The LCMS at a Crossroads






We will soon publish our brand new research study of the learning management systems market: Learning Management Systems 2010 (available soon). Over the next few weeks, I will use this space to discuss some of the findings of this study.

Today, however, I want to talk about another project we are doing in parallel to our LMS research: a report on the ongoing relevance of the LCMS (learning content management system).

The topic of Learning Content Management Systems has been a lighting rod for both providers and customers. Proponents sing the benefits of collaborative authoring, content reuse, and the ability to author once and publish to multiple formats (e-learning, print, and classroom materials). And we have spoken with many large companies that have seen amazing benefits from these systems. (McDonald's, for example, uses an LCMS to publish content which can rapidly be translated for use at any store around the globe.)

Skeptics point to the somewhat low adoption of these systems as evidence that they are rigid and too narrowly focused to be useful beyond a small group of "power user" companies. These skeptics would argue that you can use any of hundreds of alternative options out there (many sold by the content development tools providers) – running the gamut from traditional content  and document management systems to new social software tools such as wikis.

We have published research on this market for many years, including a highly valuable maturity model for learning content management in organizations.


Our research has shown that content management needs vary widely from company to company, and some organizations are well served by some combination of social and collaboration platforms, portals, and the lightweight content management functionalities now common to rapid development tools. In fact, because content management is now so ubiquitous in almost all social networking systems (including Microsoft SharePoint), many companies are finding ways to leverage these tools to help aid content development.

So do these other options doom the LCMS to obsolescence? Is the LCMS market going away?

The short answer is no, and for several important reasons:


First, while it is fair to say that the LCMS market hasn't taken off the way we once thought it would, the companies in this market are growing. OutStart – an LCMS pioneer and industry leader grew its customer base 20% last year, and has been profitable the last three. GeoLearning,, Saba, and SumTotal all have broad and widespread adoption of their LCMSs, even though it is embedded into their platforms. One could say that the "use" of LCMS's has grown tremendously, but there are just many ways of solving the problem.

Second, and more importantly, the role of the LCMS is changing – and for the better. The merger of OutStart and EEDO is evidence of this fact. Originally these tools were built as ways to improve the authoring and publishing of content – problems which continue to be important, but somewhat limited to companies with large amounts of content to build and manage. The original vision of the LCMS as an enterprise repository for content objects is also attractive, but again only valuable to large, centralized training organizations.

Today the true value of the LCMS for a modern L&D function – as evidenced by the outcomes achieved by current successful users of these systems – can be significant, and falls into two areas:

  • As a business process automation tool – or shall we say – a learning process automation system, that helps the L&D function to truly optimize its processes (which is one of the most important problems in content development today); and
  • As part of – and an enabler of – the organization's larger social learning and collaboration strategy (which is one of the most important new initaitives in corporate learning today).

We are entering a new era for learning content – one focused on social, collaborative, and talent-driven learning. Today's worker still needs formal training, built around specific problems and talent needs – but they also need the availability of a "learning environment" – where they can find information, collaborate, and build their own learning plan. The learning organization must go beyond the disciplines of building content for use online: L&D must also provide context and pathways for people to learn.

Bringing context and consistency to the organization's knowledge sharing efforts will take highly optimized processes that are simple, straightforward, and sustainable – often beyond the direct supervision of the training department. Learning organizations will need new roles such as the information architect to help make information design decisions; and they will need systems to help guide and enforce workflows and standards. For many organizations, we think the LCMS can and should play this role.

Whatever side of this debate you fall on, I think we can all agree that the market for the systems currently known as LCMS is at a crossroads.

For a more detailed look at this question – including examples, be on the lookout our soon-to-be-published report on the subject.

Dani Johnson

Dani Johnson, Vice President, Learning & Development Research, writes about the evolving L&D function. Specifically, she focuses on the necessary changes in how L&D approaches its responsibilities and allocates its resources (people, time, and money) to have a lasting effect on both organizations and individuals.

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