Open source Learning Management Systems have become extremely popular in recent years, but what does open source mean? Open Source technology is technology where the source code is "open", that is, the code is available to the public and free to be modified. Improvements can be made by developers and it can be spread or sold to the wider community. So, why should an organization choose an open source Learning Management System as opposed to a homegrown or proprietary Learning Management System?
Firstly, if a company uses a proprietary Learning Management System, they must rely on the provider to maintain and service the Learning Management System, as well as provide support when problems occur.
As the code is widely available in open source Learning Management Systems, many developers read and examine the code, resulting in bugs being identified and fixed much faster than proprietary programs.
Open Source technology is very beneficial to schools, universities and other educational institutions as well as corporations.
Open Source Learning Management Systems are fully flexible and customizable, so they can be designed in line with your school/organization brand image.
There are no license or hardware costs associated with open source technology so it is free to start using it and carries minimal risk.
Open Source Learning Management Systems can also be converted to social learning platforms. You can create an online community through your Learning Management System. For example your learners can chat, blog, connect to social network sites (facebook etc.) and have polls on your open source Learning Management System. This blog post details how you can combine Google + with you Learning Management System.
Top 6 Open Source Learning Management Systems
With the huge number of Learning Management systems available today, making the decision on which platform to choose can be quite overwhelming. Below I have written brief explanations on 6 of the best systems currently available.
Moodle is an abbreviation for "Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment" although when it was first developed the M stood for Martin's after its developer, Martin Dougiamas. Moodle has been around for over ten years, with the first version in August 2002.
Very, very easy for first time users.
Easy generation of PDF documents.
Quick establishment of courses.
All grades for assignments and quizzes etc. can be viewed on one sheet and downloaded as a spreadsheet.
Teachers/Instructors can add multiple files very easily by dragging and dropping.
.LRN (dot learn) was originally developed at MIT and is used by almost 500,000 people in educational institutions, corporations and government in over 18 countries.
Homework drop box.
Student tracking data can be exported
Different roles are supported for.LRN Classes, such as students, professors and administrative staff
LRN has been internationalized to support multiple languages, dialects and timezones
However, it's main flaw is that it has a very diverse interface with many inconsistencies.
The basic version of eFront is exactly that, basic, but this can be amplified with modules downloadable from the eFront site. The thought process behind this decision was so that users spend time learning new skills, not learning how to use the platform. There are two efront Learning Management platforms, an educational edition and an enterprise edition. The enterprise edition was aimed at medium sized enterprises with between 100 and 10,000 employees. Extensive research on organizations of this size was conducted before development began.
Visually attractive interface
Very fast and modern as it is Ajax enabled
Unicode, LDAP and SCORM supporting
Advanced security characteristics
This particular Learning Management System is available in three versions, the original free open source version, a pro version and a specific medical version. It is possible to build visual learning without graphical expertise.
Convert Office documents into Learning Paths
Content authoring tools
Video conferencing tools
Synchronization with HR Management systems
Sakai was designed by universities, for universities. It was built by MIT, Stanford and Berkeley amongst others so they did not need to use homegrown systems or pay vendors. It aims to be very well suited to group projects and describes itself as a Collaborative Learning Environment (CLE).
View site usage statistics
Display external web pages
Create new Sakai sites from templates with pre-loaded tools
Contains tools for portfolio based activities
Because Sakai is mainly coded in Java it can cause problems, especially if using older versions of browsers. It can also be difficult to find programmers with Java skills.
ATutor differs slightly from the other systems as it is actually a Learning Content Management System (LCMS). The A stands for accessible, and accessibility is its best feature. Also, user navigational patterns can be tracked so instructors can see students use of the site and students can track their own use.
Print Compiler to print notes or transcripts of discussions
SCORM and IMS packages can be imported
Easy course creation (although difficult with different types of content)
Easily accessible and adaptable
The file storage feature has a version control feature to keep track of changes and drafts
A negative aspect of this particular platform is that the Java Runtime Environment must be installed on the client side for SCORM tracking. Also, course elements can't be bookmarked.
To conclude, of the six Learning Management Systems listed above, Moodle is by far the most popular, and in our opinion, the best. It has over 62 million users worldwide. On top of the features listed above, here are some other reasons we believe Moodle should be your number one choice for an open source Learning Management System.
Repositories - With Moodle it is very easy to import files from Flickr, Google Docs, Dropbox, Youtube etc. These files can all be saved together in one location for ease of access later.
Discussion boards - The Moodle Community is full of discussion boards in many different languages, therefore users can communicate with people from outside your organization as well as your employees.
Support - There are a plethora of support options for Moodle users. On the Moodle site you can find books and manuals, documents including frequently asked questions, and a forum where you can ask questions. The forums usually have plenty of other users and even computer programmers who are happy to offer help, advice and recommendations, whatever the issue.