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Introduction To The History of LMS Software

by David Adelman

Back in the days, no one would have thought LMSs would get so reliable as to allow balance between quality content delivery and real-time interactions, and yet – it happened! Not to mention handy corporate learning apps where users manage expenses and benefits, which are today persistently replacing costly software ecosystems. Yes, digitized learning management made business easier than we’d wanted it to be, and in order to appreciate that and prepare for the future we should first take a look at the most important moments in the history of LMS software development.

Distance learning and repurposing audio & video communication

Distance learning emerged in the early 1900s, when the University of Wisconsin embraced an audio lecturing and network messaging scenario for its students. The revolutionary idea was adopted by E.M. Forster, who explained the benefits of distributing audio and video content to remote audiences in his story ‘The Machine Stop’. By 1920, remote learning was already a fact, as Sidney Pressey introduced world’s first interference-free teaching machine that gave learners a variety of practical exercises and question types. The machine was soon replace by M.E. LaZerte’s advanced Problem Cylinder, able to compare problems to solutions, and to show students what they were doing wrong.

Skinner’s teaching machine, another example of early remote learning solutions

The development of audio and  video communication in the following 30 years ensured solid ground to launch the first video lectures, this time organized for Houston University’s students, and transmitted for 13-15 hours via public television KUHT. By 1953 as much as 38% of the university’s program was taught using live transmissions, which gave Berkeley’s Professor Harvey White the idea to record those, and to distribute them to a variety of educational venues.

By the 1970s and 1980s, there were already fully-accredited online courses and postgraduate degrees, using adaptive teaching systems developed in the period in between. The machine that certainly marked LMS development is Robin McKinnon Wood’s and Gordon Pask’s keyboard skill machine SAKI, which adjusted automatically the tempo of learning to learners’ adoption capacity. In 1960, the LMS market greeted the first Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations (PLATO), thanks to which Illinois University students could exchange content, receive and complete assignments regardless of their locations. By 1967, professors and lecturers started scoring exams online, using IBM’s 360/67 magnetic tape typewriter.

The emergence of Learning Management Systems

It is only in 1991 that we get to speak of real learning management systems. The first system was called EKKO, developed and distributed by Norway’s NKI Distance Education Network to ensure collaboration via direct manipulation. Three years later, in 1994,  NB Learning Network’s specialist Rory McGreal introduced the first DOS-based and corporate LMS, clearing the way for a whole new wave of employee education techniques to facilitate business.

Open-source learning management systems

2000 is the year when open source LMSs first appeared, thanks to the attempts of the University of Zurich to facilitate online access to information. Their product was called OLAT, and was immediately awarded with the prestigious MeDiDa-Prix for its performance and incredible pedagogical value. The rocket-speed development of eLearning systems inspired Microsoft to join the industry in 2001, first with its Encarta Class eLearning kit, and afterwards with its most popular and SCORM-certified product Sharepoint.

Today Microsoft’s SharePoint is a popular tool used widely in collaboration, e-learning and employee training.

The introduction of Moodle LMSs

The challenge developers faced during the first decade of the new millennium was to extend the functionality of their products in a way which would prevent lecturers from using integrated applications to create content suitable for digital exchange. Their idea was to develop programs where educators can prepare their learning materials, which is how they came across the first Moodle LMS designed both for educational and corporate usage SugarCube. This was also the time when LMSs started being more personalized, meaning that users got the chance to select the materials they want to store, export files in the desired formats, and integrate their LMS with a variety of popular social networks.

Mobile-optimized LMSs

Ever since 2014, learning management systems are fully operable on mobile devices, while some of them offer even dedicated apps for Android and iOS users. This trend began with LMS companies offering HTML5 mobile-ready websites and 24/7 learning blogs, only to make all learning management operations feasible on transportable devices.

TalentLMS quickly realized the potential of mobile market and introduced a mobile app for their software.

Business-exclusive LMSs

During 2014 and 2015, businesses got to use apps specifically developed for their needs and requirements, which not only distributed information among users, but acted as profitable centers they could use to sell course and materials, or manage the time and expenses invested in educating their employees. LMSs today are fully customizable and can accommodate all types of evaluation mechanisms, while some of them support even direct payments to let you complete payroll-related operations.

Future LMS Trends

The thing we concluded looking at the history of LMS software is that when one fuses technology with creative thinking, he should always expect the unexpected. This is why we believe LMS technology is at the dawn of its development, and about to present revolutionary programs such as full-3D learning. A sneak peek of what has already happened in 2017 insinuates that LMSs are becoming more and more personalized, and bundle even more of the useful social features we can no longer imagine software without. In fact, the LMSs of today support web conferencing, forums, leaderboards, and similar bells and whistles that make it possible to learn like a pro.

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