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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Why a CMS won't work for your Online Course Catalog

Through our extensive experience working with schools to help them convert their print catalog to a more online-friendly format, we've seen it all. The PDF links, the re-purposing of the university's CMS to try to support a course catalog, to using the school's SIS to generate an index of courses, forgoing the catalog part altogether.

Obviously some of these strategies work better than others, but none live up to what you can do with a course catalog when using a catalog management system. A catalog management system, like CatalogM, was designed for the unique needs of university courses catalogs, and ours was built specifically to give universities the flexibility to create their OWN menu structures instead of having to re-write and re-structure their course catalog to fit a specific hierarchy.
  1. It was built to manage a website, not a 300 page document.
    It really is that simple. When you try to use literally ANYTHING for a purpose that it was NOT designed for, you're going to to have problems. Those problems take up a ton of time and resources that could be spent elsewhere. There's a fact: catalog management systems wouldn't exist if it were that easy to use a content management system to support a course catalog.
  2. Just try to set up a logical menu without having to rewrite/restructure your catalog content.
    When you have a document of this size that you're trying to convert for the web, and with the nuances in terms of structure that are necessaary for a document like this, setting up a menu that works logically with the flow of a book is the hardest part when you're using a CMS. They just aren't configured to the flow of a document which can have 6-8 levels of hierarchy, or more, so you end up re-purposing the functionality to try to make it work. However, that's just a patch, and it requires a LOT of technical knowledge to do so, making it essentially impossible for the non-technical user.
  3. Registrar v. Web Office technical skill level.
    Typically, the catalog is management by the Registrar's Office, and with no offense meant, they are not usually the most technical people when it comes to websites. That being said, it's probably not best to give them a tool to manage the catalog content that wasn't meant to do so. It will probably take up a lot more internal time and resources to get them up to speed than it would to invest in a system that was built for that purpose.
  4. Global Updates.
    Sure, some CMS's do have a find and replace feature, but catalog management systems are database driven, so anytime you make a change to English 101, which is mentioned countless times throughout the catalog, each instance of that course will be automatically updated. Why force people to take the extra step to find and replace, which a lot of times causes more harm than good anyway, if you don't have to?
  5. Imports/Exports.
    It's not exactly the easiest thing to export web content in a way that makes sense for print. However, with CatalogM, we're able to produce a fully functional print-based catalog, which exports completely formatted into a one or two column format, ellipses separating course names and the number of hours, heading styles and page numbers, to name a few. We can even control the font styles and everything, so when we say that you can manage both your online and print catalog from one central place, we mean it. And it's not going to take you extra time to produce the second one.
Find out more about our work with university course catalog management at or contact Katie at

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