Change Management

The Open Source LMS: Are its hidden costs worth making?

Gilles Mattelin

Co-founder & COO at intuo

Working with Open Source software is like wielding a two handed broadsword: It’s a magnificent weapon if you can master it. But without the skill, chances are high you’ll look like a dangerous fool waving around a big piece of metal.

The most well-known example of Open Source vs Proprietary software is of course Google’s Android vs Apple’s iOS. Android gives you a lot of freedom and can be very cost effective IF (big if) you know what you’re doing, both facilitating customisation and innovation. iOS on the other hand, works very intuitively out of the box and Apple makes sure that every single bit is in harmony with the rest. And while most people have the tendency to “pick a side”, the truth is that each model is perfectly fine, each with its strengths and weaknesses. The same is no different for an LMS. An Open Source license is a very powerful tool IF (big if) you know what you’re getting yourself into.

Isn't it ironic?

So you’ve downloaded the Open Source package and you’re ready to go. But what is… and how does… and should you… Unless you’re some kind of Mark Zuckerberg, you will need to invest a lot of time and effort in learning how it all exactly works, let alone how you can build your own fully functional LMS. Instead of realising your brilliant and revolutionary solution that’ll help people learn more efficiently, you’re now spending your days learning how to make a learning management system.

Bigger and faster

One way to speed up development is putting more people on it, which allows you to allocate certain developers to specific tasks. And this is great, because after a while you should have a capable team at your disposal that knows your system very well. They should be able to troubleshoot errors, implement custom upgrades and add improvements when they are called for. But of course those people will need something in return, preferably a reasonable pay cheque and the necessary days/weeks/months to get things done. You’ll be also secretly hoping that they’re happy with their jobs so they don’t take their knowledge elsewhere. Because creating an expert is one thing, keeping him is another.

And you're ready to go!

Well, not exactly. Just because it’s running on your desktop, doesn’t mean it’s ready for the masses. You’ll need the proper hardware to run it on too. And servers don’t come cheap. Nothing says “bad user experience” like time-outs and slow back-end performance.

(time + effort) x people + hardware = $$$

Aside from server set-up and maintenance costs, you’ll also need to pay for hosting, execute stress tests, debug, have someone to take on front end design and proper branding, train and assign administrators, have support staff ready 24/7… Of course this is all relative to the size and extent of your LMS and its purpose, but by now it’s pretty clear that this free Open Source license comes with a price.

Eyes on the prize

Speaking of purpose, how’s the realisation of that brilliant and revolutionary solution coming along? Knowledge was gathered, money was spent, time was used… to build a piece of software.

Where’s the content? Where are the users? Do they know how it works? Or even exists? Until now you have been solely focusing on the means, not the endgame. Your goal was to offer a better learning experience for your users after all. Right here, is where your actual mission starts. And where (good) proprietary software meets up with you.

 

Open source LMS vs Proprietary cloud based LMS

Much like the choice between Android and iOS regarding smartphones, you’ll have to decide which kind of LMS license is best for you. Do you want to tinker and take your time with the setup or do you want to make calls immediately and reach people on the word go?

There’s a reason Open Source LMS has its success: On the price ticket it says “free”, which is a big deal breaker for many. But a summary of all the costs you’ll make after purchase is seldom given alongside your set of building blocks. The same goes for the guarantee that you’ll be able to build what you want: there isn’t any. There are so many small things that need to be taken into account that makes creating a good LMS with Open Source software a very bold adventure. It will be a challenge, with no certainty of success.

This is not the case with decent Proprietary Cloud based LMS software. Pick the right one and you’ll have a pretty good picture of what it’s capable of, what the potential is and what the costs are. and ultimately if it will enable you to reach your goal. And that goal is, and should always be, offering your users a better learning experience.