Learning Management Systems: A Focus on the Learner

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Your institution is considering a change in its learning system. As a leader, practitioner, and/or decision maker, you are called on to be part of the decision-making and implementation processes. What do you need to know in order to recommend the best system for your institution and its learners? This article will provide a comparison between two types of learning systems and will recommend one over the other based on its suitability according to Moore's (1993) transactional distance theory.

DESCRIPTION OF LEARNING SYSTEMS

A learning system is a type of tool used to manage the knowledge assets of an institution and make them available to learners (Graf, 2008). Learning systems are used to manage courses, deliver content to learners, conduct learning activities, and evaluate learning outcomes. The learning systems software used to deliver online, hybrid, and Web-supported courses are known by many different names. They have been called courseware, course management systems, learning management systems, learning content management systems, and virtual learning environments, among others. In this paper, for ease of reference, they are referred to as "learning systems." They all fall under the general classification of tools for the management of information and learning (Graf, 2008). Until recently, course management systems (CMSs) like WebCT were the norm. They allowed institutions to focus on creating courses and populating them with content and students. More recently, however, a new type of system has emerged called learning management systems (LMSs) because they are designed with the learner in mind and promote a focus on the learner in addition to the content.

Should you recommend the institution consider a CMS, or an LMS? How, exactly, are they different? What are the benefits of licensing a newer-generation LMS rather than a CMS like WebCT? WebCT is a great tool for the management and delivery of course content. At this author's institution, however, we recently transitioned from the WebCT CMS to a new LMS known as ANGEL (ANGEL Learning, 2007). Why did we change from a CMS to an LMS? Simply put, we were looking for two things: a scalable enterprise-level portal system capable of interacting with our student systems, and a system that had better learning management tools.

This paper explores the differences between CMSs and LMSs and suggests the clear advantage of an LMS if your institution and faculty desire the best type of system for the learner. Two theories that relate to this choice are examined in this paper: transactional distance theory (Moore, 1993), and diffusion of innovations theory (Rogers, 2003). A theoretical model for the evaluation of learning systems (Malikowski, Thompson, & Th eis, 2007) is also reviewed and discussed. Suggestions for evaluation and implementation are also offered based on our experience transitioning from a CMS to an LMS. Also suggested is the importance of training faculty during the implementation in order to speed the process of diffusion of the innovation throughout the system.

LEARNING SYSTEMS USAGE

Learning systems have become the core technology used by institutions that deliver courses at a distance, and they are also widely used by institutions for hybrid courses and for other blended learning environments (Black, Beck, Dawson, Jinks, & DiPietro, 2007). But more than any other delivery model, learning systems are used by instructors who choose to enhance their traditional classes with online content or who wish to take advantage of the communications tools in those systems. Indeed, learning systems are used three times more often for technology-enhanced traditional courses than for hybrid and online courses (Falvo & Johnson, 2005; Green, 2001; Morgan, 2003). Irrespective of the course model, millions of students are using learning systems in higher education and a growing number of K-12 students have been exposed to these systems. …