The critical word here is ONLINE, because according to a brief scour of the Interwebs, the first LMS’s were actually developed in the 1920s (one of them at the University of Alberta – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_virtual_learning_environments), but those most assuredly would NOT have been online since the Internet was not around quite yet (there’s another fun fact – when was the Internet “invented”, although I am sure you all know the answer to that one! And if not, go to http://www.internetsociety.org/internet/what-internet/history-internet/brief-history-internet).
Now, the first online LMS I remember (and worked with) was WebCT. It no longer exists as WebCT, but was subsumed under Blackboard in 2005. I’ve also worked with Moodle (an open source LMS) and am now working with Desire2Learn. I’ve also taken courses in Angel (which was acquired by Blackboard in 2009) and Canvas (another open source LMS). There are MANY other LMS’s out there. Here is a list at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_learning_management_systems.
But enough of that. Back to the original question: the first online LMS. Why is it so hard to find an answer to these questions? Right now, my bet is on something called EKKO, which was an online LMS developed at NKI Distance Education in Norway in 1987. What did EKKO look like? I’m not sure. It’s referred to as a computer conferencing system (http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/17/354) and consisted of “four main modules: user directory, email, bulletin boards, and conferences.” (https://books.google.ca/books?isbn=0262082365) What I can say for sure is that it did NOT look like any of the LMS’s we are used to seeing today.
- A Critical Understanding of Learning Management System – 2013: http://www.academia.edu/3382729/A_Critical_Understanding_of_Learning_Management_System_-_2013
- The History of Learning Management Systems Infographic: http://elearninginfographics.com/the-history-of-learning-management-systems-infographic/
- The First LMS (Extra Credit: The Canvas Blog): http://blog.canvaslms.com/blog/bid/148944/The-First-LMS#sthash.mGWULwh4.dpbs