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Course management system vs Learning management system: key features, pros, cons, and more

There’s a lot of different systems available for training providers, and a lot of jargon and acronyms associated with different platforms. If you’re looking at some options you might be somewhat confused about what each type of system delivers, the features it contains and what type of platform you need for your training business. 

In this guide, we take a look at two of these platforms: course management systems and learning management systems, mainly:

  • The definitions of both and their key features
  • The differences between the two
  • The advantages and disadvantages of both systems.
  • Some advice on how you can decide which type of system (or both) is right for your training business.

By the end you’ll have a good understanding of the two, and be informed of the questions you should consider if you’re thinking you require either type of software. 

What is a course management system?

A Course Management System (CMS) (not to be confused with a content management system) is a software platform used in various training settings to organize, manage, and automate back-office processes associated with different training types. Predominantly, it is used for instructor-led training courses, blended learning environments, self-paced online modules, interactive webinars, and hands-on workshops.

These training processes include:

  • Course scheduling
  • Course registration management
  • Email automation between instructor and registrant
  • Task management
  • Course payment options
  • Customer relationship management

A training organization will consider a course management system when they are offering five or more courses a month, and manual processes are beginning to take their toll in terms of time and money. A CMS centralizes course management processes into one platform, reducing manual administration and freeing up time to deliver great training.

A reputable CMS will also integrate with other apps such as learning management systems (LMSs), CRMs, marketing automation platforms, accounting apps, and more.

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Course Management Systems

What is a learning management system?

A Learning Management System (LMS) is a software platform used in educational and training settings to create, deliver, and manage online learning content. It primarily supports e-learning, enabling organizations to offer courses and training programs in a virtual environment.

Key processes supported by an LMS include:

  • Course content creation
  • Learner enrollment and tracking
  • Assessment and grading
  • Reporting and analytics
  • Certification management
  • Collaboration and communication tools.

An organization will consider a learning management system when they need to deliver training to a large audience, track learner progress, and ensure consistent training quality. 

An LMS centralizes learning content and administrative processes into one platform, reducing manual tasks and improving the efficiency of training delivery. Learning management systems also integrate with other apps such as course management systems (CMSs), marketing automation platforms, and human resources software.

Key features of a course management system

Course scheduling

A CMS simplifies the scheduling of courses, primarily instructor-led courses such as classroom-based, or live online, by helping trainers and administrators create and schedule courses, assign instructors, and manage room bookings. A CMS often provides course templates that pre-fill with essential information, speeding up the scheduling process. 

For example, within Arlo, you can use these templates to create a new course in minutes and instantly publish it to your website. The templates facilitate the quick scheduling of repeat courses across multiple dates and locations. 

Course templates also accommodate various learning formats including face-to-face, live-online, blended, and eLearning, allowing you to schedule one-off, multi-session, and repeat courses effectively.

Registration management

A CMS will often integrate with your website, so learners can register and pay for courses through your site. With a CMS you can also create custom registration forms that capture the desired information from learners, and enable you to add revenue elements such as upsells, discounts, and special offers within the form.

The registration forms you can set up within Arlo are designed to drive conversions, you can utilize proven templates, or create simple-to set up one-off forms. 

Within these forms you add new customer records, or sync data from your existing CRM, set rules so multiple registrants can register for a course within the same form, and sign-up for multiple courses per order. 

Billing and payment processing

CMS’s integrate with different payment options such as credit cards, invoices, bank transfers and more. Many CMSs with merchant providers such as Stripe, to give learners more options and to minimize the amount of payment chasing a training organization has to do.

Communication tools

A CMS offers automated tools for communicating with participants, including email notifications and reminders about course schedules, changes, and other important updates. This helps keep all stakeholders informed and engaged and reduces the amount of time an admin needs to spend copying information into emails and sending them.

Reporting and analytics

Leading CMS’s offer a wide scope of analytics and reporting capabilities that help a training organization get insights to how much revenue their courses are bringing in, course attendance rates, and participant feedback. 

CRM features within a CMS enable you to track and manage your upcoming courses and availability, monitor registrations and see details of sign ups as your courses go live, see orders and revenue trends and leads breakdown by month so you can see trends and complete daily tasks. 

All of these metrics can then be turned into customized reports to surface valuable insights and help training businesses make better informed decisions.

Training evaluation

A CMS includes tools for evaluating the effectiveness of training programs.These tools enable training organizations to gather and analyze feedback from participants, assess the attainment of learning objectives, and measure the overall impact of courses. 

Evaluation features provide training providers with important insights that they can use to facilitate continuous improvement and refinement of their course content.

Key features of a learning management system

Content management

An LMS allows for the creation, storage, and distribution of learning content, including videos, documents, and interactive courses. LMSs support a wide range of content formats and provide tools for organizing and updating material as needed.

Assessment and testing

An LMS usually contains features to develop and manage various types of assessments such as quizzes, tests, surveys, polls, and peer reviews. 

Learner enrollment and tracking

Tracking features in an LMS precisely monitor a learner’s engagement and progress throughout their courses. For instance, consider a software developer taking a course on cybersecurity. The LMS records their progress through video lectures, tracks their quiz scores, and logs their completion of practical exercises.

Tracking performance and results helps trainers and managers make sure the developer is on track. If the LMS detects that the developer is struggling with a specific module, such as recording a low score on a quiz, it can activate a trigger that provides the developer with additional resources or support to help them through the material.

Interactive tools

LMS platforms include interactive features like discussion forums, live chat, and group collaboration areas. Such features encourage communication and collaboration among learners and instructors.

Reporting and analytics

LMS platforms offer advanced reporting capabilities that allow trainers/educators and administrators to produce detailed analyses of learner performance, course effectiveness, and other important metrics.

Key differences between a course management system and a learning management system

Purpose of the software

A CMS is tailored to simplify the administrative and logistical aspects of managing training programs. It handles tasks like course scheduling, registration, and participant communication, aiming to streamline the management of training logistics. More specifically, a CMS simplifies these processes primarily for instructor-led training programs and operations.

An LMS is centered around facilitating and delivering the educational experience. It provides the infrastructure for creating, delivering, and managing educational content, with a strong emphasis on engaging learners and improving learning outcomes. More specifically ,an LMS does this for self-paced and eLearning courses and training.

User interaction and engagement

A CMS interfaces with administrators and training coordinators. Its user interaction is centered on administrative tasks which do not involve direct learner engagement.

An LMS is tailored to support distinct interactions for both learners and educators. For learners, it offers a platform to engage deeply with educational content through multimedia learning tools, participate actively in forum discussions, and undertake assessments. 

For trainers, it provides functionalities to facilitate course creation, monitor student progress, and interact through feedback and collaborative tools. A

Impact on the efficiency of an organization

As we’ve mentioned the primary purpose of a CMS is to simplify and organize a training provider’s entire training operation. Therefore, its impact on efficiency is profound, CMSs like Arlo can reduce manual training and course management processes by up to 80%

The knock-on effects for a training organization after these manual processes are reduced are also profound. With their time freed up, training providers are able to focus more of their attention on the delivery of training, able to reduce operational costs, and increase sales by providing their learners with a better customer experience, such as making it easier for them to register for their courses.  

An LMS on the other hand optimizes the delivery of training by enabling learners to access and complete training modules at their convenience. Learners can access training content anytime, anywhere from an internet connected device. 

They also reduce an organization’s reliance on physical training materials and enable them to deliver scaled training to more learners than ever before. A CMS and LMS can work in sync to deliver a more comprehensive training offering, as using the two systems together enable training providers to offer an deliver instructor-led and self-paced learning.

Pros and cons of course management systems

Pros

Ability to deliver instructor-led and live online training

Course management systems enable training providers to deliver instructor-led live online training. This is particularly important to pay attention to if you’re a training provider whose looking to grow their business and expand your offerings, or want to help your learners maximize retention.

Smarter administrative workflows 

As we’ve noted, CMS automates many administrative tasks such as scheduling, registration, and payment processing.  Automating these tasks reduces manual errors, saves time, and increases a training provider’s revenue.

Centralization of training management

A CMS centralizes all training-related information in one platform. Training providers can say goodbye to using multiple systems to manage their operations. They can set up, promote, sell, deliver and analyze training all from one single platform. 

Better trainer/learner communication

A CMS includes tools for automated communications, such as email notifications and reminders. This ensures timely and consistent communication between trainers and learners, keeping everyone informed and engaged throughout the training process.

Cons

Variable implementation costs

Implementing a CMS can be expensive, especially for smaller organizations. Costs include initial setup, integration with existing systems, and ongoing maintenance and support. But if you’re a training company that offers 5+ courses a month, and manual administration is costing you time, energy, and money, then you’ll see a significant ROI.

You can read here how various training businesses have saved money, increased revenue and reduced admin by using Arlo’s course management software in these case studies:

Can be tricky to set up

A CMS can be complex to set up and use effectively. Staff may require training to fully utilize the system’s features. A CMS provider should offer in-depth platform training and help documentation to help users with the learning curve.

Note: Course Management Systems are also sometimes referred to as training management systems. If you’re looking for more information on the top platforms in this category, consider exploring our article on the best training management software systems.

Pros and cons of learning management systems

Pros

LMSs cater to flexible learning

An LMS allows learners to access training materials anytime and anywhere, making it easier for them to fit learning into their schedules. This flexibility supports a more diverse range of learners and learning styles.

Comprehensive tracking and reporting

An LMS provides detailed analytics on learner progress and performance. This data helps organizations understand the effectiveness of their training programs and identify areas for improvement.

Interactive and engaging learning experience

LMS platforms often include features such as discussion forums, live chats, and multimedia content, which enhance the learning experience by making it more interactive and engaging.

Cons

Administrative costs and setup time 

Learning how to implement an LMS system can take a considerable amount of time. Converting all of your instructors to e-learning will require a period of transition.

Doesn’t cater to instructor-led or live online training

LMSs focus on self-paced learning and not on instructor-led or live online training. As a result, they can lack features necessary for effectively managing and scheduling instructor-led sessions. They also won’t help you manage the administrative aspects of your training business and typically won’t help you promote or sell your courses online.

How to choose between a course management system and a learning management system

What type of training do you deliver?

As we’ve noted, LMSs are primarily dedicated to delivering online, self-paced learning. An LMS doesn’t extend to the delivery of live instructor-led training, or blended learning. So, if you’re a training provider who delivers these types of training then you’ll likely require a course management system. If you deliver all of these types of training then a CMS and an LMS could be required.

Questions to ask yourself to see if you require a CMS?

At Arlo, we work with hundreds of training providers, and there are common questions that come up within their business that prompt them to seek solutions like a course management system. These questions include:

  • Are you sending out emails, generating invoices, updating your website, or reporting on your training operation manually?
  • Have you got the same information sitting in multiple systems?
  • Do you use spreadsheets to record registrations, track attendance or tasks?
  • When you change the time of an event, does your website automatically reflect that?
  • Are you making avoidable, human-errors due to the amount of calculations or manual processes you need to do?
  • Do all your systems talk to each other, or do you find yourself having to manually ensure they contain the same information?

If you’ve answered yes to any of the above there’s a strong chance that a course management system could save you a considerable amount of time, reduce your costs and give you opportunities to increase training revenue.

You can read more than stories about Arlo helping training companies achieve these goals over on our customers page.

Questions to ask yourself to find out if you need an LMS

Similarly, there are various scenarios and questions that a business faces that lead it to seek out learning management systems, such as:

  • Are your training primarily delivered online or do you plan to include e-learning elements?
  • Do you need to track and manage individual learning progress across various courses?
  • Is there a need for personalized learning experiences or adaptive learning paths for different users?
  • Do you need features like assessments, quizzes, forums, or interactive content to enhance learning experiences?

Can training providers require both a CMS and LMS and do they work together?

Yes, they can, in fact, for many training providers it’s not a CMS vs LMS scenario, but more of a CMS and LMS scenario. If you offer both instructor-led training (classroom or live online), as well as self-paced eLearning then you’ll likely need both systems. Thankfully, many CMSs integrate with LMSs and vice-versa. 

Arlo, for example, integrates with leading LMSs such as Moodle, TalentLMS LearnDash and Coassemble.

Arlo is a training and course management system specifically designed for training providers. You don’t need disconnected systems or manual processes anymore. Everything happens right in Arlo. From the CRM, to the website, reporting and more – all the way to invoicing. Arlo automates all of your course management from scheduling course dates, updating trainers, sending emails and dealing with refunds. 

There are plenty of learning management systems available, as we’ve noted four of the top options to consider are Moodle, LearnDash, TalentLMS and Coassemble are four great options to consider. 

Final thoughts

You should now have a good understanding of what course management systems (CMS) and learning management systems (LMSs) are, the features to look out for, and how they help businesses. 

If you’re interested in learning more about course management systems, you can start a 14-day free trial of Arlo to see if it’s the right platform for you.

Try Arlo the #1 course management software for training providers

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What are the differences between a course management system and a learning management system?

A CMS handles the logistical and administrative aspects of managing training programs, such as scheduling, registration, and participant management. It is designed to streamline the operational side of training courses. 

In contrast, an LMS focuses on the educational content delivery and learning process management. It provides tools for creating, managing, and delivering educational materials and tracks the progress of learners through various assessments and interactive activities.

What is the core purpose of a course management system?

The core purpose of a CMS is to efficiently manage and automate back office training processes involved with training and educational programs. It facilitates the organization of courses by handling scheduling, registrations, participant tracking, and communication.

Is a course management system the same as a training management system?

Training management systems are often conflated with course management systems, with the terms used interchangeably. While “course management system” typically refers to software focused solely on course and training administration, “training management system” encompasses a broader scope, overseeing the entirety of a training business’s operational processes.

What types of training can a learning management system help with?

LMSs support many types of learning including:

Online Learning: An LMS is ideal for online training and learning, where all course materials and interactions are conducted over the internet. This includes accessing lectures, participating in discussions, submitting assignments, and receiving feedback digitally.

eLearning: An LMS is designed to manage and deliver eLearning courses and content, which includes multimedia lessons, interactive quizzes, and other digital educational resources. This content can be accessed by learners at their own pace, making it a convenient option for self-directed learning.

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