What’s the difference between an online learning platform, a learning management system (LMS), a learning experience system (LES), and a learning content management system (LCMS)? Do the differences matter?

It depends on what you need to do.

Even experienced instructional designers and their managers must sometimes slow down and think about using the jargon in our trade. When discussing eLearning with managers and peers, it is better to avoid the technical specialist-speak when explaining what you have in mind. Here are four of the fundamentals.

Online learning platforms

An online learning platform is a digital environment that provides an integrated set of interactive online services and tools for trainers, learners, and their managers. The platform is designed to facilitate and enhance educational experiences through a wide range of courses and resources accessible via the internet to support learners in acquiring new knowledge and skills.

Online learning platforms can be marketplaces for courses. In some cases, platforms offer a variety of courses from different providers, with the primary purpose being to facilitate learning and education. Some platforms are developed by educational institutions or organizations to deliver their own courses exclusively, while others are developed by multiple educators or institutions to offer courses for a wider audience.

Whether an online learning platform is a marketplace depends on its specific design and purpose. Some examples of online learning marketplaces include Udemy and Coursera, where various course creators offer their content to learners, while platforms like edX and Moodle are primarily used by specific institutions for their own courses.

Online learning platforms provide the resources and tools learners need to learn a variety of skills. These tools range from video tutorials and lecture notes, to online tests and quizzes. Learning can be self-directed, with students finding their own resources or following structured courses. Learners interact with others in online discussion forums, providing peer support and feedback. Through automated grading they receive instant feedback on their work, while teachers get real-time assessments of student progress. Online learning platforms provide students with the technology needed to easily keep track of progress and stay motivated while learning.

Learning management systems (LMS)

A learning management system is a specific type of online learning platform. An LMS provides a digital environment for the efficient creation, management, and tracking of educational content and training programs. It allows educators and organizations to organize and deliver online courses and resources to learners. An LMS serves as a centralized hub for course materials, assessments, communication, and reporting, streamlining the process of online learning and training administration. The LMS also allows students to access course materials, submit assignments, take assessments, and interact with other students.

While all LMSs are online learning platforms, not all online learning platforms are LMSs. Online learning platforms can encompass a broader range of tools and features beyond what a traditional LMS offers. Some online learning platforms may focus on providing content from various sources or facilitating live virtual classrooms. The difference is that LMSs are primarily geared toward managing structured courses, tracking learner progress, and often have additional features like assessment tools, grading, and reporting.

Learning experience systems (LES)

LESs are specialized software solutions that personalize the learning process for each student. They use data analytics and machine learning algorithms to offer individualized instruction, feedback, and motivation to learners, throughout their learning journey.

Learning content management systems (LCMS)

An LCMS is a specialized software system used in the field of eLearning and content development. An LCMS is designed to facilitate the creation, management, storage, and delivery of learning content. Here are some key characteristics and functions of an LCMS:

  • Content Creation: LCMS platforms provide tools and templates for creating various types of learning content, including text-based materials, multimedia presentations, quizzes, assessments, and more. Content creators can collaborate on developing and updating materials within the LCMS.
  • Content Management: LCMS systems offer robust content management capabilities, allowing for version control, content reuse, and organization of learning materials. This makes it easier to maintain and update content over time.
  • Reusability: LCMSs emphasize the reuse of content components, making it possible to assemble and deliver customized learning experiences from a repository of existing materials. This can save time and resources in content development.
  • Personalization: LCMS platforms often support the personalization of learning content, enabling educators and instructional designers to tailor materials to individual learner needs and preferences.
  • Delivery and Distribution: LCMSs can deliver content to various platforms and devices, making it accessible to learners wherever they are. Some LCMSs integrate with learning management systems (LMSs) for seamless content delivery.
  • Tracking and Reporting: LCMS systems typically provide tools for tracking learner progress and assessing the effectiveness of learning materials. This data can be valuable for instructional improvement and reporting compliance.
  • Collaboration: LCMS platforms often feature collaboration tools that enable content creators, subject matter experts, and instructional designers to work together on content development projects.

In summary, an LCMS is a specialized software solution that combines functionalities of other educational technology systems within the online learning landscape. It focuses on the creation, management, and distribution of learning content. It plays a crucial role in eLearning and content development, especially for organizations or institutions that produce a significant volume of learning materials.