). But do you know the difference between an LMS and an e-learning authoring tool? What about an LMS-lite? And do you need one, the other, or both?

By Danielle Agass on Nov 5th

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LMS + Authoring tool

Most organizations combine an LMS with an authoring tool. You can see how it works in the diagram below. You create your interactive and engaging e-learning courses in the authoring tool and upload them as a SCORM-package to your learning management system where you can manage all your learners, set learning paths based on function, and other similar tasks.

SCORM package

What can be confusing though is that there is some crossover between the features of an LMS and an authoring tool. For example, you can create basic content in some LMSs, or some authoring tools have options to publish and host outside the LMS. But by teaming your LMS with an authoring tool, the two systems will complement each other’s features.

Let’s look at the typical features of each tool.

Learning Management System (LMS)

Let’s start with the classic LMS. These are online platforms that store and organize e-learning content in one place for your organization’s learners to access. LMSs also generate certificates and keep track of learners’ past learning activities, so that administrators and learners have a clear overview of a learner’s training level.

But beyond this, depending on the software, of course, they tend to incorporate features like:

  • Playlists of learning or learning tracks
  • Subscribe to playlists to keep up with new developments
  • Recommended learning content based on employee profile and interests
  • Social learning (e.g. chat and forums)
  • Gamification

E-learning authoring tools

With the e-learning authoring tool, the name says it all. These are tools that enable you and others within your organization to author your own e-learning content in the form of courses, modules, microlearning nuggets or other common formats.

E-learning authoring tools give you lots of options for creating content. They also let you keep pace with the changing e-learning landscape. For example, creating mobile-friendly microlearning content if you are training field reps who lack access to a computer.

Most authoring tools are SCORM-compliant (basically it meets the ADL’s requirements), so any content you create can be uploaded to a SCORM-compatible LMS. (If you want to learn more about SCORM, take a look at our quick intro.)

A zero learning curve authoring tool also allows you to take a bottom-up approach to producing learning content. This is known as Employee-generated Learning. In this approach, you shift the responsibility for creating courses to the employees who hold expertise on the subject in question. (We won’t delve too deeply into Employee-generated Learning here, but if you’re interested in learning more, take a look at our guide.)

Easygenerator is an example of an e-learning authoring tool. But more accurately, it’s what’s called an LMS-lite. Let’s look at these next.

LMS-lite

LMS-Lite. It’s possible you’ve never come across this term before. Essentially, they are authoring tools with extra LMS-like features. As well as allowing you to author e-learning courses, you can publish and share courses, and track your learners’ results. It strips back all but the essential features to make it quick and easy to master.

These LMS-lite authoring tools are often much easier to learn and use than complex LMSs designed for experts. If your budget is limited, an LMS-lite could also be a more cost-effective solution than an expensive LMS.

An LMS-lite authoring tool allows you to publish outside of a traditional LMS – a big plus if you need to train contractors outside of your organization.

The differences at a glance

Here’s how an authoring tool + LMS set-up looks like compared to using an LMS-lite solution:

Authoring tool + LMS vs. Authoring tool + LMS-Lite

Choosing the right solution for your organization

E-learning trends evolve rapidly, and so do your company’s learning needs. The best e-learning option for your company depends on many factors, including your budget and your staff’s experience with creating e-learning content.

For many organizations, pairing an LMS with an e-learning authoring tool is the right solution. This way you can enjoy the modern course design features that a specialized content authoring tool can give you, while still gaining the benefits and features of a central learning platform.

You can even pair an LMS-Lite with a full LMS. This gives you all the benefits of an LMS + authoring tool solution, plus the additional perks of an LMS-Lite. In particular, the ability to publish courses outside your LMS for contractors to access.

But, as mentioned above, LMSs are expensive and hard to use. If you’re on a tight budget and aren’t looking for additional features, then an LMS-lite authoring tool is a perfect solution. Plus, if your course authors are relatively inexperienced in instructional design, a simple to use tool is a must-have.

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About the author

Danielle Agass is the Content Marketing Manager at Easygenerator and has been writing ever since she could pick up a pencil. A Brit by birth, she moved to the Netherlands in 2018 with her husband and their cat, Ron.

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