LXP vs LMS: What is the Difference?

A headshot of Brandon Williams

Brandon Williams

Brandon is a Principal at Educe and has more than 10 years of experience advising organizations on how to…

In the world of talent management technology, the LXP vs LMS debate is currently raging. With the market for both platform types in growth mode, many learning leaders are asking themselves “am I using the right platform?” To get close to an answer to that question, we must first be clear about what each platform is (and is not).  

What is a Learning Experience Platform (LXP)? 

As is implied by the title, learning “experience” platforms focus on the learner journey by identifying and personalizing opportunities for them to enhance existing or learn new skills, grow within their organization, and further their careers. The best platforms use artificial intelligence behind the scenes to continuously collect information (self-reported, generic based on other users with similar interests, and specific to data the system is fed about the learner) to create individualized paths that encourage people to take ownership of their development. Those opportunities can come in the form of traditional learning events provided by the company, project-specific work that is unique to their interests, or even learning curated from the internet at large. The key here is at the intersection of what the company needs people to know, what others have curated and associated to jobs or skills, and the platform itself learning from everything that’s happening to uncover helpful information across the board.

What is a Learning Management System (LMS)? 

On the other hand, learning “management” systems focus on organizing and delivering the topics an organization identifies as critical for their people to know, typically based on their department, job function, or other relevant criteria. Learning events can be specific to furthering the company’s institutional goals (e.g., new employee orientation, promoting diversity and inclusion, or delivering critical product or service updates) or to critical job functions that, in high consequence industries, may result in life, death, or lawsuit. These events could be in-person, virtual ILT, or asynchronous online and can have a direct impact on the organization’s bottom line.

Which Platform is Right for My Organization? 

There are different approaches to working with LXPs and LMSs, and well-informed learning leaders have chosen to use one (or both) for a variety of reasons. The two questions they ask are: 

  1. How am I managing learning today? 
  2. What is going to best support my organization now and into the future?

Let’s use an analogy to help think this through. Most vendors, whether they are promoting an LXP or LMS, will say their solution is “the best thing since sliced bread”, but you may already have a platform in place (i.e., your own loaf of bread). If you’re happy with your bread, you may only need a knife to slice it. On the other hand, you may be thinking that your bread has grown stale, and you will have to throw it out and go back to the market.

If you already have sliced bread (i.e., a great learner experience through your current provider or combination of platforms), then you can stop here and go about making your sandwich.

After investigating, you may find that you already have a robust ecosystem with the content you need but need a better way to enable everyone to “learn in the flow of work” or self-curate based on their unique needs and interests. You can start by asking your current vendors to show you tools they have that can “slice your bread.” Talent management technology providers are continuously updating and evolving their capabilities to enhance the learner experience, so there is a chance your current vendor offers new features or modules you can enable to serve up content in a better way or leverage more skills-based AI to anticipate the needs of your user base. If that’s not the case, you may explore integrating new technology to fill the gap that vendors you work with can’t currently provide. In either instance you’re adding features that currently don’t exist to get to your desired end state.

In our “stale bread” use case, you have investigated your current systems and there are no capabilities that will positively affect the experience of your end users. In this case, you may have to investigate migrating either to a new LMS or to some combination of an LMS and LXP. Be cautious here as some vendors who provide learning management systems also offer features that can act similarly to experience platforms depending on your needs. If the system you are considering only supports the top-down, traditional learning your organization may offer, it would be prudent to explore the possibility of adding on the experience platform as a gateway. In this instance it will also be important for you to understand how each system will integrate to meet your needs, as this is rarely as “plug and play” as you might hope. 

In summary, if you already have a learning platform in place, focus on identifying the tools that will allow you to provide meaningful learning experiences in the best way for your organization. If you’re starting from scratch, evaluate the landscape and identify which vendors offer the features and functionality your organization needs. In either case, any debate around “LXP vs LMS” won’t matter if you focus on the right fit for your organization.

Interested in learning more? Listen to the audio of my session LXP vs LMS: Navigating the Future of Personalized Learning at the 2021 ATD International Conference.

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