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What are the differences between an SMS, LMS & TMS?

July 14, 2018

David is the director of a newly ASQA-registered RTO, Wave Training.

To meet compliance requirements and automate their business processes, David and his team have decided to invest in a system that handles the basics: students, courses, and finances. He’s got a pretty good idea of what his organisation needs, but when David starts looking into systems he’s overcome by the sea of options.

Does he need a student management system, or would a training management system be better? Both have AVETMISS reporting capabilities—but could he require LMS functions in the future?

Are you like David in the above scenario, faced with so many choices that you can’t actually choose? Or are you a more seasoned player, looking to replace an existing system that can’t keep up with your expanding business?

No matter your circumstances, when making an informed decision about a potential management system you need to understand the differences between an SMS, LMS, and TMS before you dive into the product melee. Many people just assume they’re all one and the same under different names, but this is far from the truth. They may boast multifunctional capabilities that seem similar, each system serves a targeted purpose that may or may not be pertinent to your training business needs.

Student Management System (SMS)

An SMS—sometimes referred to as a student information system (SIS), student information management system (SIMS) or student record system (SRS)—essentially manages all the day-to-day operations of a training organisation. Some SMS capabilities might include:

  • Managing enquiries from prospective students
  • Processing student admissions
  • Enrolling new students and storing teaching option choices
  • Handling examinations, assessments, grades, and academic progression
  • Maintaining a record of attendance
  • Tracking the award of credit or qualifications and graduations

Once upon a time, most small RTOs could scrape by without the help of an SMS, relying instead on custom-built spreadsheets and Microsoft Access databases—a cost-efficient (if not time-consuming) approach.

However, with the release of AQTF standards in 2010 stipulating that RTOs must have a management system capable of providing AVETMISS-compliant data, the SMS has quickly become the go-to option for organisations in need of simple automated functions like the ones listed above.

Learning Management System (LMS)

An LMS serves as an online portal for classrooms, performing administrative functions for educators and allowing students to view their assignments, grades, and learning materials. This makes it ideal for organisations offering e-learning courses—some LMS products are even capable of delivering complete courses. Key features of an LMS include:

  • Student registration and administration
  • Training event management (i.e. scheduling, tracking, and WBT delivery)
  • Curriculum and certification management
  • Skills and competencies management
  • Reporting
  • Training record management
  • Courseware authoring

When used for corporate training, an LMS might include additional features to satisfy specific requirements, such as:

  • Automatic enrolment and reminders for mandatory courses
  • Options for manager access, such as to approve materials or participation in a course
  • Integration with HR systems for tracking employment eligibility, performance goals, and similar corporate data
  • Control over access and class grouping according to a number of fields, such as geography or levels of security clearance

The LMS is a comparatively young innovation, but demand is expected to grow. Recent technological and business trends favour the production of collaborative, web-based applications that are designed with the user in mind.

Training Management System (TMS)

A TMS is where all the student and administrative data is housed—it enables you to schedule, track and report client training, licensing, and certifications. This system is particularly useful for businesses doing in-house training or who need to automate a greater number of tasks than most student management systems are capable of handling. Some standard features of a TMS might include:

  •  Contact management (e.g. current clients, potential clients, and RTO staff)
  •  Course management
  •  The ability to create and deploy course and non-course-related surveys
  •  Learner portals
  •  Finance management
  •  Compliance reporting

In Summary

If you’re looking for a general product to handle all the day-to-day aspects of your RTO, an SMS is definitely the way to go. You’ll be able to handle your CRM, manage qualifications, and stay compliant.  

If you offer a lot of e-learning or do corporate training, an LMS will act as an online classroom to handle your training. It will have some student administration functions and integrate with your HR system to keep employee records.

If your business does a lot of in-house training, or you have a lot of automation needs, implementing a TMS will allow you to deploy all your courses and do your reporting.

Once you’ve determined which type of system would best suit your organisation, you can start building a list of potential products and service providers. As you move through the next stages of buying process, set aside ample time for careful consideration to ensure your final decision is the right one.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in 2013 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.