Learning Spaces: Course Management Systems
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 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.
- ANGEL Learning (from Blackboard) (commercial) - popular in K12; purchase and install on your server
- Drupal (free, open source) - more complex than Moodle, this option is an entire content management system that can be use for many purposes
- Moodle (free, open source) - easy to install; great tool providing a wide range of options including email, forums, wiki, testing, and more.
- Nicenet.org (free to educators, librarians, non-profits) - provided internal email and discussion forums.
- Sakai Project (free, open source) - high-end system with many options. Used primarily by large universities for producing their own systems such as CourseTools (Michigan) CourseWorks (Stanford), Oncourse (Indiana University), and Stellar (MIT).
- Think.com (free, non-profit, no ads) - From the sponsors of ThinkQuest, Think.com provides a free system where teachers can create and manage student accounts for services including email, blogs, interactive tools, and multimedia projects. There's tools for creating webpages, uploading media files, and discussing on forums. The password access makes it protected. It's also aligned with ISTE standards.
Web-based Commercial Systems
- Blackboard - most popular system for all levels and fields
- Drupal Gardens - (currently free) an online tool using Drupal for creating your own content management system.
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.
Skim 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 Learning Spaces: Desktop Spaces page.