The other day, a colleague asked me to clarify the difference between an LMS (Learning Mangement System and an LCMS (Learning Content Management System). This was my answer.
It can be confusing and the products (LMS, LCMS and course authoring) all overlap in their capabilities. Some products overlap more than others. Most products grow and evolve to help solve the needs of their customers so they develop in all directions.
It is really a continuum or spectrum with every possible overlap available somewhere.
Most fully capable corporate LMS's manage both classroom and eLearning with the emphasis on registering people and tracking and recording the activity. Many of the larger LMS's expand this into competency and talent management features which overlap with some of the things that HR systems do. Corporate LMS's don't usually provide course authoring or content management except as part of a suite of tools. There are quite a few LMS's that only manage eLearning and don't include the classroom component.
The focus of the LCMS is the management of course content rather than learner activity. These tools are mainly for course developers rather than learners. As such they usually offer a learning object repository for learning objects (courses broken down into pieces) that can be searched and reused or adapted for other purposes. The full extent of the capability of this repository is also variable. Products like Eedo and Outstart are more powerful in what can be done (for example providing performance support or just-in-time information) than many of the others. It is natural that, with the focus on creating courses, most LCMS's also include authoring capability. Once people have created courses, they naturally want to be able to manage them. As a result, many LCMS's offer eLearning launch and tracking capability (often more limited than the big LMS products). It is unusual for an LCMS to include classroom course tracking but a few products that call themselves LCMS's do.
There are also many separate course authoring tools available and many of them include "mini" LMS's so people can launch the courses and track their use.
LMS's designed to serve the education market like Blackboard, Desire2Learn and Moodle tend to be quite different. Education LMS's are usually just for eLearning and don't include classroom course management because those capabilities already exist (as registration systems) in education. Education LMS's are actually more like LCMS's because they provide course authoring tools and some content management. (Just to add to the confusion some education LMS's call themselves Course Management Systems and some call themselves LCMS's). Education LMS's are usually stronger than corporate LMS's with using communication tools like e-mail, discussion groups, and now even wikis and blogs. This is because in education, the model is that an instructor builds the course and then is available by e-mail while students take the course. In the corporate environment, the emphasis has been more on asynchronous, self-directed courseware and there is usually no "instructor" available.
The major vendors (Saba, Plateau, Learn.com, GeoLearning, SumTotal etc.) offer suites of tools (available all together or as separate modules to meet customer needs) which cover the whole range and more. All the modules will work together but they may not be "best-of-breed" in any one category. That is why, for example, Eedo lists Saba as a partner. They have worked together to implement both for customers who take a "best-of-breed" approach. This is similar to what happens when companies purchase ERP's. Even though SAP has CRM capabilities, it may not be as good for the customer's purpose as a Siebel for example.
Each product is unique and is not easily categorized. As with any attempt to categorize things, it is a rather artificial distinction. We often have to go with the primary function or what the vendors call themselves.