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If you've taken an online course, you've probably used a course management system. Course management systems, also known as a virtual learning environment consists of a software system that helps teachers manage course administration. Although generally associated with distance learning, they are often used to supplement blended or face-to-face courses.

These large scale systems often including email, forums, blogs, virtual conferencing, wikis, profiles, resources, testing tools, and data storage options. Some also provide gradebooks, student tracking systems, and other course management tools.

The advantage of a course management system is that all the learning and communication tools are in one place and generally use a shared navigation system. This makes it easy to enter and use the resources. On the other hand, this can also be a disadvantage. There may be some tools you don't need. Or, you may not like the features of particular tools. For example, you might like the forum tool, but hate the wiki option.

Some people are designing content-specific online learning communities. For instance, check out Livemocha as an example of a social language learning site.

 

Hardware and Software

Many of the tools discussed in previous learning spaces sections are embedded in course management systems. Increasingly, schools and libraries are seeking open source software and free tools for course management. For example, many universities are using Moodle or Sakai.

For workshops and non-credit types of workshops, courses, or clubs, consider using social networking tools. For instance, Ning is a tool that allows the creating of forums, blogs, and file sharing.

Course Management Software

In some cases, you'll want to install course management software on your own network or web server. The advantage to installing your own software is that you have total control. This is also a disadvantage because you're also responsible for any problems.

Go to the Austin Public Library in Minnesota website. It's powered by Drupal Gardens.

Go to Enfield Public Library website. Notice how Drupal is used for their forums.

In some cases, you'll want the system available through the Internet so learners can access resources from school, library, or home settings. However, you may wish to run an Intranet system that is only accessible from computers in your building.

Web-based Commercial Systems

Teaching Tools

Beside the full-blown management systems, you'll also find simple tools for creating electonic worksheets, practice environments, and quizzes.

Edmodo is a social network, but it also has many of the features of course managements systems. It's specifically designed for teachers and students, but has many other applications too.

Course Management Systems in Learning

If you're overwhelmed by content management systems, start simple. You don't need to use all of the features or tools. Instead, focus on the elements that will help with your online or blended learning experience.

checkRead Drupal Gets Easier by Christopher Harris in School Library Journal (5/01/2010). A tool called Drupal Gardens is an easy-to-use cloud-based version of open source Drupal.

checkSkim the resources at Distance Learning by Annette Lamb. We offer a 1.5 credit course in distance learning at IUPUI.

Links to the materials in this section can be found in the navigation bar on the left side of this page. Continue to the arrow means an internal linkLearning Spaces: Desktop Spaces page.


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