Learning Management Systems

A learning management system (LMS) is the primary way you’ll interact with your online courses. It’s an application that helps instructors deliver course content, administer assignments, communicate with students, manage grades, and many other things. It’s basically the classroom, the gradebook, and the textbook all rolled into one. It’s also most likely the place where you’ll spend most of your time in an online course. Blackboard, Canvas, Moodle, and Sakai may be LMSs you’ve heard about.


“I was not technically savvy when I started my online program. However, I learned a lot about how to utilize my computer and the Blackboard program. The key skills that helped me feel comfortable with online learning include: using the internet, email service, and Microsoft Office. Once I learned how to navigate Blackboard I did not face any challenges.”

Although each LMS looks different, they all share some common features:

  • Announcements. Instructors use announcements to communicate important information to the whole class. When an announcement is posted, you’ll see it in the LMS course, and may receive notifications via email or text message, depending on your preferences and the capabilities of the LMS.
  • Content Pages. These are essentially web pages that instructors use to share text, links, images, audio, video, documents, assignments, textbook publisher resources, and whatever else they include in the course.
  • Discussion Forums. This is a communication tool that allows you, your peers, and your instructor to submit posts and read responses at any time. You can post text, links, images, and other files. Discussion boards usually allow you to record video and audio.
  • Groups. If an instructor divides your class into groups, the groups are typically created and managed automatically in a separate section designed for collaboration. Sometimes you may need to set up your own groups, or self-enroll in a group. Check your LMS’s documentation for how to complete these steps.
  • Assignments. This is the stuff you’ll be completing to demonstrate you know what’s going on in your course. Assignments can be graded or ungraded, and will range from quizzes to discussion posts to projects that you upload to the LMS.
  • Grades. When your completed assignments are submitted, they will appear in the gradebook. Within the gradebook, instructors can grade and provide feedback on your assignments.

To learn more about the learning management systems you may encounter, check out their respective videos below.

When your online course becomes available, take some time to look around the LMS. Learning management systems are designed to be easy to use so you can focus on your learning. If you do need help, contact the technology support group at your institution. Be sure to read your instructor’s announcements and expectations for discussions and assignments before getting started. Before long, you’ll be a pro!