Free sounds like a great price when you want to save money and lower training costs. That’s why some businesses turn to open source LMSs instead of proprietary platforms. These are usually available at no cost. That sounds great, but it’s important to remember that you can’t get something for nothing.
You can access an open source LMS for free, but an investment will likely be required to get the platform to where your company needs it to be.
Will the learning management system do what you want it to? Will it create an effective training environment for your workforce? Does it look professional and match your branding? Do you have the hardware needed to store it on-site if needed?
There are a lot of things to consider before going with an open source LMS. Make sure you know what you’re getting into before investing any time and resources into modifying a free platform.
What is an Open Source LMS?
The term “open source” is used to describe a program whose source code is available for anyone to use or modify. It doesn’t have to apply to learning management systems. It’s a broad term used throughout the tech industry.
Open source programs are usually intended for public collaboration. They are meant to be modified and nurture a sense of freedom and accessibility. This is especially important in education, where an open source LMS could be used to provide a solution for schools that have limited budgets. It encourages knowledge sharing and freedom in learning.
Anyone can download an open source LMS without paying for a subscription or license fee. No maintenance contracts are needed, and they can be installed on as many servers as a user wants.
Proprietary LMS platforms are usually available for a fee, based on whatever the company that makes them wants to charge. That means that licenses or subscription rates can be increased at any time. Upgrades may also be made available for a fee.
It’s easy to see the appeal of an open source LMS, however, it’s important to keep in mind that customization comes at a cost. And you will likely have to supply servers to host the platform on. This all adds expenses that may be included in a proprietary solution.
Who Will Customize and Maintain Your Open Source LMS?
When you pay for a proprietary LMS, you can usually use it right away. Many already offer in-depth features that require little to no tweaking.
The platform may already have built-in ways to add your branding, adjust settings and permissions, and add or remove features. Some even connect to third-party content libraries so you can import classes or start building your own.
Whether any of this will be available in an open source LMS depends on which one you choose. How much tech knowledge is required to make changes will also vary. If you want to make any significant adjustments, then you will likely need the help of a developer.
Do you already have someone with this knowledge on your team? If not, are you prepared to hire someone to handle the job for you?
Can You Afford to Pay for Hosting or Buy Servers for Your LMS?
It’s safe to assume that an open source LMS is not going to get the same level of service as a proprietary platform that you pay to use. Many non-open source products are cloud-based. That means you don’t have to set up your own servers unless you really want to do so. They are accessible from anywhere and eliminate the need to buy and maintain hardware.
With an open source LMS, this task will fall to you and your team. You will have to decide if it’s better to use your servers or pay for a third-party hosting service. The first option will increase the initial expense and still require the cost needed for ongoing maintenance. You may need to hire another person for this task if you don’t have someone doing it already.
If you choose to pay for third-party hosting, then you won’t have to buy hardware, but you will have an ongoing fee that needs to be paid for as long as you use the open source LMS.
Who Will Train Your Employees on the Open Source LMS?
Most proprietary LMSs provide customer support. This can include knowledge bases and access to online FAQs or even go further with email and phone support or a dedicated representative. Those that include training usually come at a higher cost but can make moving to the new system much smoother. It can save you and your team a lot of time and frustration.
If you are using an open source LMS, then you typically won’t get all the extra built-in support. However, if you choose a well-known platform, then there may be a wealth of information already out there. You may even find communities of people who have experience developing and using the LMS who can help.
This may still require more time and effort because you will have to seek out assistance rather than having it provided with a paid subscription or license.
Have You Considered the Long Term Demands of an Open Source LMS?
Open source LMS platforms have ongoing costs just like proprietary LMSs do. With proprietary products, this will likely be included in your subscription fee. The company you buy from should advise you on whether updates and upgrades are included or if those could come at a cost later.
With an open source LMS, you will have to provide long-term maintenance yourself. Eventually, your system will need to be updated. The good news is that a web-based system alleviates some of the burden by downloading updates for you.
Choosing the Right LMS for Your Training Program
The right LMS for your training program will depend on your budget and needs. You should start your search with knowledge so you can make an informed decision before potentially wasting time, money, or both.
A free LMS sounds great, but it doesn’t always end up being free in the end. You will still have to have a way to customize, upgrade, and host your data. A proprietary platform may include all of this, but you could also face increases in subscription fees or additional costs for future upgrades.
If you’re looking for the right LMS, we can help. Visit LMS.org to read eLearning reviews so you can decide which platform will give you the best return on your training investment.