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The history of learning management systems

A look at the humble origins and fast-approaching future of the traditional LMS.

Matt Bristow Digital Marketing Specialist

The evolution of learning tech

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With the learning tech market due to be worth a whopping $25.7 billion in 2025, it's an understatement to say that it’s a big business. As elearning continues to rocket to the moon and evolve, it’s always interesting to look back at where the industry has been, where it is now, and of course, what awaits us in the future.

The first steps - learning machines

Technically, the first ever teaching machine was invented by Sidney Pressey who came out with the Pressey Testing Machine in 1924. It asked multiple-choice questions and students pressed the key that corresponded to their chosen answer. What’s cool about this machine is that even though it’s really simple, it does actually contain some form of learner feedback! It was the simplest form of feedback; whether the user was right or not - and the machine wouldn’t move to the next question until the user had pressed the correct button.

This was followed by a series of devices by M.E. LaZerte aimed at administering a problem to a student and checking the steps they used to solve this problem were correct. Here, you can see the evolution. It's not just checking the answer is correct, but checking the actual thought process behind the answer, tying in more of the learning process.

It’s obvious that these learning machines are a far cry from the platforms we have today, and limits to technological capabilities meant that only small sections of the learning process could be automated and controlled. That was until the first ever platform that managed all parts of the learning process arrived.

The full LMS

As anyone knows, I’m a computer nerd at heart, and what’s fascinating is that the phrase 'learning management system' was actually coined to describe a part of the PLATO computer instruction system. Or, in English, one of the functions of this bad boy.

A true LMS does something that the early learning machines that Lazerte and Pressley created couldn’t. A true LMS manages all parts of the learning process in one place for both administrators of learning and the learners themselves. By giving organisations one singular point for all things learning, the first LMSs, like the now-archaic PLATO, were able to add a level of control and measurement to a usually indeterminable field.

But where next?

Innovation always plows on, and as LMSs usurped their predecessors, so will the future of learning technology usurp the LMS. But what will be the defining feature of these newcomers to the learn tech game? We already have a multitude of systems that can manage all the technical aspects of learning from start to finish. 

Well, to use a quote from Dalsgaard in the heady days of 2006:

“...a limitation of the use of learning management systems to cover only administrative issues. Further, it is argued that students' self-governed learning processes are supported by providing students with personal tools and engaging them in different kinds of social networks.”

In short, just covering the administrative procedures of learning isn’t enough. The future of learning tech will influence how users feel about learning, and how they socialise with their peers in a learning environment.

Enter the Learning Experience Platform.

The future of learning tech

Make no mistakes about it, Learning Experience Platforms, or LXPs for short, are the future (and present) of corporate learning. 

LXPs boast all the administrative power of the LMS that came before it, combined with social features and a focus on increasing meaningful engagement, rather than just test scores and ticked boxes.

Another aspect of the future of learn tech is the ease of access to learning content is becoming radically greater. If you look through the three stages of our learning technology outlined in this post, you can see a trend of easier access to learning content.

Learning machines - Require you to be physically in front of the machine with an administrator also present to calibrate it.

LMS - Can be accessed remotely but usually through a desktop or learning portal. Administrators can upload content remotely but need to manually create content.

LXP - Learners can access content wherever, whenever, however they want, with apps and offline capabilities to boot. Administrators can still upload and curate content, but learners can also create and disseminate their own content as well, populating the system faster and with a more diverse set of materials.

As technology progresses more and more, we'll continue to see our industry change at breakneck speeds. Being future-focused is crucial when it comes to selecting any technology provider, but as you can see from the historic journey we're on, it’s especially important when considering learning tech.

Find out how our future-focused platform is helping businesses around the world embrace social learning, or check out our features that embody the future of learning technology, so you can get a taste of tomorrow, today.

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