What Is a Content Management System for eLearning?

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You need to train your employees, so you’re knee-deep in your search for new software. But you find yourself with more questions than answers.

Learning management systems seem to be where it’s at. After all, that’s what comes up when you frantically Google how to teach something to a whole host of people at once.

What is a content management system for elearning

But you might feel pigeonholed by learning management software. Perhaps because it’s something new and unfamiliar, and potentially expensive, maybe because it seems like a lot of work for one basic lesson, or maybe you crave more customization and control over your material.

So what is a content management system for eLearning? Is that what you need instead?

What is a content management system?

A content management system (CMS) is software that allows users to upload and share digital media.

While it may not be designed specifically for hosting learning material, there’s no reason a content management system can’t be great for eLearning.

For one thing, you may already have a CMS you use for other purposes, or you may prefer the look and feel of a CMS over an unfamiliar LMS. And while there are free learning management systems out there, there’s lots of free CMSs, too.

In a way, an LMS could be considered a type of CMS, it just manages a very specific type of content. But there’s no reason that you can’t use a content management system to manage learning materials. In fact, they can be extremely effective tools if used thoughtfully.

What a content management system can accomplish is extremely varied. If you want a familiar example, WordPress is, at its heart, content management.

A blog in WordPress

A blog in WordPress

But so is Tumblr, and they couldn’t look more different.

Tumblr

Tumblr’s homepage

WordPress is a traditional blog, while Tumblr is a more image-driven site for artists to share media. Blog posts and artwork are both forms of content, but they require completely different styles and layouts to be showcased at their best.

Your eLearning materials can be showcased in a CMS as well, but they may need a little work to be presented at their best.

It’s important to take your time and consider the type of material you’re trying to teach and how it needs to be communicated to your trainees. With some good planning, you can create wonderful eLearning content with a CMS.

Now that you know what a content management system is, you can start looking into it for yourself. Below are three tips to help figure out if a CMS is right for you:

1. Decide if a CMS suits your eLearning style

Content management systems aren’t a good fit for every type of learning material. And not every CMS will fit every content type. Ask yourself some questions:

  • How complex is my material? Can it be explained in a text or video lesson, or does it need accompanying activities and multiple pages of complex media? While many content management systems can host complicated media and material, it might take extra work or coding know-how to achieve the look you want.
  • Do I need to quiz or test my learners? A CMS might not have the complexity of assessment and reporting you’d find in an LMS, but if you don’t need to assess your employees, a CMS is a great option.
  • Is my material sensitive or confidential in nature? You may need to take extra steps to host a CMS on a private or internal server, or to password protect it. An offline LMS might be a safer bet if you have sensitive or confidential training information.
  • Does this material need to comply with SCORM or xAPI? While some CMSs are SCORM and xAPI friendly, it might be easier to use an LMS that has a built-in support for these systems.

If you go through this list and it seems that a CMS isn’t robust enough for what you need to accomplish, it’s time to look at learning management systems.

If you still feel that a CMS would be a good fit, proceed to the next step.

2. Figure out which CMS features you need for eLearning

You need to make a plan for how you’re going to communicate your material efficiently.

This step comes before finding the CMS itself because you want to think creatively and critically without being distracted or feeling hobbled by a given program’s limitations. You want to find a software that suits your needs, not tailor your needs to the first software you find.

What delivery method best conveys your lessons? A long essay? In a video? In a series of captioned images? Look for software that’s designed to support the particular type of media you want to use.

Keep in mind how tech-savvy your team is—can you handle some in-house programming or will you need vendor support in case something goes wrong? User reviews of CMS systems can give you a sense of the level of customer service the software provides.

Write all this down and use it as your roadmap. Knowing how you would ideally host your lessons will help you immensely as you go forward with the software search and implementation process.

3. Pick the right CMS for eLearning

Just because you know a CMS will work for your training materials doesn’t mean you can just pick any system and run with it. You need to choose a system that presents your material in the best way possible, both for your ease of use and your learners’ comprehension and retention.

Let’s say you want to make your material mostly text based, but with a few informational videos to support your point. You want to find a CMS that will display your text in a clear and attractive way but will also allow you to host integrated videos with a simple playback method.

You want it password-protected, but available online. It would be nice if you could create your own custom design, but you’re flexible on that point. Write those goals down and keep them in mind as you search for your software.

Having a direction in mind will make the process much easier and less time consuming than just having a vague idea that you want a CMS and not being able to articulate what you want beyond that.

Have a look at Capterra’s Top 20 Most Popular Content Management Software if you’re not sure where to start.

So what IS a content management system?

Maybe it’s the solution you’ve been looking for!

Are you using a CMS for eLearning? Tell me about it in the comments below, or tweet me @CapterraHalden. And don’t forget to check out our awesome (and completely free) roundup of content management softwar to find your perfect eLearning match.

If you’ve already picked your CMS and are ready to start designing course material, check out this list of 10 eLearning Plugins for WordPress for an example of how a CMS can become a custom LMS in just a few clicks.

Looking for Training software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Training software solutions.

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About the Author

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Halden Ingwersen

Halden Ingwersen is a former Capterra analyst.

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