What are Learning Platforms?

Nonprofits have become intimately familiar with Content Management Systems (CMS). Some, especially those that are very content/document heavy, have become familiar with Document Management Systems (DMS). What they might not be so familiar with are Learning Management Systems (LMS). An LMS, or learning platform, is a system that is designed to facilitate some sort of learning process over the web.

What can an organization use a LMS for? Well, that depends of course, on the organization. Many organizations provide trainings, courses, and varied sorts of learning activities to their constituents. If your organization does this at all, and you are interested in investigating how to enhance or deliver those learning activities through the web, an LMS is for you.

Learning platforms, of course, are varied. They can be very complex course management systems which are designed to do things like quizzes and grading (as well as discussions and have places to store course materials.) Some have fewer features, but all have some basic qualities:

  • Ability to handle multiple courses (or activities) and enroll individual students
  • Courses can be done either with specific deadlines, or at any pace
  • Course calendars
  • Messaging (between teacher and students and between students)
  • Group discussions
  • Document repositories
  • Assignments and grading

Most post-secondary institutions are using LMS for management of both regular and distance learning courses. Increasingly, a wide variety of training opportunities are being delivered via LMS.

So what LMS should you look at? There are both proprietary and open source LMS. Most proprietary LMS are geared specifically toward the college/university or corporate training markets, and are thus quite expensive. These include Blackboard, ANGEL, and WebCT (now owned by Blackboard), among others. There are open source LMS, some of which are quite well developed, and some also geared toward (or developed by) colleges and universities.

  • Moodle - probably the best known open source LMS. It is very easy to install, and there are an increasing number of consultants and companies offering support for Moodle.
  • LAMS - not as much an LMS as a curriculum development tool. Can be powerful if integrated with Moodle
  • ILIAS - developed by the University of Cologne, is another open source LMS


I recall in the proprietary

I recall in the proprietary world, Isoph offered a LMS with integration with web and video conferencing. Their focus was (last I looked) broader than strictly educational institutions, appealing to associations offering courses as well. They offered an online virtual classroom where folks with permissions to the class could join the group, and sign up for recorded and live webinar presentations.

My read is that the API available with some of the proprietary webinar products (such as Adobe Connect) would allow integration with sign-in systems offered by the LMS products covered in this post. But it would be prudent to tread carefully here as there is a lot more vendor hype about such openness than reality.

That's a great question. None

That's a great question. None of the LMS have that kind of online conferencing facility - it's not part of the feature set. And at this point, I haven't heard tell of anyone making them speak to each other - that would be quite a task. WebHuddle, which is the sole open source online conferencing platform, could, perhaps, be taught to speak to one of the open source LMS. That would be the best bet, since the rest are SaaS - and pretty closed, from what I can tell.

Thanks for leading us off,

Thanks for leading us off, Michelle! Great stuff. I'm wondering, though - how does a LMS interact with a online conferencing platform (like ReadyTalk or Adobe Connect)? Are there tools in something like Moodle to replace these? Or would you have both? Would they speak?