LMS vs CMS: What’s the difference?
Instructional Design

LMS vs CMS: What’s the difference?

, Former Content Marketing Manager

You’ve seen the benefits of traditional employee training, and now you’re ready to take it online. So, you want to find the perfect training software. The trouble is that there are so many confusing terms. CMS, LMS, and even LCMS! How are they the same? How are they different? And, most importantly, which one is right for you?

Let’s find out, starting with the definition of LMS and CMS software.

LMS and CMS: What do they mean?

These acronyms might share two out of three letters. But as training systems, their meanings are miles apart. Let’s discover why.

What is an LMS and how is it used?

What does an LMS stand for? It stands for learning management system, which is software that enables companies to plan, deliver, and evaluate online training across multiple employees and teams. LMSs are available in cloud-based and on-premise options, although cloud-based is fast becoming the preferred choice.

Of course, there are many types of learning management systems. Still, most come with features that support mobile learning, online quizzes, reporting and built-in gamification and collaboration tools. Together, these features give you the power to create a learning experience that’s engaging and interactive for employees.

When is an LMS ideal?

Because an LMS is often packed with interactive features, it’s a great choice for companies looking to train their staff online. These features help to make courses fun, because employees can view, listen, and engage with content. So, training that’s delivered via an LMS tends to achieve better learning engagement and course completion rates.

An LMS is also ideal for large companies with many employees who travel, work remotely, or work across various locations. You only need one LMS to deliver consistent training to countless employees. Plus, training administrators can pull detailed company-wide training reports at the push of a button.

By now, an LMS probably sounds like the winning choice for most companies (yours included). So you can’t help but wonder: what is CMS software, and is it worth considering?

What does CMS stand for, and how is it used?

CMS stands for ‘content management system’. It’s used to create, upload, and display training content in a central location. Because of its simplicity as a content platform, a CMS’ meaning is often explained through examples. One of the best? WordPress.

Just like WordPress, a CMS can be used to publish articles, display infographics and videos, and edit and format content from multiple accounts. Plus, user types can have different permissions that allow them to either view and edit, or just view content.

When is a CMS ideal?

So, why use a CMS? To share training content when the topic only requires passive learning. Remember that learning via a CMS is like reading a blog or watching a video on a website. There are no quizzes, levels, badges, or discussion forums. In other words, there’s little or no interaction with the content.

This makes a CMS perfect for simple training topics that don’t need explanation or testing. Or, if the topic isn’t simple but you’re also offering on-site workshops, then a CMS will work, too.

A CMS is also useful for version control. This is a big advantage if you frequently update training content, or have multiple collaborators. All versions can be managed online, in a central place.

LCMS: Do I have to worry about that?

Now, here’s a curveball. When you combine the acronyms LMS and CMS you get LCMS! Adding words to these letters we get ‘learning content management system’. Yikes, right? Do you really need to consider a third option?

The quick answer – NO. Think of an LCMS as a portable CD player. When the iPod was invented, CD players became redundant. Similarly, when the LMS was created, the LCMS became an unnecessary, has-been software.

How are CMSs and LMSs similar?

It’s easy to confuse the two when you don’t know the difference between an LMS and a CMS. Many trainers focus on the similarities, like the fact that both systems can be used to deliver online training content. Plus, both of them allow multiple users and permissions, offer some level of reporting, and can easily scale across large, dispersed organizations.

These similarities are surface-level, though. Look a little deeper and you’ll find there’s a big difference between a CMS and an LMS.

CMS vs LMS: How are they different?

Sure, there’s clearly some overlap between the software. But when choosing between a CMS or LMS, there are actually a bunch of differences to consider. These differences not only affect your employees’ learning experience, but your responsibilities as a training administrator, too.

What is the difference between a CMS and an LMS?

To evaluate the difference between these two systems, you need to think of them from both the employee and trainer perspectives. Let’s start with employees.

Unlike a CMS, LMSs are made specifically for online learning. That’s why an LMS comes with a host of interactive learning features that a CMS isn’t really cut out for. Gamification, quizzes, and even the ability to schedule live webinars and discussion forums, makes learning on an LMS far more engaging than a CMS. This tends to have a positive effect on course completion rates.

There are also many differences for trainers and training administrators. Firstly, a CMS is often faster to deploy, because it’s a simpler system. Just upload your content and give employees access. The downside of this simplicity, though, is that it comes with design limitations. Find the right LMS, and you’ll be able to customize your learning path, activities and assessments for the perfect learning experience.

Finally, an LMS usually offers more detailed reporting than a CMS. With a few clicks, you can track which activities have been completed by whom, when, and even how long it took them. You can also measure their learning with quizzes that have automated feedback – no manual grading required.

Which one is for you?

While both an LMS and CMS can store, organize and present content, it’s important to remember that an LMS has been designed specifically with employee training in mind. This is why it exists. So, naturally, it comes with design elements like courses, quizzes, and learning paths.

A CMS, on the other hand, is modeled on a virtual filing cabinet. Content is arranged by folders, pages, posts or libraries. This makes it the perfect software for organizing large volumes of business documents, and allowing multiple editors and readers. But it doesn’t make it the perfect learning platform.

So, if sound instructional design, engaged learners and detailed reporting are important to you, there’s no reason to hassle with a CMS. Consider the LMS vs CMS debate concluded. A powerful LMS is the software for you.

Next Steps

Now that you know an LMS is the best training software for your needs, it’s time to get familiar with it. Start by reading this article about the benefits of a cloud-based LMS, and then follow this guide to help you choose the most suitable one. Happy training!

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Eleni Zoe - Former Content Marketing Manager

Eleni Zoe spends most of her day advocating for clear and easily readable content. She believes in paperback books and lifelong learning.

Eleni Zoe LinkedIn

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