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Buyer's Guide

by Brian Westfall,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: March 24, 2017

Learning management systems (LMSs) deliver and administer online courses to employees or students, while tracking their progress along the way. But in order to put those online courses together, teachers, trainers and managers need content. That’s where learning content management systems (LCMSs) come in.

Below, we offer a helpful guide to this type of software platform, which you can use to make a more informed purchase decision.

What do you want to know?

What Are Learning Content Management Systems?
LMS vs. LCMS: What’s the Difference?
Common Functionality of Learning Content Management Systems
How Much Do Learning Content Management Systems Cost?
What Type of Buyer Are You?
Learning Content Management System Market Trends

What Are Learning Content Management Systems?

Geared toward content developers and designers, LCMSs are software platforms where e-learning content can be created, stored and managed.

The benefits of a LCMS are twofold. First, content authors have a space where they can create and modify learning objects, which can include text, video, assessments and more. Second, LCMSs offer a secure repository for these learning objects, so they can be reused and repurposed for future needs. Not only does this allow for ultimate flexibility in learning content creation, but it also rids organizations of costly duplicate development efforts.

LMS vs. LCMS: What’s the Difference?

Due to their similarities, people often think LMSs and LCMSs are the same thing. In fact, the term “LMS” has evolved to describe products that have both LMS and LCMS functionality, which can be incredibly confusing for first-time buyers. But there are differences you can look out for to help you choose the type of platform that’s best for your organization.

The biggest difference you should be aware of: A LCMS is used to create course content, while a LMS is used to deliver that content to learners. Whether you have separate systems for your LCMS and LMS, or use one LMS suite that includes both (which is common), they work in tandem to manage the entire e-learning process.

For example, say a developer needs to create e-learning content about updated managerial techniques. They can use a LCMS to collaborate on and author this content, combining pre-existing assets such as videos, audio and images with content that can be created in-system, such as text and assessments. The LCMS can then help them arrange all this material into a logically sequenced, comprehensive course on the subject.

From there, they can publish the finished content to a LMS. Trainees log into the LMS to take courses and assessments, while managers and corporate trainers can access the system to track learner progress.

Example of LCMS vs. LMS Use

Example of LCMS vs. LMS Use


When in doubt, keep the end user in mind. Learners and administrators interact with a LMS, while learning content owners and creators interact with a LCMS.

Common Functionality of Learning Content Management Systems

Here are some typical capabilities you’ll find in learning content management systems:

Learning object development Combine pre-made media assets with assessments and text (which can be created in the system itself) to create customized learning objects, also known as “e-learning content.”
Content management A searchable repository where e-learning content can be stored and retrieved for later use.
Publishing Create content once, then publish in a variety of formats optimized for print-outs, for use in a LMS or otherwise.
Course analytics Discover which learning objects are impacting learner success.

How Much Do Learning Content Management Systems Cost?

Like LMS software, learning content management systems are often priced on a per-user basis. You pay a monthly or annual fee based on how many users are in the system. Small organizations may pay as much as $5/user while large companies may pay less than $1/user, depending on the vendor.

This isn’t the only pricing model though. In some instances you may just pay a flat subscription fee to use the system, regardless of how many users are in the system. Some vendors will even charge you based on how many courses you create or use.

Be sure to talk to vendors to find out their unique pricing model so you can budget accordingly.

What Type of Buyer Are You?

Because learning and development impacts so many industries, different LCMSs can be suited for different types of buyers. Here are the two major categories of LCMS buyers:

Education buyers. These buyers typically work in schools and universities, and use LCMSs to manage student e-learning content. Some features to look for in these systems include social learning forums, where users can interact and discuss course content, and course homework and assessment grading.

Corporate buyers. Instead of students, the learners in these systems can be employees, customers or channel partners. Features to look for here include extended enterprise functionality to implement company branding into courses and certification tracking to ensure that workers pass necessary compliance courses.

Learning Content Management System Market Trends

Learning content management systems are constantly evolving and changing to better meet trainer and learner needs. With that in mind, here are a few trends to look out for in this type of software:

  • Responsive design. More and more learners are consuming e-learning content on tablets and smartphones—devices that don’t always lend themselves well to elegant, immersive e-learning design. In response, many LCMSs are expanding their responsive design options to ensure that any course you create looks and works well on mobile devices.
  • Automated course authoring. Templates and themes have been a mainstay of LCMSs for a while, but platforms are getting even better about automating aspects of course creation to lower costs and development time. Look for systems that can automatically code course assessments based on the course content and develop individualized learner paths based on past behavior.
  • Gamification. Using the addictive qualities found in video games, many LMSs and LCMSs are including functionality like points systems, badges and leaderboards to entice learners into consuming more e-learning content. Look for these features to better engage the learners in your organization.

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