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Learning Management Systems: An Overview



The emergence of sophisticated communication technologies and mobile devices has enabled a new generation of information consumers to satisfy their demands for knowledge without the need to meet in a physical location. Software vendors, open-source developers, and educational institutions, cognizant of this development, have embraced systems that can facilitate the management of courses and engagement with students remotely. The technologies that facilitate the provision of courses over long distances are broadly termed “learning management systems” or “LMSs.” Learning management systems can be defined as web-based software platforms that provide an interactive online learning environment and automate the administration, organization, delivery, and reporting of educational content and learner outcomes.
Learning Management
Systems: An Overview
Darren Turnbull
, Ritesh Chugh
and Jo Luck
School of Engineering and Technology,
Central Queensland University,
Rockhampton, QLD, Australia
School of Engineering and Technology,
Central Queensland University,
Melbourne, VIC, Australia
Course management systems;Learning content
management systems;Online learning;E-learning
There can be no doubt that technology has
transformed the way education is delivered to
people across the globe. We now live in an
interconnected world where the traditional con-
cept of formal learning, taking place in a single
physical location, is becoming increasingly less
relevant. Modern learners are becoming dissatis-
ed with the stand-and-deliver approach to
education that dictates attendance times,
learning venues, and modes of participation.
The emergence of sophisticated communication
technologies and mobile devices has enabled a
new generation of information consumers to sat-
isfy their demands for knowledge without the
need to meet in a physical location. Software
vendors, open-source developers, and educational
institutions, cognizant of this development, have
embraced systems that can facilitate the manage-
ment of courses and engagement with students
remotely. The technologies that facilitate the
provision of courses over long distances are
broadly termed learning management systems
or LMSs.Learning management systems can
be dened as web-based software platforms that
provide an interactive online learning environ-
ment and automate the administration, organiza-
tion, delivery, and reporting of educational
content and learner outcomes.
Acronym Confusion in the Online
Learning Space
There are many terms associated with online
learning and the technologies that have evolved
to support it. One persistent area of confusion is
in the denition of the acronyms: CMS and
LMS. The term CMS is often associated with
two distinctly different software applications:
content management systemsand course man-
agement systems.Content management systems
are essentially software applications designed for
© Crown 2019
A. Tatnall (ed.), Encyclopedia of Education and Information Technologies,
the creation and management of digital content in
a collaborative environment. Course management
systems on the other hand, according to Watson
and Watson (2007, 29), are:
used primarily for online or blended learning,
supporting the placement of course materials
online, associating students with courses, tracking
student performance, storing student submissions
and mediating communication between the students
as well as their instructor.
To further complicate matters, some vendors
and academics prefer to use the acronym LCMS
which stands for learning content management
systemwhen referring to content management
systems. The difference between a LCMS and a
LMS is that the latter is broader in scope and
includes the ability to track learner progress
through an online course. It is a gray area where
CMSs end and LMSs begin and many vendors,
users, and institutions regard the terms CMS and
LMS as synonyms. In this entry, the term LMS
will be the only acronym used to refer to online
learning platforms.
The Inclusion of LMSs in Distance
The history of educational technology is a reminder
that its not the machine that matters itsnding
the tool that best serves your educational objective.
Thornburg (2014, 27)
The history of learning management systems
has its roots in distance education. Countries
such as Australia, with a geographically dispersed
population, adopted measures early in their his-
tory to enable access to education for students
who could not attend formal places of learning.
One of the most prominent manifestations of dis-
tance education in Australia was the School of
the Air (a correspondence school) which opened
to the airwaves in 1951 and is still in operation
today in some remote communities. The voca-
tional education and training (VET) and univer-
sity sectors in Australia also have a rich history
of distance education where, prior to the advent
of the Internet, communication and the
dissemination of learning materials was largely
conducted via regular mail services. The avail-
ability of dial-up Internet services to most Austra-
lians by mid-1995 meant that distance education
needed a radical overhaul and snail mail was no
longer a viable option to sustain distance educa-
tion services.
Perhaps it was Sidney Presseys creation in
the early 1920s of a learning machine,a device
that could administer questions through a window
prompting the user to select a response out of four
choices, that spurred the development of the rst
online LMSs. Or maybe it was the work of a
Canadian company, SoftArc in 1990 who built
the rst stand-alone learning system deployed on
Macintosh personal computers, that encouraged
software developers to dream of an online learn-
ing space. Whatever the inspiration, the arrival
of the Internet was set to revolutionize the way
people communicated and engaged with each
other and education providers realized that they
would have to adapt to this brave new online
world. The earliest manifestations of electronic
LMSs were little more than a platform for the
dissemination of learning materials online. These
systems could broadly be categorized as belong-
ing to one of two camps: proprietary and open
source. One of the earliest proprietary systems
was WebCT, developed at the University of Brit-
ish Columbia in 1995. The creation of WebCT as
an online learning platform was inspired by
research suggesting that academic performance
could be enhanced by the provision of web-
based resources. At the height of its use, WebCT
was the most widely used LMS globally with over
10 million users in 80 countries. WebCT was later
acquired by Blackboard Corporation who phased
out the WebCT name in favor of the Blackboard
Open-source systems by contrast, were devel-
oped collaboratively by software specialists with
a view to making the source code readily
available to organizations and individuals free
of charge. They were initially popular with uni-
versities and colleges who could readily down-
load the source code, adapt it to their own
circumstances, and build their own tailored
LMS solutions. A prominent example of an
2 Learning Management Systems: An Overview
open-source system in operation globally today
is Moodle. Moodle was developed by Martin
Dougiamas with the rst version released in
August 2002. The acronym Moodle stands for
Modular Object Oriented Dynamic Learning
Environment.The system was developed based
on a constructivist philosophy emphasizing the
role of learners as creators of content and not
merely spectators. Moodle is arguably the most
popular open-source LMS in use today with
almost 100,000 registered sites in 229 countries.
What Are the Features of LMSs That
Make Them Great?
A robust, high-quality LMS is a vital tool to
the success of any online course and can
make or break an institutions reputation in the
highly competitive education market. LMSs not
only need to provide content to learners, but
they must also facilitate timely and accurate
communication between learners, course facilita-
tors, and other institutional stakeholders. Yildirim
et al. (2004, 125) emphasize that in addition:
an LMS should be dynamic; that is, it should be
active, exible, customizable and adaptable.
Whether a LMS is proprietary or open source,
it will need to be capable of executing a variety of
functions that work together to provide a seamless
experience for the user. These functions include
the capability to disseminate knowledge, assess-
ment of learner competency, the recording
of learner attainment, support for online social
communities, communication tools, and system
security. Figure 1illustrates the categories of
features that are expected to be present in most
high-quality LMSs.
Course Management
Course management features encompass a LMSs
capacity to deliver timely relevant course material
to enrolled learners. It would include such features
as content management and control, class sched-
uling, and content-audit capabilities. The capacity
for users to contribute to content creation in their
own personal space could also come under this
Assessment is a critical function of LMSs. A LMS
must be able to support the collection and storage
of assessable tasks, along with the assignment of
grades and feedback for each learner. Assessable
tasks can include assignments, tests, projects,
and portfolio evidence provided by the learner.
For institutions in the VET space, the capability
to automatically generate compliance reports is
particularly valuable as it facilitates compliance
with quality standards. LMSs should also be capa-
ble for providing learners with real-time informa-
tion on their progress in a course along with
relevant feedback generated by the instructor.
Tracking Progress
Attrition of learners is an issue that concerns many
institutions. In an online environment, the experi-
ence has been that learners are at a greater risk
of withdrawing from programs because of the lack
of face-to-face contact. The ability to track user
engagement in a course is therefore considered an
important feature. User tracking analytics can
include log-on frequency, time spent in different
sections of a course, communication interactions,
and the number of resources downloaded. With
appropriate reporting functions, course facilitators
are able to detect possible student performance
decits and intervene before course withdrawal
or termination becomes likely.
Gradebook functions include all LMS capabilities
that facilitate the dissemination of assessment
information to learners. Such functions include
individual scores of assessments, instructor feed-
back, and student attendance. The ability to gen-
erate aggregate reporting information such as
class grades, item score analysis, and at-risk stu-
dent information is included in this category.
Communication Tools
Communication tools within LMSs can
be broadly classied as synchronous or asyn-
chronous. Asynchronous tools support one-way
communications such as e-mail, discussion
boards, or Wikis. They are often preferred by
course facilitators because they can be initiated
in an ad hoc manner. Synchronous tools, on the
Learning Management Systems: An Overview 3
other hand, are two-way communication tools
supporting real-time information interchange.
Examples include instructor-led videoconferences
and interactive message boards. This latter class
of communication tools is often seen as important
to replicating traditional classroom-based com-
munications, thereby fostering a sense of commu-
nity among online learners.
Social Connectivity
One of the great criticisms of LMSs is the
lack of inherent community in online learning.
Features that try to replicate a social environment
online include discussion forums, live chats, and
videoconference tools as discussed in the previous
section. Some LMSs even have features that
monitor learner interactions with communication
tools and are considered invaluable for courses
that mandate class participation as an assessable
component of a course.
Security and Privacy
Security and privacy are of paramount importance
to the success of an online course. Important secu-
rity features in LMSs include user authentication,
access verication, password integrity controls,
and intruder detection. Privacy controls are also
important to ensure that sensitive information is
made available to the intended recipient only.
Ubiquitous Access
People are increasingly dependent on their mobile
phones to connect to the Internet. It therefore
stands to reason that online course participants
need to interact with LMS course environments
using their mobiles devices. Most LMS
providers design course content as responsive
HTML pages and are therefore accessible by
most smartphones and other mobile computing
devices, thus providing ubiquity.
Proprietary or Open-Source Systems:
Which Way to Go?
One of the major considerations that an organiza-
tion has in choosing a LMS is whether to opt for
a proprietary or an open-source system. There are
pluses and minuses to both approaches, and the
choice will largely depend on the resources and
expertise the organization maintains in-house and
the degree of control they wish to exercise over
the administration and future development of
the system. Proprietary systems come with the
advantage of being developed by a company that
specializes in the design and deployment of online
learning solutions. The acquisition of a proprie-
tary system usually includes installation and
end-user training and does not require any cong-
uration on the part of the client. However,
the client institution has limited control over the
features provided in the proprietary system and
certainly would be unlikely to have access to
system source code.
Learning Management Systems: An Overview,
Fig. 1 LMS feature categories
4 Learning Management Systems: An Overview
The alternative approach is for an organization
to develop its own LMS based on readily avail-
able open-source code. Moodle, for example, has
a popular following and maintains a system
of version control and technical specications
for each version.
Krouska et al. (2017, 2) described Moodle as
Moodle is a LMS designed to provide educators,
administrators and learners with a single, robust,
secure and integrated system to create personalized
learning environments. It has a wide range of stan-
dard and innovative features for supporting teach-
ing and learning process. Moreover, it allows for
extending system functionality using community
sourced plugins.
The source code for Moodle is freely down-
loadable, and each specic iteration has its own
set of installation instructions. Once the source
code for a LMS has been downloaded, organiza-
tions are free to adapt the code to suit their partic-
ular circumstances. Universities and colleges are
among the most prolic users of open-source
LMSs. This can be attributed to the availability
of in-house IT expertise in most universities and
colleges and the professional curiosity among
IT system decision-makers to develop an
understanding of LMS technology through its
In-House Housing of Data or Cloud
Cloud-based LMS solutions are rapidly develop-
ing as a viable alternative to on-site installation
for client organizations. The choice of adopting a
cloud-based LMS largely depends on the degree
of condence an organization has with sensitive
data being housed in an environment outside the
organizations direct control and whether or not
the organization has the infrastructure and exper-
tise to maintain the physical infrastructure neces-
sary to run an on-site LMS. Cloud-based LMSs
are usually proprietary systems where the vendor
packages the system functionality with the online
hosting of the clients data and then charges a fee
for the service based on the number of users
accessing the LMS site.
The Future of LMSs
As technology evolves and teaching methods
become more student-focussed, the LMS of the
future will become more than a helpful adminis-
trative tool. As improvements in bandwidth, stor-
age, and mobile device computing capacity
expand, the capabilities of LMSs will adapt to
ll emerging client demands. LMSs should
also be supported by an institutional structure
that promotes an equitable learning environment
(Chugh et al. 2017). The general trend of LMS
systems is to expand learner interactions with
course content by including the capability for
users to use mobile devices such as smartphones
and wearables such as smart watches and smart
glasses. Future developments in LMS technology
are also likely to include more sophisticated tools
to enable genuine synchronous communication,
such as videoconferencing apps and peer-to-peer
messaging. Below is a list of enhancements to
watch out for in future versions of LMSs.
Cloud-Like Functionality
There is already a trend toward cloud-hosted
proprietary LMSs as vendors target their offerings
to client organizations that do not have the
infrastructure or personnel to manage in-house
hosting. However, open-source systems such as
Moodle are also evolving to accommodate the
possibility of their systems existing solely in
web hosting environments. For example, a service
such as Softaculous can be used to install and
congure open-source apps such as Moodle,
directly into the client web hosting account.
Adaptive Learning
Adaptive learning technologies permit course
designers to tailor learning tasks and materials to
individual learner requirements. Examples of the
use of these technologies could include the release
of learning content based on prior learner assess-
ment, tailored knowledge tests that focus on learn-
ing gaps of each individual student, and the
incorporation of learner-created content into
each learners portfolio.
Learning Management Systems: An Overview 5
Microlearning with LMSs Connected Devices
Microlearning is an approach to education that
delivers content to learners in small, very specic
pieces. The learners are given control of when and
what they will learn. By creating bite-sized train-
ing modules within LMS systems accessible to
learners on demand, it will be possible for clients
to create their own curriculum tailored to their
specic requirements. According to Tauber and
Wang-Audia (2014, 10):
1% of a typical workweek is all employees typically
to focus on training and development.
The microlearning approach to training deliv-
ery is therefore likely to prove popular for workers
operating under tight time constraints.
Analytical Tools
Reporting functions which have a descriptive
purpose such as enrolment reports, assignment
submissions, and user access frequency are
already standard features of many LMSs. The
challenge for future systems is to tap into
the rich and diverse data collected by LMSs and
use this information to predict problems and
opportunities that may arise. For example, most
institutions are concerned about attrition and
would appreciate being alerted to circumstances
that may lead to a students failure or voluntary
Social Capabilities
The attraction to formal learning for most students
in classroom-based environments is not only
the knowledge and skills to be acquired but also
the social dimension of study that participation in
higher learning provides. LMSs have often been
criticized for not adequately accommodating
this innate learner need. The inclusion of more
synchronous communication tools such as live
videoconferencing and real-time social media
apps is likely to strengthen the appeal of online
learning as a social activity. LMS vendors are
already tapping into existing social media apps
such as Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp along
with videoconferencing tools such as Skype to
provide a social framework for online learners.
Learning games, if structured correctly, can pro-
vide a fun and stimulating way to engage learners
by rewarding their progress. Future gaming fea-
tures of LMSs could assign certicates or badges
to learners based on their mastery of course con-
tent and could even be used to assign a rank or
status to individual learners that could be shared
within the user community.
Learning management systems (LMSs) have
evolved in response to the demand for innovative
educational products that leverage advances in
information technology and telecommunications.
LMSs can be either proprietary, where the client
pays for the installation, maintenance, and end-
user licensing, or open source, where the source
code is freely available but the installation and
maintenance is handled in-house. LMSs have
many features that support online learning includ-
ing course management, assessment, learner
progress tracking, gradebook, communications,
security, and smartphone access. LMSs continue
to evolve, and future versions are likely to include
tools and features that facilitate more tailored con-
tent to individual learners, enhance social interac-
tions between online learners, and provide more
timely and relevant analytics to institutional deci-
Blending learning provision for higher educa-
tion, integrating new waysof teaching and
Challenge of Transforming Curricula with
Computers, High Impact Interventions and
Computer Based Training (CBT)
Learning challenges presented by digital tech-
nologies to HE
Mobile Learning and Ubiquitous Learning
MOOCs, Teacher Professional Learning and
Deep Learning Conversations
6 Learning Management Systems: An Overview
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Learning Management Systems: An Overview 7
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Content and learning management systems (CMSs/LMSs) exist in abundance, providing a software platform for supporting web-based applications in an easy-to-use way. In educational contexts, the exploitation of these platforms offers integrated solutions on the distribution of course material, student management and interaction between stakeholders. This paper evaluates the use of representative LMS/CMS platforms for supporting social e-learning systems in higher education, in terms of technical and educational perspective. To this direction, respective prototypes were developed using the LMS platforms: Schoology, Moodle and Atutor, and the CMS ones: Drupal, Joomla and Wordpress, and a comparative analysis was conducted. One major conclusion is that these platforms facilitate the development of e-learning environments with social features through a user-friendly dashboard and a variety of education-oriented services.
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A growing number of students globally are enrolling in distance education programs and it is becoming important now, more than ever before, to design curriculum that reflects educational principles, represents elements of engagement and pedagogy and meets institutional and industry requirements. In doing so, it is vital to design contemporary curriculum that ensures these outcomes are attained. This paper adopts a narrative and integrative approach to advance the understanding of curriculum design practices, with particular relevance to distance education. In order to effectively design curriculum, this paper views the role of the educator as a conductor, technician and choreographer. Finally, a triad has been proposed comprising of pedagogy, technology and an engaged community of learners as a basis for ensuring curriculum meets contemporary practices.
Conference Paper
Full-text available
This study aims to describe the key issues in assessment of a learning management system for higher education institutions and eventually to construct a criteria list.
Meet the modern learner: engaging the overwhelmed, distracted, and impatient employee
  • T Tauber
  • W Wang-Audia
Tauber T, Wang-Audia W (2014) Meet the modern learner: engaging the overwhelmed, distracted, and impatient employee. Bersin by Deloitte. https://legacy.bersin. com/uploadedfiles/112614-meet-the-modern-learner. pdf
Ed tech: what's the use? The history of educational technology is a reminder that it's not the machine that matters -it's finding the tool that best serves your educational objective (RESEARCH)
  • D D Thornburg
Thornburg DD (2014) Ed tech: what's the use? The history of educational technology is a reminder that it's not the machine that matters -it's finding the tool that best serves your educational objective (RESEARCH). T H E J (Technol Horiz Educ) 41:27