July 16th, 2012 E-Learning

What is the difference between a course management system and a learning management system (LMS)? Which one do you use and when? The difference is subtle between these two options, but knowing the difference will better enable an organization to level-set their continued learning needs.

First, the term “course management system” may not be familiar to most, and it is often used in the same respect as a learning management system. However, a course management system (although quite similar) implies something slightly different than a traditional LMS.

Course management systems are narrower in scope. That is, this system focuses on the management and distribution of eLearning and instructor led courses. To put it another way, course management is often the main function of an LMS – a secure place to store and launch training to a subset of users. In some respect, you can attribute metrics to a course management system, but that isn’t a requirement. A course management system also has less need to be SCORM compliant.

An LMS on the other hand encompasses course management, but is more robust in that it often implies a subset of learning standards (i.e. SCORM) for reporting purposes, and lately has started to include learning that takes place outside of a computing environment. An LMS can assist in the learning strategy as it relates to improving performance. A course management system is less dynamic, more or less offering a secure database.

So what should your organization use?

If your organization is looking to instill an overarching learning strategy, then an LMS is probably the way to go. Additionally, an LMS is scalable, so it can start of strictly as a course management system and easily adapt as the learning is takes a more prominent role. With recent advancements like Tin-Can API, an LMS can also assist in your organization’s learning strategy beyond a mere storage space for courses – taking learning outside of the computer or classroom.

To put it simply, an LMS can be as big or small as you want it to be, while a course management system will struggle to adapt to be something more than a file repository. An LMS such as WPLMS can integrate a social (human) component to learning and collaboration – tracking an individual learner’s performance, accomplishments, and connections across an entire group.

If you’re trying to figure out what’s best for your organization, don’t just measure the near term objectives but also scope out the long term goals. Will your organization grow? Will it need a way to demonstrate performance improvement through learning? Will it eventually require various modes of knowledge transformation? If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, then you need an LMS to support your organization’s growth and eventual learning needs.

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About Justin Ferriman

Justin Ferriman started LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by Fortune 500 companies, major universities, training organizations, and entrepreneurs worldwide for creating (and selling) their online courses. Justin's Homepage | Twitter

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Thank you for providing a clear summary about CMS & LMS. This information is very helpful to the novice seeking to learn more as it relates to instructional technology.

Avatar Latosha Burch

In your article, you mentioned that a learning management system is scalable, so it can start off strictly as a course management system and easily adapt as the learning takes a more prominent role. Do most businesses use this type of system when training new employees? I can imagine that training employees could be difficult if you can’t track the progress. Using a learning management system could be very valuable for a company.

Would like to know exact difference between Course Management System and Classroom Management System?

Avatar Vijay

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