Nowadays the teaching-learning process is being more supported by technological resources that offer different ways of communication between persons, using sophisticated educational software applications.
Distance learning is based on an educational model in which teachers and students are physically present at the same place. In this context, they exchange learning contents using information and communication technologies. In the past few decades, distance learning started to be important by the policies defined by the governments of the most developed countries. Furthermore, both companies and other organizations paid more attention to these technologies because they allow easy information access in asynchronous way. Older examples of this kind of learning were the tele-school and teaching by mail. Nowadays, with the fast spreading of the Internet, these methods have been discarded and are being replaced by e-learning.
E-learning term is usually understood as electronic learning or learning through computer (Amaral & Leal, 2006). These authors conclude their work with a formal definition of e-learning. In this manner, e-learning is defined by “The process, by which the student learns through the content placed in the Internet and/or CD-Rom. The teacher, if exists, is at distance, using the Internet to communicate (synchronously or asynchronously) with the students, possibly intermediated with some face-to-face moments” (Amaral & Leal, 2006).
It is important to guarantee that e-learning is not just one more tool for non-organized information delivery. Based on this, it is crucial to recognize the importance of the distance learning methodologies. In this sense, the existence of systems that monitor the progress of learning of individual students in virtual learning environments is essential. We may consider the following five types of e-learning, based on (Amaral & Leal, 2007): (i) asynchronous online teaching, (ii) on-line teaching with synchronous moments, (iii) mixed on-line teaching, (iv) (pure) on-line teaching, and (v) computer based teaching.
Asynchronous online teaching is characterized by a teacher-student interaction with asynchronous moments, such as electronic mail exchange or discussion fora. Whereas in the online teaching with synchronous moments, teacher-student interaction needs synchronous moments, such as Internet relay chat (IRC) and videoconference. Mixed online teaching involves real-time and face-to-face interaction, and it is also known as blended learning. In the pure online teaching, contents are available on the Internet without the teacher’s figure and it is not dependent on the time and space. Finally, in the computer based teaching, contents are available on CD and, similarly to the latter, with teacher support. In this kind of e-learning, the contents are independent of time and space.
Under e-learning, the following two main concepts or technological systems may be considered (Yuuichi, Toshihiro, Seisuke, & Hiroshi, 2006): learning management systems (LMS) and course management system (CMS). Now the question is “What is the real difference between CMSs (such as Blackboard (Blackboard Inc., 2008), and LMSs (such as NetDimensions EKP (NetDimensions, 2008), Saba (Saba, 2008), or SumTotal (SumTotal Systems, 2008)?” The answer to this question is the basis to understand the difference between the concepts CMS and LMS.