LMSs and Alternatives

The academic LMS appears to be here to stay. They are enterprise systems integrated with other systems that satisfy many administrative business for universities and colleges and they have invested heavily in them. Teaching and learning are tertiary to administrative business and security. But there are alternatives available that are more effective and can provide an environment where learners can create and share content and collaborate and communicate.


LMSs first made their appearance in the mid to late ‘90s at academic institutions. The earliest ones, such as WebCT, were developed on university campuses primarily by students. Commercial LMSs followed or bought up and absorbed the university developed LMS.

LMSs are also used by Human Resource departments to provide training and development for staff while tracking their progress and performance and ensuring compliance. They have similarities with academic LMSs including being closed system, designed for administrative processes and ensure data security.

Web tools, Social Media and Apps

Specialized web tools (2.0 and beyond), social media and apps provide powerful tools for online teaching and learning. These tools are powerful, agile and successful precisely because they are designed for a single or a few purposes, whereas, an LMS is a behemoth of a beast due to administrative, security and data layers. They are current, not dated technologies and “trying to catch up” tools.

These include:

  • blogs and wikis for sharing and collaborating
  • Facebook and Twitter for microblogging and sharing
  • YouTube for webcasts
  • Google Hangouts, Zoom, Skype for video conferencing and webcasts
  • Google Drive for sharing content and collaborating

These tools also allow constructivist learning, learner control of collaborative tools, learner content creation, and individualized customization the level that no LMSs can approach.

In this discussion (see link below) I outline how the Museum of Modern Art and Smithsonian Education use a variety of web tools and social media.

But a collection of apps, web and social tools is difficult if not impossible for institutions to imagine. Some faculty and departments use an assortment of tools or alternative. Some ultimately fail due to issues of managing systems. For an educator it can prove difficult to define by educators and manage for educators. Some form of management system can assist in managing learners, their data and collections of tools while also provide learner centred, controlled and collaborative environments.

Learning Management Systems (LMS)
Aside from the two big proprietary, enterprise LMSs, D2L and Blackboard, there is Moodle. It is a free, open source, modular LMS that offers features of these other systems. Being open source, it also has plugins developed by a world-wide development community. So if you need something you can just add it on. But Moodle is known for being as much of not more clunky than its commercial competitors and requires a well designed template for a better user experience.

Content Management Systems (CMS)
There are alternative management systems to LMSs, one such alternative is the content management system or CMS. These are modular and some are open source, meaning they are free and supported by a wide community of developers. They can provide LMS features and tool sets but offer much more. The big three CMSs are WordPress, Drupal and Joomla.

WordPress is a modular, open source CMS initially developed to build blogs and now used for the development and management of web sites. It offers some LMS features and tools, but there are a wide range of plugins, modules that can be installed, many of which are free or available at a low cost. If you need a tool or a function, it is very likely someone has already built a plugin that you can use.

I am a WordPress designer and developer. At its basic level it is very easy to set up and use, available for free online or as a free download for hosting on your own web server. For more advanced use, a complex understanding of HTML, Cascading Style Sheets and JavaScript is required, but again, plugins can provide most of these advanced features and tools and for most of them, all you have to do is search for them and activate them.

Drupal is also an open source and modular CMS that offers LMS features and tools. Opigno is an LMS built in the Drupal platform available for free or a for fee enterprise version. Its quite well designed.

If your institution, faculty or department is using a CMS for their website, area could be created to for your courses to manage your internal learning tools, collect your external tools and provide a leaner centred and controlled environment.

Learning Course Management System (LCMS)
Learning course management system (LCMS) or course management system (CMS) that allows for the instructor to design an online environment that differs from am LMS in that it allows learners to create content and collaborate.

Xyleme and Kenexa are two examples of LCMSs.

Online and Cloud Environments
Some universities have implemented Google+. Google+ is also available free online. It allows for the development of learner controlled environments, content development, communication and collaboration using Google Drive (formerly Google Docs), Google hangouts and other tools.
There are many external tools but they require a management system whether it is a LMS, LCMS/CMS, CMS or other form of management system to bring them together.

Some form of management system can assist in managing learners, their data and integrating collections of tools while also providing learner centred and collaborative environments.


LMS vs LCMS vs CMS…changing one letter makes a big difference.

Max Dubowy

Retried from: https://www.opensesame.com/blog/lms-vs-lcms-vs-cmschanging-one-letter-makes-big-difference

Using Google+ to Enhance Student Learning, Engagement, and Communication

Betsy Page Sigman, Susan Pennestri,Marie Selvanadin and Kelsey Brannan

Retrieved from: http://er.educause.edu/articles/2013/4/using-google-to-enhance-student-learning-engagement-and-communication

D2L doesn’t have a native synchronous tool. Adobe Connect is supported. I do not know if Extended Education has an Adobe Connect licence. Google Hangouts and Zoom are both great tools for video collaboration and they both offer back channel chat. I don’t know if they can be integrated within D2L.


A live chat feature

  • It’s available in D2L under the Communications menu.

A blogging tool

  • D2L’s ePortfolio provides blog functionality

A way to share a document and show revisions while meeting synchronously

  • Google Hangouts supports this function. So does Zoom. UofM does have a Google+ licence, but both are free. They also allow for recording discussions. They are external tools.

A tool to provide audio comments on written pieces

  • Instructors can provide audio feedback on assignments and provide audio for content

Tools for collaborative video creation and editing

  • External tools are required


Working under the assumption that an LMS restricts the necessary requirements of the COI framework and the Constructivist approach, what alternatives can you identify or wish for that can either replace an LMS or tools that can supplement an LMS that can provide learners the ability to control content creation and promotes greater collaboration?

What are your thoughts on using this LMS, UM Learn (D2L), for this course?

Is this Learning Management System the most effective tool for community of inquiry?

Are there alternatives?


About jhounslow

Soccer enthusiast, cyclist, web developer, e-learning professional, educator, husband to a graduate student, and father of four daughters.
This entry was posted in CMS, EDTC0550, edtech, LMS, Social Media and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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