What is an LMS in 2016?

A learning management system (LMS) is an integrated software application for uploading (and sometimes creating), assigning, and tracking course material for a group of learners. The LMS as we know it has undergone a significant evolution since the first mechanical devices designed to administer learning were invented. As technology has advanced, so have the methods for teaching and training with the help of computers. But what is an LMS?

Picture 1: How an LMS looks in 2015

An LMS, or Learning Management System, is a set of applications and functions that allows you to plan, manage and track all educational activities including online courses, virtual classes, tests and training programs. Moving beyond its humble roots as an enclosed intranet limited to a specific location, it is now better known as a Web-based service that makes learning and administration possible 24/7.

The Purpose of an LMS

The main purpose of an LMS is to replace isolated educational programs by systematized and constantly improving methods of studying and analyzing students’ activities and instructors’ teaching efficiency. This infrastructure empowers educators to manage workloads, track students’ activity, arrange remote conferences and seminars, keep the learning results registered and collect the information in order to control the whole learning process and keep up with the students’ level of knowledge.

LMSs are employed by colleges and universities, consulting and training companies, and regulated industries for compliance purposes. In the sphere of education, especially, the LMS has achieved huge success and popularity. They are often used not only as an online studying tool, but as a full “dean’s office” or even “school” where you can combine a full-time tuition with comfortable remote learning.

The History of the LMS

The chart below is a brief timeline of the evolution of the computer-based LMS, from its origins in 1960 at the University of Illinois to its latest innovations in the modern era.

A Brief History of the LMS
YearNameDescription
1960PLATOProgrammed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations was the first computer-based learning system and online community. The term “LMS” was first coined to refer to the management part of the system. Based in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, it was first used exclusively on the University of Illinois campus before branching out worldwide.
1983Project AthenaA huge stride in distributed computing, Project Athena was a joint project of MIT, Digital Equipment Corporation, and IBM. Though “the educational goals of the project were never completely achieved” (Cheung et al., 1999), the project nonetheless served to lay the groundwork for much of what we take for granted today in LMSs and computing at large.
1990FirstClassRecognized as the first LMS proper, FirstClass was originally designed by SoftArc for the Macintosh platform, and pioneered many of the features still in use in today’s LMSs. The collaborative features, specifically, were highly popular among teachers and students, offering private email and public forums over LAN and modem.
1997Interactive Learning NetworkNow one of the two companies forming BlackBoard, Inc., CourseInfo created the Interactive Learning Network and installed it on several campuses including Cornell University and Yale Medical School. ILN’s great innovation for LMSs was the usage of a relational MySQL database to manage information.
2002MoodleThe open-source LMS revolution began with Moodle, offering free opportunities for teachers and trainers worldwide to create and administer training.
2004SCORM 2004The Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) is a set of standards for training technology designed by the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative. Superseding SCORM 1.1 and 1.2, SCORM 2004 is the version still in use today by many learning management systems.
2005VirtualOnDemandReleased by NACON Consulting, VirtualOnDemand was the first distance education system to allow users to train in software programs with only a web browser. Later, the US Army began using the system to train IT support personnel.
2008EucalyptusFree, open-source private cloud technology was born with the release of Eucalyptus, the API for building Amazon Web Services environments.
2012+Cloud-Based LMSsTaking advantage of cloud technology, SaaS LMSs allow companies and campuses to access the full suite of tools via the Web without installing a single piece of extra software on a local PC or mainframe.

Features of an LMS

There is no universal agreement on the full feature set of a standard LMS, but in general, all LMSs have the same basic set of features:

  • User lists for registering courses and assigning content
  • Content lists which can be created and managed by instructors
  • An entirely Web-based interface, allowing learners and instructors to access all the necessary features remotely
  • The ability to establish time restrictions or course calendars
  • Interaction features such as comment sections, instant messaging or email
  • Assessment features such as quizzes

The Future of the LMS

The demand for convenient distance learning options and computerized methods for learning and teaching has been expanding at breakneck speed, and the market has been expanding to meet the challenge. Here are some of the things that modern LMSs are bringing to the table as the second decade of the 21st century reaches its halfway point:

  • Self-directed learning
  • Individual learning paths
  • Learner-generated content
  • Anywhere, anytime, any device
  • More Web 2.0/3.0 advances
  • Targeted homegrown solutions

Just imagine the possibilities for students and teachers as more and more features of a live-classroom setting are incorporated into distance learning. Of course, it’s not just about online learning — it’s about a combined way of education that provides more options for both learners and instructors.

Picture 3: iSpring Learn LMS Dashboard

New to LMSs? Or already tried a lot and ready to give a new one a try? You are welcome to test out iSpring Learn LMS.
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