Open source for learning costs less

In my 2009 predictions for eLearn Magazine I said that “There will be an increased interest in open source software as well as tools and methods that enable online collaboration.” Ryan Cameron took me to task on open source in the comments:

Open source is not, actually, free. Someone has to build it, someone has to maintain it. Open source is simply transferring an up front and usually meagre licence fee for a long term highly specialized labour cost, which in many cases ends up creating situations where organizations are completely hamstrung by their IT department/gurus.

I agree, OS is not free, however it is free of licensing fees and free from many other licensing constraints of proprietary systems. If it is GPL it is free to hack, modify or build upon, with some restrictions.

My research and experience over the years shows open source, especially in training and education, to be significantly cheaper. One example is a Moodle installation that had a total cost of ownership at 3-10% of the compared proprietary system. Another example of open source versus a proprietary learning management system showed a savings of $345,000. Here’s a study from the Quebec Provincial Department of Education that showed savings of 59-75% over 5 years.

While OS is not free, and does incur some costs for implementation and support, I have yet to find examples where open source learning management systems cost more than proprietary ones. An OS learning management system may not meet all your needs, but it won’t be because it costs too much.

5 Responses to “Open source for learning costs less”

  1. Jevon

    I do not think the education community should reference moodle. Moodle is really a liability to progress in this community.

    Education needs innovation more than ever now, and tools like moodle provide a free version of a broken model. Is WebCT OK because it is free?

  2. ismael

    IMO, even if costs were equal, FLOSS will
    – always be more flexible on what to change or im (and who to implement these features)
    – have the possibility to add third parties’ features (e.g. implemented by other educational institutions) you might not be able to support on your own but be willing to have

    When there’s critical mass (and this is way the case of instructional technology), FLOSS always pays back.

  3. Harold Jarche

    I find that most learning management systems aren’t worth the effort, as they don’t support learning, only management. I’ve been a supporter of small pieces loosely joined for learning, but most institutions want a single system. In that case, I think that OS should be considered in comparison to proprietary LMS/CMS.

    Do you consider Moodle worse than other course management systems, Jevon?

  4. Anthony

    Great article, Harold, I couldn’t agree more regarding the Open Source issue. I run a one-man e-learning effort in my company, which platform includes installation and maintenance. I chose Moodle for many reasons, particularly because the cost involved was me learning how to run the software. I don’t have any technology training, my only very brief programming experience was in high school (BASIC and PASCAL), and I have zero budget.

    Nonetheless, I have the latest version of Moodle up and running, validating with my company’s Active Directory of 1,000 employees across Latin America. Use is somewhat limited because of content creation constraints, but little by little we have more consulting and support teams using Moodle as a training, collaboration and KM platform.

    Regarding Jevon’s comment, I agree that the LMS/CMS model needs to be updated or rethought. However, I don’t think most organizations should be paying the costs of living on the cutting edge of any field, particularly in the corporate market.

  5. Bill Fitzgerald

    Hello, Harold,

    I enjoyed the article, and your post here really nails it: Open Source, while freely available, requires people to spend some time working with it — just like any system, whether it be open source or proprietary.

    WRT: “the LMS/CMS model needs to be updated or rethought” — this sentiment drives the work we do for our own development roadmap with Drupal. It’s a fun place to be.




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