Just because online college courses take place in cyberspace doesn’t mean that they don’t need a dedicated environment where students can go – virtually, of course – to access course materials, participate in class discussions, and submit materials for grading. Online college courses use web-based platforms to house the components of the course. These platforms are most commonly known as learning management systems (LMS), at least in North America.

The Role of the Learning Management System

The LMS is designed to fulfill all aspects of the online learning process, from administering course materials and assignments to documenting class participation and grades. The LMS is the framework into which online instructors put course content. The learning management system, also called a course management system (CMS), is the first essential component of an online college course, according to U.S. News & World Report.

How Complicated Are Learning Management Systems?

While learning management systems are essential for making modern distance learning courses possible, they are now widely used in traditional college courses as well. There are many learning management systems available for online – and traditional – colleges to choose from, and choosing the right system is as important as it is time-consuming and expensive, Education Week reported. Among the most popular learning management systems are Blackboard, Desire2Learn, WebCT and Moodle.

With the increasing popularity of online learning, not every online college student nowadays is especially tech-savvy. Schools need to make online college courses accessible to students who don’t have a technical background and who use the Internet mostly for casual browsing. One of the most important aspects of a learning management system is that it must be easy for students to understand and use, regardless of the individual students’ level of technical and computer expertise. Most programs are “fairly intuitive,” according to U. S. News & World Report, so students don’t need to spend a lot of time learning how to use the system and can instead focus their efforts on learning the course material.

A Virtual Classroom

Think of the learning management system as your virtual classroom. In fact, throughout Europe and Asia, they’re known as virtual learning environments (VLE). Virtual classrooms differ from traditional classrooms in format, since they obviously can’t provide the same in-person interaction as a physical classroom can. However, colleges and instructors are increasingly looking for ways to make courses more interactive to keep students engaged and make sure they don’t fall behind. Many courses include interactive virtual laboratory projects and educational videos that go beyond taped lectures. Instead of talking to instructors face-to-face during class or in one-on-one conferences, online students communicate with their professors via email, chat and forum features within the LMS or even social media channels. Online college students also participate in class discussions virtually, on forums within the platform.

At first, the term “learning management system” might sound intimidating. However, these platforms exist to help students, allowing them to access course materials, discussions and assignments all in one virtual place.