The "Learning Service Management System" System Theory — A Study on the Functions and Structure of Distance Learning and Management Platforms

YUAN Songhe

 (OUC Research Institute of Open and Distance Education, Ph.D., Beijing 100039, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Abstract: This paper aims to establish the LSMS (Learning Service Management System) system theory. It introduces the LSMS design concept and the background for its emergence, and clearly explains LSMS system theory, which includes the functions and structure of the platform. Second, based on content analysis of 30 representative domestic distance learning and management platforms, combined with Web 2.0 concepts and connectivism theory and grounded theory methods, this paper analyses and classifies the functions and structure of the homepages of three levels of the learning system (portal, personal space and course space). It also lists corresponding functions of the management system and forms a function framework for service-oriented platforms. Finally, this paper presents a framework for the service capabilities of distance learning and management platforms, optimal design for its external functional structure, trend analysis, and the foundation for LSMS system theory.


Keywords: distance learning and management platform; learning service management system (LSMS); system theory; function; function structure

I. Introduction 

1. LSMS design concept and system theory

1.1 LSMS design concept

China’s distance education has entered the phase of online education, and the distance learning and management platform (hereinafter, "the platform") has become an important foundation for online education as it supports the teaching, learning and management of online education. With the rapid development of China’s modern distance education in recent years, demands on the platform have increased. To improve large-scale learner support, adapt to new business needs, and improve service quality and overall competitiveness, domestic distance universities urgently need to upgrade or replace existing platforms. Advanced information technologies offer better foundations for platform design, development and deployment, but without advanced conceptual guidance, the upgrade will be cosmetic only. The design concept must be the driving force behind the platform upgrade; it directly influences the design patterns of the software system and the quality of the software products.

International design concepts of distance learning and management platforms have undergone three periods of development[1]: LMS (Learning Management System), LCMS (Learning Content Management System), and LAMS (Learning Activity Management System). As a whole, the three represent a gradually deepening and evolving process; each has a different focus. LMS emphasizes system management and reporting. LCMS emphasizes the refinement of learning content, i.e., to store, deliver and manage course resources in the form of learning objects. LAMS emphasizes the refinement of learning activities, i.e., to serialize design of managed learning activities to improve the connection between learners and course resources. At present, most platforms are an integration of the three.

However, international platform design concepts are not suitable for distance education institutions in China. This can be clearly seen from the state of adaptation of international platforms such as Blackboard and Moodle in China’s online colleges. The reasons are as follows: (1) LMS, LCMS and LAMS are all course-oriented and are not built around the entire entrance-to-completion learning process for a major or the lifelong learning process. They revolve around course learning activities as opposed to services for professional learning or lifelong learning. Thus, it is difficult for such platforms to meet Chinese learners’ needs for online learning. (2) For all three design concepts, the main management activity is teaching management centered on course learning activities. Support for academic affairs management and campus management is inadequate and unable to satisfy the needs of China’s distance education institutions for teaching and academic affairs management. (3) Finally, due to its focus on course learning activities, support for individualized and contextual services is insufficient.

A system which revolves around learning content or learning activities is obviously incapable of handling overall planning and system design for China’s distance education platform needs. China's platform upgrade needs a more high-level orientation. Thus, grounded in international platform design concepts integrated with system theory, connectivism theory, modern service theory and humanist concepts, and based on the actual needs of distance education online teaching, the author here proposes the Learning Service Management System (LSMS) design concept[2]. LSMS is service-oriented and emphasizes the development of systematic, individualized, socialized, contextual and intelligent services.

1.2 LSMS Ssystem Ttheory

The advantages of service-oriented platform design lie in three respects. (1) It facilitates service-centric design of the platform's functional structure, focuses on key points, achieves functional synergy, reduces development cost and improves platform performance. (2) It facilitates the service-centric connection and integration of functions, optimizes platform functions and improves platform usability. (3) It is more learner-centric, provides better learner support, meets the actual needs of domestic distance education and improves platform usability. Hence, LSMS stresses consideration of system structure, humanistic optimization and cost efficiency in the design of the software system, reflecting the systematic, humanistic and efficiency concepts of LSMS.

All systems are made up of elements and the relationships between them[3]; correspondingly, platforms are made up of functions and their organizational structures. Functions and structure are the basic content of platform system design, and this is also the LSMS system theory introduced in this paper. As a software system, the functional structure of the platform can further be divided into two parts: the external functional structure manifested on specific web pages, and the internal module structure and data interface of the software. Software structure is directly related to the coordinated operation of the platform modules, stability of the platform, extensibility of the platform modules, etc. A loosely coupled component structure is common in software development today. It helps make the software more open and extensible, and facilitates upgrade and maintenance of the software system, thus reducing platform upgrade and maintenance costs.

Due to space limitations, this paper focuses on discussion of the platform's functional framework and external functional structure (hereinafter, “functional structure”), establishes the functional framework of the LSMS platform and the functional structure of the home page at each level, and offers a preliminary description of LSMS system theory.

2. Research process and methods

At present, domestic distance education institutions mainly include 68 online colleges and one Radio and TV University (hereinafter, “RTVU”) system. These institutions have already built up their own distance learning and management platforms. This paper samples representative platforms, performs content and statistical analysis of platform functions and structure, summarizes the services and corresponding learning activities and functions common to all platforms, and forms a service-oriented functional framework for the platform.

The service-oriented platform function analysis uses grounded theory methods, logging on to the 30 representative platforms one by one, analyzing and counting their various functions. The coding process is based on data from content analysis and manual operation, which enables a better grasp of the basis for classification and summary and further reduces the technical orientation caused by automatic computer coding.

The sampling method and category selection process of the content analysis are as follows:

2.1 Sampling method

First, the paper divides the 68 online colleges into 5 categories[4] by consulting the national standard for discipline classification (GB/T13745-92) and the classification of 133 domestic research and teaching universities along with the proportion of disciplines offered by each school.