Two men arm wrestling - LMS vs. LXP concept

LMS vs. LXP: which one wins? To understand the strengths, weaknesses, and differences of the traditional learning management system (LMS) vs the learning experience platform (LXP), we really have to start with the underlying rationale for each, then let’s see how that has played out in the marketplace. Finally, let’s tackle the question of whether or not you should care.

The LMS focuses on the business

An LMS, or learning management system, was originally designed to support a learning business, meaning an organization that operates by business rules, relies on formal, or scheduled training, and that earns money from the sale of learning products and services. (LMSes are, of course, also used for employee training and education within businesses but the focus here at ReviewMyLMS is on market-facing learning businesses.) The recent Leading Learning executive briefing, Conquering the Confusion: The Role of the LMS in the Evolving Learntech Landscape, provides a succinct overview:

The most common piece of learntech, an LMS is software for delivering educational experiences to learners, with an emphasis on pushing out content designed by the organization that owns the LMS—e.g., your catalog of online courses. An LMS enables you to enroll learners in courses; it enables your learners to launch and access those courses; and it enables you to track learners’ activity, scores, and completion of courses. An LMS provides basic testing and generates reports.

In short, an LMS is primarily about enabling the organization that provides the learning experiences, serving its goals as much or more than the goals of the individual learner.

The LXP focuses on the learner

The LXP, or learning experience platform, came into existence because the “top down” approach of the LMS was increasingly perceived as a weakness by more forward-thinking learning professionals. The LXP was designed specifically to empower learners themselves to access the learning resources they need at the exact time they need it, based on their preferences. The resources accessed through an LXP are typically on-demand and informal, and may range from videos, to articles, to social interactions with peers. As the Leading Learning executive briefing puts it:

Drawing on personalization, discovery, and playlist models now common in non-learning applications such as Netflix and Spotify, LXPs allow learners to explore and then access educational experiences, with an emphasis on learner-discovered content. Additionally, most major LXPs leverage artificial intelligence to recommend content to learners based on behaviors and interests.

Let’s face it, if an LXP was a car it would be the sleek and sexy red convertible. I want one. However, it’s not going to be that practical if you have to go make deliveries.

A word about content

Which brings up one really important question – whose content are we relying on? Given that learning companies are in the content business, it’s a question worth shining a light on. An LMS delivers your content first and foremost, if not exclusively, and so is consistent with the idea that the learning business is responsible for developing and providing learners with the educational content it deems most relevant for the audience it serves. The upside of this level of control is that it can make it easier to manage an organization’s brand promise and competitive positioning.

The LXP, on the other hand, relies on learner-driven decisions to determine the content they serve up. Thus, the LXP typically must be able to access large content libraries, a significant portion of which are likely external to your business. While organizations do have significant control over what types of content will be accessible and trackable in the system, the latitude given to learners can mean that the content they choose to access may or may not be the most authoritative, complete, easy-to-understand, or effective for specific learning goals.

In general, the types of content you aim to serve in combination with the level of control you offer the learner in determining the specific content served will drive the LMS vs. LXP decision.

The LMS and LXP marketplace today

Here’s what Gordon Johnson, Vice President of Marketing at Totara, a company that combines an LMS with an LXP and (to take things even further!) a performance management system, has to say:

The marketplace is very big and very messy. LMS platforms have started to blur the lines by adding LXP features to expand their focus on learners, such as personal learning recommendations, social learning, collaboration, and more. Plus, they have embraced just-in-time learning to deliver the content when and where it’s needed. No one’s going to wait around for a course today. Complicating matters more, the LMS’ reputation is generally very low. Many have Net Promoter scores in the negative numbers. Some companies may look to the LXP as the antidote or a substitute for a difficult LMS, and then they find that there are huge gaps in functionality. The LXP is focused: consume, track, collaborate. The LMS is very complex. What do they do then? Neither an LXP nor an LMS are cheap.”

In most cases, combining the two systems is the approach that will work best in the short term. As the Leading Learning briefing puts it:

While there may be instances in which an LXP can replace an LMS, most LXP vendors currently promote use of an LXP in tandem with an LMS. When it comes to providing a Netflix-like, highly personalized learning experience, LXPs have a clear lead at this point. At the same time, they typically do not have the same capabilities for handling structured content and learning activities that LMSes do. In the current market, a number of LXPs and LMSes have announced partnerships to help provide organizations with the best of both worlds.

The briefing goes on to argue that, over the longer term, the type of blurring of the lines that Johnson highlights are likely to continue. “Over time,” the briefing’s authors write, “our expectation is that LMSes will incorporate more LXP capabilities natively, and vice-versa. In the meantime, though, the LMS remains the starting point for most learning businesses.”

LMS vs. LXP: Why you should care

While LMSes and LXPs may become more alike over time, the distinction between them right now is more than academic. Which one you chose – or whether you use both – comes down to the focus of your learning business strategy. If your focus is on helping your learners remain compliant with industry regulations, maintain a credential or license with relatively strict educational requirements, or master a body of knowledge that is largely fixed – perhaps by your organization – then an LMS is likely the right choice.

If, on the other hand, learning needs in your field or industry are more fluid, if the knowledge and skills needed by those you serve vary significantly from individual to individual or setting to setting, if a more highly personalized experience is truly needed, then an LXP is the way to go.

Of course, as already implied, these situations are not mutually exclusive. Increasingly, learning business find that they need to provide both more structured, prescriptive experiences that align with an LMS and less structured, more learner driven experiences that align with an LXP. If this describes your situation, then using an LMS in tandem with an LXP may be the best solution.

These are decisions that will, of course, have an impact on your budget, not just in terms of technology licensing and implementation costs, but also in terms of the human resources needed to manage the technology and provide the needed learning content and experiences. If you decide to go with a two-system approach, pay attention to:

  • Integration: How seamlessly can users – both learners and administrators – move between the two systems? Can all necessary data be passed back and forth and/or to a common database of record? Can common content be leveraged across the two systems?
  • Scalability: As you grow to serve more and more learners with a dual system approach, what are the potential implications? If, for example, you sell to institutional buyers (B2B), how rapidly and efficiently can you set up new accounts, provide the cross-system configurations needed, and onboard a high volume of new learners?
  • Monetization: Revenue generation is at the heart of operating as a learning business. Related to integration, are you able to manage an ecommerce experience that seamlessly incorporates assets from both the LMS and the LXP?

The bottom line is that either system – LMS or LXP – can play an important role in pursuing your strategy, but their roles are still quite different at this point. Clarity about these differences and the potential for the two systems to work together are the keys to making the right LMS vs. LXP decision for your learning business.

by Scott Hornstein for ReviewMyLMS

Title image by Ryan McGuire from Pixabay