Learning management systems

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Draft 1

Editor: Daniel Burgos, AtoS & International University of La Rioja

Contributors: Dai Griffiths, University of Bolton; Fabrizio Giorgini, eXact Learning Solutions, Martin Wolpers, Fraunhofer FIT.


The term Learning Management System (LMS) refers to an integrated system that supports learners and teachers to delivering, using, managing, and tracking online training and education. This system may be used to plan, implement, and assess specific learning processes.

Comments on the history

Following Watson and Watson (2007 p.28) “LMS has its history in another term, integrated learning system (ILS) which offers functionality beyond instructional content such as management and tracking, personalized instruction and integration across the system […] LMS was originally used to describe the management system component of the PLATO K-12 learning system, content-free and separate from the courseware […]”.

LMS is today used to refer to integrated Web based, typically domain independent applications, which enable educational institutions and teachers to manage large numbers of learners with access to course related information, resources and services.

Related terms


Course Management Systems, Learning Content Management System (LCMS), Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)

Other related terms

E-Training System, Instructional management systems, Integrated learning System, Learning Social Networks, Personal Learning Environment.

Translation issues


Disciplinary issues

LMSs are used to support a range of activities and objectives, with the system being used in slightly different ways in each case. For example, formal and informal learning are often mixed in the different uses of an LMS. In the workplace, the development of formally defined professional competences can be facilitated by an LMS and social tools which it makes available. On the other hand an LMS can support social networks which concentrate on informal learning in non-regulated programs, but which nonetheless also have to engage with formal learning objectives. A framework for the pedagogical evaluation of the ways in which LMS systems can be used is available in Britain and Liber, 2004.

LMS's provide institutions with a content management system (CMS) combined with an integrated suite of learning services, and a means of managing access to contents and organizational items (e.g. courses) for large numbers of users. LMS design includes roles, typically:

(i) administrators who determine the structure of the server and the services which are made available by the system;
(ii) teachers who determine the structure of an individual course, select services from those made available by administrators, and provide content and instructions to learners;
(iii) learners who access the services and content of a particular instance of a course, and can input their own texts and files to designated areas of the server.

The following features are typical of an LMS: management of users and roles; course management; synchronous services (e.g. online chat); asynchronous services (e.g. forum); mentoring; assessment; personalization features

Key references

[1] Britain, S. & Liber, O. (2004) A Framework for Pedagogical Evaluation of VLEs, JTAP.

[2] Berking, P & Gallagher, S. (2010). Choosing a Learning Management System. Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Co-Laboratories.

[3] Watson W. R., Watson S. L. (2007). An argument for clarity: what are learning management systems, what are they not, and what should they become? TechTrends, 51(2), 28-34.