Course Management Systems are a subset of Content Management Systems.

Course Management Systems (also called "Learning Management Systems" or "Virtual Learning Environments") are software packages designed for teachers and students to easily share information relevant to their course. Most are web-based. Virtual Classrooms are different than Course Management Systems but are sometimes incorporated within them. A Virtual Classroom is usually a synchronous online meeting-space that includes text chat, shared whiteboard, and might include shared audio, video, polling, etc.

Features of Course Management Systems may include:

  • announcements
  • homework assignments
  • course documents
  • discussion boards
  • inter-class communications
  • chat rooms
  • grading/grade reporting
  • quizzes
  • surveys
  • file storage
  • blogs
  • chat
  • wikis
  • event
  • e library
  • image gallery
  • calender

EduTools provides comprehensive analysis of most CMS systems.


This industry is about 10-12 years old and has its roots in open-source(free code) software. When looking at systems, you can group the software into two broad categories: Open Source and Non-open Source.Historically, the passions run deep in both of these worlds and many people will see only the open source programs as suitable solutions while others would never go that route. There are costs and benefits to each and these must be considered in context with your institution and the direction that you want to go in the blended world. There is also the ever changing nature of Web 2.0 to consider as new ways of working are being developed in the area of social software. Many of these will eventually be incorporated in both open source and non-open source learning management systems (LMS). (see below)

For future growth and possibilities, you want a platform that allows great flexibility in development, ease of use for both the teacher(designer) and student, SCORM compliant and is under active development for future tools and growth. Of the commercial systems (non-open source) I have used Blackboard, WebCT and eCollege. I personally found WebCT more robust and flexible and a better fit. However, I am watching the world of LMS's and understand the draw to open-source. If you are serious about moving into the blended approach to distributed learning, I would recommend two actions:

Seek out a well designed program that is taught in a blended/distributed approach and take the class/program. This would be key to the success of any program you may launch. You should not just take a traditional course and place it online. Teaching and learning online are very different and that is not something that we as today's educators have much experience with. I would recommend the Pepperdine Online Master of Educational Technology Program. I completed this program 2 years ago and it was the most incredible learning experience. The program is action research based and will change you forever. I must thank Greenhill for the opportunity to attend and the program is highly recommended. Feel free to contact me if you would like more information. You can view some of my work related to this program as well as recent work on my portfolio at:

Open-Source SolutionsEdit

There are two big players in the open source arena with several smaller players rising rapidly. They are Moodle and Sakai. At the moment, I would have to say Moodle has the largest following between these two because it has been around the longest and is very easy to use. It can do most of what you are looking for but then all of these programs can do these things as that is the nature of an LMS. Easy to install and manage but not as flexible to design in as other systems. However, it is quite stable and promises to continue to have a large following in the community. Sakai is a newer platform that is under development by several major universities (the birthplace of the LMS). This project promises to be quite robust but is still young. I think they are now inversion 2.x. I can speak for the simplicity of Moodle but have not personally experienced Sakai yet. I have many colleagues that have attended Sakai conferences and I understand that they are quite the experience- very visionary and what you might expect in the open source world.

Proprietary SolutionsEdit

Here you have many choices but some are more mainstream than others. The big players in the LMS market have been Blackboard and WebCT. Blackboard and WebCT competed for leadership in the University market, and were both designed and built to support large institutional installations. Blackboard has recently begun marketing to K12 schools. However, Blackboard has purchased WebCT making WebCT a Blackboard company. Blackboard promises to support and develop both lines for several year (I expect 3) until the new product is released that is a best of breed of these two systems. We have been a WebCT school now for the past three years.Considerable work went into my moving in this direction which I suppose I could share another time. However, I have found that the development in WebCT is much more flexible than Blackboard and the pricing structure made more sense for what we initially wanted to do. I expect the future development will move more in the direction of WebCT as the CTO for the new Blackboard is the former CTO for WebCT. However, I expect the pricing/marketing structures to move more in the direction of Blackboard so this will be something to watch. The model used by most of the commercial systems is a seat based license. Works well in the higher education environment but not a great model for a K12 environment. This is something to watch as well as the industry is getting even more competitive.

The other thing you might want to consider is a trip to Texas in March for the Texas Distance Learning Association (TxDLA) annual conference.This is an incredible group of higher education, health professionals,corporate, military and a rapidly growing K12 educators that are pioneering in the field of distance/blended learning methods. You will find this a great place to network as well as get ideas for pedagogy,management, and design tips for distributed learning. Check out for more information. The current president of TxDLA was in the K12 environment until just a couple of months ago when he transitioned to the corporate environment. The beauty of this group is that you can really see what is happening in the world of e-learning and it is not limited to just one demographic or platform.

See also Edit

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