Four User Assistance Publishing Platform Types

User Assistance in the CloudBefore creating user assistance (user guides, articles, videos, online help, classes, courses, curricula, certifications, assessments, etc.), part of the process of planning it is understanding how, where, and by whom this information is used. When you understand this, you know what platform type is best for your situation. Here are the four general types of platforms to consider. Keep in mind that you can publish pretty much all types of user assistance (file types) to each of these. The differences are; how closely integrated the information is with your system, and how much control you have over access and editing. The four platforms are not listed in any particular order. There’s a fifth publishing type; printing hard copy. For the purposes of this article however, I won’t describe printing.

Learning Management System (LMS)

An LMS is traditionally where we publish learning events such as classes, courses, curricula, certifications, assessments, and documents. LMSs allow significant customization in look and feel, catalogs, categorization, curricula, notifications, and reporting. Here are some of the key characteristics.

  • generally controlled viewing access
  • integrate externally-authored courseware
  • roster management
  • scheduling (ILT, vILT, and eLearning)
  • generate and send custom notifications (email, text)
  • track completions and scores
  • standard and custom reports
  • integrate with your directory service, such as Active Directory, for single sign-on (SSO)
  • AICC, SCORM, Tin Can compatibility
  • both a push and a pull system

Learning Content Management System (LCMS)

An LCMS is similar to an LMS although an LCMS is generally geared more toward hosting documentation (user guides), than classes, courses, and curricula. Companies may use their intranet, SharePoint, Wiki, or other system to host and manage their LCMS.

  • generally controlled viewing access
  • check in, check out
  • scheduled publishing
  • authoring templates
  • integrate with your directory service, such as Active Directory, for single sign-on (SSO)
  • generally a pull system


This could be your company’s public web site or a whole host of Internet platforms such as social sites (facebook, Twitter, etc.), or video hosting sites (Vimeo, youtube, etc.). Companies may publish their more sensitive or proprietary information on a closed/access controlled system (LMS, LCMS), but also publish their more public information to sites that are accessible to the general public, and prospective clients.

  • open viewing access
  • marketing/business development purposes
  • wider audience targeting

Your System or Application

Your user assistance can be integrated and published with, and on the same platform as, your system or application. The authoring of the user assistance may be part of the process to create the system or application, and/or standard third-party authoring tools can be used. For example, your development team uses Visual Studio 2013 to build a system, while also integrating user assistance into the development/build process. In addition, instructional designers use other tools, for example RoboHelp or Camtasia, to create additional user assistance that is also integrated into the build/publishing process.

  • publishing sync’d with releases
  • content on same platform as system
  • context-sensitivity
  • content potentially closest to point of use
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