open source lms

Open-source software (OSS) is an effective example of open collaboration. A licensed source code gives users the option to use, study, change, and distribute the software. An Open Source LMS can be used for many activities in EdTech (for both corporates and educational institutions). For instance, blended learning, distance learning, flipped classrooms, and e-learning.

On the other hand, cloud-based enterprise LMSs are hosted on the service providers’ servers or a public/private cloud. This is usually at a premium that is annualized and accompanies well-supported processes and consulting. They are easily accessible from almost anywhere via a mobile device or browser. There is minimal worry about enhancing or maintaining the software.

In fact, 87% of LMS users rely on professional SaaS-based LMS offerings. “SaaS addresses the issues of customization and integration with which so many organizations have struggled. SaaS and specifically, Cloud is now the dominant delivery model in LMS today”. Josh Bersin, Principal and Founder, Bersin by Deloitte. [Source]

Diving Deeper into the Details: Open Source LMS Vs. Enterprise SaaS-based LMS

Cost & Customization

open source LMS

One of the primary upsides of open-source LMS is the fact that its original source code is freely available. You can redistribute and modify this code per your collaborative community’s needs. Ensure all the distribution and license parameters are abided by. Users with access to the source code can personalize it to meet their respective requirements.

In fact, a lot of users prefer an open-source LMS. Why? Because of its flexibility, free availability, and ability to customize and add new features.

But here is the thing. You must have heard about Moodle, one of the leading providers in the market of open-source platforms. Sure, its basic plan is free. But this does not mean that one can download the source code and experience a fully functional LMS. For instance, let’s assume you wish to add or delete features. Maybe, you want to change the appearance of the LMS website to match your brand’s look and feel. Then, you will need to incur extra costs.

So, an open-source LMS is not free at the end of the day.

Most often than not, users who grab an open-source LMS without reading the fine print fall into this trap and realize it is too late to turn back. Needless to say, a high degree of technical expertise and programming knowledge is expected to get the open-source LMS to where the end user needs it to be.

With an open-source LMS, you need to invest a gamut of resources in building your own functional LMS. An OSS not only needs multiple applications but also demands a dedicated IT department — which looks after its administration and maintenance. Needless to say, you need to evaluate your core business purpose and if creating a mini organization to run, operate and manage an LMS fit in that scheme of things.

Some of the associated costs in an OSS are hosting fees (hosting the open-source software on an existing or cloud-based server) and server set-up costs. You will need to set your server based on the number of estimated users. For this, you might also need to take the services of an external IT vendor.

A dedicated team

Again, to successfully implement, manage, improve, and maintain an open-source LMS, one will need to have a dedicated team – comprising stakeholders, IT pros, HR professionals, testing pros, experienced administrators, and learning content developers. If you do not have these resources available in-house, you will need to hire an external vendor or implementation partner (usually found with large well-known OSS LMSs like Moodle)

Ongoing support is an additional cost factor, which includes recurrent costs related to upgrades, stress tests, debugging, and support. And if your LMS undergoes a technical issue, you must have a backup plan ready — so that there is no loss of valuable data. The system must be up and running asap!

Again, we reiterate! An OSS is not entirely free. If you add up all of its cost factors, you will understand that the number can increase manifold when you deploy an OSS for commercial or enterprise-level usage!

On the other hand, an enterprise Saas-based LMS can have different pricing models — pay-per-user, pay-per-use, or one-time licensing fee.

The pay-per-user model calculates costs based on the number of registered users or per active users*. Pay-per-use models estimate the price as per the number of times you use the LMS.

The licensing model includes a one-time (custom pricing for large implementations – usually running into thousands if not 10s of thousands of users), an upfront fee to access/install the software, or a fixed fee to access the software for a certain time frame. The installation fee usually includes implementation, training, support, maintenance, and updates, followed by AMC (annualized maintenance contract) for continued professional support.

(** Active users – The definition of active user can vary from LMS to LMS – usually is active users per month)

An open-source LMS is usually effective for small-scale use / individual users and up to about a few hundred users). It does entice you with a low-cost approach to installing an LMS. But with an evolving training market, the organizational learning needs also change with time.

An open-source system may not be able to keep pace with advanced learning methods like mobile learning, skills gap management, micro-learning, or social learning. (One requires a very rich ecosystem of free plugins that may customize specific functionalities that are most needed by the community of users). One will incur additional efforts & costs each time you wish to enhance the features of your existing OSS.

Now, an enterprise SaaS-based platform does come at a seemingly higher price in comparison. However, there are no expenses related to infrastructure, maintenance, upgrading, customization, or branding. You do not have to incur unpredictable costs if you want to scale the system and introduce more courses and learners. It adapts to your changing needs as the years go by. Usually, leading cloud-based systems offer a comprehensive package — inclusive of customization, support, training, etc.


open source lms

Open-source software brings with it a few complications in terms of usage, distribution, and changes, especially when it is considered for commercial distribution. Usually, one of the listed advantages of an OSS is scalability. You can size it up or down without incurring licensing costs. But again, scalability is also a prominent feature of cloud-based platforms. The only difference? You might incur an additional increase in the monthly subscription.

Yet again, here is the catch. Although several OSS may claim that they are scalable, they are usually built for individual users or small-scale businesses. Case studies show that they drastically slow down when the number of concurrent users is high. That is a fact that needs to be kept in mind while choosing an OSS as an option for medium to large-scale enterprise LMS needs.

Additionally, implementing an OSS is surprisingly harder than one expects it to be. OSS is only for IT experts and may be difficult for normal users to install and use. The majority of Moodle users have identified themselves as teachers, online learning researchers, or educational administrators.

An OSS can be tricky to deploy and often requires technical knowledge and support.

Even minor challenges like compatibility with various server/webserver OS (Operating System) versions can be very tricky to solve, even for the expert user, leave alone novices. This can be a challenge for ongoing maintenance, too, with upgrades and OS patchwork requirements.

It requires that someone on staff takes responsibility for making it work, you cannot just telephone their technical support. Therefore, your company will require a technical understanding of the underlying technology and how it all works together. But reliable cloud-based platforms offer a dedicated support team, available 24×7. It is all a part of the package!

On the other hand, setting up an enterprise SaaS LMS system is extremely easy. All you need to do is create an account and sign in! Once you are done, you can start using it right away. Apart from receiving regular bug fixes, one can also be sure of regular release updates and new features. But in an OSS, keeping track of recent updates (regarding the latest syllabus changes, technology advancements, and evolving capabilities) is entirely your responsibility (usually done via open-source user communities).

Some of the other downsides of OSSs include cumbersome user management and limited reporting features. Even flexibility efficiency is lacking. Neither can you use the help materials that come embedded within the software. Even the training needs to be handled by you! Customization in an OSS is not very easy and poses the challenge of having to know programming, which may not be a luxury for many.


open source lms

Industry experts have confirmed that feature-rich open-source LMS platforms have so many features that it often becomes confusing for the end-user. This is solely due to the open-source nature of the software. In fact, several OSS has no control over the standard features. It is very cumbersome to even access some basic features and courses sometimes. You might, at times, reach a certain feature after several clicks!

Gen-Y users prefer training models that consume minimal time and have an easy user interface. If the UX is aesthetically unappealing and usability is questionable, your LMS is not only outdated, but it will lose its usability over time.

Additionally, most OSSs depend on open forums and communities for issue resolution and do not have professional support per se.

For example, a few plugins can help “Gamify” open-source LMSs to some extent. Dedicated gamified LMSs like PlayAblo are a lot more evolved compared to standard OSSs and can be highly customized to the customers’ needs – easily and effectively. Features like live classrooms, discussion forums, advanced semantic search capabilities, chatting, etc., do not usually exist in open-source platforms. If you wish to integrate these features, you will need professionals with a high degree of technical knowledge in this field.

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In an OSS, even data analytics in real-time poses some challenge at times, as the layers of information to be brought together is not straightforward; Why? Because no single entity owns the architecture, which makes it very difficult to understand the data dictionary.

On the other hand, enterprise SaaS LMSs, built-in security features, and data are hosted on the most reliable and secure clouds — ensuring that your data is safe.

Should Cloud-Based LMS be Your Choice Over Open Source Software?

It may actually be worthwhile to invest in a professional SaaS-based LMS as opposed to a free, open-source LMS. Why? Modern-day enterprise SaaS LMSs are scalable to adjust to the growth of your organization (Right from a few users to few thousand to tens of thousands). It guides you through the implementation process and ensures your LMS is a long-term success.

You can lay down your requirements, assemble your team, integrate your LMS with your existing systems, and opt for a testing or pilot process to ensure that your software deployment is smooth and glitch-free. You can be assured of 24×5 / 24/7 support, complete with a help desk that is accessible by telephone or email. Flexibility, trackability, and long-term lowered costs of ownership — a professional SaaS-based learning platform is definitely a better, modernized solution for the millennial workforce.

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Find out more and request a custom demo!

Remember: “Quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten. Where quality is the thing sought after, the thing of supreme quality is cheap, whatever the price one has to pay for it”.


  1. Yet another thing I would like to convey is that in lieu of trying to fit all your online degree classes on days of the week that you finish off work (because most people are worn out when they return home), try to arrange most of your sessions on the weekends and only one or two courses for weekdays, even if it means a little time away from your saturday and sunday. This is fantastic because on the saturdays and sundays, you will be far more rested and also concentrated for school work. Thanks for the different suggestions I have realized from your site.

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