There is a certain library in Minnesota where there are 24 cardboard boxes containing the records of the very first electronic Learning Management System. This LMS was developed in 1960 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign by a researcher named Donald Bitzer. It was called PLATO, which was an acronym for Program Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations.
The ILLIAC I system. PLATO required a fair amount of hardware.
The PLATO system went through many revisions over a period of decades. The first system was programmed on the ILLIAC I system. The ILLIAC I measured ten feet high, two feet wide, and eight and a half feet tall and weighed about five tons. It utilized 2,800 vacuum tubes. In the 1970s a touch screen interface was utilized on a much smaller form factor, featuring a monochromatic orange display. Content was created with the TUTOR programming language, which was used to create thousands of hours of lesson material.
The PLATO IV system was a lot like the iPad.
The early PLATO systems were used to teach K-12 as well as college courses near Urbana-Champaign, and eventually systems were sold to educational systems all over the world.
Bitzer published a paper in December 1968 describing the economics of the PLATO system in which he estimated the cost of the system to be about $0.27 per hour per student to use the PLATO III system. Assuming a student used the system 5 hour per week, 16 weeks per semester, that comes out to about $43.20 per student per year. In today's dollars, that's about $266.00 per student, per year. (With this pricing, we'd be profitable in no time!)
The first PLATO system went live in 1960, and the last PLATO system was shut down in 2006, but every LMS in use today is based on the fundamental concepts that Donald Bitzer developed - including our own LMS, Canvas.