Introduction to CMS: Course Syllabus

This is a course taught by Deane Barker for the Masters in Content Strategy program at FH Joanneum in Graz, Austria.

This course is designed as an introduction to the ideas, architecture, and technical basis behind the modern content management system (CMS). Emphasis is given to the lifecycle of content within a CMS, from modeling and aggregation, through editorial workflow, and finally to transformation and publication.

This course is targeted to non-developers. Some experience with CMS as a user is helpful, but not required.

The primary goal of the course is for you to understand the breadth of content management from a systems perspective. The secondary goal is for you to understand the scope of a content management implementation project and some of the variables and dynamics of an associated professional services relationship.

This course is comprised of:


The course is graded as follows:

I do evaluate both assignments, but I do not check attendance for the lectures, nor do I verify that you have completed the reading. I assume you are taking the course to learn the material, and therefore I trust you will complete the work.


The two books for the course are:

Web Content Management: Systems, Features, and Best Practices (“Squirrel”)

Selected chapters of this book will be assigned after each lecture. You will read 13 of the 16 chapters of this book.

Real World Content Modeling: A Field Guide to CMS Features and Architecture (“RWCM”)

You will read this entire book at your own speed, but it needs to be complete by Lecture 5.

Lectures / Lessons

There are eight lectures, delivered live or recorded. Each lecture is accompanied by additional reading (all reading is from Gadgetopia and written by the instructor, unless otherwise noted).

If possible, I would like you to complete the book reading prior to the lecture, and the additional reading after the lecture.

Lesson 1: The Content Technology Landscape

What are all the different segments in the content technology space, what do they do, and where do they fit on the lifecycle of the management of content?

Lesson 2: The Basics

The differences between content, content management, and a content management system. Types of content management systems. Why we use CMS, what a CMS does, and what CMS doesn’t do.

Lesson 3: Acquiring a CMS

The four acquisition models of CMS: open-source, commercial on-premise, commercial as a service, build your own.

Lesson 4: Content Modeling

The separation of content and presentation. Why we model content. The components of a content model: types, attributes, datatypes, and validation rules. The difference between discrete and relational content modeling.

Lesson 5: Content Aggregation

What a content aggregation is. The different “shapes” of content. Additional aggregation structures. Aggregation restrictions and validation.

Lesson 6: Templating and Output Management

Content channels. Coupling models. Templating and common templating constructs and languages. Request-Object mapping. The operative content object vs. the surround. Contextual influence in the surround.

Lesson 7: Editorial Workflow

Why editorial experience matters. The content lifecycle. Editorial findability. Editorial interface. Versioning and version control. Archiving. Approvals. Permissions. Localization. Personalization. Form Building.

Lesson 8: CMS Implementations

Who implements the CMS. Development project methodologies. Pre-implementation artifacts. Wireframe analysis. Implementation decision factors. Content integration. Non-development tasks. QA and deployment planning. Professional services engagement models and relationships. Training.

Capstone: CMS in Eight Eternal Principles

The eight most important principles to effective implementation and usage of a content management system.

(There is no additional reading for this lesson.)


Assignments are evaluated for acceptable completion, but not graded. You will be contacted if your assignment requires correction and resubmission.

Assignment 1: CMS Product Survey

You will create a matrix of five different content management systems of a variety of different types, license models, and use cases. This assignment is completed individually.

Assignment 2: Wireframe Analysis

You will analyze three wireframes and detail the content modeling features required for each. You will answer six interpretive questions about each wireframe. This assignment can be completed in groups of up to three students.


This course was developed by Deane Barker. If you have an interest in re-distributing or re-using this content, please contact me. Note that some supplemental content of this course may be copyrighted by others.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.