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E-learning and LMS blog articles

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LMS vs CMS, which platform is right for you?

5 min reading time

Even the most well-thought-out learning and development strategies or comprehensive learning programmes will struggle to achieve a successful delivery without the right systems in place. With this in mind, an essential step for any business or organisation is to find the appropriate solution for their L&D plan. If you’re in the middle of your search, you may find yourself inundated with options. Two options that many businesses or organisations are likely to explore are an LMS and a CMS. Although there is a significant difference between these two systems, it may require some initial research to understand what sets them apart. If you’re trying to decide between the two platforms, there’s no need to spend hours researching online to find out what is the difference between an LMS and a CMS, simply read our handy breakdown!


What does CMS stand for? CMS stands for Content Management System

What does LMS stand for? LMS stands for Learning Management System


What is a CMS?

A CMS essentially allows you to create and manage digital content whilst also facilitating collaborative work and content sharing.

The purpose of a CMS is to provide a single platform where multiple individuals can access, edit, create and publish digital content. With a CMS, you can also create and manage websites and content without the need for advanced technical knowledge.

Most content management systems are fairly straightforward with all of the ‘technical’ pieces of software and infrastructure taking place behind the scenes, whilst the elements that require engagement are built so that they are user-friendly.

CMSs were not designed with education or e-learning purposes in mind, they were created for generic use and there are many businesses or organisations using this type of system all over the world for a wide variety of outcomes. A CMS may be used by one individual for their personal blog or for the website of a large enterprise. Perhaps the most popular CMS is WordPress which is a free and open-source platform.


How is a CMS used to deliver e-learning and L&D programmes?

You can use a CMS to create and share e-learning content. Using a CMS’s available content creation tools, you can create lessons or course materials. However, it’s important to keep in mind that there are limitations on the type of content that you can create in your CMS. While many CMSs can support and store a variety of media types, you may need to look at additional plugins if you want to create more interactive lessons and content, although these will still be limited.

A CMS can also be used to facilitate a collaborative learning/working environment as multiple users can work on a single document. In doing this, learners can engage in a number of community learning activities such as sharing their own knowledge of certain topic areas, annotating documents or working on group projects. However, if collaborative learning and creating a sense of online community in a virtual learning environment is a priority for your organisation, you may be better off exploring a platform such as a learning experience platform (LXP) like Totara Engage.

The e-learning capabilities of a CMS are limited and it’s worth creating a list of requirements, looking at what you need from your e-learning platform and deciding whether a CMS can deliver. Although learners can access learning documents on a CMS, if you’re looking for a system that can then assess whether students have actually learnt and retained information from these documents, you’ll need an LMS.


What is an LMS?

A learning management system is a platform specifically designed to manage and measure e-learning and online training. Like a CMS, an LMS allows for content creation and management but additionally streamlines the learner development journey as it facilitates assessment and reporting.

An LMS is the most popular e-learning platform, largely due to the fact that it is designed to be an all-in-one system that can deliver and manage the journey and development of a learner from start to finish. LMSs have been around for decades and today’s modern LMS is feature-rich, robust and intuitive, built with both learners and educators in mind.


How is an LMS used to deliver e-learning and L&D programmes?

Like a CMS, an LMS can serve as a library of e-learning content with readily available creation and management tools. But what is the difference between an LMS and a CMS? An LMS offers more flexibility with a wider variety of content types and interactive options, a range of media types and the ability to deliver mobile-friendly content which can even be accessed offline.

One of the components that set an LMS apart from a CMS is analytics and reporting tools. Any users with permissions can access readily available reports which demonstrate the progress of learners. You can view data such as course completion rates, time spent on specific topic areas or sign-on rates to see how often users are engaging with your e-learning platform.

An LMS also has assessment capabilities, meaning you can ensure your learners are retaining information with readily available assessment tools such as quizzes, test functions or multiple-choice assessments. Once again, you can use reporting tools in your LMS to track the progress of a learner by looking at assessment scores or pass/fail rates, and you can then use this information to shape future learning. If reports indicate that a learner is struggling with a particular topic area, managers or teachers can use this information to offer additional support. The visibility that reporting tools in an LMS offer are invaluable when it comes to encouraging learners to progress and improve.

One of the best features of an LMS is the ability to assign learning pathways that are specific to each user based on a predefined set of criteria such as job role or skill level. You can assess the needs of an individual and set them on a learning path that is personal to them so that they not only see training that is necessary and relevant but also course content that will encourage them to expand their knowledge base.

With an LMS such as Totara Learn, you can use the hierarchies feature which allows you to mirror the structure of your organisation so that learners can only access content that is relevant to their role, department or access permissions.


Would an LMS or CMS best suit your business/organisation?

Only you can determine which e-learning platform would deliver the best outcomes for your business or organisation but there are certainly a number of points to keep in mind. Firstly, if keeping costs down is a fundamental part of your decision making then it’s worth considering a free, open-source platform. A lot of CMSs are free to use and open source, however, they only offer basic content management functionality and if you need the platform to deliver broader e-learning capabilities then you’ll need to look at purchasing additional plug-ins which defeats the purpose of a ‘free to use’ platform. An LMS like Moodle is a free-to-use, open-source platform with readily available e-learning capabilities, although you’ll need to consider hosting costs - you can read our Moodle pricing guide here. If having a free-to-use platform isn’t a necessary factor, this opens you up to the range of robust, feature-rich and powerful LMSs with a broad range of capabilities, such as Totara Learn.

When deciding which type of platform is best suited to your L&D needs, it’s worth making a list of what you expect it to do and deliver on. Ask yourself, which is better suited to your needs, keeping in mind what the difference is between a CMS and an LMS. If you find yourself looking for a system that can deliver an interactive, varied and comprehensive learning experience, capable of assessing any skill gaps and creating a learning pathway whilst using readily available reporting tools to analyse whether additional training is needed, you need an LMS. With an LMS, you can do more than just host and manage digital documents, the broad functionality means it can be used by a range of sectors to successfully deliver induction training, personal development programmes, blended learning, compliance training and much more.

If you’d like to learn more about what can be achieved when you opt for an LMS to deliver your L&D strategy, get in touch with one of our LMS experts. They will be happy to run through the range of features and functions and compare them to the capabilities of a CMS to help you with your final decision.


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