Use the Right Tool for the Right Task: CMS vs. LMS for Online Learning


This post was authored by Chris O’Neal and Jeff Windsor, K-12 Solutions Engineers.

Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, K-12 schools have been thrust into blended and online learning with little warning. Educators across the country are doing their absolute best to ensure the continuity of education. District-level leadership had to spring into action to keep the school year moving forward as efficiently as possible. Teachers had to completely revamp their lessons to keep students engaged remotely while providing the best learning experiences for their students – in sometimes completely new territories. 

On top of those challenges, many districts also had to address these two common dilemmas: 

  • Can I upload my learning materials to classroom pages on our website/Content Management System (CMS)?
  • Do I need to engage with a full Learning Management System (LMS) for digital instruction?

Inform  vs. Engage 

A CMS or website is the ideal platform for informing people. From a teacher’s perspective, informing students and parents about what is expected in a class (syllabus), what is due (assignment list), what is taking place (photo galleries, student work samples), what will take place (event calendars), and a myriad of other informative topics could easily be published on their individual, class, or grade-level website. 

While a teacher webpage is the optimal place to share some informative content, it lacks the level of engagement for digital learning that can only be achieved with an LMS. Trying to use a website or CMS for online instruction would be akin to passing out classwork to a live classroom with no requirement to hand the work back in and not providing any assessment or feedback. Sharing information is important, but it is no substitution for an engaging, collaborative, and measured learning experience. 

Teachers may want to create a learning environment online with group work, individual assessments, one-on-one tutoring, the ability for students to upload learning artifacts, etc. If a teacher feels ready to embark on that kind of a blended-learning approach, it may be time to consider an LMS. An LMS environment can be designed to create an alternative classroom experience encompassing engaging features such as group work and one-on-one tutoring inside a safe, secure, and private learning space. 

An LMS can also be used for formative and summative assessments, which could end up being crucial for measuring progress during times like this when online learning is the only option for continuing education. Using a tool that is designed for online instruction and optimal engagement will ultimately help both teachers and students.

If your content is geared more toward one-way sharing, then using the website to post classroom materials may work well. However, if you need analytics around student engagement, then it’s likely time to consider moving to a Learning Management System.

Use the Right Tool for the Task

To recap, it’s best to use the right tool for the right task. It’s a lesson that dates back to the Early Stone Age. The most basic stone implements made by early humans included hammerstones, stone cores, and sharp stone flakes. Even then, there was a right tool for the right task. The same rings true in today’s technological age. Teachers have choices when leading students through their educational journey, and it’s important that they use the right tool to achieve the desired outcomes for student success.

If your district is looking for the right set of tools to establish a comprehensive digital learning environment, check out Blackboard Unite for K-12. This solution brings together all the tools and resources needed to successfully transition to a virtual learning model while helping to further prepare your teachers, connect your students, inform your parents, and support your schools. 

If you made the shift from posting classroom materials on your website, over to a Learning Management System, what were the “tipping points” to move you in that direction?