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Open Source LMS: 6 Reasons To Avoid It

open source lms

You want full control, it makes sense.

It’s your business. Why use a solution built by someone else when you can build it yourself?

When you’re adding a major piece of software to your business’s tech stack, there are so many things to consider: functionality, compatibility, features, and benefits — but most of all, cost.

Source

On one hand, open-source online learning management systems are often free, and you have complete access to the source code, meaning you’re in full control of the entire platform. You can customize the entire thing from top to bottom based on your business’s unique needs.

But on the other hand, you’re on the hook for literally everything to do with the system, so if something breaks or needs updating, it’s up to you to get it done.

So is an open-source LMS really all it’s cracked up to be? In our opinion, the answer tends to be no. 

But let’s not stop there. Let’s get into more details about why you should avoid opting for an open-source learning management system, starting from the top.

What is an Open Source Learning Management System? 

Before we get into a formal definition of what an open-source online learning management system is, let’s start with the word “open source.”

Open source means that the main code of a piece of software (the source code) is freely available to anyone who wants to use it. This means that anyone can download the source code and modify it, customize it, and redistribute it for any reason or purpose with no licensing fees or fear of legal action. Some examples of LMS open source software that you may be familiar with are Google’s Android operating system or Linux.

Like other open-source software, an open-source learning management system is available for anyone to download and modify as they see fit. Most open-source LMS for business systems are also very low cost or free, meaning that there’s little or no initial investment to adopt the software.

However, an open-source learning management system is basically a little better than starting from scratch — you’re provided with the foundation, but you still have to build the rest of the system. This means that you’re responsible for handling hosting, maintenance, upgrades, technical support, and more yourself.

A list of the best open source LMS software includes Moodle, Forma LMS, Canvas LMS, and more.

What is a Proprietary LMS?

On the opposite side of the spectrum is a proprietary LMS. This software is “closed source” in the sense that the source code isn’t available to users and is typically offered as a paid solution with monthly or annual subscription fees. 

Like other SaaS products, a proprietary LMS provider usually offers general ongoing maintenance and support for their platform, including user support for setup and troubleshooting issues and regular feature updates.

Typical Features of Open Source LMS Software

features of open source lms

Not all open-source LMS software is equal, but most offerings include the following features:

Very Customizable

Probably the most attractive feature of an open-source LMS is the customization. Do you need a specific feature that isn’t offered anywhere else? You can build it yourself. Do you need your LMS to play nice with specific software that your company uses? Build a custom integration. Essentially, you can customize every aspect of the software to suit your company’s specific training goals.

The Platform Itself is Often Free

Most open source learning management software is offered for users to download for free, and an open-source LMS platform is often no different. This is likely because the base software is often very bare-bones, so there’s not much there to justify charging customers for. 

Also, any features that are included in the system from the beginning are typically made and provided to users through a user community, meaning the original developer of the platform isn’t involved at all. Sure, a user who developed a feature for an open-source LMS could charge for that feature, but they typically offer it to the rest of the community for free in the spirit of the rest of the system.

Online User Community for Support

Most open-source LMS software platforms don’t offer any formal customer support, so that role is usually handled by an online user community. This community is often full of developers and typical users and is often accessible through an online forum or messaging service like Discord. This means that the community is not providing support, but they are also moderating incoming messages and otherwise “policing” the discussions that take place. 

While there’s often a ton of information available through these communities, you have to be patient and willing to sift through information to find the answer you’re looking for. In addition, to make policing these user communities easier, volunteer-appointed moderators often implement various rules and requirements that new user has to meet before they can post a message or even join the community in the first place. You’ll have to take the time to read through these rules and ensure you’re being respectful of them, otherwise, you may not be able to access support through the community and will be completely on your own to solve any issues with your open source LMS.

Disadvantages of Free Open Source LMS

disadvantages of open source lms

Free open source learning management systems often come with the following disadvantages:

Uncertain Support

A strong user community is really the lifeblood of any good open-source learning management software. Without an active user base, the system grows stagnant and it becomes difficult for new and existing users to find general support. This is the risk you’re taking with any LMS, sure, but it’s more volatile with open source communities because there’s really no obligation to anyone to continue offering support for the platform.

For example, a developer may create a feature and then later decide to cease continued maintenance of that feature, meaning that there’s a potential that the feature will no longer work like the rest of the community provides other updates and enhancements to the system, often available as system updates.

WordPress is a great example. As an open-source content management system, tons of developers contribute to its functionality by offering free and paid add-ons to users. But as WordPress pushes updates to make its system better, if the developers of these add-ons abandon their projects, the likelihood of certain add-ons breaking with repeated system updates increases. This is why users often look for developers that are active and responsive before they install something on WordPress — but that doesn’t mean those developers will be active and responsive forever.

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There’s a popular saying among developers in open source communities: “Bugs? You tell me.” 

What this means is that QA with a lot of features offered in open-source LMS software can be hit and miss — meaning it’s left up to the user to identify a bug in the software, alert the developer, and hope the developer takes action to fix it. Otherwise, the user is left to find a workaround solution or ditch the feature altogether.

Comes with Hidden Costs

The open-source learning management software itself might be free, but that doesn’t mean that maintaining it is. 

While paid systems either include or offer a one-time fee for setup, which is often several thousand dollars, self-hosting an open-source LMS could cost tens of thousands of dollars upfront instead. 

Aside from hosting costs for the platform, there are also ongoing course and platform feature development costs, technical support costs, maintaining security, and more that go into running an open-source LMS system. Paid systems usually include security, maintenance, and technical support in their subscription fees and offer professional services if you need someone to develop engaging courses for you. But if you’re running an open-source LMS, you’ll either need to have existing development and IT teams run it or outsource that task to someone else, meaning more additional costs. 

Requires Coding and Development Knowledge

Remember, an open-source LMS system is meant to be a foundation for you to build off of, meaning you’ll need to be knowledgeable in LMS coding and development or have access to a team that is. You’ll likely be able to upload your PDfs, PowerPoints, and JPGs to the system with no issues, even if you’re not a developer, but you’ll definitely need a development team to create truly engaging courses and features that support your learners.

Requires Protection of Customer Data

When you’re hosting an open-source LMS platform, your customer or employee data is entirely in your hands. This means you need to ensure that user data is stored properly, and in compliance with online security standards such as GDPR. If there’s a data breach or some other type of security concern, you need to be equipped to deal with it swiftly.

Often Lacks UX Features 

Open-source LMS systems often don’t come with a robust set of UX features, and that’s typically by design. In exchange for a bare-bones system, you get complete freedom to develop customized UX solutions that work for your learners and your business. But, if you’re not a UX designer yourself or don’t have access to one in your company, then you’ll have to outsource the development anyway. 

Implementation Time

With an open-source LMS, you’re going to need to dedicate time to build out the system according to your company’s needs. Even if you have in-house development and IT teams, you’ll still need to plan out the expected functionality of the system, how long it will take your team to build it out, and allow time for testing and quality control. This can take months to years, depending on the features you need and the time that your teams can dedicate to building them out.

Benefits of Paid LMS

benefits of paid lms

Typical benefits of paid LMS systems include: 

Enhanced Customer Service and Technical Support

While open source LMS system users have to rely on a user community for technical support, paid systems usually include fast and easy access to dedicated technical support staff, who are typically available 24/7 or during set office hours through phone, email, or live chat. These professionals will work with you to get the problem resolved as soon as possible and in some cases, can even access your LMS remotely to observe problems for themselves. 

User Friendliness

While the point of open-source LMS platforms is to provide a basic UX as a foundation, paid systems focus on building an intuitive and easy user experience from the ground up. The goal is to empower users to be able to navigate the system with ease, even if they aren’t the most technically-savvy individuals. This not only provides a better experience for the user but it reduces the time needed to be spent by the paid LMS platform’s staff answering questions and guiding users through the basic functionality of the system.

Built-in Course Authoring 

Not all paid LMS platforms offer built-in course authoring tools (Tovuti does), but it’s an incredibly useful feature to help customers build out their own engaging courses rather than needing to rely on software developers or instructional designers to build these courses out for them. 

Tovuti’s built-in course authoring tool also allows you to update built-out course content quickly and easily, without you having to upload SCORM files or install third-party tools. 

Third-Party courses

Having an LMS with just your company’s internal course content is fine, but if you want to provide your employees with more professional development opportunities, integrating third-party courses is a popular option. Many paid LMS platforms give you access to a variety of third-party course providers and in some cases, even allow you to white label these courses with your company’s logo and colors. 

Easy Integrations

While open-source LMS platforms can absolutely handle software integrations, they need to be coded and tweaked to work properly with your unique setup. On the other hand, paid systems often include supported integrations right out of the box, meaning with a click of a button, software like Slack, Google Calendar, Facebook, and more are immediately connected to the LMS.

Robust Administration Features

If you have a large company, you’ll want to give some users full access to the LMS and limit access for others. Different user access levels, permissions, and user groups are just some examples of ways that companies segment their LMS users. Even if you’re a small business, as your business grows, you’ll definitely find yourself wanting to fully control your LMS platform’s user permissions.

With Tovuti, user permissions can be set from public to super admin, but you can also determine your own user permission levels within the system, getting as granular as you want. User groups allow you to define a bucket of users and can be based on position, department, or any other criteria that you decide.

In-Depth Reporting and Analytics

Because open-source LMS platforms are not exactly complete out of the box, the included reporting and analytics are often lacking or very basic. With paid systems, the platform is already established, so the reporting and analytics functionality is already built out and ready to go.

Faster Implementation Time

While an open-source LMS can take months or years to implement, a paid solution can often be implemented in much less time. Since the system is already built out and made to be ready to integrate into your tech stack, implementation time is often much less of a concern.

Open Source LMS vs. Proprietary LMS

To summarize the differences between an open-source LMS and a proprietary system, here’s a comparison table:

Category

Open Source LMS 

Proprietary LMS

Price

Source code is available to users to download at no cost

Access to the system often requires a paid subscription

Features

Provides a foundation for an LMS with limited features 

Offers a complete LMS solution with robust features (features available depend on the platform)

Costs

Users are responsible for hosting costs, maintenance, troubleshooting, information security, and more

Hosting, maintenance, troubleshooting, information security, and more are included in a typical subscription package

Technical Support

Technical support is often through online user communities

Technical support is provided directly through the vendor, often with dedicated staff

Integrations

Integrations with other software have to be built out by the user

Typically offers immediate integration compatibility with major business software, including Google Suite, Slack, Zapier, and more.

Users

Can theoretically support unlimited users, provided the hosting solution can support them

Typically limits users based on subscription tier (e.g. 50 users for tier 1, 500 users for tier 2, etc.)

Security

Security varies widely depending on the system and how well vulnerabilities are identified and fixed by an online community of developers

Is typically more secure by default as the LMS provider has a direct interest in keeping user data safe

Table Sources: 1, 2

Top 4 Paid LMS Software 

Just like any piece of software, no two paid LMS software offerings are the same. Each focuses on different features and benefits to set itself apart from the competition and differentiate itself in a very competitive marketplace.

Here is an overview of different popular paid LMS platforms and the features they offer their users.

Tovuti

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We can’t make a list of incredible paid LMS software without mentioning Tovuti. It might be our learning management system, but we’re not recommending it for that reason. We simply can’t ignore the versatility and ease of use that the Tovuti platform offers users. After all, there’s a reason why Tovuti has won awards and consistently ranks above its competitors for features like course management, course authoring, overall training and learning, and more. The main aim of the Tovuti platform is to continue to be a flexible and modern eLearning platform that helps customers provide engaging experiences to employees from all industries.

SkyPrep

Source

SkyPrep is an eLearning platform that caters to corporations and businesses, providing an easy-to-use interface that makes it simple for businesses to create and optimize course content. The usual features are all here, including SCORM support, built-in course creation tools, and advanced analytics and reporting capabilities. You can also white label the entire eLearning platform with your company logo and colors using CSS to make the system look more official.

D2L Brightspace 

Source

D2L Brightspace takes eLearning to the next level by providing a platform that handles a variety of training for different audiences, from employees to customers to managing partners. This is controlled through different levels of access and customized learning platforms. However, HTML5 knowledge is required to build out content on their platform, but it also supports content uploads using standard eLearning formats.

BrainCert

Source

BrainCert attempts to be a jack of all trades platform by offering features that cater to different industry verticals, mainly enterprise and education. The usual features can be found here, including strong administration features like user control, mobile responsiveness, and white-labeling. It also supports integrations and features a state-of-the-art virtual classroom experience using WebRTC and HTML5.

Conclusion

While it may be tempting to get an open-source LMS platform at first, the hidden costs and uncertainties around continued support and security should turn most business owners away unless they have strong IT and development teams that can build out and maintain the system.

Still, it’s often much faster and easier to go with a paid LMS solution over a free, open source LMS. 

If you’re ready to discover what a flexible, feature-rich, and easy-to-use LMS solution can do for your business, then get started by watching our demo. It’ll outline why Tovuti’s next-generation software is the best choice for training your team.

Author:
Tyson Chaplin

Tyson Chaplin earned his Master of Educational Technology degree from Boise State University in 2014. He also earned a graduate certificate in Technology Integration and holds teaching certificates in online teaching, special education, and history.

Tyson is an Idaho native who is passionate about technology and how it can help all people learn and better themselves. He has worked in both public and private sectors. Tyson enjoys cooking and traveling with his wife, Malia, and restores vintage video game systems in his free time.

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