Open source software offers the prospect of developing corporate learning management systems at a low cost. While this can seem very attractive to organisations with small budgets, there are serious considerations to be made before taking up this option.
Free or low-cost options often come with increased risk when compared with purchasing from a proprietary LMS provider. When you take the open source route, you can choose to develop the LMS in-house, buy an off-the-shelf open source product or hire developers to build, host and maintain it. Assess the actual costs of all three options, which can often bring the final price closer to that of a proprietary LMS system.
Open source products such as Moodle – a free, open source learning management system written in PHP – all need customisation. If you have IT people with the appropriate expertise, they can do this for you, but you will still be paying for their time. You will depend on having access to these experts for as long as you operate your LMS and could face considerable additional costs if you lose in-house expertise and have to use contractors.
Open source systems offer a substantial choice of add-ons and plugins, which enable you to customise your LMS just how you want it. You will need your in-house IT resource to manage and customise these and will have to ensure that urgent modifications or maintenance are given high priority by your IT department.
You will also have to arrange hosting for your LMS and could do this on your internal servers or by purchasing space on external servers. You must ensure that you and/or hosting providers maintain tight security to safeguard data stored on the system.
Where there are bugs in open source software, bug fixes depend on the community developing the software and may take some time. Some elements, such as plugins may be abandoned by their developer, leaving you to decide whether to continue using obsolete elements or find new ones, which may not work as well. With a proprietary LMS, service level agreements will specify how fast bugs or other issues are fixed.
For those organisations with substantial technical resources and know-how, building and maintaining an open source LMS can be successful.
For most organisations, purchasing a proprietary LMS provides peace of mind as the responsibility for development, hosting, security and maintenance all rest with the provider. For your annual or monthly license payment you should receive all the above management plus responsive customer service, should something go wrong.