•   Article   •   6 mins

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: The Differences Between HCM, LMS, and LXP

Digital transformation has become an unavoidable reality for businesses over the last decade. In fact, the enterprise software market has correspondingly grown in size and complexity — and the learning technology market is no exception.

According to a recent study by RedThread Research, there are over 250 learning technology vendors in the marketplace today. New labels for categories are formed, and their definitions seem to morph depending on who’s defining them. LMS, LXP, LEP, skills strategy, knowledge cloud — but what do these terms really mean?

Meanwhile, many vendors are offering new functionalities that hadn’t even been recognized as learning in the past, like mentoring, performance tracking, and social sharing. And established HCM systems that previously didn’t offer learning solutions are now selling “skills clouds” and “skills engines” alongside their payroll, time and attendance, and benefits administration tools.

Flooding the market with options. There are over 250 learning technology vendors in the marketplace today.

It’s enough to make even a seasoned IT professional feel overwhelmed.

One way to make sense of this alphabet soup is to think of the vast array of learning technology solutions in terms of modes of transportation. Planes, trains, and automobiles will all move you from point A to point B, but they do so in very different ways. Your best option for a given trip depends entirely on your specific transportation needs. Just because one mode of transportation is technically possible for a given trip doesn’t mean it’s the right option. We see these same distinctions among the HCM, LMS, and LXP.

HCM Systems are Like Planes

Planes shuttle between national and international hub cities. They’re extremely effective for moving a large group of people across a vast distance in a relatively short amount of time. They’re also powerful and require specialized training to operate safely. Plus, there aren’t many airports within walking distance of cities, so you’ll usually still need a car or train to get to your final destination.

HCM stands for Human Capital Management. Read that last word again. An HCM is designed to manage critical administrative HR functions like payroll, benefits administration, time and attendance — and in some cases, performance management and compliance training. An HCM efficiently manages these processes by delivering scalable, one-size-fits-all services for workers. In the same way that air travel isn’t designed to take every passenger to their final destination, an HCM isn’t designed to provide personalized services for employees.

Learning and career development, when compared to HR administrative functions, are not one-size-fits-all. Effective learning and skill development require a more precise vehicle for delivery. A 2018 study by Gartner said that by 2020, 30% of global midmarket and large enterprises will have invested in a cloud-deployed HCM suite for administering HR and talent management, but will still need to source 20% to 30% of their HR requirements via point solutions.

A 2017 study by Nucleus Research found that only 3% of HCM users found significant value in their HCM system’s talent management capabilities.

Where's the value in human capital management?

LMSs are Like Trains

Trains are also designed to provide transportation for large groups of people on specific, required routes, according to set, prescribed schedules. Trains, however, require less oversight and maintenance than planes. They can also serve minor hubs more effectively and are ideal for efficiently moving people around shorter distances — like inside cities.  But trains still require certified crews to operate them. 

Learning Management Systems (LMSs) are designed for learning administrators to create and deliver formal training to workforces. This includes onboarding, internal training, and instructor-led training. They typically accommodate live, instructor-led training requirements, such as enrollment and classroom management, and traditional course formats like SCORM and xAPI, including assessments and reporting specific to learning courses. While some of this can overlap with HCM functionality, LMSs are engineered specifically for the requirements of learning management, and can get more granular — managing complex certification processes, for example. For further reading on LMS features, check out 10 Must-Have LMS Features.

As an administrator-driven platform, the LMS is most effective for implementing top-down learning initiatives. Just like a train service chooses the routes and stops it will make for passengers, an LMS allows learning administrators to design and select the learning content that’s available for employees.

LXPs are Like Automobiles

Cars are designed to enable individuals and families to meet their personal transportation needs. They allow people to go wherever they want, on their own schedule, and at their own speed. Like a car, an LXP is designed so people can learn wherever and whenever they want.

Rather than being designed to make the learning administrator’s job easier, LXPs are designed to make learning and skill development more engaging and productive for the end-user — employees, contingent workers, managers, and business leaders. In other words, an organization manages learning with an LMS and enables learning with an LXP. 

One way the LXP enables learning is by bringing formal and informal learning resources together into a single, trackable learning technology platform. Informal learning content can include articles or blogs, webinars, books, podcasts, or online videos. Studies including our How the Workforce Learns report show that most learning in the workplace occurs in the flow of work. LXPs can enable, capture, and measure all of that learning and map it to work-relevant skills. It can also suggest learning content within Pathways or Plans that can guide employees to work toward specific skill sets needed for new roles inside their organizations.

In a 2019 report, Brandon Hall Group explains the change the LXP brought into the learning technology marketplace: “The Learning Experience Platform transforms learning from an event-based, single-point-of-reference approach to an immersive environment where depth and retention of learning is significantly increased.”

How to Provide a Complete Learning Solution

In understanding the different functions of the HCM, LMS, and LXP, it’s not hard to see how they can work together to provide a complete learning solution for enterprise companies. While the LMS delivers formalized learning, and the HCM connects learning to recruiting and performance management, the LXP connects all learning, including self-directed informal learning, with in-demand skills and career development. 

Based on a study conducted by RedThread Research, there are six elements of the learner experience that L&D can enable: planning, discovering, consuming, experimenting, connecting, and performing. There are only two key administrative functions: creating and managing (which are converging as curation becomes more commonplace) and analyzing.

Underneath each activity is a list of functionalities that align with it. While the six learner experience activities should all be accounted for, the specific functionalities vary depending on the needs specific to the organization. The report points out that the goal isn’t to have all 30 of the functionalities in this framework — but to use this as a starting point to design an ideal learning technology ecosystem.

The complementary pieces of an LXP and an LMS.

Core Functions the LMS Needs to Support and Complement an LXP

  • Integration
  • Uploading of Traditional Learning Resources
  • ILT Support
  • Assessments
  • Administration
  • Reporting
  • Notifications and Reminders
  • Certification Management

[Source: Brandon Hall report.]

Advantages of the LXP and LMS Working Together

Your LMS is filled with great offerings that too few employees know about. A good LXP fixes that by bringing together formal compliance-based learning with informal learning. Content from your LMS sits side-by-side with informal curated learning content from articles, videos, and other user-curated learning content. Since the LXP reveals content created in the LMS in a platform designed for daily use, it exposes employees to LMS content with more frequency than without the LXP. Degreed customers have seen significant increases in engagement with LMS content.

Additional advantages of integrating an LMS and LXP:

  • Control of learning: An LXP provides users and managers a high level of agility, flexibility, and adaptability to create their own learning path that best matches their learning style and requirements for learning. 
  • Holistic content strategy: Users can know instantly the depth and breadth of learning content sources available to them
  • A continuous learning approach: Employees want to learn not only what will help them today but also what will help them over the course of their careers and professional development. The LXP can uniquely balance both needs by allowing users to set a course that meets short-, medium-, and long-term goals. 
  • Proficiency in learning: In an exclusive LMS environment, it’s challenging to assess how much someone has learned and its impact on new levels of proficiency. An LXP offers the ability to make the connection between learning and proficiency by providing a unique window into users’ progression through their journey and its direct effect on their ability to enhance and/or improve their competencies and skillsets.
Check out Degreed's new partnership with LearnUpon!

Degreed + LearnUpon = LXP + LMS

One thing that many of our customers have told us is that they wished there was an LMS that worked and felt more like Degreed — with an intuitive user interface and top-caliber customer support. They also said they wanted a one-stop-shop for both LXP and LMS capabilities. With our new partnership with LearnUpon, customers can get the LMS and LXP capabilities they need through a single solution and unified support system. For a more in-depth look into the LMS and LXP integration into your learning ecosystem, download this recent report done in partnership with the Brandon Hall Group.  For more details on the Degreed + LearnUpon partnership, read our blog post here.

Looking for one of the above solutions? Maybe we can help. Download our full Buyer’s Guide to Talent Development Technology below!

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