E-learning brought to an organization learning options that are not only less expensive, but are more flexible than classroom training. Although e-learning would never replace “a human touch” that face-to-face training is privileged to, it is de facto that current technologies allow creating e-courses that are relevant, engaging, participatory, and with “a fun element”.
As a growing number of organizations utilize e-learning or “blended learning” (a combination of e-learning and classroom instruction), more organizations face questions of choosing the systems that are best fit to their environment. Larger organizations are on look for the systems that not only deliver and track e-courses, but also allow integration of performance reviews and development plans. The needs of smaller organizations may be more succinct and limited to training delivery. So, what do we consider when choosing the best e-learning program? Let’s look at the differences of the two main e-learning systems – Learning Management System (LMS) and Learning Management Content System (LMCS).
LMS is a software application that is most often web-based and is designed for the administration, documentation, tracking, and reporting of e-learning programs and training content. LMSs, such as WestNet, Halogen, Flextraining or Mindflash require importing a content that is built externally using Microsoft programs, or e-learning development software such as Adobe Captivate or Articulate. Many LMSs offer monthly subscription for a fee based on the number of active users (training participants). Some LMSs offer one-time licensing, and charge annual fees for software upgrade and technical support, which can from 10% up to 25% of the licensing fee.
We have knowledge of at least 210 different LMSs with a range of features offered: from simple content delivery and reporting to sophisticated integration of learning management and social media platforms. Similarly, the difference of subscription and hosting fees is vast, ranging from $3,000 to over $23,000 annually for a thousand users.
In comparison, a Learning Content Management System (LCMS) is content-centric software for creating and managing of e-learning content (Xyleme, Exact Learning Solutions, Kenexa). Instructional designers and trainers can re-use e-learning content. As a result, it requires less of resources and saves time needed for course development. Rather than re-creating entire courses, LCMS provides the ability for courses to be modified and published for various audiences maintaining past versions. E-training elements that developers can manipulate include media files, assessment items, simulations, text or graphics. LCMS technology can also be used to deliver and track courses (as LMS), or as a standalone application for learning initiatives that require rapid development of learning content.
Thus, the main difference is that LMS does not allow creating and manipulating courses; it cannot reuse the content of one course to build another. The LCMS, however, can create, manage and deliver not only training modules but also manage and edit all the individual pieces that make up training modules. The subscription or license of LMCS is usually pricier that of LMS.
So, what does an organization need to consider when choosing the best fit e-learning system?
– An amount of training content to be developed and delivered. If an organization develops and delivers a great amount of training – either because of internal or external requirements – then LMCS may be a better choice. LMCS will be able to save instructional designers’ time by reusing training content that’s already had been created.
– Long term training and development needs. When an organization plans to grow and expand, it means that training and development needs will be growing as well. Thus, even when an LMS might seem a better fit today, considering long terms an LMCS may be the best fit. That way, an organization will avoid additional resources and confusion of switching from one system to another.
– Training audience. Larger organizations that employ workers nationally or internationally would experience a greater need for training modules being updated – because of local regulations and cultural preferences. Thus, LMCS might be of a benefit in this case.
– The plans to integrate e-learning into organizational social platforms. A few LMS and LMCS allow integrating organizational social platforms such as Intranets or wiki’s. Though these systems are usually pricier, this emphasis on learning encourages workers to participate in more training, and increases their engagement.
– The needs to utilize e-learning systems for performance management. Selected LMSs and LCMSs may perform performance management function by allowing managers to track employee performance (incorporating learning application results of completed courses), and by providing employees with an opportunity to create development plans based on performance reviews.
E-learning is a powerful learning platform. When an organization chooses “the right” system, such system can be not only a cost saver, but it can also enhance learner engagement and learning retention.