E-Learning for Beginners: Back to the Basics

LMS, LCMS, CMS, and TMS…What’s the Difference?

(Second in a periodic series)

Now that we all have basic idea of what LMS, LCMS, CMS, and TMS are, let’s look a little more closely at the background and history of the Learning Management System in particular.

A brief history of the LMS

Learning Management Systems have come a long way, evolving into what we know them as today. Technological systems of learning, in one way or another, have been around for years and years. Starting way back in 1924, with the prohibition in full swing and Jay Gatsby throwing the wildest parties on the Long Island sound, a man named Sidney Pressey invented the first teaching machine, which could give out tests with multiple-choice questions.

From 1924 on, learning machine technology grew in popularity as well as availability. Then, in the 1950s, the ultimate learning machine was introduced: the computer.

The link between computers and education proved to be a strong one, with the possibilities for education via computers growing exponentially as personal computers became more commonplace.

As the connection between computers and education grew, several computer based learning terms came into existence, such as computer-based instruction (CBI) and computer-assisted learning (CAL). These terms basically described a computerized version of Sidney Pressey’s original multiple choice question machine. But to trace the origins of the LMS as we know it, we must look at another term, the integrated learning system (ILS).

The ILS was the most sophisticated of these earlier computer learning programs, prefacing the management, tracking, and student-specific functionality that the LMS later brings to eLearning. As the predecessor to the LMS, the ILS also contributed in another important way, it differentiated the LMS from other computer education technology because it introduced tracking functions such as in-course testing and progress reports.

The LMS as we know it was released in response to the aforementioned need for tracking and managing learners within a course. Originally, the LMS was a quick and basic solution to the need for this tracking, and as it became more widely-used, a need to increase its functionality became apparent.

In this sense, the LMS is sort of the Benjamin Button of the eLearning world because it developed backwards.

LMS: The Basics

The creation of the LMS was in direct response to the demand for it. One area of need for a high level tracking system was within companies and organizations. They needed to track the training that was taken within their organizations. Previous to an organizational level tracking system, they used paper files or records kept on local computers to track employee training. In order for organizations to safeguard themselves against lawsuits, they needed a more efficient and effective way to track and manage the training and learning progress of employees.

The type of LMS utilized in a large organization is known as an executive level LMS, which can be broken down into two different types of LMS’ depending on the needs of an organization: an external LMS and an internal LMS.

Internal LMS

The internal LMS is intended to track learning for employees as well as provide an internal network within an organization. If you’re looking for an LMS to track specific learner progress and other detailed information, then this is most likely the type of LMS for you. This level of student tracking has a tremendous amount of functionality.

Sounds pretty great huh? However, greater functionality comes at a price. The level of functions necessary to track student learning makes this the more expensive LMS option. Furthermore, by nature of the more detailed functionality and thereby the higher cost, the internal LMS is designed to handle fewer learners. In short, the internal LMS would be great for a company that is really concerned with tracking the progress and development of its employees. On the other hand, it might not be the best option if you are administering courses to the public, with larger numbers on learners and less functionality required to track them.

External LMS

This option is great for the public or larger organizations and universities because it is more cost effective. However, you pay for what you get. This LMS option has significantly less functionality because it is not needed for the audience it is accommodating. The external LMS is a great option if your concern is to make sure all of your employees or students have access to your specific course, but are not as concerned about functionality to track their development on other levels.

Which LMS should I choose?

The question you are probably asking now is, “Okay, which one is right for me?” Our answer would be to ask yourself a simple question first – “What do I need from my LMS?” You can then sit down and determine the audience you are targeting with your course (employees, the public, etc.), the number of people you want your LMS to handle, and the functionality you need. From there, you can decide how robust your LMS should be to best suit your purposes.

As a final point, another question you should ask yourself is, “Am I able to separate my content from my delivery platform?”

We will address this last point next week, so stay tuned for more on Learning Management Systems!

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