The Time Is Now

Open-Source Learning-Management Systems for Enterprise

Sally Ann MooreParis (F), October 2013 - (by Sally Ann Moore) Open-source software is the term used to describe free software whose source code is made freely available through license, allowing its use, modification, and distribution. The concept of free software and code sharing has long been established, but "open source" as a term and a development model came into its own with the growth of the Internet, gaining prominence towards the late 1990s. The Open Source Initiative was established in 1998.

Some familiar names and success stories of open source include the Linux operating system, the Firefox web browser, the Drupal content-management system, and the MySQL database.

A whole industry of open source support has grown up, and a variety of applications and platforms have emerged, including several learning-management systems, starting with Moodle.

Moodle, the first open-source learning-management system

Moodle (Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment) is a free software eLearning platform, also known as a learning-management system or virtual learning environment (VLE). Launched in Perth Australia on 20 August 2002 and designed for the education sector, Moodle is the leading open-source learning-management system.

The stated philosophy of Moodle includes a constructivist and social constructionist approach to education, emphasizing that learners (and not just teachers) can contribute to the educational experience. Using these pedagogical principles, Moodle provides a flexible environment for learning communities.

As of June 2013, Moodle had a user base of 83,008 registered and verified sites, serving 70,696,570 users in 7.5 million courses with 1.2 million teachers. This means that the world has very solid experience with Moodle, and the software and its support are mature. There are many vendors that host Moodle, such as Remote-Learner and MoodleRooms, the latter of which was recently purchased by Blackboard. Because Moodle is open-source software, it can be customized to fit academic needs for students, instructors, and the Moodle administrators.

More recently, Moodle has been adapted to meet the needs of the corporate sector, and the time appears to be right for the open-source LMS to become mainstream in the world of business. Open source is no longer a risk.

The time is now

Something close to a tipping point is reached when ground-up adoption of open-source technologies meets with government recommendations and directives around open-source-friendly policies and private-sector uptake. For example, In France, on 19 September 2012, the prime minister’s office issued a letter and guidelines recommending the use of open- source software in the French public sector and private enterprise.

This, the maturity, the variety of offerings, and the benefits of open-source learning- management systems are a whole set of reasons why companies with eLearning projects - in France, and worldwide - should be looking very seriously at open-source LMSs for the coming years.

The advantages of open-source LMS systems

  • Free and freedom - Whilst the "free" aspect of an open-source license is an attraction, it should not be overestimated. Any LMS implementation project needs a budget and will incur costs if it is to be successful. Of more ongoing and transformative potential for an organisation is the freedom that open source brings; freedom to extend, customise, and modify the product to suit specific business needs; no need to wait for the vendor’s roadmap to catch up with your vision of what the LMS should look like .
  • Cost savings – The fact that, unlike a commercial proprietary system, open-source systems have no license fees can mean significant cost savings. Investment can be focused on change management rather than on the technology itself. Large organisations that have switched from proprietary LMS platforms to an open source LMS designed for enterprise (such as TOTARA, Docebo, DOKEOS, eFront, and Ganesha) report typical implementation cost savings ranging from sixty to eighty percent. Recent, documented examples include the following.

o       The UK supermarket retail giant TESCO was an early adopter of Totara and reported eighty percent costs savings on their implementation compared with a proprietary product.

o       The Northumberland County Council reported cost savings and efficiencies to their training program of eighty percent through the use of Totara.

o       The hotel chain Jurys Inn are switching to open source for employee training – around 3200 courses completed per month.

o       AXA Insurance used the Ganesha LMS to train a thousand insurance brokers.

  • Security – A traditional key criticism of cautious organisations and IT departments has been that open source is more prone to security issues. However, the "many eyeballs" theory argues the opposite; namely, that software code will be more secure when it is open to wider scrutiny. Without this access to source code, the end user is dependent on the software vendor and their roadmap and priorities placed on fixing software bugs.
  • Maturity – Open-source LMS systems have now reached mainstream enterprise, and there is about three years of solid experience in the corporate world. Totara, for instance, already has over 300 subscribers across many sectors, including retail, government, healthcare, hospitality, and energy. Adopters range from small businesses to large global organisations with over 200,000 users, including Sony, Vodafone, Cable & Wireless, EasyJet, Michelin China, and Logica.

Another nice example is The Council of Europe: Founded in 1949, The Council of Europe is the oldest international organisation working towards European integration.  It sets a particular emphasis on legal standards, human rights, democratic development, the rule of law, and cultural co-operation. It has 47 member states with some 800 million citizens. The council has selected the open-source LMS Dokeo for the renovation of its training offerings for its members. This brings Dokeos users over the two-million mark.

How to get going now!

At the iLearning Forum Paris on 11-12 February 2014, training managers and IT managers can discover open-source LMSs for themselves. The free conference features a dedicated track of four moderated presentations illustrating real case studies and a strategy for open-source LMS in France and Europe.

In conclusion, open-source LMSs for enterprise have arrived, showing real cost savings, increased efficiencies, and product adaptability to corporate needs. The documented benefits are hard to ignore.