Course management systems, also called learning management systems or virtual learning environments, are software systems designed to assist in the management of educational courses for students, especially by helping teachers and learners with course administration. The systems can often track the learners' progress. While usually thought of as primarily tools for distance education, they are also used to support the face-to-face classroom.
A course management system allows teachers to manage their classes, assignments, activities, quizzes and tests, resources, and more in an accessible online environment. Students can log on and work anytime, anywhere. UIlman and Rabinowitz (2004) more succinctly define course management systems as "Internet-based software that manages student enrollment, tracks student performance, and creates and distributes course content." Commonly used proprietary course management systems are WebCT and Blackboard.
Course management systems (CMS) are becoming critical to education and have two major purposes (Ullman & Rabinowitz, 2004). First, a CMS can supplement a conventional course experience. Second, a CMS could be used to organize a course experience.
The Unit-Module-Topic approach to course organization (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2006) is an example of course organization that fits nicely into CMSs. Courses are organized into major sections, called units. Units are major subdivisions of the content of a course. Next, units are organized into modules. A module is a body of information that is often studied for a week in a class with about 3 hours of direct instruction and 5-6 hours of individual work. Finally, modules are divided into topics which are sometimes called learning experiences. Topics are important issues usually studied in one class session. A typical course might have 40 topics, grouped into 15 modules, and three units. The CMS would be used to provide structure for and allow delivery of the contents of a course, similar to how a table of contents gives a sense of organization to the reader of a book.
CMSs are also used to supplement courses, and are used this way even in conventional face-to-face sessions. The course syllabus can be listed in the CMS, announcements about the class can be posted, and a calendar of activities might be made available. CMSs have areas for synchronous chats and asynchronous discussion postings. The CMS becomes an add-on for the course that helps distribute what - and indicate when - learning events occur.
PROPRIETARY VERSUS OPEN SOURCE
In addition to the two ways CMSs are used, there are two categories of CMSs - proprietary and open source. Proprietary, single vendor systems (such as WebCT and Blackboard) are software products that are purchased or licensed from one vendor. These systems are installed and used by the school, college, or university. On the other hand, open-source course management systems are free educational software that are maintained by users who implement, even modify, and ultimately support their system to meet local, specific …