During the spring and summer of 1999, The University of the Future, LLC, (FutureU) completed a research study to identify a robust set of features that support teaching and learning online and then compared six leading course management software (CMS) packages to determine the extent to which each one of the six packages provides the desired features. A report on the results of this research was published on October 13, 1999. A month following the initial study, WebCT submitted an updated feature list based on version 2.0 of their product. The current report reflects integration of these updated features into the narrative and tables.
The purpose of this investigation was twofold: 1) to help academic institutions make informed decisions when they purchase or upgrade CMS products and 2) to help CMS developers make informed decisions when they plan for product development and marketing.
The research identified a total of 94 desired features. A comparison of the six packages reveals that WebCT offers the most features (82), followed closely by Web Course in a Box (79). These were followed next by a tie between Blackboard’s CourseInfo (75) and the Embanet implementation of Intralearn (75). The other two packages in the study were WBT System’s TopClass (48) and Virtual Learning Environments VirtualU (65).
Higher education is experiencing a growing demand for access to technology-mediated or “online” learning. Reduced costs and increased functionality are allowing more and more academic decision makers to justify technology-mediated learning initiatives. One of the fastest growing areas in the technology-mediated educational arena is the use of the Internet by colleges and universities to supplement face-to-face courses with online components and to deliver some courses completely online.
Until recently, most academic administrators sought, above all, to minimize the cost of technology mediation. Now, attitudes are evolving and many administrators are acknowledging that a significant investment in online education can yield valuable long-term benefits that are well worth the cost. As a result, they are beginning to increase support and funding for online learning.
Until recently, most vendors have been promoting their products as a way to lower costs. But this has not proven true in practice. Initial investment requirements can be especially high. The payoff comes not in cost savings but in support for teaching existing courses and higher revenue from increases in the size of learner populations that can be served. Online delivery allows an institution to serve a larger population and to serve its current students better, thus attracting more dollars from both sources.
Course Management Software
Key to a wise online initiative is robust course management software (CMS) that is easy to learn; easy to use; flexible; rich in features for learning, teaching, and administration; easy to integrate with other software and easily upgraded to future versions.
More than a dozen players are currently struggling to grab market share in the dynamic, rapidly evolving CMS marketplace. Armed with a greater understanding of their competition and customer needs, they can make informed choices about how to invest in product enhancement and market positioning. Their customers can make more fully informed decisions about which course management software will best meet their needs. FutureU intends this report to address both of these purposes.
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