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Elearning platforms: What you need to know when beginning the process

  • By Craig Weiss
  • Published 07/9/2012
  • Tools and Resources

With the continued rapid growth of e-learning, there are now more than ever, lots of jargon to confuse and bewilder people. This is especially true in the learning platform world. Do you choose a learning management system (LMS), learning content management system (LCMS), learning portal or a content management system (CMS)? What about type – open source or commercial? Do you want it to be SCORM compliant, AICC compliant, PENS compliant, all of the above or proprietary (i.e. no compliance)? What is your vertical market? Are you in education/academia, manufacturing, association, a non-profit, retail, etc. What size is your business, organization or company? Small, SMB (Small Medium size business), mid to large, large or Global 2000? Are you seeking a mobile component to the system? What about social learning? Do you want a system that is forward thinking in terms of emerging technology or one that is in with the masses, only changing when it is necessary? What about pricing? How high are you willing to go? Are you seeking a yearly deal or a multi-year deal or does it even matter ? Do you need to have an integrated web conferencing solution, a built in course authoring tool, assessment or survey tool, digital publisher tool? Well, what will it be? If you are like so many other people, you are probably thinking to yourself, what did I get myself in to – they told me to find a LMS, what is all this? Or worse. But fret no more. Because all the items listed above, plus many more will be presented to you, in a way that makes sense. No doublespeak, no unknowns, rather what is called in the tech world “layman” terms.

The Basics

  • Learning Management System (LMS) – the most widely used type of system in the e-learning world. Can contain among other things, built in course authoring tool, assessment tool, social learning, e-commerce and mobile learning platform.
  • Learning Content Management System (LCMS) – it always has been the step child to a LMS. At one time, it seemed to be the next big thing, thankfully it never happened. Many people assume, and wrongly so, that the difference between a LMS and LCMS, is that the LCMS comes with an authoring tool.

What makes them different, is that a LCMS includes a content management platform to store docs, files, etc. (think repository) and manages content across various platforms – example: your intranet and extranet. With the capabilities of open source, APIs (Application Program Interfaces) and more LMSs offering a streamlined content management application via social learning, the LCMS is no longer needed.

  • Learning Portal – Similar to a LMS, but typically very streamlined. Basically it is a server installed at your location (or hosted via Rackspace or other hosted server sites) and is a place to put courses, content, files and a variety of other resources and capabilities.
  • Content Management System – is in simplest terms a repository for files, documents, resources, and data. It can utilize workflow processes, enables version control and is widely used for storage and retrieval of data. Moodle is actually a CMS, but with its ability to add modules and complete customization, it can be used as a LMS. Other CMSs that can switch into a LMS include Joomla and Drupal.

SCORM, AICC, PENS Now that you have decided on what system best fits your needs – I personally recommend a LMS, you must decide on whether you are going to go with a system that offers one of the compliance standards or one that does not. You would think this part would be simple, but like many things in this space, it isn’t and it can easily create a lot of confusion.

In the e-learning industry there is not one set standard across the board. So when selecting a system you do have a variety of options.

SCORM – Shared Content Object Reusable Material

90% of the people do not know the ins and outs of SCORM, so don’t worry. It is a very detailed and some say quite cumbersome document. The people who do know tend to be e-learning developers or instructional technologists and e-learning instructional designers.

SCORM comes in multiple editions

  • SCORM 2004, 4th edition – virtually no LMS vendor offers it, but it is available
  • SCORM 2004, 3rd edition – Available with most systems. I strongly recommend you select a system that is SCORM 2004, 3rd edition, however if that is not possible, then at a minimum select a system that is SCORM 1.2 compliant.
  • SCORM 1.2 – Older version of SCORM, quite a few systems offer it, plus there are systems that offer multiple editions of SCORM (i.e. SCORM 2004, 3rd edition, SCORM 1.2, SCORM).
  • SCORM – the original version. If your potential vendor only offers this option, look elsewhere.

Amazing facts about SCORM

  • It is backward compatible, which means that if a system is SCORM 2004, 3rd edition and you have a course authoring tool that is SCORM 1.2 only, it will work in the system. Same thing if you purchase off the shelf courses/content by a 3rd party – for example Widget G, and it is SCORM compliant only, it will work in your system
  • It is not forward compatible – so if your content/course authoring tool is only SCORM 1.2, you cannot select a LMS that only offers SCORM 2004, 3rd edition. You could select a system that is SCORM 2004, 3rd edition.
  • A vendor can be certified in any version of SCORM they select, however, besides a marketing advantage, from a system standpoint when comparing to another system that has the same version, it doesn’t make it any better
  • SCORM’s premise is interoperability, which means you can take any course that is created in SCORM and go from one system to the next without any code changes or issues into that new system.

In reality that is false. You will face interoperability issues regardless of the vendor you select, even one that is SCORM compliant, and yes, this includes systems that are SCORM certified. Most people assume that the interoperability issue arises when they select 3rd party off the shelf courses to integrate with their LMS or when it is created by a custom development firm or a contractor hired to create the course. Again, this is false. It is a universal issue and has arisen with 3rd party content authoring tools and open source content authoring tools. If this happens, do not worry. Your LMS vendor will work with you to integrate the courses into the system.


  • AICC (Aviation CCC) was started in the late 90’s, as an alternative to SCORM
  • AICC does offer certification, but it is based on completing certain tasks and having certain components. I would say that 95% of the vendors who identify themselves with AICC are not certified.
  • It is still offered today, and often times you will see a system that is SCORM and AICC compliant
  • PENS is AICC’s version of SCORM 2004, 3rd edition. Despite what you may have heard, it was created in 2004. It has yet to be widely adopted.

As aforementioned , 3rd party course authoring tools or open source authoring tools, the same applies to AICC/PENS. If your course tool out is only for AICC, then you must select a LMS or learning system that offers AICC compliance. Thus, if your potential LMS or learning platform vendor is SCORM 1.2 and does not offer AICC, then you will need to either select a system that includes AICC or choose another course other tool.

Bottom Line

Understanding the terminology, provides you with insight that can be utilized when identifying your first or next learning platform. Because having such knowledge will lead to leverage. And leverage is always a good thing.



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