The Evolution of Learning Management Systems in Higher Education


According to a recently released report from Technavio, the learning management system (LMS) market is expected to grow at an annual rate of 23.2 percent through 2019, with increased demand in higher education, K-12 education and corporate settings. An LMS is software or web-based technology used to plan, deliver and evaluate a learning process.

In higher education, an LMS is used to administer, document, track and report on online coursework and assess student performance. An Educause white paper from April 2015 found that 85 percent of faculty use LMSs, 56 percent use them daily, and 74 percent believe they enhance teaching. These tools are also popular among students as 83 percent use LMSs, and 56 percent use them in most or all of their courses.

Although there are hundreds of LMSs available, each with its own set of features and capabilities, the most common components of a higher education LMS include:

  • A digital roster sheet for tracking attendance and distributing invitations to students
  • Customized registration controls and monitoring
  • Document management tools for uploading and managing course materials
  • Web-based interfaces that provide access to course content from any device and location
  • Calendars for posting and sharing schedules, deadlines, assignments and tests
  • Interactive features that enable engagement and interaction, such as email, instant messaging, discussion forums and video conferencing
  • Assessment tools to test knowledge retention
  • Grading features to measure and track student performance

An LMS offers a number of advantages in higher education. Instructors can easily reuse materials and update as necessary from semester to semester. An LMS simplifies the distribution of online learning content and makes courses accessible to both instructors and students, regardless of location. It encourages collaboration outside of the classroom and offers the flexibility to communicate according to each individual’s preferences and availability. Instructors can seamlessly blend in-person and online learning, which creates more options for assessing performance and makes it possible to quickly identify at-risk students.

According to the Educause report, LMSs must evolve to satisfy new learning models in higher education and shift from a course-focused to learner-focused approach. The first step is to ensure interoperability, which would allow for the seamless exchange of content and data and the integration of learning tools. Interoperability makes it possible to deliver a more personalized user experience in terms of the learning environment, the learning process, and an adaptive learning model that automatically changes to suit the student’s needs.

An LMS must also be able to use analytics to produce actionable insights and support new assessment methods. The scope of the data analyzed should go beyond the LMS and student information system to include deeper data about the individual student, such as biographic data, course activity, learning behavior and completed assignments. An LMS must support collaboration at all levels, for all purposes, and in all group sizes. Students should be able to move freely between public and private online spaces to collaborate.

Finally, an LMS should continue to innovate to expand accessibility to those with disabilities. This could involve the use of “universal design” to make environments, products and materials usable by all people without the need to for adaptation.

Beyond technology and capabilities, many schools will require a cultural shift to take full advantage of an LMS. New learning models require a level of innovation that brings changes in thinking, process and purpose to achieve successful outcomes.