What is LMS History and How Has Learning Evolved?

LMS history – a timeline of Learning Management System evolution and development – goes beyond the first teaching machine. As early as the 1720s, instructors could administer training and assess students’ progress by correspondence.

We can’t talk about the history of the LMS or learning management systems without mentioning Frederick Winslow Taylor, an advocate for employee training and the father of scientific management.

In the early 20th century, managers were obsessed with finding the most efficient way to perform a task at work.

Taylor’s 1911 seminal work, The Principles of Scientific Management, proposed that training an employee to do their tasks could improve workplace efficiency.

Taylor studied work practices and their effect on productivity. He came to the conclusion that hard work was not as efficient as optimizing the manner in which it was done.

He proposed that managers needed to work with employees to maximize productivity.

In the 1920s, a manager maintained little contact with employees, leaving them to figure out how to perform tasks on their own.

As long as an employee had steady employment, they didn’t have to worry about their productivity.

Taylor changed how business was done. He advocated for highly productive workers to be paid more than employees who didn’t achieve much.

Training is one of the ways in which an employee could go from low to high productivity.

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Taylorism: Four Principles of Scientific Management

  • Science over rule of thumb:
    • Use science to determine the most efficient way to perform tasks rather than intuition and personal judgment.
    • Observe how a task is performed, and then use scientific methods to optimize the process for higher productivity.
  • Personal development:
    • Scientifically select and train each employee to their maximum efficiency instead of leaving them to train themselves.
    • Managers should assign jobs to workers according to their physical, mental and intellectual capabilities.
    • They should then train them to work efficiently, supervise them and provide further instructions as needed.
  • Attitude adjustment:
    • Both managers and workers must realize that the other is important for organizational success.
    • Managers should be willing to offer training and share a part of the surplus with their employees.
    • In return, employees should give their full cooperation.
    • Efficient employees are more productive, thus increasing their earning potential.
    • Both employees and organizations benefit when employees are trained to perform their tasks.
  • Cooperation over competition:
    • Mutual cooperation must prevail between management and employees for the success of the organization.
    • Managers must include employees in decision-making and reward them for good ideas.
    • Employees should refrain from making unnecessary demands or going on strike since it would negatively affect efficiency.
    • Work and responsibility should be equally divided between managers and employees.
    • Managers will focus on planning and training while employees will undergo training and perform tasks.

Henry Ford’s assembly line is a great example of scientific management in action.

His assembly line had 84 steps, and each of his workers was trained to master and perform only one.

He hired Frederick Taylor to make the assembly line even more efficient.

He needed a stable workforce that could be trained and relied upon to perform their tasks, so he decided to raise their base pay from $2.34 to $5 for an 8-hour workday.

With this move, he lowered employee turnover and attracted workers to his plant.

Taylor’s principles of scientific management were widely adopted, and they form the basis of employee selection and training today.

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A Timeline of LMS History – Lessons in Learning

Caleb Philip’s Correspondence Course

“Persons in the country desirous to learn the art, may, by having several lessons sent weekly to them, be as perfectly instructed as those who live in Boston”

This advert was published in the Boston Gazette by Caleb Phillips in 1728.

He targeted journalists, secretaries, and professionals whose work involved note-taking.

They would learn his short-hand writing course through correspondence, and lessons would be mailed every week

And so distance learning emerged.

First Distance Learning Institution

The University of London became the first distance learning institution in 1858.

Their external program allowed students to learn and take exams without going to London.

Students would study and earn a living simultaneously.

The Teaching Machine

In 1924, educational psychologist Sidney Pressey built the teaching machine.

It resembled a typewriter and had a window that administered multiple-choice questions (MCQs).

Instead of typing into the machine, students would drill in answers, which would be recorded on a counter at the back of the machine.

The student would only advance to the next frame once they answered the question correctly.

This allowed students to test themselves as they prepared for their exams.

The Problem Cylinder

In 1929, Milton Ezra LeZerte invented a device that could provide instruction without a teacher’s supervision.

The problem cylinder modernized test scoring.

It would check the student’s answers to multiple-choice questions, which saved the teacher’s time.

The First Televised College Credit Class

In 1953, The University of Houston aired for-credit college courses on KUHT TV, the first public television station in the USA.

Video lectures were aired from 5:00 pm to 7:30 pm so everyone who came home from work could benefit.

The Self-Adaptive Keyboard Instructor (SAKI)

Gordon Pask and McKinnon-Wood invented the self-adaptive keyboard instructor (SAKI) in 1956.

It personalized learning by generating practice exercises according to a student’s performance.

As a learner’s performance improved, the exercises would become more complex.

SAKI appearing to function as a human tutor.

The Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations (PLATO)

The first computer-based training program was introduced by Dr. Donald Bitzer in 1960.

PLATO allowed users to learn independently, assign lessons, monitor learner progress and interact through a host of networks.

PLATO pioneered groupware, instant messaging, email, chat rooms, multimedia, and gaming programs.

These served as precursors to widely used elements in multi-user computing systems today.

The First Personal Computer

In 1968, Hewlett Packard released the HP 9100A, a programmable calculator designed to solve mathematical and engineering problems ten times faster than other machines.

It laid the foundation that would later connect users through the internet and facilitate the home use of LMSs.

HP Peripheral devices: HP 9120A printer, HP 9125A plotter, and HP 9101A extended memory


The U.S. Department of Defence in 1969 commissioned the development of ARPANET, which formed the basis of the internet.

For once, people started to grasp the fast rate at which digital information could be exchanged.

They started to view computers as communication devices rather than mere arithmetic machines.

Project Athena

In 1983, Project Athena was launched at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

It sought to extend the use of computer tools into other fields of study outside of engineering and computer science.

Project Athena created a distributed computing environment by setting up computer workstations.

Students and faculty could access their files from any workstation distributed around campus.

Computer work station at MIT

LMS Trailblazers

In the 1990s, Soft Arc released the world’s first LMS – First Class.

It ran on personal Macintosh computers which gave access to both mainframe and home desktop users.

It was followed by:

The First Open-Source LMS

In the year 2000, Moodle (Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment) appeared.

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Users could start learning as soon as they downloaded the software to their home PC.

LMSs became more personalized as users selected what files they wanted to store or export.

SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model) was introduced in the same year.

It specified content packaging, run-time, and metadata, and effectively changed how eLearning courses and LMSs were developed.

The plug-and-play functionality meant that content could now be delivered to a user faster and at a lower price.

The First Cloud-Based Open-Source LMS

Eight years later, Eucalyptus, the first cloud-based open-source LMS, was released.

It stored data and ran entirely on the internet so users could access courses by logging in from their home PC.

xAPI Specification

Also known as Tin Can API, it was developed to succeed SCORM in 2010.

It collected data about a student’s online and offline learning experiences.

xAPI communicates with mobile learning, simulations, experiential learning, social learning, and offline learning.

This allowed instructors to have more insight into the tools and activities that students used to learn.

LMS Platforms of the Future

Today’s best LMS platform enables you to make your company’s training programs everything you want them to be, and then deliver the content anywhere, in real-time, on any device.

World Manager stands on the shoulders of the giants that have come before it to provide you with this truly mobile-first, micro-learning platform.

Book a customized demonstration today and see just how easy it is to enjoy the benefits of the world’s best training, communications, and compliance platform, delivered in your own branded application.

Disclaimer: This information is meant to provide general guidelines and should be used as a reference. It may not take into account all relevant local, state or federal laws and is not a legal document. Neither the author nor World Manager will assume any legal liability that may arise from the use of this information.

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