What is an LMS Learning Management System?

This powerful education platform is an essential tool for teaching and learning today.

Also referred to as learning management system, VLE, virtual learning environment

What is an LMS?

A learning management system (LMS) is the software used by schools and businesses to manage the delivery of educational or training content. The term can be applied to basic course management systems, but it typically refers to complex large-scale learning platforms.

Today, learning management systems are the core of the teaching and learning technology ecosystem. They’re used to enhance classroom learning or provide education online. Learning management systems have been widely adopted in higher education. Use is growing in the K-12 market as classrooms become increasingly digital. Businesses and associations are also adopting online learning solutions for their training programs.

“As the demand for increased digitalization of the classroom has expanded, use of the LMS as an organizing tool for teaching and learning has grown with it.”
– Dr. Kelly J. Calhoun Williams, Research Director, Education, Gartner


LMS Fundamentals

Learning management systems provide a centralized source of learning. This allows instructors and learners access to learning content anytime and anywhere. An LMS can bring efficiency to even the most basic activities. An LMS can provide teachers with tools to save time on frequent tasks like tracking assignments and automatic grading.

What is a Corporate LMS?

Like an academic LMS, a corporate learning management system is often a centralized source of training material for an organization. Often, they’re used by highly regulated industries that need to manage certification and compliance data. They’re often part of, or an extension to, a human capital management suite.

What is an Enterprise LMS?

Not to be confused with a corporate LMS, “enterprise LMS” is the term often used in K-12 education to describe the large, centralized learning platform operated at the district or state level.

A single platform can be flexible enough for many use-cases, from single-classroom blended learning to district-wide platform to corporate learning.


Past: The History of the LMS

Learning management systems grew out of distance education programs, with course material shared by television broadcast, audio, and other early computer-assisted learning technologies. As delivery of content over the Internet became more common, early innovators looked for ways to distribute learning content.

The first LMS was developed in 1960 by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Called PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations), it used the basic Internet at the time to deliver managed course content. In the following decades, advances in computer technology and networking allowed industry and academia to pursue various forms of distribution of educational content, practice activities, and testing capabilities.

In 1995, the University of Auckland Business School launched the first World Wide Web-based learning platform — CECIL. By the late 90s and early 00s, several post-secondary institutions had built their own learning management systems. Some commercial LMS vendors were also founded. Those early LMS products included OLAT, CourseInfo, CourseNotes.com, and others that are still available today. In fact, D2L (known as Desire2Learn at the time), was among those. John Baker founded D2L while studying at the University of Waterloo.


Present: Learning Management Systems Today

From On-Premise to the Cloud

From 2000 until today, LMS adoption has grown rapidly in higher education. According to the Center for Educational Innovation at the University of Buffalo, in 2015, 99% of higher education institutions in America had an LMS.

LMSs have evolved over time, from custom-built and on-premise systems to cloud-based learning management systems. When a learning management system is “in the cloud”, it simply means that it’s stored on a network of remote servers, instead of at the organization. This eliminates the need for organizations to own and maintain the infrastructure to support the LMS.

Today’s cloud learning management systems support diverse groups of users and pedagogical styles. Students and instructors can access content from anywhere in the world or right in their classrooms. They can join in real-time video discussions or read material when it’s convenient for them.

Besides course administration and content delivery features, learning management systems today have become a centralized source of information in both virtual and blended learning environments.

Common features of today’s LMS include:

  • Assessment and assignment tools
  • Grading and performance reporting
  • Communication tools such as chat, video, and discussions.


Next-Generation Learning Platforms

Built for Every User

Where the legacy LMS was typically used for distance learning, the learning systems of today are being embraced by instructors of students at all levels. From Kindergarten to post-secondary and continuing education, and even corporate learning, use next-gen learning platforms as the core technology in a broad learning ecosystem.

Teachers at the primary level can improve communication with parents and document learning with tools that use age-appropriate user interfaces and parent applications. Gamification, social learning, and content curation allow instructors to bring engaging digital content into . Teachers can track performance and participation with robust reporting tools.

With adaptive learning engines and support for , instructors can personalize the content to the student’s needs. The system will introduce remedial content where necessary, or convert previous experience into credit, allowing students to accelerate through courses.

Integrations with external file storage applications such as the Google Drive™ online storage system, video assessment and virtual classroom tools, and easy content authoring tools, teachers can leverage the LMS to support their preferred teaching methods. Asynchronous communication features and mobile access allows students to learn when and where they choose. Interoperability with Student Information Systems (SIS) and the flexibility to support the smallest classes to the largest districts means the next-gen LMS is truly the core of education today and into the future.

Embracing the LMS

The Brightspace learning platform is designed to help educators get tasks done effectively with a system that fits into their processes and not the other way around. This will give instructors more time to focus on what matters – spending time with students.