Open Source e-Learning Software

Here we explore the pros and cons of open source e-learning software and specifically, LMS / VLE solutions.

We also signpost top open source LMS / VLE systems for online education and training.

Virtual Learning Environments (VLE) is the term most frequently used in the education sector. The term Learning Management System (LMS) is more popular in the corporate sector.


What is an open source LMS?

An open source LMS is a learning management system whose source code is available to the public, allowing users to access, modify, and distribute the software freely. These systems are used to manage, deliver, and track educational courses and training programmes. Open source LMSs have gained popularity among educational institutions, businesses, and organisations due to their flexibility and customisation options.


Advantages Open Source LMS

Cost-Effective: Open source LMSs are typically free to download and use, which can save organisations a significant amount of money compared to proprietary alternatives. Although there may be costs associated with customisation, hosting, and support, these expenses are usually lower than those of commercial alternatives.

Customisation: Since the source code is available, users can modify and tailor the LMS to meet their specific needs, enabling them to create a more personalised and efficient learning environment.

Active Community: Open source LMSs are often supported by a large community of developers and users who contribute to the platform’s improvement, bug fixes, and new features. This can result in faster development cycles and better support.

Integration: Open source LMSs can be easily integrated with other systems, such as content management systems, HR systems, or third-party applications, providing a more seamless user experience.


Disadvantages of Open Source LMS

Limited Support: While the community provides support for open source LMSs, it might not be as structured or timely as support from a commercial vendor. This can lead to challenges in troubleshooting and resolving technical issues.

Higher Technical Expertise Required: Implementing and maintaining an open source LMS often requires a higher level of technical expertise. Organisations without in-house IT resources may struggle to manage the system effectively.

Time and Resources: The customisation and integration of an open source LMS can require significant time and resources. Depending on the organisation’s priorities and available resources, this may be a disadvantage.


Alternatives to Open Source LMS

Proprietary LMS solutions are the primary alternative to open source LMSs. These are commercially licensed software products, developed and maintained by a company that owns the intellectual property rights. Examples of proprietary LMSs include Blackboard, Canvas, and TalentLMS.


Pros of Proprietary LMS

Professional Support: Commercial vendors typically provide professional support, including troubleshooting, training, and maintenance. This can lead to faster resolution of issues and better overall system stability.

Easier Implementation: Proprietary LMSs often come with a user-friendly interface and pre-built features, making implementation and administration easier for organisations with limited technical resources.

Regular Updates: Vendors of proprietary LMSs frequently release updates and new features, ensuring that their products stay up-to-date and competitive in the market.


Cons of Proprietary LMS

Cost: Proprietary LMSs often come with higher upfront and ongoing costs, including licensing fees, maintenance, and support costs.

Limited Customisation: The closed-source nature of proprietary LMSs may limit customisation options, making it harder for organisations to tailor the system to their specific needs.

Vendor Lock-In: Organisations using a proprietary LMS may become dependent on a single vendor for support, updates, and maintenance, which can limit their flexibility and control over the system.


Top Open Source Learning Platforms

If you decide to go down this route, here are the top open source learning platforms on the market:


Moodle is a widely used open-source learning management system (LMS) that supports the creation and management of online courses.

Open edX

Open edX is an open-source learning platform developed by Harvard and MIT. It offers a wide variety of online courses from top universities and institutions.

Canvas LMS

Canvas LMS is an open-source learning management system that is designed to make teaching and learning easier. It offers a wide range of tools for both instructors and students.


Sakai is an open-source learning management system that supports teaching, research, and collaboration. It is used by higher education institutions, K-12 schools, and organizations worldwide.


Chamilo is an open-source e-learning and content management system that aims to improve access to education and knowledge worldwide.


ILIAS is an open-source learning management system that supports a variety of learning scenarios, from individual learning to blended learning and collaborative work.


ATutor is an open-source web-based learning content management system that enables educators to create and manage online courses.


In Summary

The choice between an open source LMS and a proprietary LMS depends on the organisation’s needs, resources, and priorities. Open source LMSs offer cost savings, customisation, and community support, while proprietary LMSs provide professional support, easier implementation, and regular updates.

Organisations must carefully consider their unique requirements and constraints when selecting the best LMS solution.