MET:Common Elements and Limitations

From UBC Wiki

This page originally authored by Derrick Millard (2007).
This page has been revised by Devinder Deol (2008) and Massoud Namini (2008).

Learning Management System, Course Management System, and Virtual Learning Environment platforms facilitate the development of consistent-looking, potentially-interactive online courses that incorporate a variety of informational and learning elements.

The terms CMS, LMS, and VLE are increasingly being used interchangeably (Petherbridge, 2007). The acronym L /CMS has been coined to sigify the blurring of distinctions between current CMS and LMS platforms (Jafari, McGee, and Carmean, 2006). Other academics have used the acronym C/LMS for similar reasons (Landon, Henderson, & Poulin 2006). Which of these acronyms will win the day, or whether a new all-encompassing term will appear, remains to be determined.

L /CMSs include:
(a) commercial, e.g.,Blackboard, D2L Desire2Learn
(b) open-source, e.g., Segue, Moodle, OLAT, ATutor
(c) developed "inhouse" at a particular institution, or
(d) community source such as Sakai. (Landon, Henderson, & Poulin 2006).

The use of commercially-produced and open-source L /CMS software has exploded. L /CMS platforms have become popular because they provide a ready-made framework to assist with the creation of course content and simplify the demands on-going course management (Sessums, 2006). Despite the many modifications and upgrades that have been made to commercial and open-source L /CMS platforms, they continue to be hampered by a number of administrative, usability, and educational limitations.

Common Elements

The variety of tools and templates available to instructors, students, and administrators varies depending on the L /CMS, but they typically include the functions charted below:

Announcements Announcements allow instructors the ability to provide important new information as it becomes available. As such, they are common across most L /CMS platforms.
Assignment Areas The ability to securely upload an assignment for instructors to review and/or mark is a feature that is uniformly found across all platforms. In some systems, students can also have the ability to share files with each other.
Blogs Web logs or blogs are relatively new to L /CMS systems and are not commonly found but are present in some L /CMS platforms.
Bookmarks The ability to create bookmarks to easily return to one area of the L /CMS is a feature that is seen across many systems. Some platforms take it a step further and allow students to share bookmarks of the L /CMS pages.
Calendars The students and instructors typically have access to a calendar to assist with the tracking of dates and the passing of information about those dates both as a group and privately.
Chat Rooms Chat rooms allow students and instructors to work in synchronous environments and talk either publicly or privately via text and sometimes via voice.
Content Presentation Areas Content presentation is a key factor of all L /CMS platforms. It is essential that instructors have an area for the presentation of content/lessons for students. All systems therefore have this area.
Discussions A discussion area allows for asynchronous interaction between students, classes and/or students and instructors. It enables students to interact with each other, talk about ideas and concepts that have been brought up by the instructors and/or by other students and ask and answer questions.
Grade Books The purpose of the grade book is to allow students to track their learning and their grades throughout the course. These grades may be from assessments within the course itself or added later by instructors.
Internal Email Systems Email is an integral part of all L /CMSs. It provides a method for students and teachers to communicate privately with each other. Many systems also include a spell check for email.
Notes/Journals Most L /CMS platforms give students the opportunity to take and save notes on a particular page or content area that is of interest to them. This allows students to review information at a later time and reflect on their learning as they progress through the course.
Online Help Features Help features are typically built in to assist students in finding information and solving problems by themselves.
Assessments The ability for instructors to securely and reliably assess students within the course via online quizzes is essential to all modern L /CMS platforms. In many systems, these assessments can be for all students or be released via criteria such as time or previous grades.
Search In many systems, students are given access to search within the L/CMS itself for material that they cannot readily find.
Sharing of Templates Content can be shared within individual L /CMS platforms, but not always in a readily obvious or easy manner. Newer L /CMS versions allow instructors the ability to share both content and templates easily across the platform and sometimes between different platforms.
Student Portfolios/Pages Student portfolios/pages are often central to L /CMS designs. Students can be given an area in the L /CMS to store and work on their own material which can be public or private.
Tips Tips or "short help" features are often integrated into the various platforms and are made available to students when they open the individual course in the L /CMS.
Usage Statistics L /CMS platforms recognize that instructors need a way with which to track student access frequency, times and dates. Therefore usage statistics are often available in the various systems.
White Boards The sharing of whiteboards is fairly common across platforms. It allows instructors and students to interact in synchronous environments and explain concepts in real-time through the use of diagrams, text and graphics.
Wikis Wikis like Wikipedia, or this Wiki, are a less frequently found L /CMS feature, although present in some platforms. They allow students and staff to collaborate in an online environment.
Working Offline/Compiling Many students do not like reading online, therefore it is not surprising that students are usually given the ability to download a copy of selected L /CMS materials and store it on the students local hard drive for working offline and/or printing

(Carliner, 2005; EduTools, 2007; Hazari, 1998; Instructional Technology Resource Center, 2006; Koszalka & Ganesan, 2004; Landon, Henderson, & Poulin 2006)

File:WebCT Vista Frontpage.jpg
The first page a student sees after signing to WebCT (now Blackboard) Vista Enterprise Edition


Learning / Course Management Systems have a number of disadvantages. Despite these disadvantages that are slowly being addressed, the L /CMS continues to have a central role in e-learning. The limitations identified below are not an exhaustive list of all disadvantages.

Administrative Limitations

  • Lack of integration with existing institutional systems. For example, lack of compatibility with registration or grade-reporting software such that student information needs to be entered manually (Carliner, 2005).
  • Better archiving and storage is required. Current L /CMS platforms fall short in this regard because accessing work, statistics, or information from previous courses is either impossible or cumbersome (Maloney, 2007).

Usability Limitations

  • Browser incompatibility and reconfiguration requirements are a common source of student and staff frustration.
  • Accessibility: L /CMS vendors and open-source platforms do not provide seamless integration with student services. Access to library-reserves, course-materials, grades, and financial information should be accessible with one log-in, and this often is not the case.
  • Poorly-implemented or non-functioning communication tools (whiteboard, chat functions that crash) are causing students to avoid using these tools.
  • Difficulty meeting the needs of advanced and novice-users. Advanced users want richer tool sets than those commonly provided, whereas novice users are often overwhelmed with the toolset provided by most L /CMS platforms.
  • More personalization is required. Faculty and staff find the tool-sets in L /CMS platforms to be non-intuitive. L /CMSs need to become more individualized to the needs of the learner (Santally & Senteni 2006).
  • Smartness. Most L /CMS systems are considered "dumb" and do not learn about the end-user in the way that websites like Amazon and Traveolocity do. Smart L /CMS systems are required that learn the habits of the user, remember those habits, and make the user's experience more enriching through the use of automated supports (Jafari et al., 2006).

E-Learning Limitations

  • With the dawn of the Information-age, education needs to shift from its traditional focus on standardization and sorting to one that supports customization and flexibility (Reigeluth, 1994). Many L /CMS platforms are mired in Web 1.0 technologies that effectively deliver content, but do not effectively promote learning. Siemens (2006) has noted “for an individual used to Skyping, blogging, tagging, creating podcasts, or collaboratively writing an online document, the transition to a learning management system is a step back in time (by several years)."
  • L /CMS platforms do not readily support mobile learning. Accessing L /CMSs via mobile technology is a vital step in the evolution of e-learning (Cheung, Stewart, & McGreal 2006).
  • Vendor proprietary concerns. For instance, Blackboard (2006) has begun partnerships with some Web 2.0 technology providers. Siemens (2006) describes this as progress, but within a "locked-down, do-it-our-way" perspective.
  • Katz (2003) has observed that most L /CMSs serve too many stakeholders and are caught between tradition and innovation, meeting institutional needs while simultaneously serving as the primary vehicles for the integration of technology in education. Unlike applications borne out of the needs of emerging communities such as, L /CMSs do not have the flexibility to be quickly rewritten to serve user needs.
  • Over-reliance on a single graphical user interface. The main advantage of a L /CMS is its greatest weakness – its consistency. Whatever a learner does within a L /CMS, the look-and-feel will be similar. This consistency is comfortable for instructors (who only need to learn one system), but bland for learners since each tool will be inferior to an equivalent Web 2.0 offering (Elliot, 2007).
  • Jafari (2006) promotes a more comprehensive educational model that goes beyond the scope of most L /CMSs. In this model, which is illustrated below, the limitations of the L /CMS are acknowledged and the CMS or LMS becomes a component, rather than the main entity in the student's integrated e-learning environment.
File:Next generation e-learning.jpg
Next Generation E-Learning (Jafari 2006)

Future Trends

There are a couple of general trends in the planning of future features of the L /CMS. The most widely shared trend is for refinements that make working within the L/CMS easier to do and enable tasks to be performed more quickly for both faculty and students. The second general trend is to make the L /CMS do more things to extend the breadth of functions. Future systems were expected to:
• accommodate ePortfolios,
• become more integrated with library resources on the back end,
• enable richer collaborations (in one case with voice based discussions), and
• reach out to mobile devices, including cell phones on the user end of the C/LMS. (Landon, Henderson, & Poulin 2006).

Moodle Open Source CMS


  • Elliot, B. (2007). E-assessment: what is Web 2.0? Scottish Qualifications Authority. Retrieved 25 January 2008 from
  • Koszalka, T.A. & Ganesan , R. (2004). Designing Online Courses: A taxonomy to guide strategic use of features available in course management systems (CMS) in distance education. Distance Education, 25, 243-256, Retrieved January 30, 2007 from EBSCO Host Database.
  • Maloney, E.J. (2007). What Web 2.0 Can Teach Us about Learning. The Chronicle of Higher Education. 53 (18), B26. Retrieved 26 January 2008 from Academic Search Premier database.
  • Reigeluth, C.M. (1999). What is Instructional-Design Theory and how is it Changing? In C.M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional-Design Theories and Models: A New Paradigm of Instructional Theory, Vol. 2. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Santally, M. & Senteni, A. (2006). Personalisation in Web-Based Learning Environments. International Journal of Distance Education Technologies. Oct.-Dec. 2006. Vol. 4, Iss. 4; 15-21. Retrieved 26 January 2008 from ProQuest database.

See Also