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Instructional Design, Technology, and the Emergence of eLearning


The field of instructional design and technology has advanced over the years creating new opportunities for students, trainers, and instructors. This field today "encompasses the analysis of learning and performance problems, and the design, development, implementation, evaluation, and management of instructional and non-instructional processes" (Reiser, 2001, p. 53). Beginning in the early 1900's, instructional technology has slowly emerged and then molded itself into what it is today. Instructional technology integrates the latest of technologies, such as Web 2.0 technologies, computers, and mobile devices, with established and emerging learning theories to achieve learning across multiple contexts.

Through our presentation, we explore the history of instructional design and distance learning along with current trends and challenges. Beginning with the invention of the Zoopraxiscope, we then take you through time where "visual education" matured into educational radio and television. And then to the present day where the World Wide Web has many Web 2.0/3.0 tools and new platforms that continue to mold our future generations.

The Last Century of Instructional Theory and Technology

Click on the timeline below to explore information relating to the development of learning theory and technology.

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Notice that the timeline shows that in most cases, inventors from other fields create or improve upon a new technology (e.g., the film camera and projector), and then instructional designers and other educators figure out how to leverage the technology to improve instruction and learning in alignment with their instructional philosophy, dominant school of learning, or current instructional theory.


As you can tell from our exploration of elearning and instructional technologies over the years, the only true "constant" is change. These changes over time have shaped our thinking about learning and performance improvement today. From Sesame Street to interactive games, innovations in the learning field make it what it is today. The role of technology has also greatly impacted the instructional design paradigm and has raised our capabilities to reach broader and more diverse audiences. The Internet continues to be an incredible vehicle to disseminate information and provide capabilities for synchronous and asynchronous learning world wide.

The role of technology has also enabled distance learning to increase in popularity. It has been adopted by prestigious universities and Fortune 100 companies worldwide. Saba (2008) says that “if current trends continue, it will be just a matter of time for distance education to become the dominant form of teaching and learning” (p.14). While the industry continues to improve capabilities and technologies to make distance learning affordable, interesting, and results driven, skeptics argue with data that “comparative studies of distance education and face to face instruction show “no statistically significant difference” (Saba, 1998, p. 3). As such, technology allows us to further our instructional reach to people who could not otherwise receive it with no degradation caused by the lack of face to face experience. Surely, this is a good thing and the major strength of technology-enabled distance learning.

As an industry, what is the next innovation? It is impossible to say what will come next, but history proves that learning and performance technologies will continue to change and advance through creativity, passion for education and the desire to improve human performance.

Trends in Learning Management Systems (LMS)


There are significant trends in the continually evolving Learning Management System (LMS). As you will discover through this report, LMS’ have changed over the years and continue to progress as a solution. Organizations continue to transform their requirements and the LMS must grow to meet these new demands. Through an interview with a LMS professional, an exploration of the history of LMS, and our take on the future of LMS, we will examine how technology advancements and enhancements to LMS’ have made it possible to improve the functions for learners, educators, and companies.

What Is an LMS?

LMS is known widely in the learning field as “Learning Management System.” According to Wikipedia, it is a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, and reporting of training programs, classroom and online events, e-learning programs, and training content. A robust LMS should be able to do the following:

Over the past several years, LMS’ have developed and grown. As you will see in the timeline section of this report, there is a long history behind the current LMS variations. There are several types of LMS’ available today. They vary from multi million dollar custom solutions to free online tools. Software development companies around the world create solutions for companies, schools, and individuals.

Learning Management Systems can be simple solutions or extremely complex and robust platforms. They can also employ various methodologies for their design. One example of a simple solution that incorporates a Social Constructivist Pedagogy for its design is (Moodle, 2012):

The Social Constructivist Pedagogy platform believes that people learn best when they interact with the learning material, constructs new material for others, and interacts with other students about the material. The difference between a traditional class and the social constructionist philosophy is the difference between a lecture and a discussion.

Moodle is abbreviated for Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment. It is a free online open source application that allows users to create courses and collaborate with other users. While Moodle is a free application and does not have the complexity of some other systems, it currently has 55,110 registered sites with 44,966,541 users in 4,763,446 courses in 214 countries and in more than 75 languages.

An example of a more complex LMS comes from a Software Development company called Saba Software, Inc. They are a global organization with 13 million subscribers, 2100 customers, 195 countries, and 31 languages. The system is not a stand alone application for users to access training. They strive to go beyond that and provide a platform that enables learning transfer through social interaction. They market themselves with the business outcomes in mind and maintain that their solution ties “learning directly to strategic initiatives for building a people-driven and a performance-focused culture. As a result organizations can build actionable, career leadership, and competency development based on identified skill gaps” (Saba Software, Inc., 2010). This type of solution can be customized for any type of industry or organization.

These are just two examples of Learning Management Systems. They can be found in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes they are free and other times they will cost your organization millions of dollars. In the end, to over simplify, they all have the general purpose of storing and presenting content, making the content accessible to learners and making it easy for organizations and individuals to keep track of learning content and progress. In fact there are so many learning management systems on the market, there are websites specifically created to compare the features and help business determine which LMS is right for their organization. An example of this is It’s an unbiased tool that enables the user to do a comparative analysis between several LMS’. As an example, I compared Moodle with ECampus LMS Enterprise. Here is the report. As you can tell, the user would have the ability to compare LMS’ by cost, licensing model, features, and industries served.

Some features of a robust LMS according to are as follows:

Feature Description
Accessibility Compliance Refers to a set of standards that explain how to make web content accessible.
Administration Administration features of an LMS include those tools that allow a system administrator to manage the system. They can include, but are not limited to: reporting, course authoring, authentication, course registration, and user access controls.
Communication/Social Learning Some LMS’ have the capabilities to link to a third party site for social networking like Facebook or Twitter. They can also include cohort blogs, internal messaging and discussion forums.
Content Development Many LMS' are packaged with a fully integrated Learning Content Management System (LCMS) that allows users with the appropriate privileges to create courseware and other learning tools (job aids, references, glossaries, etc.), which can also be served and tracked through the LMS.
Course Development LMS features in the course development arena are meant to ease the use of the system for the learner. To name a few, they can include: student portals, transcripts, skill tracking, testing, test scoring, and development planning.
Integration Features LMS’ can integrate with other tools such as email, mobile, e commerce, or third party learning products.
Productivity Productivity features can include reportings tools, instructor, room or learner scheduling, auto notifications, and workforce management.
Standards Almost all LMS' collect, track, and report data in alignment with some shared standard. The most popular standards are SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model) and AICC(Aviation Industry Computer-based training (CBT) Committee).
Support Many LMS Companies offer a support system to their customer which is usually agreed upon during the contract phase of the purchase agreement. An example would be 24/7 tech support.
Types of Training This includes the type of training that the LMS supports. Two common types would be instructor led and online.

Learning Management Systems are a unique platform, but with their development other trends have evolved. Some examples include CMS or Content Management System, LCMS or Learning Content Management System and finally the PLE or Personal learning Environment.

The CMS is very closely related to the LMS in that it varies in size and capability, but the core purpose of the CMS is to store and retrieve data. It will hold many types of data including spreadsheets, word documents, audio files, images, and several others. The LCMS is similar to the LMS except it has a focus on development, Management and Publishing. It is mostly used for Instructional Designers, and other content providers to create content and share it with others. Lastly, the PLE is a newer concept in the literature and closely aligns with the LMS, but on a very personal level. Unlike many LMS solutions, PLE’s are managed and owned by the individual learner. This concept is fairly new in the elearning space. One might assume that it came about because of the individuals need to manage and track their own personal development. PLE’s allow a learner to not only manage their learning content, but also interact with others in a social learning setting.

In the next section of this report in the LMS timeline, we will take a closer look at the LMS history and how the CMS, LCMS, and PLE’s are evolving in learning technology trends.

History of LMS

Click on the timeline below to explore information relating to the development of Learning Management Systems.

Note: If the timeline window does not appear, you may have a pop-up blocker turned on. 1st try pressing CTRL while clicking the image. If that doesn't work, please temporarily turn off your pop-up blocker.

Notice that in the LMS Timeline something different happens to the instructional technology cycle. In the typical cycle, a new technology is introduced in an unrelated field and instructional designer or educator comes up with a strategy to leverage it into learning. In many cases of the teaching machines and LMS evolution, the instructional designer or educator comes up with a problem or vision, and then inventors work to create a machine or system to solve the problem or achieve the vision.

Current LMS Uses and Trends

Learning management systems have evolved greatly since their inception. Gone are the days of stand-alone Learning Management Systems. Today’s trend is integration of learning management systems with existing organizational systems to maximize the information available. This means organizations need to consider more than the advantages their LMS will provide them for training, but how their LMS can benefit the entire organization.

When looking to purchase a new LMS, Tom Werner, Senior Analyst for Brandon Hall Research, recommends the following questions (Malamed, C. (n.d.).

      "Do we have special needs, such as:

With an idea of the features needed for your organization, it is time to research the vendors available, creating a list of vendors that address the needs your organization has deemed important. Tom also provides this word of advice in narrowing down your LMS choices:

Probably the most important capability of an LMS is whether it interoperates with your other tools and systems. If you use a particular e-learning authoring tool, or subscribe to a particular library of off-the-shelf online courses, or want the LMS to merge with your intranet or company database, you want to make sure that the interoperability is there. (Malamed, C. (n.d.)

To help provide a better understanding of current trends organizations are looking for in their LMS’s, Edwin Hurely talked with Angela Nelson, an LMS administrator for Express Scripts, discussing the what their organization looked for when selecting their LMS and features she finds useful within their system.

Click on the image below to listen to Edwin's interview with Angela.

As you can tell from the interview with Angela, there are many decisions to make when selecting and implementing an LMS. For those organizations planning to start using an LMS and yet are new to learning management, not sure what features are available, and unable to arrange their importance, there are several resources available providing relevant information. One such report is Expertus' (2010) “Survey Results: The Current and Future State of Learning Management Systems.” This report provides useful information relating to level of satisfaction with your LMS to challenges you and your learners have faced when using your LMS. Respondents of the survey listed personalized learning plans, certifications features, and content authoring capabilities as the top three currently used advanced LMS features.

The Future of LMS

We have been talking about Learning Management Systems and their history and present day use. But what is in store for LMS of the future? Will LMS be able to evolve to meet the newest standards of content sharing and social networking?

Click on the Play button below to view the Animoto video highlighting the future trends of Learning Management Systems.

Luckily vendors of the future of LMS are quickly developing new LMS. This transition from old LMS to a new 21st century LMS is taking form. Whether it's using cutting-edge technologies or integrating something as simple as a blog or a wiki. The focus is on student-centered learning, collaboration across courses and campuses, and project-based coursework that lead to competency-based assessments. And web 2.0 and cloud-based technologies are the fuel that is now powering LMS of tomorrow.

As the internet continues to evolve and become more personalized, LMSs will need to as well. One way LMS can personalize learning is by expanding the search function. Expanding the search integrate many search engines. In time a good LMS will be able to filter and deliver the most relevant results to your inquiry. Another way LMSs will be able to personalize their education is by enabling a more interactive training program. By incorporating interaction with LMS learners and educators may find new perspective. They could possibly link their LinkedIn or social networking accounts to their LMS profile if they are willing to provide information or continued support.

The future of LMS has endless possibilities. There will always be a need for organized and manageable systems of online education. Here are the key trends to look for in the future:

Feature The LMS of the future must...
Personalized Learning Paths Include personalized learning mechanisms to assist online web-based learning and adaptively provide learning paths in order to promote the learning performance of individual learners.
Fuller Integrations with other systems "Integrate," not just "work with" with other applications such as HR systems, ERP, applications and web sites.
Mobile Access Support learning on mobile devices.
More Collaboration and Social Tools Integrate Social Media into online education such as facebook, blogs, and video conferencing.
Incorporate analytics (sophisticated measurement tools to help visualize the usage of the site).
Improved Usability Simplify the interface, making it easier to navigate and find information/content.
More Effective Search Leverage better search engine techniques, resulting in more intuitive searches, more relevant results, and adaptive personalization based on user role and history.
Provide secure "anytime - anywhere" access to powerful computing infrastructure, applications, business processes, and personal collaboration without having to purchase, install, and maintain the required equipment in-house.


Learning Management Systems make learning content accessible to their intended audiences and can be used to support personal growth, professional development, and compliance with government regulations. In some ways, perhaps the LMS contributes to the digital divide; if a learner does not have access to a connected computer, LMS becomes a concept rather than a tool. However, for those with computer and Internet access there's an LMS solution available to even the lowest budget (i.e., free). Companies with larger budgets and larger workforces are more likely to benefit from the high-end tools; educational institutions are likely to find an affordable strategy to meet their basic needs; and smaller companies and schools will most likely have to adopt practices to adapt to the functionality of the tools they can afford.

As we learned in the History section, the development and growth of the LMS is not your typical instructional technology story. In most cases, a technology is invented or enhanced, and then educators work to apply it where it can benefit learning. However, LMS development is more typically driven by a need (real or perceived), and then attacked by inventors and innovators to overcome obstacles and meet the needs. For this reason, we believe the LMS is not fated to extinction, driven out of use by social media or Web 2.0 technologies. History shows us that the LMS technology will adapt to meet growing and changing needs of the learning community.

In looking at future trends, technology enables the incorporation of more elaborate features. As LMS' become more and more robust, it becomes even more important to realize that selection of an LMS, whether personal, institutional, or corporate, must begin with understanding of the audiences' needs. In other words, selecting the tool with right features is more important than selecting the tool with the most or coolest features.