E-learning has become a vibrant trend in technologyenhanced education. But the trend is not only with educational institutions. Business and industry are equally enamored with the prospect of educating workers through technology. A Learning Circuits survey found that 81.7% of organizations use some sort of learning management system (Ellis, 2005). Students or employees can access their learning materials through the Internet using an Internet service provider (ISP). Learning programs and materials are hosted and available online, allowing people to learn, interact, and even earn degrees in the comfort of their own homes, and on their own timeline. However, e-learning is not just for distance education. Just-in-time access (or anytime access) to learning materials for both formal and informal learning is transforming the training and educational fields. Anyone with Web space can now make learning materials available to a global audience.
With the ability to host learning materials over the Internet comes the challenge of maintaining and administering the instruction. Consequently, there is a booming market for software designed to aid organizations in managing their e-learning initiatives. These software programs are commonly referred to as learning management systems. A learning management system (LMS) is a Web-based software solution to simplify the administration of learning programs. It can track learner progress through a learning program, provide a forum for collaboration, centralize program information and scheduling, provide a forum for synchronous and asynchronous courseware, and enable the assessment of learning effectiveness (Sun Microsystems, Inc., 2001). However, as the LMS market matures, so will the interest in systems that integrate learning with talent management, certification, regulatory compliance, e-commerce, and other data that can be tied to organizational performance (Bersin, 2005; Sussman, 2005).
Knowledge is now being recognized as a source of competitive advantage, resulting in a shift from viewing learning as an administrative task to one of strategic significance. Thus, in addition to the obvious need to organize, coordinate, and administer learning effectively, there are other forces driving the increased use of LMSs. Cost savings is the leading reason that corporate America invests in learning management systems (Dobbs, 2002). Companies are finding that they have to manage their learning not only across geographic distance, but also across cultures and practices. Companies also want their skill sets consistent across their operations. Labor shortages, limited resources, and corporate responsibility are all increasing the need to manage learning (Hall, 2003). As corporate learning becomes more sophisticated, attention will point to enterprise learning management systems that will tie into corporate goals and sales, manage all learning, act as a knowledge repository, and assist in talent, certification, and compliance management (Bersin, 2005).
In educational settings, adoption of learning management systems has been widespread (Coats, 2005). Universities are seeing distance education as a way to decrease costs, decrease the need for classrooms, increase access to education, and increase their student population (Minelli & Ferris, 2005). Faculty members are being told they must have online content, driving a need to make the process easier and less time intensive. In addition, instructors have found that the use of course management systems actually improves their teaching (Ehrman & Gilbert, 2003).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Synchronous Learning: Learning that occurs in real time. Classroom-based, face-to-face instruction is an example of synchronous learning.
Content Management System (CMS): Software used to manage the content of a Web site. Typically, a CMS consists of two elements, the content management application and the content delivery application. Typical CMS features include Web-based publishing, format management, revision control, indexing, search, and retrieval.
Web Portal: A primary starting site for users when they get connected to the Web. Most portals offer users the ability to create a site that is personalized for their individual interests.
Enterprise Learning Management System (ELMS): A full-featured learning management system that also includes some of the features and capabilities of a Web portal and content management system. Content that is stored within the system is structured within a content hierarchy that does not need to be tied to a particular course.
Learning Management System (LMS): A software application used to plan, implement, and assess learning processes. Typically, an LMS provides an instructor with a way to create and deliver content, monitor student communication and participation, and assess student performance, and provides students with the ability to use interactive features such as threaded discussions, video conferencing, and discussion forums.
Virtual Classroom: Technology designed to support synchronous collaboration by allowing a live classroom experience to be conducted over the Web (Cooke-Plagwitz & Hines, 2001).
Distance Education: Learning that occurs when there is a separation (by time or distance) between the learner and the instructor.
Asynchronous Learning: Learners use computer and communications technologies to work with remote learning resources, without the requirement to be online at the same time or in the same location. Participation in online discussion boards is an example of asynchronous learning.
Knowledge Management: Identification and analysis of available and required knowledge assets and related processes in an attempt to manage learning to fulfill organizational objectives.
Blended Learning: Learning that results from using mixed methods of instructional deliver (i.e., face-to-face and Internet.)