With due respect, I’d argue that the focus of the LMS (or course management systems) has really been less about the course and more about assisting faculty. Admittedly, I know this will be a controversial claim, given continuing, almost two-decades long rants and rage of faculty about the design and functionality of various LMS applications. But I think it is far to say that the CMS/LMS emerged as a way to assist faculty, who had few technical/coding/HTML skills, to post course resources online. We focused on "the course" because that was the arena of obvious and recurring need.I can't really argue with that. There was certainly a sense that creating your own online materials was just "too hard for faculty" and they needed a "Web Course in a Box" as described in this lovely vintage page. But that was the goal, it's tough to argue we've been very successful. Nearly every educational technology conference I've been at in the last 15 years has included a talk about "How we convince our reluctant faculty to use the LMS." Typically, it seems to revolve around food and, sometimes, a little money. However, only rarely do those responsible for educational technology ask whether the technology they provide is part of the problem rather than part of the solution - see "It's time to stop blaming the faculty" for more on this topic.
Regardless of the intent, I would argue that the core construct of the LMS is the course. Look at the challenges and the hacks created to help instructors manage multiple courses, or migrate materials from one course or semester to another. A (traditional) course:
- starts and ends, and
- has enrollment - you're either in it or out of it
- has one, or perhaps a handful of instructors, with a special role that's distinct from that of a student
- students that complete a course get credit and a grade
(photo CC by stanfordedtech via flickr)