Learning Management Systems

eLearning and the Learning Management System

eLearning and the Learning Management System
Category:  Web Development
Author:  N. Stratis

The following article provides extracts from a literature review done for research being undertaken into the Complexities of eLearning Media and application development and the conformity to eLearning Standards with adaptive solutions. Contact us to find out more regarding the Research and Development we are currently undertaking.


When walking into the door of a publishing company as a new developer in the creation and publication of eLearning Media Content, one would be overwhelmed with the diversity and extreme representations of the current eLearning standards adopted by Learning Management platforms. Learning Media, or Learning Objects, both common references to similar concepts are singularized elements for teaching course segments, lessons and curriculum. They could be in the form of E-books, Interactive Books, Mini eLearning Applications, covering no limit of topics and supporting a grand selection of media and interactive elements such as Images, Video, Audio, Drag and Drops, Multiple Choice Questions and many others, the list is only shorted by the available technologies for media transport.

The abundance of specifications and requirements for eLearning standard compliance by even the most notable of standards such as EPUB3, SCORM, TinCan API, Common Cartridge and QTI play are large toll on the examination of standards implementation within the Learning Object framework.

For any developer the initial knowledge generally gained for implementing these standards is via the requirements of projects being developed, and as more projects are developed, so too does the knowledge advance, but not the understanding. Why? Because the inherent directions are based around product delivery, scheduling, resources and funding, thus the allotment of time available to understand the standards to their completion is restricted and allowing for just enough to gather the required knowledge to fulfil the projects end.

It is imperative to understand all aspects of Learning Media and thus the platforms to which they are deployed, Learning Management Systems (LMS) and Learning Content Management Systems (LCMS), the standards being adopted, the market share and common modular features. Fig.1 demonstrates the increase in popularity for using an LMS on mobile devices.

eLearning and learning management systems on mobile device 2014 statistics
Learning Management Systems

The rapid growth of Learning Management systems since 2002 has transformed the market and application development cycles for eLearning content production. The Pearce R., Pritchard J. (2008) Survey relates that Blackboard and Moodle were the dominant Learning Management Systems of that period and their preferred standard was the SCORM 1.2 API. Similarly statistics gained from the Davis B., Carmean C., Wagner E.D. report on The Evolution of LMS displays similar statistics for the periods 2008 and 2009. (Fig.2 and Fig.3).

eLearning and learning management systems 2008 top 15 lms
eLearning and learning management systems 2009 top 15 lms

The diversity of usage across industry sectors can be seen in the statistics provided by Davis B., Carmean C., Wagner E.D. (Fig.3). As expected LMS usage in the Academic sector dominates the statistical data with healthcare and business services strong contenders for leadership. Thusly this epitomizes the extent and diversity of learning content, the audiences being targeted and requirements for consistency.

eLearning and learning management systems usage 2009

If looking specifically at the Academic sector, the Edutechnica (2015) report on Learning Management system usage in 2013 and 2014 (Fig.5 and Fig.6) clearly show Blackboard dominating with Moodle a strong 2nd however still with only a 1/3 of the reach Blackboard maintained.

eLearning and learning management systems usage 2013 academic
eLearning and learning management systems usage 2013 academic

The WebAnyWhere (2015) Survey implies with their results (Fig. 7) that the battle for dominancy was ended with the rise of Moodle's grasp to 14% and blackboards hold diminishing, displaying several other tools below it as also leading the path for learning content delivery.

eLearning and learning management systems usage 2015 academic

This survey also indicates however that there is a large portion of unaccounted (58%) distributed across the scores of other Learning Management Systems. Given the substantial list of the most common Open Source Learning Management systems and Propriety Learning Management Systems provided by and the latest Wiki List of available systems it can be safe to assume whilst only having minimal 0.1% in the market share many of these platforms will continue for several years to come.

Ensuring a substantial coverage to management systems is crucial to product delivery, one would hope that these systems would support the most common of standards and most if not all show support for the legacy SCORM 1.2 API. If an examination of the data related to features commonly used within an LMS is done as with the Bright S. (2015) Digital Chalk Research (Fig. 8), the level of coverage by which an LMS has adopted a standard and supplies these features poses extended difficulties.

eLearning and learning management systems usage 2015 academic

As an example Gamification is not an old concept, more and more publishing companies strive to output content with this elaborate support. The Westfall B. (2014) Software Advice Research (Fig. 9) demonstrates the incentives driving the gamification of learning media products. With that in tow additional complexities are added to the learning object support scenarios.

eLearning top gamification incentives
eLearning Standards

The requirements for Learning Media standards have been a topic of many discussion and debate since the late 90's, as industry and user expectations increased so too did the need for more complex and robust standards to accommodate the expectations. Given the extensive nature of these educational media standards many papers and reports have delved into their usage and comparative nature but still certain doors are left open for further evaluation and assessment. The broadness of standards scope is defined by the purpose for which they were created, common specifications include manifest control outlining available assets, content definitions and object Id notations, packaging, user tracking and assessment storage and scoring. With the advent of newer technologies further scope for standard specifications encompass Gamification of Learning Objects and usage of such objects across Social Media.


Peering into the adopted standards the first would be International Digital Publishing Form (2014) EPub3 Standard, the current version of the standard published November 2014, it encompasses formats for e-books which can be downloaded and read on devices such as smartphones, tablets, computers or e-readers. The basis for delivery of an EPub is a single file .epub which would be extracted by the reading devices and rendered for the user. Over the evolution of the standard the published content can include high levels of user interactivity. EPUB provides a way by which a product can be represented, packaged and encoded and supports HTML5, SVG, CSS and other resource types.

To gauge an understanding of the EPUB standards requires extensive reading of the four based structured sections to the documentation however the core support for object types can be found easily from the standard overview. To adopt the EPUB approach would be an explicit statement in that the product or learning object is to be an E-book, either standard or interactive with scripted elements, audio, video content and structured in the semantics associated with an E-book, having chapters and pages. The question arises as to what limitations EPUB provides when looking at more complex learning objects, with deeper categorical nesting not necessarily inherent to E-books or a typical hierarchal approach found in published books. Roig J., Ribera M. (2011) states that although the EPUB format has been widely adopted as a digital publishing format, it has not yet been adopted by the general public.


Another forerunner in the standards market is the Rustici Software (2013) TinCan API (Experience API). The TinCan API which is also known as the Experience API can be classed as one of the newest specifications for Learning Technology that proactively allows the tracking of the users experience in the Learning Application. The key aim is to capture the users’ data in a consistent format and provides its own vocabulary for secure communication. Effectively the TinCan API is the successor to the widely used SCORM API (Shared Content Object Reference Model), the two share the same common features related to user tracking and data which are "tracking completion", "track time", "track pass/fail", "track score". This however is where the similarities end since the TinCan API adds in a list of new features which include: "Report Multiples Scores", "Detailed Test Results", "No LMS Requirement", and "No Internet Browser Requirement". It can be said that the TinCan API is one of if not the most popular standard adopted for user tracking with established providers of Learning Management systems such as Articulate, Blackboard and Moodle supporting the standard with I would assume an expectation to replace SCORM implementations. A complete list of adopters of the standard can be found on the TinCan API website.


The ISO standards describe how SCORM (Shared Object Content Reference Model) compatible content can be provided to the user in a sequenced manor which would be driven by System or User navigation events, the flow of content would be pre-defined, the role of the Learning Management System is explicitly detailed with the information required for running the SCORM Objects at run time. The published date for the standard is 2009 and relates to the SCORM data model published on 2004, with the advent and release of the TinCan API this standard and its definition become incomplete when scoping the evolution of improved functionality.


Common Cartridge created by IMS Global, is another popular standard on the rise with support being offered by developers and learning management systems alike, walking the same path as the TinCan API, Common Cartridge is the foremost competitor to SCORM which was deemed outdated with many limitations at the time of the first Common Cartridge publication. The specifics of Common Cartridge details the format for the exchange of content between systems providing a common way for the interpretation of what exactly the digital content is and what is the hierarchal organizational structure of the content. To ensure proprietary rights are maintained the Common Cartridge package offers a means to secure protected content alongside unprotected formats within its package contents. These "Cartridges" are extremely flexible and can contain assessment items, digital content to complete text books, or could be a complete online course, there are a wide variety of scenarios catered for.

The QTI standard also created by IMS Global first discussed and outlined in 1999 specifies a common format for the exchange of items, test and results data between various authoring tools and learning systems and assessment delivery systems. QTI without limitation targets assessment material with its requirements and if adopted correctly can support an interchangeability between authoring, learning and assessment environments. There is an extensive structure to the specification and it offers the same compatibility as provided in the Common Cartridge standard. Both Common Cartridge and the QTI standards are heavily documented, provide an array of examples, full understanding of both standards would require some amount of reading and experimentation. The future of the QTI standard is uncertain however after 6 years since writing the standard is still in use. Considering assessment as a stand-alone e-learning process is no longer acceptable. Agea, A.; Kloos, C.D. (2010)

eLearning Objects and the LMS

Harman K., Kobang A. (2007) discuss and identify the concepts and current practices of standards surrounding content, metadata, repositories and learning management systems. Although published in 2007 whereby there have been several advances in the standards and technologies it offers valuable insights into best practices and methodologies. It provides its own approach to Learning Object architectures and presents the information to adopt said patterns in several of the chapters. The book in itself gives its data in a subjective manor, whereby they supply facts to facilitate a robust look into some current standards however the adopted approach diverges into the realm of preference rather than relevance. This is a creeping factor when glancing into the creation and delivery of Digital Learning Content.

A short study composed by Alsatian, A.O. (2014) aims at determining the significance of E learning management tools and focuses the discussion towards the 8 most common systems being used. The perspective is taken from as the title suggests the “implementers” point of view and much of the information included is derived from an Engineering stand point. The article does not formulate any conclusions, moreover the context acts more as a guide to informed and strategic development of learning products. The interesting information posed in this article are the systems under discussion, these deviate from the standard norms of the interpreted learning management system i.e. white boards and interactive web content, they as a whole include: Interactive Whiteboard, E-Podium, Video Conferencing, Learning Management Systems(LMS), Interactive Kiosk, Digital Signage and Lecture Capturing. With these in mind the paper broadens the scope for the research analysis in that are the same standards for learning object distribution adopted by all types of Learning Management System, what other standards would be required to facilitate deployed of learning content across these systems.

Historical information relating to the adoption of Learning Management Systems across universities and statistical results outlining the strategies for deployment by the establishment of management systems is provided by Reed D. (2011). The key information drawn from this article is the rate of adoption and update to new technologies. If interpreting the standard to adopt for development of Learning Objects in 2016, is it still a necessity to include the outdated SCORM 1.2 into the development cycle of the object. Regardless of the nature of the Learning Management System and the frequency to which the vendor updates the system and accommodates newer standards and technologies, it still leaves the consumer to update their implemented systems to newer versions of the Management tool, this could be an extended time after the new version release date. When targeting system version thus the developer quandary arises in that is SCORM 1.2 the Internet Explorer 6 of the Educational Market, while both pioneering at their time, regardless of their current status still linger in the digital realms producing the effervescent requirement for support.

Unfortunately the story does not end with Learning Management Systems and some ideas have been addressed in a new paper relating to the usage of TinCan in Social Media Ali, N.H., Saman, M.Y.M., Yusoff, M.H., Yacob, A. (2015), its emphasis is to the level by which Learning Applications can be embedded into Social Applications like Facebook. It adds to considerations as to the platforms for deployment of the E-Learning Applications and stimulates potential areas for study specifically derived at the Social Media market and the usage of platforms as plugin applications through Social connectivity. The Westfall B. (2014) Software Advice Research divulges statistics for the top Social Learning Modules for Learning Management Systems.

eLearning top social learning features

With these discussions in light traversing the E-Learning development cycle is a complexity of turns and avenues, standards and technologies, choice and decisions. The industries and market leaders in development and publication have provided an array of authoring tools, these can be seen in the (2015) Cloud Based Authoring Tools List provided by and clearly offers a list of selection and confusion. Given that each tool caters for product development in its own explicit way, managing the creation of the learning objects and binding to one specific tool could become problematic and the extent of its functional limitations will be reached if or when the publisher requires coverage of elements that are not currently supported.


[1] International Digital Publishing Form (2014) EPub3 Standard.

[2] Rustici Software (2013) TinCan API (Experience API).

[3] ISO (2009) ISO/IEC TR 29163-3:2009.

[4] ISO (2009) ISO/IEC TR 29163-4:2009.

[5] IMS Global (2001) Common Cartridge.

[6] IMS Global (2001) IMS Question & Test Interoperability® Specification.

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[10] Wiki (2016) Interactive Whiteboard.

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[17] Ali, N.H., Saman, M.Y.M., Yusoff, M.H., Yacob, A. (2015) The use of Tin Can API for web usage mining in E-learning applications on the social network.

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[24] E Learning Infographics (2015) Top E-Learning Statistics.

[25] E Learning Industry (2015) Authoring Tool Pricing Models.

[26] E Learning Industry (2015) Cloud Based Authoring Tools.

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[28] E Learning Industry (2015) Free Authoring Tools.

[29] E Learning Industry (2015) Authoring Tools Part 1.

[30] E Learning Industry (2015) Authoring Tools Part 2.

[31] E Learning Industry (2015) Authoring Tools Part 3.

[32] E Learning Industry (2015) Open Source Learning Management Systems.

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[34] E Learning Industry (2015) Learning Management Systems Part 2.

[35] E Learning Industry (2015) Learning Management Systems Part 3.

[36] Edutechnica (2015) LMS Data - First Year Update.

[37] Westfall B. (2014) LMS Features Report.

[38] Bright S. (2015) Top LMS Investment Statistics.