A semantic Approach to LMS

by Annette Bouzo (CELM)

Examaning the term LMS

We will examine the individual terms of the construct "LEARNING MANAGEMENT SYSTEM" regarding their meaning. Afterwards we will put them in context to one another.


At the first glance the meaning of the term "learning" is fairly clear. According to Merriam Webster (Webster, 2017) learning refers to an act or experience of a person, considering the targeted increase of knowledge or skills by instruction, experiment, education or experience and a resulting change of behavior.


  • the act or experience of one that learns
  • knowledge or skill acquired by instruction or study
  • modification of a behavioral tendency by experience (such as exposure to conditioning)  

Merriam Webster differentiates between knowledge and learning, due to the explicit formal conditions: 

“knowledge applies to facts or ideas acquired by study, investigation, observation, or experience […] learning applies to knowledge acquired especially through formal, often advanced, schooling.”


The term "management" seems omnipresent. It integrates aspects of administrating, organizing, leading or accomplishing. However, management does not only refer to a process, but also to the idea of leadership, implying a certain authority and decision-making power. Thus decision making power includes decisions concerning targeted actions and measures.

Functional leadership refers to tasks and action aiming to achieve goals, steer and develop a system. Institutional leadership implies the leading instance within a hierarchical organization (equaling a system) (see Hummel / Zander, 2008, p.1; Stähle, 1998, p. 65 and Steinmann / Schreyögg, 2005, p.6).

Thus, management implies the organization and administration of single parts, but also the assignment of individuals towards each other. Furthermore the targeted definition of processes, their alignment and maintenance. Terms, referring to the creation and generation (of content, media formats or collaboration) are not referred to in any relevant definition.


A system is an orderly entity of relating elements (see Ulrich, 2001, p. 105) pursuing a common purpose (see. Forrester, 1971, p. 13ff).

Defining a system must always consider it's inclusion within the system environment. A system may be be a combination or subsystems or be part of a superior system. Smaller parts of a system are usually referred to as "system elements". Other characteristics of a system are the connections of the implied subsystems and system elements towards each other and the system environment.Example: Systemintegration of a Learning Management System via interfaces.

To examine the effectiveness of a system you may thus employ two perspectives: one, focussing on the system elements and their unique characteristics and second: a holistic perspective considering the relationships and the connections between elements, systems and resulting interactions.

For a holistic understand effectiveness and behavior of a system, both perspectives must be combined (see Bleicher, 2011, p. 52). This is especially relevant in human created systems (e. g. corporations), as these are continuously subjected to changes of their system environment (see Ulrich / Probst, 2001, p. 60).

Learning Management System

Grammatically word constructs' focus is on the last term, whilst the first term gives a very specific information, in this case the purpose of the system in question (learning). Accordingly a Learning Management System is the leading instance of organizational learning, a central unit specifying planning, organization, execution and controlling of learning processes.

It is correctly argued that learning is a intrapersonal matter. However a learning management system refers to the organization of circumstances within an organization.

Brandon Hall specifies:

„A Learning Management System is software that automates the administration of training events. The LMS registers users, track courses in a catalog, and records data from learners; it also provides appropriate reports to management. The database capabilities of the LMS extend to additional functions such as company management, online assessment, personalization and other resources.“ (Hall, 2001)

This definition seems highly appropriate. It is significant, that Hall does not state who organizes the Learning Management System, that is if training administrators, instructors or learners use particular features to trigger processes.

According to Schulmeister the elements constituting a Learning Management System are the following:

  • User Administration
  • Course Administration
  • Roles and Rights
  • Communication methods and tools
  • Presentation of course content, learning objects and media (Schulmeister, 2003, p. 12).

Criticism of Schulmeister's Definition

The aspects user administration, roles and rights as well as a spectrum of communication methods and -tools are significant to most professional applications used by organizations (ERP, Merchandise Management Systems) and thus not unique characteristics of learning management systems.

Furthermore Schulmeister stresses the role of instructors, but does not justify this. This interpretation might route back to institutions of higher education such as universities and may by now not be completely valid anymore. In corporate learning self-organized learning and blended learning formats have gained significantly on importance during the last decade.

Consider the target group

In corporations usually the academy, HR or staff development see to the administration of the Learning Management Systems, learners and learning processes whilst instructors are merely responsible for execution. 

Within an enterprise the total of the training concept is based on the corporations strategy and it's goals. Read more ...

When selecting and implementing a LMS in your enterprise you will want to consider not only the functionalities included, but will also learn to differentiate between a Learning Management System and a learning platform. Read more ...


Bleicher K.: Das Konzept Integriertes Management: Visionen, Missionen, Programme, 8. Aufl., Frankfurt a. M. 2011.

Hall B.: Learning Management Systems: How to choose the Right System for your Organization, Sunnyvale (CA) 2001.

Forrester, J.W.: Industrial Dynamics, Cambridge 1971.

Hummel, T.R. / Zander, E.: Unternehmensführung, 2. Aufl., Stuttgart, 2008.

Scheer, A. / Wachter, C.: Digitale Bildungslandschaften, Saarbrücken, 2016.

Schulmeister, R.: Lernplattformen für das virtuelle Lernen: Evaluation und Didaktik, München, Wien, Oldenburg, 2003.

Staehle, W. H.: Eine verhaltenswissenschaftliche Perspektive, 8. Aufl., München 1999.

Steinmann, H. / Schreyögg, G.; Management; Grundlagen der Unternehmensführung: Konzepte, Funktionen, Fallstudien, 6. Aufl., Wiesbaden 2005.

Ulrich, H.: Die Unternehmung als produktives, soziales System: Grundlagen der allgemeinen Unternehmenslehre, Bern 2001.

Ulrich, H. / Probst, G.J.B.: Anleitung zum ganzheitlichen Denken und Handeln: Ein Brevier für Führungskräfte, Bern 2001.

Werth, D: Educating digital leadership: Zur Frage der Weiterbildung von digitalen Führungskräften, in Scheer, A. / Wachter, C.: Digitale Bildungslandschaften, Saarbrücken, 2016.


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