July 31, 2010

Learning Content Management System (LMS)

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Learning platform
A learning platform is an integrated set of interactive online services that provide teachers, learners, parents and others involved in education with information, tools and resources to support and enhance educational delivery and management.

The term learning platform refers to a range of tools and services often described using terms such as educational extranet, VLE, LMS, ILMS and LCMS providing learning and content management. The term learning platform also includes the personal learning environment (PLE) or personal online learning space (POLS), including tools and systems that allow the development and management of eportfolios.

The specific functionality associated with any implementation of a learning platform will vary depending upon the needs of the users and can be achieved by bringing together a range of features from different software solutions either commercially available, open source, self built or available as free to use web services. These tools are delivered together via a cohesive user environment with a single entry point, through integration achieved by technical standards.

Learning platforms commonly allow:

• Content management – creation, storage, access to and use of learning resources
• Curriculum mapping and planning – lesson planning, assessment and personalization of the learning experience
• Learner engagement and administration – managed access to learner information and resources and tracking of progress and achievement
• Communication and collaboration - emails, notices, chat, wikis, Blogs

In principle a learning platform is a safe and secure environment that is reliable, available online and accessible to a wide user base. A user should be able to move between learning platforms throughout their life with no loss of access to their personal data. The concept of a learning platform accommodates a continuously evolving description of functionality changing to meet the needs of the user. Becta (British Educational Communications and Technology Agency) publishes Functional Requirements and Technical Specifications that give a more precise description of how a learning platform may be constructed.

A virtual learning environment (VLE) is a software system designed to support teaching and learning in an educational setting, as distinct from a Managed Learning Environment, (MLE) where the focus is on management. A VLE will normally work over the Internet and provide a collection of tools such as those for assessment (particularly of types that can be marked automatically, such as multiple choice), communication, uploading of content, return of students' work, peer assessment, administration of student groups, collecting and organizing student grades, questionnaires, tracking tools, etc. New features in these systems include wikis, blogs, RSS and 3D virtual learning spaces.

While originally created for distance education, VLEs are now most often used to supplement traditional face to face classroom activities, commonly known as Blended Learning. These systems usually run on servers, to serve the course to students Multimedia and/or web pages.

In 'Virtually There', a book and DVD pack distributed freely to schools by the Yorkshire and Humber Grid for Learning Foundation (YHGfL), Professor Stephen Heppell writes in the foreword: "Learning is breaking out of the narrow boxes that it was trapped in during the 20th century; teachers' professionalism, reflection and ingenuity are leading learning to places that genuinely excite this new generation of connected young school students - and their teachers too. VLEs are helping to make sure that their learning is not confined to a particular building, or restricted to any single location or moment."

Similar terms

A VLE is a computer program that facilitates computerized learning or e-learning. Such e-learning systems are sometimes also called Learning Management System (LMS), Content Management System (CMS), Learning Content Management System (LCMS), Managed Learning Environment (MLE), Learning Support System (LSS), Online Learning Centre (OLC) or Learning Platform (LP); it is education via computer-mediated communication (CMC) or Online Education.

A more correct term may be a virtual environment for learning, rather than virtual learning environment. This removes any ambiguities and identifies that it is the environment which is virtual and not the learning. The term virtual may also contribute to confusion, suggesting that the learning is not real or authentic.

In the United States, CMS and LMS are the more common terms, however LMS is more frequently associated with software for managing corporate training programs rather than courses in traditional education institutions.

In the United Kingdom and many European countries the terms VLE and MLE are favored; however, it is important to realize that these are two very different things. A VLE can be considered a subsystem of an MLE, whereas MLE refers to the wider infrastructure of information systems in an organization that support and enable electronic learning on a wider scale. In fact a rather pedantic reading of the term MLE could be extended to encompass the physical environment in which learning takes place (i.e. a school). Also the use of VLE avoids confusion with the use of LMS to mean "Library Management System" (which is more commonly referred to as Integrated Library System, or ILS, in the United States).

Becta, in the UK, have coined the term learning platform to cover both MLE and VLE as used in the schools sector. 'The term learning platform describes a broad range of ICT systems used to deliver and support learning. Through a learning platform, hardware, software and supporting services are brought together to enable more effective ways of working within and outside the classroom. At the heart of any learning platform is the concept of a personalized online learning space for the pupil. This space should offer teachers and pupils access to stored work, e-learning resources, communication and collaboration with peers, and the facility to track progress.'

A VLE should make it possible for a course designer to present to students, through a single, consistent, and intuitive interface, all the components required for a course of education or training. Although logically it is not a requirement, in practice VLEs always make extensive use of computers and the Internet. A VLE should implement all the following elements:

  • The syllabus for the course

  • Administrative information including the location of sessions, details of pre-requisites and co-requisites, credit information, and how to get help

  • A notice board for up-to-date course information

  • Student registration and tracking facilities, if necessary with payment options

  • Basic teaching materials. These may be the complete content of the course, if the VLE is being used in a distance learning context, or copies of visual aids used in lectures or other classes where it is being used to support a campus-based course.

  • Additional resources, including reading materials, and links to outside resources in libraries and on the Internet.

  • Self-assessment quizzes which can be scored automatically

  • Formal assessment procedures

  • Electronic communication support including e-mail, threaded discussions and a chat room, with or without a moderator

  • Differential access rights for instructors and students

  • Production of documentation and statistics on the course in the format required for institutional administration and quality control

  • All these facilities should be capable of being hyperlinked together

  • Easy authoring tools for creating the necessary documents including the insertion of hyperlinks - though it is acceptable (arguably, preferable) for the VLE to be designed allowing standard word processors or other office software to be used for authoring.

In addition, the VLE should be capable of supporting numerous courses, so that students and instructors in a given institution (and, indeed, across institutions) experience a consistent interface when moving from one course to another.

Transferring course content
Most VLEs support Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) as a standard way to upload, launch and track courses. There are no commonly used standards that define how the learner's performance within a course should be transferred from one VLE to another.

Some institutions have attempted to combat this problem by agreeing to share common platforms. Use of open source VLEs such as Moodle (moodle is also referred to as a CMS or Course Management System) have more recently enabled institutions to share content more easily. For the schools sector in the UK the DCSF via Becta has defined a learning platform "conformance framework" to encourage interoperability.

Systems available
For those wishing to deliver e-learning there are many free open source and proprietary VLEs available for use. On-demand e-learning services are also a popular choice because they can be deployed in minutes and don't require instructors & institutions to run their own servers.

Many VLEs are placed on a web server. In a typical VLE there are one or more programs or languages that provides the user (Teacher-Student) interface, and which interacts with a database. For example, a VLE might use PHP as its web language/program, with MySQL as a database.

VLEs are increasingly found in new niches. These include new emerging technologies, as well as specialized markets. A VLE can be deployed on a USB drive as a child, which synchronizes from time to time with its web based parent. VLEs can be used for training or in something as specialized as to meet ISO 9000 certification requirements.

Emerging technologies include Sloodle, a merge of Second Life, Moodle with virtual reality and course management. This early development approach hints at new options for enabling learning in a social, immersive, and interactive way. Another 3D virtual learning environment called Edusim brings a lessons driven 3D virtual environment to the classroom interactive whiteboard surface allowing the direct manipulation of 3D virtual objects. Umgumbo is an immersive 3D VLE set in a Newtonian simulation of the solar system. Still in development, Umgumbo will allow collaborative and interactive learning within personalized 3D spaces, including educational gaming, and is delivered from a single external website.

Learning management system
A learning management system (LMS) is software for delivering, tracking and managing training/education. LMSs range from systems for managing training/educational records to software for distributing courses over the Internet and offering features for online collaboration. In many instances, corporate training departments purchase LMSs to automate record-keeping as well as the registration of employees for classroom and online courses. 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 dimensions to Learning Management Systems.

Most LMSs are web-based to facilitate access to learning content and administration. LMSs are used by regulated industries (e.g. financial services and biopharma) for compliance training. It is also used by educational institutions for enhance and support classroom teaching and offering courses to larger population of learners across the globe.

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).

For the commercial market, some Learning and Performance Management Systems include recruitment and reward functionality.

LMSs are based on a variety of development platforms, like Java EE based architectures, Microsoft .NET, PHP, and usually employ the use of a database back-end. Some systems are commercially developed and have non-free software licenses or restrict access to their source code, Other systems are free and open-source and frequently used. Other than the most simple, basic functionality, LMSs cater to, and focus on, different educational, administrative, and deployment requirements.

LMSs can cater to different educational, administrative, and deployment requirements. While an LMS for corporate learning, for example, may share many characteristics with a LMS, or virtual learning environment, used by educational institutions, they each meet unique needs. The virtual learning environment used by universities and colleges allow instructors to manage their courses and exchange information with students for a course that in most cases will last several weeks and will meet several times during those weeks. In the corporate setting a course may be much shorter, completed in a single instructor-led or online session.

The characteristics shared by both types of LMSs include:

  • Manage users, roles, courses, instructors, facilities, and generate reports

  • Course calendar

  • Learning Path

  • Student messaging and notifications

  • Assessment/testing capable of handling student pre/post testing

  • Display scores and transcripts

  • Grading of coursework and roster processing, including wait listing

  • Web-based or blended course delivery

Characteristics more specific to corporate learning, which sometimes includes franchisees or other business partners, include:

  • Autoenrollment (enrolling Students in courses when required according to predefined criteria, such as job title or work location)

  • Manager enrollment and approval

  • Boolean definitions for prerequisites or equivalencies

  • Integration with performance tracking and management systems

  • Planning tools to identify skill gaps at departmental and individual level

  • Curriculum, required and elective training requirements at an individual and organizational level

  • Grouping students according to demographic units (geographic region, product line, business size, etc.)

  • Assign corporate and partner employees to more than one job title at more than one demographic unit

Learning content management system
A learning content management system (LCMS) is a related technology to the learning management system (e.g., Murray Goldberg's WebCT), in that it is focused on the development, management and publishing of the content that will typically be delivered via an LMS. An LCMS is a multi-user environment where developers may create, store, reuse, manage, and deliver digital learning content from a central object repository. The LMS cannot create and manipulate courses; it cannot reuse the content of one course to build another. The LCMS, however, can create, manage and deliver not only training modules but also manage and edit all the individual pieces that make up a catalog of training. LCMS applications allow users to create, import, manage, search for and reuse small units or 'chunks' of digital learning content/assets, commonly referred to as learning objects. These assets may include media files developed in other authoring tools, assessment items, simulations, text, graphics or any other object that makes up the content within the course being created. An LCMS manages the process of creating, editing, storing and delivering e-learning content, ILT materials and other training support deliverables such as job aids.

Learning management systems (LMS) vs. learning content management systems (LCMS)

In addition to managing the administrative functions of online learning, some systems also provide tools to deliver and manage instructor-led synchronous and asynchronous online training based on learning object methodology. These systems are called Learning content management systems or LCMSs. An LCMS provides tools for authoring and re-using or re-purposing content (mutated learning objects) MLO as well as virtual spaces for student interaction (such as discussion forums and live chat rooms). Despite this distinction, the term LMS is often used to refer to both an LMS and an LCMS, although the LCMS is a further development of the LMS. Due to this conformity issue, the acronym Clcims (Computer Learning Content Information Management System) is now widely used to create a uniform phonetic way of referencing any learning system software based on advanced learning technology methodology.

In essence, an LMS is software for planning, delivering, and managing learning events within an organization, including online, virtual classroom, and instructor-led courses. For example, an LMS can simplify global certification efforts, enable entities to align learning initiatives with strategic goals, and provide a means of enterprise-level skills management. The focus of an LMS is to manage students, keeping track of their progress and performance across all types of training activities. It performs administrative tasks, such as reporting to instructors, HR and other ERP systems but isn’t used to create course content.

In contrast, an LCMS is software for managing learning content across an organization's various training development areas. It provides developers, authors, instructional designers, and subject matter experts the means to create and re-use e-learning content and reduce duplicated development efforts.

Primary business problems an LCMS solves are

  • centralized management of an organization's learning content for efficient searching and retrieval,

  • productivity gains around rapid and condensed development timelines,

  • productivity gains around assembly, maintenance and publishing / branding / delivery of learning content.

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.

Learning management industry
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 2005, LMSs represented a fragmented $500 million market. The six largest LMS product companies constitute approximately 43% of the market. 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.

LMS buyers generally report poor satisfaction based on survey results from the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) and the eLearningGuild. The ASTD respondents who were very unsatisfied with an LMS purchase doubled, and those that were very satisfied decreased by 25%. The number that were very satisfied or satisfied edged over 50%. (About 30% were somewhat satisfied.) Nearly one quarter of respondents intended to purchase a new LMS or outsource their LMS functionality over the next 12 months. eLearningGuild respondents report significant barriers including cost, IT support, integration, and customization. They also report significant effort to implement with a median of 23 months being reported from requirements gathering to implementation for corporations with more than 2,000 employees.

Channel learning is under-served. For many buyers channel learning is not their number one priority, according to a survey by Trainingindustry.com Often there is a disconnect when the HR department oversees training and development initiatives, where the focus is consolidating LMS systems inside traditional corporate boundaries. Software technology companies are at the front end of this curve, placing higher priority on channel training.

Most buyers of LMSs utilize an authoring tool to create their e-learning content, which is then hosted on an LMS. Buyers, however, must choose an authoring software that integrates with their LMS in order for their content to be hosted. There are authoring tools on the market, such as Lectora and ToolBook, 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..

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