Definitions of a Learning Management System

Learning Management Systems (LMS) are generally described to be software applications used by instructors to administer learning through the distribution of instructional materials and monitoring and assessment of student participation and performance (Almrashdeh et al, 20011, Srichanyachon, 2014). Interpreted in this way, LMS are touted to be invaluable course management tools that support course administration and allow educational institutions to extend the reach and flexibility of course content to learners (Brown et al, 2015). More inclusive definitions describe LMS as learning platforms that also enable individual (student-to-content, student-to-student, instructor-to-student) and group interactions accommodated by built-in LMS tools, such as threaded discussions, video-conferences, sharable content objects (SCORM) and student portfolios (Kats, 2013).

Yet other definitions call for the separation of student-to-content interaction as more efficiently handled by Learning Content Management Systems (LCMS) which are used to create, store, deliver and track the usage and management of instructional content (Oakes, 2002). The mission of LMS unlike LCMS, is then shifted towards supporting the learner and the organization through the management of learning activities and mapping of the organizational priorities into a customized structure that supports learning processes within courses and organizations (Watson, 2007).

The rise of personal learning and adaptive learning environments has intensified the focus back on the learner who can take control and manage her own learning under the guidance of instructors and supported by platforms in which personal learning goals can be set, tracked and reached via flexible content, relevant automated and human feedback and meaningful connections with peers and accommodating resources (Feldstein et al, 2016).

In the recent years, publisher-provided content has been widely integrated into LMS and received substantial financial investments on the part of both publishers and LMS vendors. As the results, students, instructors and administrators have seen significant improvements in LMS user experiences (single sign-on, customization of publisher-provided content, integrated and improved navigability) as well as challenges (lack of authentic integration of publisher content into the LMS grade book, high student fees for accessing publisher content).

These developments have brought the question of the LMS ownership to the forefront:  who owns and defines LMS that’s a result of complicated and dynamic relationships between learners, instructors, institutions, vendors and publishers?

Consequently, the conversations defining LMS have become broader and more complex calling for the inclusion of new architectures, built-in layers of IT support, customization, flexible connections to content and people resulting an echo-system of sorts (Brown et al, 2015) that respects interoperability, personalization, collaboration, intelligent gathering of meaningful data on both student learning and institutional processes as well as accessibility and the principles of universal design.

Almrashdeh, I.A., Sahari, N., Zin, N.A.M., & Alsmadi, M. (2011). Distance learning management system requirements from student’s perspective. Journal of Theoretical and Applied Information Technology, 24(1), 17-27. 

Srichanyachon, N. (2014). EFL Learners' Perceptions of Using LMS. Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology, 13(4), 30-35.

Brown, M. Dehoney, J, & Millichap, N. (2015). What’s next for the LMS? Educause Review, July, August 2015. Retrieved 11/4/2015 from

Oakes, K. (2002). E-learning: LCMS, LMS- They're not just acronyms but powerful systems for learning. Training & Development, 56(3), 73-75.

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, Springer Verlag, 2007, 51(2), pp.28-34.

Srichanyachon, N. (2014). EFL Learners' Perceptions of Using LMS. Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology, 13(4), 30-35.

Kats, Y. (2013). Learning management systems and instructional design. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Feldstein, M., & Hill, P. (2016). Personalized learning: The hype, the hope and the straight dope. Educause Learning Initiative, 2016. Retrieved 11/4/2016 from