In a pandemic-impacted world, keeping remote employees engaged, productive and well trained is crucial, and training and professional development are key to the employee experience. Two software choices -- the learning management system and the learning experience platform -- can help, albeit in different ways.
For years, companies' only option was an LMS to run training and educational programs. Now, thanks to the recent focus on employee experience, HR has another choice: an LXP.
"What's happening now is people are thinking more about [employee] experience, and that's filtered down to the learning environment," said Mark Vickers, chief research analyst at HR.com. "People aren't just interested in employee experience, but learner experience, and this has become one of the primary priorities of L&D [learning and development]."
While LXP use is growing, most organizations still regard their LMS as the backbone of their learning systems, Vickers said.
Only 23% of companies surveyed said they've implemented an LXP as part of their "learning ecosystem," according to HR.com's 2021 report on learner experience and engagement.
Oftentimes, organizations are reluctant to switch systems. Here's a look at some differences between the two systems and the benefits each offers. These facts paint a clear picture of what organizations should consider if they plan to make changes.
What is an LMS?
An LMS system is designed to deliver formal training material, covering areas such as internal policies, compliance or onboarding new employees, according to Alexandria Clapp, content manager of learning technologies at the Association for Talent Development, a nonprofit based in Alexandria, Va.
There are many benefits associated with learning management systems. One example is their strong administrative tools to help L&D teams manage learning programs, select and assign content and assess learners' progress.
In a nutshell, a learning management system's focus is mainly on compliance and tracking.
"The LMS allows corporate learning teams to track and monitor employees' overall progress against different competencies and standards compliance," said Jennifer Whitbeck, a learning strategy consultant based in New Hope, Pa.
For example, employees in certain roles might be required to complete specific training programs for regulatory reasons, she said.
What an LMS can't do, however, is track activities that take place off the platform, such as informal learning discussions and online chats.
The LMS focuses on things like housing internal learning content, tracking learner use and creating permissions, Vickers said.
What is an LXP?
In contrast, learning experience platforms enable users to access content through social media, blog posts, videos and other channels, and tap into information from sources around the internet.
"The front-end interface will look more like Netflix, while the system's back end generates content recommendations based on the user's goals, experiences, preferences and history," Clapp said.
In general, the user experience is much more personalized with an LXP.
Through consumer-grade experiences that simplify searching and accessing content, LXPs offer digital learning in a variety of ways, many of them less formal than the LMS approach, Clapp noted.
Many LXPs deliver microlearning, which presents content in short bits to make it more digestible. For example, rather than requiring employees to learn all of Microsoft Excel's intricacies at once, the LXP narrows it down to distinct tasks, such as creating a graph, Clapp said.
LXPs also provide more flexibility, enabling learners to consume information in multiple formats.
"LXPs reflect the fact that there are a whole lot of other ways to learn," Whitbeck said.
LXP vs. LMS
The difference between the two systems is relatively easy to sum up.
The fundamental difference between an LXP and an LMS comes down to administration and control, Whitbeck said.
An LMS focuses more on the administration of learning than the experience, while an LXP focuses on the ability to facilitate personalized learning.
When comparing the two, business leaders should recognize that one system doesn't necessarily replace the other, Vickers said.
LXPs are an evolutionary step in learning technology that can help organizations move toward more interactive, personalized learning focused on the employee experience, he added.
"That's the evolution from something that's just keeping track of learning within the organization [to something that's] opening it up to the outside environment, focusing more on the experience of learners and how learners can help one another develop better experiences within the organization," Vickers said.
An LMS, in contrast, focuses more on compliance and tracking and not so much on the user experience.
"An LMS is an enterprise tool that employers use to assign training opportunities, then monitor and track progress toward specific competencies and standards," Whitbeck said. "Its technology also allows employees to sign up for the training they must or want to take."
Each platform has its strengths.
An LMS works best with learning content that won't change much, is facilitator-driven and requires the measurement of outcomes, Clapp said. An LXP's strengths are its ability to provide on-the-job training and enabling learners to work on their own timeline. This resource also allows for the presentation of user-generated content, addressing learning goals that are constantly changing and managing efforts that require less measurement.
Deciding which system is best for an organization
When choosing between an LXP and an LMS, organizations need to take stock of both their learning requirements and their company culture.
Because larger companies could experience challenges creating organization-wide change, they might want to start by having a pilot group work with a new platform, then expand the offering when there are some early successes to publicize, Whitbeck said.
This can help make the transition easier when it is time to choose the system that works best.
Different companies are going to have different requirements and needs, but the only way to determine which platform is most appropriate is to speak with people who have either implemented -- or at least had experience with -- both, Vickers said.
"If you have an LMS that's not easily expanded or integrated, and you really need to broaden things, then maybe an LXP is what you need," he said. "If you have an LMS that's easily expandable, maybe you don't."
Companies that need to track learning for compliance reasons, for example, might prefer an LMS over an LXP because of its record-keeping capabilities.
Sometimes, however, organizations don't have to make a choice between one or the other: Some platforms integrate both LXP and LMS capabilities, according to Clapp.
"I don't think it's an either-or thing," Vickers said. "Companies should look at both types of platforms and try to see how they work together."