Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Learning Management Systems

Jason Haseldine March 2006

This document describes the findings of a survey undertaken on a number of Australian and International Learning Management Systems (LMS). The scope of the survey focuses on three products being; WebCT, Moodle and Nuvvo. The research defines what an LMS is, their key characteristics including features and use of different platform models in proprietary, open source and on-demand services.

This report represents a snapshot of a very active LMS market as of March 2006. A year from this date there would certainly be improvement and additional vendors in this space.

LMS: A Learning Management System is a software application or Web-based technology designed to enable the management, delivery and assessment of blended learning in education, government and industry.

The Engineering Education Centre (cited in Millea, Green and Putland 2005, p.33) identify an LMS is a software product that can ‘track student registration, track learner progress, record test scores and indicate course completions.’ TechTarget (2006) identify how an ‘LMS may also provide students with the ability to use interactive features such as threaded discussions, video conferencing, and discussion forums.’

Blended Learning: is a combination of learning techniques via technology such as DVD, podcasting, learning objects, online services, mobile services, collaborative tools and traditional print materials.

Podcasting: is a recent emerging technology arisen from the phenomenon of Apple’s Ipod music player. Educators have identified how technology in a music player can be utilised as a learning tool via the delivery of podcasts. Wikipedia (2006) states, ‘A podcast is a web feed of audio or video files placed on the Internet for anyone to download or subscribe to, and also the content of that feed.’

Learning Objects: Are individual software applications comprising graphics, text, audio, animation and interactive tools that have been designed to engage and motivate student learning (The Learning Federation 2006).

Open Source: Moyle (2003, p.3) states ‘Open source software uses software source code that is open, unrestricted and available by downloading it from the Internet.’ Open source means that the software is available under licence and can be modified; further this manipulated software can then be distributed back to the open community for additional enhancement. Moyle (2003, p.3) continues,
…the ‘open’ in open source software is intended in the philosophical sense of ‘open or free speech’ rather than as a free (ie no cost) product. The code in open source software is available and viewable.

Learning Management Systems first entered the market almost ten years ago. The three largest LMS vendors; Saba, SumTotal Systems and Plateau comprise some 29% of all LMS licence revenue (LTI Newsline 2006).

LMS are not restricted to industry, for these systems are also adopted in education and government enterprises. Bersin-LTI Research Center (2006) identified that ‘LMS systems are widely adopted, with 66% of large enterprises reporting a system in place.’

There is an extensive array of LMS products currently on the market. The very size of the industry has created an industry within itself being that of LMS selection consultants. This survey identifies three LMS products operating within the commercial, open source and on-demand model. It highlights their key features and the differences in their platform models.
LMS’s provide an extensive volume of functionality; the following is a condensed list of features identified within WebCT and Moodle as reported in EduTools (2006);

Internal email Calendar
Student tracking Customized look and feel
Groupwork Online grading
Bookmarks Online journal/notes
Hosted Services Real-time chat
Student portfolios Searching within Course
Help Self assessment
Course management Student community building
File Exchange Video Services
Discussion forums Whiteboard

Whilst WebCT and Moodle have similar features, their licensing models are different due to the nature of their ownership. The following information highlights these differences;

WebCT is a privately held company backed by a group of investors, hence they sell their product via a proprietary license for maximum return to their investors. The nature of proprietary software is that it is restricted in its use and distribution and rarely grants the end-user any rights.

WebCT have a pricing model based on the number of full-time equivalent students which is licensed on an annual subscription basis.

Richard Stallman is the founder of the Open Source movement. Stallman developed the famous GNU Public License that grants recipients freedom over running, distributing and improving the program ( 2000).

Open source has since made major inroads into developing its own market share. In 2005 the Open Source Industry Australia was created to further the cause of both Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) in Australia (OSIA 2006).

Moodle is an open source community. is a company launched in 2003 that sponsors Moodle development and provides commercial support, hosting, and custom development and consulting. The software is free and distributed under the GNU Public License (EduTools 2006).

Whilst the software is ‘free’ it will require modifications and enhancements to suit each particular organisation, hence there will be application development and support costs.

Nuvvo is a new service launched in January 2006. Green (2006) states,
It is a fully hosted, on-demand LMS designed… to address the needs of individual instructors who are either unaffiliated with an e-learning-enabled institution, or are unhappy with the enterprise software used at their institution.

This is a completely different model to existing LMS’s on the market and is bleeding edge. Nuvvo is not a software package; hence licensing models such as proprietary and open source do not exist. It is a hosted service that runs on the Internet and is free. Thus saving internal IT costs.

Nuvvo makes money from ads and by taking 8% of any course fees set by the educator. Nuvvo effectively allows educators to create courses, tests and grades on-line.

The LMS market is extremely large and growing. Both proprietary and open source solutions provide similar functionalities and add-value to the consumer. Open source is gaining wider acceptance within industry and the Australian Government have Open Source as a first consideration point prior to acceptance of a software solution.

The addition of Nuvvo presents a different direction for the LMS market. On-demand services are likely to gain a stronger appreciation via Web 2.0 technologies such as Ajax.

Masie (2006) identifies future trends within the LMS space via integration with PDA and mobile devices, connectedness with document management and knowledge management systems, peer reviews of content, multi-language learning and more.

Bersin and Associates, Learning Management Systems 2006: Industry Study Vendor Profiles, and Benchmarks, viewed 21 March 2006,

EduTools 2006, CMS: Product Comparison System, viewed 22 March 2006,

Green J 2006, Moodle vs. Nuvvo, viewed 22 March 2006,

LTI Newsline 2006, LMS Market Grows 28 Percent, viewed 21 March 2006,

Masie, E 2006, Learning Trends: 18 Wishes for an LMS, viewed 22 March 2006,

Millea, J, Green, I & Putland, G 2005, Emerging Technologies, A framework for thinking, ACT Department of Education and Training, limited, viewed 21 March 2006,

Moyle, K 2003, Open Source Software and Australian School Education, viewed 18 March 2006, 2000, A Brief History of Free/Open Source Software Movement, viewed 23 March 2006,

Open Source Industry Australia, About OSIA, viewed 23 March 2006, Definitions 2006, learning management system, viewed 22 March 2006,

The Learning Federation 2006, viewed 18 March 2006,

Wikipedia 2006, Podcasting, viewed 15 March 2006,

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