What is a Learning Management System?

A learning content management system is a web-based application for managing course communication, collaboration, administration, tracking, and reporting.

The University of Toronto is currently reviewing requirements for a new Learning Management System/Engine. [http://toolboxrenewal.act.utoronto.ca/core-learning-management-engine/]

Blackboard was selected as the centrally supported Learning Management System of the University of Toronto January 1, 2006 after extensive consultation and it went into production in the Fall of 2006 (eleven years ago).

Now known as "The Learning Portal", Blackboard is a sophisticated system for supporting courses which are either completely online, or run in a blended fashion.  It has a rich set of features for the support of teaching in all kinds of styles and courses: from first year psychology to digital studio; curriculum outcomes: from content-centric to student-centric.

These features include, for example:

  • modular portal - easy to add additional functionality
  • pluggable content from publishers, peers and specialists
  • detailed tracking of grades, by achievement level, group, or other criteria
  • providing multiple forms of e-submission and file return, fully facilitating the paperless course
  • offering a full range of online collaborative features: both synchronous (e.g. interactive chat, whiteboard) and asynchronous (discussion boards, blogging and journalling)
  • advanced asynchronous javascript and XML (AJAX) interface: the system can refresh the web pages without reloading them.

Blackboard's ubiquity means that like Microsoft Windows, it is used at institutions all over the globe, and the terminology Blackboard uses to describe the e-learning process is increasingly the language of effective e-learning.

While Blackboard represents the most significant Learning Management system the university has adopted in terms of standardization of e-learning features and support, it may be beneficial to note that many LMS systems were born at the University of Toronto, notably these three: WebKF, CCNet and ATutor.

 

- WebKF or Web Knowledge Forum was created at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education by Professors Carl Bereiter and Marlene Scardamelia, based on their extensive experience observing and experimenting with use of computers in education.  It was reengineered for the web in 1995 by Learning in Motion.  Web KF is now a highly successful commercial LMS product used in 19 countries around the world--particularly strong in pedagogical support for collaborative thinking, knowledge building and constructivism in online learning.

 

 - CCNet was developed by the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering by Civil Engineering Professor Stefan Zukotynski and other staff.  After many years of development in teaching CCNet was commercialized, expanded to Arts and Science, then replaced by the institution-wide Blackboard May 31, 2008.  CCNet is still used at Stanford and the University of Alberta, but it's probably fair to say CCNet is not a widespread system.  Its main virtues were the stark, no-nonsense interface and the incredibly efficient (although complex) database system that made CCNet ideal for running large numbers of courses with very little by way of server computing resources.

 

- ATutor was developed by U of T's Adaptive Technology Resource Centre, which was renamed the Inclusive Design Research Centre and relocated to OCAD University August 1, 2010.  ATutor is free, fully W3C accessibility compliant, based on open-standards, and is used in thousands of e-learning applications.  ATutor's chief virtue is it's modularity and basis in the Linux - Apache - PHP - MySQL server stack...meaning that interface translations and additional functionality have been created to customize this system for use in almost any situation by the open source learning communities around the world.

 

Resources

Learning Management Systems at Wikipedia: good initial survey article

LMS Comparison of Ontario Universities (Brock University)