N x (LMS vs LCMS) + this = clear (?)

N x (LMS vs LCMS) + this = clear (?)

First things first. The title of this blog. I am sure the first thing you said on seeing the title was Huh?.  Well….. let me explain. “n” times you would have heard / seen / read about LMS vs LCMS, but the questions / doubts still keep popping up. So, all these n times explanations about LMS vs LCMS plus this blog should now make the topic clear once and for all. At least, let me hope so (which is why you see the question mark at the end)

We have seen so many articles on this topic of LMS vs LCMS all trying to disambiguate, clarify, define, re-define, provide specific examples etc. but the fact of the matter is that it is an issue that is still not clear to all, although it is to many but not all. Look at the date of publishing of articles on this topic not to mention the conversations that you have with many in the field who use the terms interchangeably or in the wrong context and you will feel why not somebody explain it clearly once and for all.

Well, in their defense, there are multiple reasons as to why one might still be confused. Take a look at some of the reasons for this confusion:

Take a look at some of the reasons for this confusion:


  • Most of the disambiguation out there tends to define what is LMS and what is an LCMS. And gives some examples of each. Perhaps it should define more of what is NOT an LMS and what is NOT an LCMS.
  • The disambiguation should perhaps explain more with respect to real use-cases as to when you would use an LMS and when you would need an LCMS. What types of business problems are solved with an LMS vs what types of problems are solved with / require an LCMS
  • With more innovation and newer versions of the products they try to push the envelope and try to add more features that border and tend to blur the lines of distinction as to whether the product is an LCMS or an LMS. As the technology evolves and more and more products with newer features arrive, one has to keep updating their concepts / distinctions with respect to examples.
  • Organizations / departments new to e-learning or those beginning to implement e-learning into their portfolio / offerings would not really have bothered about these nuances till that point and suddenly when they are beginning to look into this now, and with so many products out there, a possibility of confusion cannot be ruled out.

Overcoming the fear of stating the obvious let me attempt to provide a definition of each of these terms. I have also tried to define and explain them a bit differently so that you can relate to it more from the use-cases you are dealing or the products that you are evaluating.

LMS: Learning Management System – essentially a software management system that manages learning. Duh !!! wait … this is a loaded definition. Each word therein carries a lot of weight. It is a software, so it is essentially like any of the software systems and it comes in all the flavors that you can think of a typical software. That means, it is a product, it is sold as a system, it is in the cloud, stand-alone, enterprise, on-premise etc. etc. you get the point. Next, it is a management system. So a management system basically means it manages the lifecycle (i.e. creation, editing / modifying, deletion) and access to it, use of it, track it etc. The important part is what does it manage? It manages Learning. Now, “Learning” is a loaded term by itself. It goes beyond just learning content as learning content is just a part of the learning, albeit an important part. So, you will essentially see LMS solutions manage the learning of the enterprise, institution, group, department etc. by providing mechanisms to have learning objects, have different people having multiple roles, learners being able to have controlled access (ie. Register, enroll, access, and complete), track learners’ completions and / or access and level of performance etc. It also has to have some sort of mechanism to grade the learners either through built-in automated quizzes / tests or by graders/ instructors, and have a mechanism of having and managing learner’s grades.


LCMS: LCMS on the other hand is all related to learning content and learning content only. Not Learning in its broad sense. LCMS deals with management of learning content. So again, management means managing the lifecycle (creation, modification and deletion). Hence you see many associating LCMS broadly to an authoring software. There is some truth to it in the sense that you have ability to create learning content (elearning content, quizzes, etc.). But you also have the ability to modify content and delete content.  Hence it needs to have a system from where you can house the content and delete the content there. Now this could be any content management system or it could be a course management system or even a LMS. Hence it is important to understand the subtle difference in the meaning / definition.


Here are some different ways to look at the differences that might help differentiate the two:


  • So you can see LCMS as being a subset of LMS in a way because they are basically dealing with activities at different levels. LMS deals at a much higher level (on a course level) and LCMS more at the content of the course level.
  • You can think of LCMS as more concerning with content / course developers and LMS as more concerning with the activities of training department.
  • Another way to look at it is LCMS deals only with e-learning content and its management, whereas LMS deals with all types of learning content and entire learning. So if you see something with classroom or blended learning, generally you are talking / needing an LMS not an LCMS.

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