CMS Vs LMS: What Is Right For You?


If you are new to hosting training content online this is the first thing you will need to know.  What is the difference between a Content Management System and a Learning Management System.  This article will walk you through the important differences.

Below you will find valuable information about the following aspects:

  • CMS and LMS Explained
  • Differences Between CMS and LMS
    • Purpose
    • Features
    • Learning Pace
    • Interactivity
  • Similarities
  • Definition Of LCMS
  • CMS Examples
    • Word Press
    • Joomla
    • Wix
    • Drupal
  • Popular LMS
    • Moodle
    • Google Classroom
    • Blackboard

Let’s dive in and analyze the most important aspects related to CMS and LMS.

CMS and LMS Explained

Content Management System (CMS)

A course management system (commonly referred to as CMS) is a website tool that allows anyone to build a website and manage content with limited technical skills.

This type of system supports various types of content such as:

  • Graphics (images, screenshots, maps, etc.)
  • Audio files (audio lectures, vocal instructions, etc.)
  • Video files (marketing, demonstration, etc.)
  • Written materials (eBooks, Word documents, etc.)
  • And more. 

It is commonly used by businesses to create an online presence as an easy to manage a website.

Learning Management System (LMS)

As the name suggests an LMS is a tool specifically designed for learning. It features enhanced interactivity between students and teachers. A learning management system allows educators to host training content while also being able to closely manage learning. 

An LMS is a specific type of CMS that is specifically used for education.  While a CMS will manage any type of website for you an LMS will manage only education-related websites or parts of your business.

This type of system is capable of hosting heaps of content formats, such as:

  • Text (eBooks, written documents, training manuals etc.)
  • Graphics (images, screenshots, blueprints, etc.)
  • Audio files (pre-recorded audio lectures, spoken instructions, etc.)
  • Video files (instructional videos, demonstrations, screencasts, etc.)
  • Interactive content (games, etc.)

An LMS drastically reduces the time teachers spend on creating and distributing theirtraining content.  It also acts as the first point of call for students to find the training material for their course, submit assignments, and interact with their teachers.

Differences Between CMS and LMS

While a LMS is a specialise version of a CMS there are key differences like:

  • Purpose
  • Features

Let’s find out what are the exact differences between content management systems and learning management systems.

Purpose

CMS Purpose

The main purpose of a content management system is to allow individuals to create and manage any type of websites as the internet presence for a company.  

A list of CMS by active websites can be found on this article.

ARTICLE: Popular CMS by Market Share

LMS Purpose

On the other hand learning management systems are specially designed to allow educators to actually teach students. Using this type of system teachers will coordinate the entire educational process. 

Features

The obvious difference is that a CMS has heaps more plugins but they are general in nature where a LMS has plugins specifically related to education.

:Here is a comparison for educators fo the core educational features:

FeatureCMSLMS
User SecurityYesYes
Social Media IntegrationYesYes
Live ClassesYes (Plugin)Yes (Plugin)
GamificationNoYes
Track Student ProgressPartially (Plugin)Yes
Payment HandlingYes (Plugin)Yes (Plugin)
Grade BookPartly (Plugin)Yes (Integrated)
SCORM CompliantNoYes 
AssessmentsPartially (Plugin)Yes(Integrated)
Student and Teacher CommunicationsNoYes

Let’s see what does every feature refer to and how does that influence the training process.

User Security

Both systems have standard user and group security that allow you to define permissions at the group level and then users to those groups similar to windows.  Both systems allows for unlimited users.

Social Media Integration

Both systems allow you to integrate to all social media platforms as well as team collaboration platforms like Slack.  The need for student interaction is more important in online teaching.  If you want to engage your students have a look at this article.

ARTICLE: Engaging Students Online with Social Learning

Live Classes

We are focusing on simple online classrooms like web conferences here and both systems have this functionality through plugins.  To understand all the ways to teach live online check out this article.

ARTICLE: How To Teach Live Online

Gamification

The ability to add game-like elements to your training like leaderboards, badges and points provides students with another reason to engage in their learning.  CMS don’t have these where LMS have these built in via a plugin.

Track Student Progress

This is critical for teachers to help students and to know where their students are in their learning journey.  It shows you when students get stuck and when to intervene as well as feedback on your training material if all students get stuck.  Since a major KPI for teachers and educational institutions is completion rates, you could not do this without the ability to track student progress. 

Payment Handling

Content management system lacks payment handling methods while LMS usually allow educators to get paid using secured transactions. However, this aspect depends very much on the learning management system you choose to work with. 

Grade Book

A core component of any system managing students is the ability to store grades of the students and be able to have multiple ways of calculating a final grade.  While you can teach general interest only or ungraded professional development courses online without it.  If you are a school, accredited vocational training or university this is a must.

SCORM Compliant

The ability to create and package your content into a specific form of zip file called a SCORM package allows you to create your content independent of the hosting platform and then upload it to wherever you like afterwards.  The second generation TinCan (xAPI) is also a requirement if you want to share training content.  This is core functionality on a LMS but may not be on your CMS.  SCORM packages also store how the training will be graded and reported as well as tracked.

ARTICLE: Understanding SCORM

Assessments

The ability to have a wide range of assessment to engage students and also provide the right type of assessment for what you are teaching.

ARTICLE: 13 Ways To Assess Online Students

Student and Teacher Communications

There are heaps of reasons students fail and drop out of online courses. The biggest ones are feeling isolated and the inability to have easy and quick access to teachers.  Fire and forget eLearning has failed and investment has been taken away from traditional eLearning and towards more engaging forms of learning online.

To understand why students drop out and fail online courses check out these two articles.

ARTICLE: 8 Reasons Why Students Fail Online Classes
ARTICLE: 11 Reasons Why Students Drop Out Of Online Courses

Similarities

Since a LMS is a specialised form of CMS you can expect some similarities.  While a CMS is more general in nature you can use multiple plugins to get similar functionality to an LMS but it is not integrated and is very clunky and every task will take more time.

When you also then want to integrate it into the Student Management System that manages student enrolments and the administrative side of education you will have a lot of problems.  If you are just putting an online course on your website and not formal training any of the plugins for CMS will do.

Google search the name of the CMS and educational plugins and you will find the most recent educational plugins.

Here is a list of similarities the two systems have:

  • User Management
  • Create & Edit Content
  • Plugins
  • Themes
  • Administration Tools

Definition Of LCMS

Learning Content Management Systems are basically a name for a CMS with the educational plugins we discussed earlier.  While not a commonly used name it is a nice way of differentiating between a CMS with educational plugins and a full LMS.

If you want to learn more about learning content management systems, I suggest taking a look at the following articles:

ARTICLE: Benefits of a Learning Content Management System (LCMS) 

CMS Examples

There are thousands of CMS available on the Internet, such as:

Let’s see what are the pros and cons of each content management system.

WordPress

https://wordpress.org/

This is the world’s largest CMS. It is an open-source CMS that was originally designed for blogging. Since its inception its market share of all global websites has changed but is currently 37%.. 

If you are planning on delivering content using WordPress.org you will have to host the website by yourself. But most hosting providers offer this as a one click install for you.  You can find a host I recommend for your WordPress website on my Recommended Tools page.

This CMS can be successfully used to create any type of website. This happens because it is very flexible in terms of features. There are millions of themes and plugins that you can use for your website. 

Some of the plugins are paid and some of them are free. However, you can find some amazing plugins to substitute the features that are missing from the core WordPress version. For example you can add contact forms, media slideshows, live chats, and many other tools.

Joomla

https://www.joomla.org/

Just like WordPress Joomla is an open-source content management system.  This means that it can be used for free by anyone wanting to create a website as long as you don’t try to on sell the software.

The feature list of Joomla is amazingly long. Its plugins can be used to create complex websites that will enhance your audiences’ experience.  As a major CMS you can use it for small, medium and large websites from simple to complex websites.

Joomla has a package that is meant to be used for education and a website for it as well and you can check that out at the link below.  This is a paid solution but it is handy that it has already been bundled for you.

LINK: Joomla LMS

Wix

Rapidly increasing in popularity due to a huge marketing campaign they are doing in every language online in many countries.  It is not designed for medium or large websites and really just for small websites for small companies or individuals.  It has the simplest user interface of all CMS and it is the main reason for its success.

If you are wanting to make a very simple educational website there are themes you can install for Wix that you can use and below is the link to those themes.

LINK: Educational Themes For Wix

Drupal

https://www.drupal.org/

Drupal is another open-source content management software that can be used for websites on any topic. It provides its users with powerful features that prove to be helpful regardless of the topic of their website.

Drupal is considered by those in the industry as the most advanced and cleanest of the CMS for Open Source products.  This means that technically it is the easiest to develop for and the quickest of the CMS.

Just like with Joomla, Drupal can be used for small, medium and large sized websites.  While Joomla has been around longer Drupal is better designed.

Popular LMS

There are heaps of learning management systems you can use to deliver training to your students. 

The most popular LMS are:

Let’s find out the most important things about the above-mentioned learning management systems.

Moodle

http://moodle.org

Moodle is one of the most popular learning management systems available worldwide. It is an open-source tool, meaning that anyone can use it to teach online without having to pay for the software. There is only one cost that is hosting whether you host it with WordPress.com or on our own hosting.  But the same is required for all CMS and LMS.

Features

This LMS features heaps of functions that prove very helpful for online teachers regardless of the taught subject. 

Some of the commonly used functions are::

  • Assessment and Grading Methods
  • User Security Management
  • Live Conferencing (using BigBlueButtonBN)
  • Mobile App (both for students and teachers)
  • Payment Handling Methods

Even if this learning management system is available free of any charge its features are easily comparable with the ones provided by other paid LMS. To learn more about the differences and similarities between Moodle and other learning management systems I suggest taking a look at the following articles:

ARTICLE: Canvas Vs Moodle: Which is better for online teachers? 
ARTICLE: Blackboard vs. Moodle: How To Choose What Works For You?

If you are unsure whether Moodle is the right learning management system for you try out their demo website. 

LINK: Moodle LMS Demo Website

This learning management system allows educators to take advantage of a wide variety of resources. 

Commonly used resources for training courses are:

  • Book – text documents (eBooks, etc.)
  • File – basically any file (image, video, audio, etc.)
  • Folder – it helps you to sort the resources on your course
  • Label – text or media files inserted into the course page in between links or other resources
  • Page – the teachers can create a local web page using the text editor
  • URL – link to another website outside Moodle
  • And more.

Plugins

The funcitonality of your website and courses can be improved by installing various open-source plugins. If the core Moodle installation does not have a tool that you need you can also install an extension from its wide variety of additional plugins. All the plugins can be found on the Moodle plugins directory

For example, you can take advantage of the available plugins to detect your students’ plagiarized content. To find out more about this topic take a look at the following article:

ARTICLE: Does Moodle Check for Plagiarism?

Costs

As I have said before there is one possible expense that you might want to consider when choosing Moodle LMS. This cost is related to hosting. 

Moodle can be installed in two distinct ways:

  • Self Managed Hosting
  • Cloud Hosted

We mentioned both of these options earlier and I would always self host myself every time.  The severe limitations Moodle.com put on cloud hosting with users and tiny storage when you can get unlimited users and storage with most other hosts for a fraction of the price they charge is a no brainer.

If however you have a very simple one course website with a small amount of users it is something to consider.  Especially if you are not technically minded.  If you are not technically minded though you can have someone on Fiverr setup and maintain the website for you still for a fraction of the cost anyway.

To learn more about the Moodle LMS, I suggest taking a look at the complete list of articles related to this subject: 

ARTICLES: Moodle – Article List

Google Classroom

http://classroom.google.com

Google Classroom is another well-known learning management system. It is also available worldwide and can be used for free by individual educators and eligible schools. If you are not eligible for using the free version of Google Classroom you will have to pay for a subscription.  The fee is calculated in accordance with the number of students and teachers you are planning on adding to your course. 

Features

In terms of available features Google Classroom does very well. Among the wide variety of functions. 

The core features are:

  • Cloud storage for your training content (using Google Drive)
  • Live audio-video conferences with your students (using Google Meet)
  • Multiple assessment methods (using Google Forms)
  • Submission marking and grading tools (using Google Assignments)
  • Communication with your students’ and parents (using the Guardian function)
  • A mobile app that includes all the important functions
  • And more.

If you want to see the complete list of features that are currently available on Google Classroom I suggest taking a look at the following links:

ARTICLE: Google Assignments vs. Google Classroom: What’s the difference?

Costs

As I have said before Google Classroom is available for free as long as you are an individual teacher or an eligible school. However, if you are planning on using this LMS at a school or university with students you will have to sign up for a G Suite for Education account. This type of account is different compared to the regular Google accounts. 

G Suite extra features::

  • Google Services management available for the school administration
  • Availability of the Students Guardian service 
  • Up to 1,000 members added to your classes (teachers and students)
  • Your students will be able to work using their regular Google accounts
  • And more.

You can see the complete list of articles that are related to Google Classroom here:

ARTICLES: Google Classroom Articles

Blackboard

https://www.blackboard.com

Blackboard is another great learning management system you can use for your online course. This one is not an open-source LMS but a paid one. Compared to the free alternatives Blackboard provides built-in technical support.

If you have not yet decided to use Blackboard you can try out their demo website. It allows you to test all its paid functions for free. This way you will figure out if it is the right LMS for you and your course or you should look for another one.

Plugins and Compatibility

When it comes to extra features available (plugins), Blackboard does not have as many options as Moodle does. On the other hand it has a partner network that provides educators with plugins and compatible tools. 

The most commonly used integrations compatible with Blackboard are:

  • Moodle
  • Sakai LMS
  • BrainHoney
  • Desire2Learn
  • itsLearning

If you want to take a look at the complete list of partners that are working with Blackboard Learn, take a look at the following link:

LINK: Blackboard Partner Network

Being compatible with other learning management systems Blackboard can also use various features available on other LMS. For example after connecting Blackboard with Moodle LMS, you can even use Turnitin plagiarism-checker that was originally developed as a Moodle plugin.

Activity Types

The most commonly used types of activities on the Blackboard platform are:

  • Assignments
    • SafeAssign
    • iAssign
    • Group Assignments
  • SCORM Package – used for computer-assisted learning
  • Survey – three types of pre-made survey instruments ready to be applied to the students
  • Questionnaire – survey type of activity including a wide range of questions to gather data
  • Open forum – this activity allows students to post and reply on the forum without having to worry about timezones
  • Chat – it enables students and teachers to send instant messages using the integrated tool

The Blackboard LMS also includes other tools that are very helpful during online courses. These functions are related to databases, glossary, wiki, workshops, quizzes, and more.

I suggest taking a look at the complete list of articles related to Blackboard here:

ARTICLES: Blackboard Articles

Glen Brown

I am a Technical Trainer and Manager with over 20 years experience in IT, Education and Business. I have multiple qualifications on each topic including post graduate qualifications. I have a passion for sharing knowledge and using technology to do this. If you would like to know more about me please see the about page of the website.

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