Learning management system

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A learning management system (LMS) is a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting and delivery of electronic educational technology (also called e-learning) courses or training programs.[1]

Learning management systems range from systems for managing training and educational records to software for distributing online or blended/hybrid college courses over the Internet with features for online collaboration, school districts, and schools use LMSs to deliver online courses and augment on-campus courses. LMSs also act to augment the lessons the teacher is giving in a brick and mortar environment, not just replace them. Corporate training departments use LMSs to deliver online training, as well as to automate record-keeping and employee registration.



The history of the application of computers to education is filled with generic terms such as computer-based instruction (CBI), computer-assisted instruction (CAI), and computer-assisted learning (CAL), generally describing drill-and-practice programs, more sophisticated tutorials, and more individualized instruction, respectively.[2] LMS has its history in other terms, computer-managed instruction (CMI), and integrated learning systems (ILS) which offers additional functionality beyond instructional content such as management and tracking, more personalized instruction, and integration across the system. The term ILS was originally coined by Jostens Learning, and CMI was originally used to describe the PLATO Learning Management system (PLM) developed in the 1970s by Control Data Corporation for the PLATO system of computer-based instruction, content-free and separate from the courseware. FirstClass by SoftArc, which the United Kingdom's Open University used in the 1990s and 2000s to deliver online learning across Europe, is often identified as the first modern learning management system, though it was released decades after PLATO's PLM CMI/LMS system.[3][4][5] The term is currently used to describe a number of different educational computer applications.[6]


The key to understanding the difference between LMS and other computer education terms is to understand the systemic nature of LMS. LMS is the framework that handles all aspects of the learning process. An LMS is the infrastructure that delivers and manages instructional content, identifies and assesses individual and organizational learning or training goals, tracks the progress towards meeting those goals, and collects and presents data for supervising the learning process of the organization as a whole.[7] A learning management system delivers content but also handles registering for courses, course administration, skills gap analysis, tracking, and reporting.[8]

Most LMSs are web-based to facilitate access to learning content and administration. They are also used by educational institutions to enhance and support classroom teaching and offering courses to a larger population of learners. LMSs are used by regulated industries (e.g. financial services and biopharma) for compliance training. Student self-service (e.g., self-registration on instructor-led training), training workflow (e.g., user notification, manager approval, wait-list management), the provision of on-line learning (e.g., computer-based training, read & understand), on-line assessment, management of continuous professional education (CPE), collaborative learning (e.g., application sharing, discussion threads), and training resource management (e.g., instructors, facilities, equipment), are all-important dimensions of learning management systems.

Some LMS providers include "performance management systems", which encompass employee appraisals, competency management, skills-gap analysis, succession planning, and multi-rater assessments (i.e., 360 degree reviews). Modern techniques now employ competency-based learning to discover learning gaps and guide training material selection.

For the commercial market, some learning and performance management systems include recruitment and reward functionality.

LMS and CMS compared[edit]

The inappropriate use of LMS in the literature is perhaps most commonly associated with computer applications which are virtual learning environments (Course Management Systems, CMS). These systems 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. Some of this same functionality can be seen within LMSs as well, so it is understandable why confusion might exist about the differences between the two types of systems. However, the systemic nature of an LMS does not limit its functionality to that of a CMS.

LMS and LCMS compared[edit]

The focus of an LMS is to deliver online courses or training to learners, while managing students and keeping track of their progress and performance across all types of training activities. An LMS is not used to create course content.

By contrast, a learning content management system (LCMS) is a related software technology that provides a multi-user environment where developers, authors, instructional designers, and subject matter experts may create, store, reuse, manage, and deliver digital educational technology (also known as e-learning) content from a central object repository. LCMS focuses on the development, management and publishing of the content that will typically be delivered via an LMS. Users can both create and re-use content and reduce duplicated development efforts.

Rather than developing entire courses and adapting them to multiple audiences, an LCMS provides the ability for single course instances to be modified and republished for various audiences maintaining versions and history. The objects stored in the centralized repository can be made available to course developers and content experts throughout an organization for potential reuse and repurpose. This eliminates duplicate development efforts and allows for the rapid assembly of customized content. Some systems have tools to deliver and manage instructor-led synchronous and asynchronous online training based on learning object methodology.

LCMSs provide tools for authoring and reusing or re-purposing content (mutated learning objects, or MLOs) as well as virtual spaces for student interaction (such as discussion forums, live chat rooms and live web-conferences). LCMS technology can either be used in tandem with an LMS, or as a standalone application for learning initiatives that require rapid development and distribution of learning content.

While LMS and LCMS products have different strengths and weaknesses, they generally address the following areas of functionality:[9]

LMS functionality[edit]

  • Course Content Delivery
  • Student Registration and Administration
  • Training Event Management (i.e., scheduling, tracking)
  • Curriculum and Certification Management
  • Skills and Competencies Management
  • Skill Gap Analysis
  • Individual Development Plan (IDP)
  • Assessing and recording
  • Reporting
  • Training Record Management
  • Courseware Authoring
  • Resource Management
  • Virtual Organizations
  • Performance Management System Integration

LCMS functionality[edit]

  • Template-driven, Collaborative Content Development
  • Facilitated Content Management (i.e., indexing and reuse)
  • Publishing
  • Workflow Integration
  • Automated Interface with an LMS

LMS as the ubiquitous term[edit]

Despite this distinction, the term LMS is often used to refer to both an LMS and an LCMS, although the LCMS is actually a complementary solution to an LMS. Either as separate platforms or as a merged product, LCMSs work together with LMSs to develop and deliver course content to students. Due to lack of industry standardization as well as being a young industry, products that combine LCMS and LMS attributes may be referred to as course management systems (CMS), learning management systems (LMS) and LMS/LCMS.[10] In general, LMS represents the ubiquitous term for a product containing attributes of both a LMS and a LCMS.

Technical aspects[edit]

Most LMSs are web-based, built using a variety of development platforms, like Java/J2EE, Microsoft .NET or PHP. They usually employ the use of a database like MySQL, Microsoft SQL Server or Oracle as the back-end data store. Although most of the systems are commercially developed and have commercial software licenses there are several systems that have an open-source license. Corporate LMSs support multilingual content as services can span across the world. SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model) support is a de facto standard for LMS systems.[11]


Originally, the only option for hosting an LMS was locally hosted on-premise, where the organization purchases a license to a version of the software, and installs it on their own servers and network. Today, many organizations and companies still locally host their LMS for reasons such as control or the ability to customize the system.[12]

Since the mid 2000s, many LMSs have been offered as SaaS (software as a service), with hosting provided by the vendors.[13] In many cases, SaaS LMS offerings are hosted by the vendor within vendor-owned data centers (sometimes called managed hosting[14] or "private cloud"[15]). Increasingly, SaaS LMS offerings are being hosted on the cloud.

Learning management industry[edit]

In the relatively new LMS market, commercial vendors for corporate and education applications range from new entrants to those that entered the market in the nineties. In addition to commercial packages, many open source solutions are available.

In the higher education market as of fall 2013, Blackboard is the leading provider with 41% market share, with Moodle (23%), Desire2Learn (11%) and Instructure being the next three largest providers.[16] Kannu is a new system launched in 2015 directly geared towards art, music and design schools.[17] In the corporate market, the six largest LMS providers constitute approximately 50% of the market, with SuccessFactors Learning, Saba Software, Voniz Inc and SumTotal Systems being the four largest providers. Vendors focused on mid-sized companies (200+ employees) include Halogen Software, ADP, and Workday.[18]

In a recent study among HR professionals in February 2015, Litmos was the leading HR LMS platform at 21% of market share, with Absorb LMS (8%), Skillsoft (6%) and Grovo (6%) as the next three largest providers.[19]

In addition to the remaining smaller LMS product vendors, training outsourcing firms, enterprise resource planning vendors, and consulting firms all compete for part of the learning management market. Approximately 40 percent of US training organizations reported that they have an LMS installed, a figure that has not changed significantly over the past two years. Another service related to LMS comes from the standardized test preparation vendors, where companies such as Princeton Review or BenchPrep offer online test prep courses.

Most buyers of LMSs utilize an authoring tool to create their educational content, which is then hosted on an LMS. In many cases LMSs include a primitive authoring tool for basic content manipulation. For advanced content creation, buyers must choose an authoring software package that integrates with their LMS in order for their content to be hosted. There are authoring tools on the market which meet AICC and SCORM standards and therefore content created in tools such as these can be hosted on an AICC or SCORM certified LMS. By May 2010, ADL had validated 301 SCORM-certified products[20] while 329 products were compliant.[21]

Evaluation of LMSs is a complex task and significant research supports different forms of evaluation, including iterative processes where students’ experiences and approaches to learning are evaluated.[22]

A new generation[edit]

With the recent technology and web application advancement, a new generation of LMSs have emerged which have some new features that include: open, social, personal, flexible, learning analytics, and mobile.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ellis, Ryann K. (2009), Field Guide to Learning Management Systems, ASTD Learning Circuits 
  2. ^ Parr, Judy M.; Fung, Irene (October 3, 2006). "A Review of the Literature on Computer-Assisted Learning, particularly Integrated Learning Systems, and Outcomes with Respect to Literacy and Numeracy". New Zealand Ministry of Education. Archived from the original on March 9, 2007. Retrieved February 13, 2013. 
  3. ^ "History and Trends of Learning Management System (Infographic)". Oxagile. 12 April 2016. 
  4. ^ Ashok Sharma. "The History of Distance Learning and the LMS". ELH Online Learning Made Simple. 
  5. ^ "History of learning management systems". ProProfs. 
  6. ^ Watson, William R. (2007). "An Argument for Clarity: What are Learning Management Systems, What are They Not, and What Should They Become?" (PDF). TechTrends. 51 (2): 28–34. Retrieved 13 February 2013. 
  7. ^ Szabo, Micheal; Flesher, K. (2002). "CMI Theory and Practice: Historical Roots of Learning Management Systems". Proceedings of World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2002 (White Paper). Montreal, Canada: In M. Driscoll & T. Reeves (Eds.): 929–936. ISBN 1-880094-46-0. 
  8. ^ Gilhooly, Kym (16 July 2001). "Making e-learning effective". Computerworld. 35 (29): 52–53. 
  9. ^ Kerschenbaum, Steven (4 June 2009). "LMS Selection Best Practices" (White paper). Adayana Chief Technology Officer. pp. 1–15. Retrieved 13 February 2013. 
  10. ^ LMS/LCMS, BIS Training Solutions 
  11. ^ Learning management system, stratbeans consulting 
  12. ^ "Report: The Top LMS User Trends of 2016". Software Advice. 2016-01-27. Retrieved 2017-02-04. 
  13. ^ Lin, Sandi (2015-11-16). "SaaS Learning Management System: Is your LMS Truly SaaS? - eLearning Industry". eLearning Industry. Retrieved 2017-02-04. 
  14. ^ "Dedicated and Managed Hosting Solutions | Blackboard". www.blackboard.com. Retrieved 2017-02-04. 
  15. ^ "Clarification on Cloud, SaaS and Multi-tenant Language". e-Literate. 2012-09-10. Retrieved 2017-02-04. 
  16. ^ A Profile of the LMS Market (page 23) (PDF), CampusComputing, 2013 .
  17. ^ {Tara García Mathewson, "Kadenze follows up arts-focused MOOC platform with LMS", Education Dive, November 19, 2015.
  18. ^ Bersin, Josh. "Talent Management Software Market Surges Ahead". Forbes. Forbes. Retrieved 13 April 2015. 
  19. ^ Learning Management Systems UserView, Software Advice, 2015 .
  20. ^ Certified products, ADL .
  21. ^ SCORM adopters, ADL .
  22. ^ Ellis, R.; Calvo, R.A. (2007), "Minimum indicators to quality assure blended learning supported by learning management systems" (PDF), Journal of Educational Technology and Society 
  23. ^ Stone, D. and Zheng G.(2014) "Learning Management Systems in a Changing Environment," In book: Handbook of Research on Education and Technology in a Changing Society, Chapter: 56, Publisher: IGI Global


Further information[edit]