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Online education research: Why use a content management system?

Online education research: Why use a content management system?

Why Online Education should Use Content Management Systems (CMS)

Why read this post?  Learn four facts:

  • Your website needs to be mobile friendly
  • A CMS can make a website mobile friendly and easily maintained
  • CMSs are not as widely used in online education as they could be
  • Four CMS solutions dominate online education websites  

Too pressed for time? Here's what else you'll find out:

  • 30% of online education websites report using a CMS;
  • One quarter of all sites report using a version of Drupal;
  • Many sites use old CMS versions and should update to avoid security issues; 
  • We didn’t find use of inbound marketing systems, which would provide CMS and online marketing capabilities in one. 

Read on … 

Why Content Management Systems Make Sense

Most information technology projects spend time identifying and understanding the requirements and then more time finding the appropriate solution.  But, organisations operate and maintain their chosen solution for many multiples of all the time spent designing and implementing it. Over the lifetime of the solution, ease of maintenance and the ability to adapt to new requirements will be paramount.  For a website hosting solution, the vast majority of the activity will be content management: using content produced by non-technical individuals. CMSs offer operational flexibility over the equivalent ‘custom’ built solutions. And this assertion is even true for complex and high volume websites:

To extend the importance of operational flexibility, Google has announced that it will be using ‘mobile friendliness’ as a signal in returning results for search requests.  Mobile friendly websites will get priority over those that are not.  Making a custom-built website responsive (i.e. to display effectively on any device) is not a trivial exercise, whereas this ability is readily available with a CMS and most CMS layouts have been responsive for a number of years.

If CMSs make sense for online education, are they widely used?

The answer is, no - not as much as they should be.  We ran tests on just over 4,000 online and higher education organisations’ websites.  We looked at the website’s metadata for any information reported in the field.   Here’s what we found:

  No. Of Sites Percentage
Websites specifying a CMS 1,147 28.4%
Websites not specifying a CMS 2,891 71.6%
  4,038 100.0%

Fewer than 30% of the websites we surveyed reported using a CMS.  It is possible that some sampled websites opted to suppress reporting of their CMS for security reasons. Given many of these sites had other basic webpage set-up issues, masking seems an unlikely level of sophistication.

Drupal emerges as the most popular CMS for online education. Approximately one quarter of all reporting sites use a version of Drupal.  This result is at variance with the wider Internet, where WordPress is by far the most popular content management system.  

WordPressTypo3 and Joomla! each have similar market shares of 13% of all sites reporting the use of a CMS. 

Content Management Systems in Use In Online Education | Online Course Info

The top four solutions have approximately two-thirds of the market while the balance comprises a mix of regionally popular systems (K-Sup in France, for example) and one-off implementations.

Online Education Use of Content Management Systems by Region

The chart should be read as 62% of the 291 sites we found with a Drupal installation belong to North American organisations. Drupal dominates the North American market closely followed by WordPressTypo3’s client base is almost exclusively German, while K-Sup’s is largely French.

What about the use of Inbound Marketing Solutions?

All online course and education providers are inherently engaged in inbound marketing – at its most simplistic: making their web presence highly visible to prospective students and learners.  Given that there are at least six widely implemented commercial inbound marketing solutions available (i.e. Act-OnEloqua, Hubspot, Marketo, Pardot and SharpSpring) it is mildly surprisingly that we were unable to find a single website that reported using one of these platforms.


  • Learn more about Content Management Systems.
  • Learn more about Inbound Marketing Systems - this is not an endorsement, but Hubspot does a very good job of explaining what inbound marketing is and how it is enhanced through the use of an inbound marketing system.  The other vendors mentioned above have similar information.
  • WordPress reports which version has been used to manage a site.  Our testing revealed that many sites are multiple versions behind the current stable release. Version or release control is likely an issue with other CMSs. We note that there are scripts in circulation that can be used to ‘attack’ sites managed by the more widely implemented CMSs.



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