CMS and LMS – A Comparison

Viswanath Shankar By Viswanath Shankar
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People often get confused regarding the actual functions of a CMS and an LMS.

The source of this confusion lies in the similarities of the two systems. Both perform the functions of enrolling learners, communicating with them, assessing performances, and activating learning materials. Lets have a detailed look at both the systems.

CMS demystified

A CMS or a Content Management System is basically designed to support educative or academic courses. It allows the instructor to create a course website, where documents can be uploaded in popular formats such as word, power point, etc. without having to convert them to a web format such as HTML. This requires few specialized skills, thus making a CMS the ubiquitous choice of instructors. It also efficiently supports distance learning because of its robust discussion board application. Instructors post the essence of the course that leads students through varied learning activities, after which the instructors supervise course discussions through the discussion board.

A CMS covers the following features:

Online posting of course material

Material such as reading copies and power point slides can be made available online, apart form the schedule of the course and its syllabus.

Learner assessment

Learners can be assessed through online quizzes, tests and gradebooks.

Discussion forum

Discussions can be conducted through a discussion board, where notes are exchanged and topics discussed between formal classroom sessions.


Communication is carried through announcements to classes and other tools to communicate individually.

Allotment of lock boxes

Learners can store class assignments, class notes or presentations in individual lock boxes.

Review of statistics

The course statistics can be reviewed at will, which details information about who used the site and when.

Drawbacks of a CMS

Less flexibility

The design of the course is less flexible in a CMS. The names of the standard sections can seldom be changed or altered.

Inefficiency in providing interactive e-learning

Interactive e-learning through authoring tools such as Dreamweaver or Flash cannot be delivered through a CMS. For this purpose, instructors need to link to separately created materials, which are stored somewhere else.

Inefficiency in testing and tracking

A CMS cannot verify the identity of the students taking tests, nor can it save the test before a student transmits it to the instructor. Also, some CMSs are not capable of transferring grades from the gradebook to other progress tracking systems.


In a bid to make the CMS appeal to the corporate segment, publishers have resorted to adding complex features to it, resulting in a sharp surge in its pricing. While some universities have remained loyal to them still, others have dropped them completely.

LMS demystified

A learning management system plans, delivers and manages all the learning needs of an organization. An LMS is designed keeping an eye on the corporate learning market. It makes courses available, makes enrollments and develops its confirmation, checks learner eligibility, develops reminders of class schedules, records course completion, develops tests, communicates the completion of the course to the learner’s employer and generates follow-up correspondence to the learner. It provides a platform to manage blended learning that includes conventional classroom learning and online learning. An LMS can also be used to record and assess training satisfaction. In addition, it can generate reports such as the number of students enrolling in particular courses, or aggregated records of student performance in particular courses.

The basic functions of an LMS include:

* Registration of learners

* Tracking participation in courses

* Testing

* Conducting follow-up discussions

* Transferring information to other systems including the HR and ERP

* Fee processing and fee transfer among departments

* Scheduling courses

* Managing skills

* Managing blended learning

LMS too are fraught with several drawbacks. Some of them are:


An LMS is the most expensive learning investment of organizations, with some systems ranging between several million dollars.

Rapid leapfrogs in technology

An LMS soon becomes redundant because of the upcoming technology that is included in its newer versions. Making the LMS more flexible to adapt to changing technology is the only way out. Some LMSs survive a bit longer by adding the features of learning content management systems to their present structures.

Customization problems.

Diverse learning needs of varied organizations give rise to the problems arising out of customization. A little alteration in the system to suit to your needs can always be done, but extensive customization has often done more harm than good.


Though both academic and corporate learning have gone the electronic way, an LMS and a CMS cannot replace each other because of the disparate learning activities that they support. It is necessary to understand that education is gaining long term knowledge while training is gaining knowledge for immediate application. Therefore, a CMS supports long term classroom sessions, while an LMS supports a number of short training events.

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About Viswanath Shankar
Viswanath Shankar has been managing and maintaining various e-learning softwares for the past decade and a half. A storehouse of knowledge about LMS (Learning Management Systems), He has been working in close co-ordination with web development experts to develop user friendly distance learning programs.

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