Understanding the differences between a CRM and a LMS

From SIS to CRM to LMS... the amount of acronyms in the edtech world these days can be overwhelming. This article takes a look at two of the most popular software systems in a bid to explain what they do and provide an overview of their similarities and differences. This series of articles can be used as a guide for higher education professionals who want to understand how the software systems they use work on a basic level.

12 Decoding the differences between a CRM and a LMS

Let’s start by defining both in simple terms. CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management (System) and in a higher education context is primarily used as a tool for communicating with all university stakeholders, from prospective students to donors.

For instance, it can be used to manage the entire student recruitment lifecycle, from initial contact form to offer letter - or email. It is used to engage with alumni through scheduled email campaigns and newsletters. It’s functionality extends further than that though - it can also be used to store data and track and report on student and applicant progress.

A Learning Management System (LMS) is a tool used to deliver mainly online instructional and course material and can track and report student progress. Also known as a course management system (CMS), the LMS can facilitate a mix of real-time (synchronous) and pre-recorded (asynchronous) lectures, activities, and assessments.

This software can also be utilised as a platform for a flipped classroom and blended learning, integrating online work into face-to-face courses.You can learn more about the flipped learning approach in our interview with George Yip, Professor of Marketing and Strategy at Imperial College London.

Although used for different purposes, both of these integrated systems are essential for creating an innovative learning environment and ensuring academic, operational and marketing strategies are up-to-date and the best they can possibly be. Let’s take a slightly more detailed look at some of the benefits of both.



1. A CRM enables universities to streamline their communications across the whole student lifecycle, saving on time-consuming administrative tasks and contributing to an organised, streamlined approach to operations.

2. Inbuilt reporting means higher education professionals can track progress easily and make informed changes to strategy.

3. Freeing up time spent on administration allows it be spent on creating great content, and implementing meaningful communications like personalised, automated email marketing campaigns at different stages of the admissions process.

4. Engaging donors and alumni in the university through timely communications, event invites and content can help to drive donations.

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1. Universities can reduce costs by integrating eLearning elements to their courses and, like a CRM, can also gain a comprehensive insight into their students’ attainment and progress through integrated tracking and reporting.

2. An LMS safely stores key information and data on stakeholders whilst making it easily accessible.

3. By identifying the parts of the course that aren’t getting much engagement, administrators can make informed changes to content that in turn, can have a positive impact on results.

4. In a global economy, universities are doing what they can to attract international talent and eLearning makes this easier to do.

Selecting the right system

Each university operates in its own unique way, so choosing software system that fits perfectly with an institution's academic, recruitment and communications plan (and future plans) is of paramount importance. Research is key, and it’s a good idea to try out demos before making any decisions. Before making any commitments to either system, universities should get stakeholders involved in the selection and testing process as they, together with staff, will be the ones using it.

At FULL FABRIC, we are experts in how higher education CRMs work, but for a more in-depth look at the different LMS options available, including proprietary, open-source and cloud-based offerings, visit Educause’s article on the topic.


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Kate Tattersfield

Kate Tattersfield is a former teacher turned content creator at FULL FABRIC, specialising in writing for the education sector.

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