A learning management system (LMS) is a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting and delivery of educational courses or training programs. They help the instructor deliver material to the students, administer tests and other assignments, track student progress, and manage record-keeping. LMSs are focused on online learning delivery but support a range of uses, acting as a platform for fully online courses, as well as several hybrid forms, such as blended learning and flipped classrooms. LMSs can be complemented by other learning technologies such as a training management system to manage instructor-led training or a Learning Record Store to store and track learning data.
An LMS delivers and manages instructional content, and typically handles student registration, online course administration, and tracking, and assessment of student work. Some LMSs help identify progress towards learning or training goals. Most LMSs are web-based, to facilitate access. LMSs are often used by regulated industries (e.g. financial services and biopharma) for compliance training. 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). Some systems support competency-based learning.
Though there are a wide variety of terms for digital aids or platforms for education, such as course management systems, virtual or managed learning platforms or systems, or computer-based learning environment, the term learning management system has become the ubiquitous term for products that help administer or deliver part or all of a course.
The history of the application of computers to education is filled with broadly descriptive terms such as computer-managed instruction (CMI), and integrated learning systems (ILS), computer-based instruction (CBI), computer-assisted instruction (CAI), and computer-assisted learning (CAL). These terms describe drill-and-practice programs, more sophisticated tutorials, and more individualized instruction, respectively. The term is currently used to describe a number of different educational computer applications.
The earliest networked learning system was the Plato Learning Management system (PLM) developed in the 1970s by Control Data Corporation. FirstClass by SoftArc, used by the United Kingdom's Open University in the 1990s and 2000s to deliver online learning across Europe, was one of the earliest internet-based LMSs.
The concept of eLearning began developing in the early 20th century, marked by the appearance of audio-video communication systems used for remote teaching. In 1909, E.M. Forster published his story 'The Machine Stops' and explained the benefits of using audio communication to deliver lectures to remote audiences.
In 1920, Sidney L. Pressey developed the first teaching machine which offered multiple types of practical exercises and question formats. Nine years later, University of Alberta's Professor M.E. Zerte transformed this machine into a problem cylinder able to compare problems and solutions.
The trend then shifted to video communication, as a result of which Houston University decided to hold telecast classes to their students for approximately 13-15 hours a week. The classes took place in 1953, while in 1956, Robin McKinnon Wood and Gordon Pask released the very first adaptive teaching system for corporate environments SAKI. The idea of automating teaching operations also inspired the University of Illinois experts to develop their Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations (PLATO) which enabled users to exchange content regardless of their location. In the period between 1970 and 1980, educational venues were rapidly considering the idea of computerizing courses, including the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute from California that introduced the first accredited online-taught degree.
The first fully featured Learning Management System (LMS) was called EKKO, developed and released by Norway's NKI Distance Education Network in 1991. Three years later, New Brunswick's NB Learning Network presented a similar system designed for DOS-based teaching, and devoted exclusively to business learners.
In 2000, the University of Zurich revolutionized the concept of digitized learning by introducing the first open-source LMS called OLAT. A year later, the LMS development industry welcomed Microsoft and its first SCORM-certified learning suite SharePoint.
Most LMSs are web-based. There are a variety of integration strategies for embedding content into LMSs, including SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model) and LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability). LMSs were originally designed to be 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. Many LMSs are also offered as SaaS (software as a service), with hosting provided by the vendors.
In the U.S. higher education market as of fall 2016, the top three LMSs by number of installations were Blackboard (33%), Moodle (19%) and Canvas (17%). The same three systems lead in terms of number of students enrolled, but in a different order: Blackboard (45%), Canvas (24%), Moodle (17%).
In the corporate market in 2015, 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. 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.
Many users of LMSs use an authoring tool to create content, which is then hosted on an LMS. In many cases LMSs include a primitive authoring tool for basic content manipulation. There are several standards for creating and integrating complex content into an LMS, including AICC, SCORM, xAPI, CMI5 and Learning Tools Interoperability. All widely adopted LMSs offer one or more of these standards for importing content.
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.
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