IMS 2020-2025 Resources



Course Management System vs. Learning Management System

Posted by Ken Zimmerman

Sun, Jan 25, 2015

A hot topic in today’s 21st century districts continues to be the learning management system and how it is being used in and out of the classroom. In alignment with the current trend of districts moving to 1:1 and BYOD environments, districts are taking a look at their Course and Learning Management Systems to determine if they are meeting the necessary learning objectives for their teachers and students promoting 21st century teaching and learning. Throughout these conversations, I have noticed that most educators are using the term Learning Management Systems (LMS) when they are referring to Course Management Systems (CMS). This is an easy mistake to make that I have made myself when referring to systems like Moodle, Google Classrooms, Schoology, Canvas, Desire2Learn, etc. Are these systems really Learning Management Systems or are they indeed a Course Management System – or even do some bridge the divide between the two?

Let’s take a moment to define some particular differences between an LMS and a CMS. At first glance, I think the easiest distinction between the two is that a Course Management System is used as a repository of learning documents and files, discussion forums, assessment tasks, assignments, etc. Students log on to the teacher’s CMS in order to access their class files and submit homework and assessments. The way the CMS is set up may look differently from one teacher to another as well as the learning outcomes and expectations of student use. An LMS can do much of what a CMS can do, but also can take the e-learning even further to a more personalized approach. Instead of all students accessing the same document or files, students might pre-assess and due to their deficiencies and/or proficiencies they may receive a different learning path from one another.

At first glance, Learning Management Systems appear to be more personalized for students. According to Carliner (2005) Learning Management Systems offer a registrar of courses (catalogs) in which students can self-register. In addition, an LMS has the ability to track learning participation, completion, follow-up discussions, produce course fees (charges) reports, mastery completion, and skills management. Carliner (2005) cites NetDimensions EKP, Saba, and SumTotal Systems are some popular examples of Learning Management Systems.

Now, let’s consider a particular e-learning solution called Schoology. Schoology identifies itself as a Learning Management System, but does it really serve as an LMS or CMS? Schoology has an Enterprise version, which districts can integrate with the Student Information System (SIS) so that it will preload all the teacher’s courses and automatically enroll students in those courses. In some cases, grades posted in Schoooogy will also report to the SIS grade book. However, it also has the ability for students to self enroll in courses through an access code. So, in essence students can see a catalog of courses and self enroll (register). Schoology has all the traditional components of a CMS having the ability for teachers to post assignments, files, documents, discussions, assessments, etc. In addition to courses, users can join/create groups both private and public which connect them with others all over the world for collaborative and communicative purposes.

Schoology has raised the standards of a typical CMS through the addition of adding on learning outcomes so teachers can interact with mastery based learning (standards based learning). However, I think the game changer for Schoology at this point is API integration. It still has the ability to import SCORM files, but has moved up the scale through API adoption having the ability for two systems to talk to one another and report to one another. According to Wroten (2013) it gives the ability to track anytime anywhere learning even offline allowing two systems to report to one another. Although at first glance Schoology looks like a Course Management System, I agree that through integrating API and with the addition of learning outcomes and mastery based learning, Schoology is becoming more of a hybrid management system encompassing both Course and Learning Management System characteristics.

In the comments section below, post what you think the differences are between an LMS and CMS.  Which cateogry do you think that Schoology falls?

Carliner, S. (2005). Course Management Systems versus Learning Management Systems. Learning Circuits. Retrieved from

Wroten, C. (2013). Discover Simple Communication with Tin Can API. eLearning Industry. Retrieved from

Topics: Learning Management Systems (LMS)