Skip navigation links

Sept. 11, 2012

MSU learning system celebrates 20th birthday as popularity grows

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Since its one-department beginnings two decades ago, a Michigan State University-developed online learning system has grown so much that more than 140 institutions around the world, from high schools to world-class universities, now use it.

It was 20 years ago this month that the system, LearningOnline Network with Computer-Assisted Personalized Approach, or LON-CAPA, went online to assist faculty and students in MSU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Since then it has become popular in many courses, not just the sciences.

“While it’s mostly in the sciences, we’re seeing it used in many other areas now,” said Gerd Kortemeyer, LON-CAPA director and a professor of physics in MSU’s Lyman Briggs College. “We’re seeing it in use in areas such as philosophy and arts and humanities. We estimate that one in five MSU students uses the system.”

Kortemeyer said it’s the flexibility of the system that makes it so popular. Faculty use it for assigning and grading homework. They also use it for content management – posting websites, videos and other teaching tools that assist in their teaching, as well as staying in touch with students with announcements and online discussions.

It also helps faculty share lectures and other materials with colleagues. And, Kortemeyer said, it can be used to gather input from students, letting faculty members know if their students are learning the material.

“The instructor can look at the online discussion and assess if the students are ‘getting it,’” he said. “He or she is able to focus more. It sets a different tone for the lecture.”

Another advantage is that once the classroom material is in the system, it never goes away. Professors have access to notes and lectures from the past that they can use and update.

Kortemeyer estimated that there are as many as 440,000 shared objects in the system – a shared object being anything from images to pertinent websites to homework problems.

“Basically LON-CAPA is used by faculty who really care about teaching,” he said, “faculty who are willing to go the extra mile.”

For information on LON-CAPA, visit


Michigan State University has been working to advance the common good in uncommon ways for more than 150 years. One of the top research universities in the world, MSU focuses its vast resources on creating solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges, while providing life-changing opportunities to a diverse and inclusive academic community through more than 200 programs of study in 17 degree-granting colleges.