Learning Management Systems (LMS) are becoming more prevalent than ever as educators in all sectors, from K-12 and Higher Education environments to ongoing learning for professionals in the workplace, turn to online learning as a way to conveniently and cost-effectively deliver dynamic learning experiences. LMS solutions allow teachers and L&D professionals to provide seamless eLearning experiences for a variety of individuals across departments, grade levels, or geographical locations.
The type of technology your LMS uses often determines the type of functionality and flexibility your organization will be able to leverage in order to meet your specific eLearning goals. Learning Management Systems are either built using open-source technology, closed-source technology, or a hybrid mix of both.
Open-source software contains freely available code that can be redistributed or modified. Conversely, closed-source software (also referred to as proprietary software) does not share their code. Both offer their own advantages; however, many buyers don’t fully understand the differences between the two technology types. This lack of understanding has influenced a few myths to be prevalent in the market, especially when it comes to open source and what that truly means.
In this blog, we’ll explore and debunk some of the common myths around open source, primarily in regard to security, support, and user experience, to help you to better understand and leverage these highly flexible and interoperable solutions.
Open-Source vs. Closed-Source LMS: What’s the Difference?
Open-source software simply means the underlying code is made freely available to the public. This allows anyone to create customized versions of the program and distribute them. There are no restrictions to the changes possible, giving open-source applications a lot of flexibility in terms of configuration, functionality, and support.
Closed source refers to proprietary software with strict licensing rights. If you choose a closed source option, you’re typically locked into using only that solution’s proprietary tools, design, and support. In many cases, customers have to pay the software manufacturer for things licensing, upgrades and ongoing support.
Even as open-source LMS solutions continue to grow in popularity and consumers are becoming more familiar with the concept, certain myths still surround these types of solutions which can make administrators nervous. However, the realities may surprise you.
Myth: #1: Open-Source Platforms Lack Security.
One of the most common myths is that open-source software is somehow less secure than closed-source solutions. When people hear open source, many assume that open code is more vulnerable to hacking or security glitches than closed-source options. However, it’s actually quite the opposite!
Truth: Open-source software is no less secure than alternative closed-source solutions. In fact, they provide the opportunity for additional security.
Here are a few important facts about software security:
- Any kind of software can contain security flaws.
- Bugs and glitches are more often the result of incorrect code, not external threats or hackers.
- All software needs regular security patches to keep up with technology advancements.
Open-source learning platforms (such as Moodle™, the world’s leading open-source LMS) conduct regularly scheduled software updates that provide security patches to combat and prevent potential issues. Further, as a community-driven platform that enables more eyes on a visible and open code base, security glitches are typically recognized and turned around more quickly than closed-source systems.
The updates that are rolled out can come from administrators and developers that have worked directly with the product. These changes are submitted to the open-source headquarters, who then approves and pushes out these useful updates to the core code, thus benefiting the entire open-source community. As a Moodle™ provider, we get priority access to security fixes before the general public, so all our client instances can be patched before a vulnerability is announced. Highly secure entities such as government agencies and major security companies trust open-source Moodle™ for their professional development.
Ultimately, security is a legitimate concern when choosing an LMS. When addressing LMS security, your organization should focus on the reputation of the vendor providing the software. Any piece of code with lax development can be dangerous, and each LMS vendor, whether closed-source or open-source, might maintain different security standards. Knowing exactly how your vendor maintains the security of their software will make the difference when it comes to keeping your most important records and learner information protected.
Additionally, with a certified open-source LMS solutions provider, you can feel more secure in trusting that the vendor, who has been vetted and approved by the software headquarters, will take the necessary measures to keep your information safe. Many vendors also provide the opportunity to include additional security measures to ensure complete LMS protection.
Myth #2: Open-Source learning platforms are outdated or visually unappealing.
Closed-source solutions are often referred to as “out-of-the-box” products. This means features, tools, functionality, design, and support are all included in your solution, and updates are applied across the board to all users. For many platforms on the market, this generally provides customers with a visually appealing and user-friendly platform with limited customization and configuration from the start.
Truth: Open-source solutions provide the flexibility to easily customize your platform and integrate industry-leading tools for a personalized, best-of-breed eLearning solution.
Because admins have full access to the site’s code, open-source solutions are often delivered with a more basic template in order to allow admins to easily design, configure, and customize their learning platform. This can sometimes be off-putting to users who want their platform to be ready to go straight “out-of-the-box” without having to put any work towards styling the system themselves. However, with a little bit of effort, the design possibilities are endless for how you can deliver an engaging, attractive, and scalable learning experience to your constituents. Many open-source solutions also provide a number of themes you can choose from, which give users a foundation on which to create a customized design for their platform.
Here are a few examples of custom eLearning solutions created through fully-configurable open software:
Where your closed-source, proprietary solution may be lacking or limiting in terms of customization possibilities, an open-source solution allows you to easily plug-and-play custom content related to your industry and integrate other dynamic learning tools and strategies into your learning programs. With easy integrations and flexible technology, open-source solutions allow users to create a branded, industry-focused, best-of-breed training platform that can incorporate various types of learning methods, resources, and opportunities for collaboration.
And with new innovations continuing to emerge within the eLearning community, open source is often at the cutting edge of information technology. Thousands of LMS plugins and tools in the market provide solutions and opportunities for dynamic learning approaches and practices, including:
- Web conferencing
- Competency-based education
- Microlearning content
- Digital libraries
- Augmented and virtual reality
- Mobile learning
- eCommerce, and more!
With this ability to plug-and-play and easily integrate with other technologies, you can also be sure that your LMS investment is a future-proof one as your platform can easily adapt to new technologies or learning strategies as they evolve.
Ultimately, open-source solutions are what you make of them. However, compared to the limited options and opportunities for customization available in closed-source products, open-source solutions can be designed in the way that works best to help your organization meet its specific goals.
Myth #3: Open-source solutions are not user-friendly.
As mentioned, open-source platforms denote a freely available code. This provides the opportunity for more extensive customization in order to create a solution with your organization’s specific needs in mind. However, many administrators or training managers lack the expertise or bandwidth to manage this software themselves, leading them to believe open-source solutions are not user-friendly.
Truth: Although open-source software is free and you could host it yourself, you don’t have to. Working with a Certified Partner, especially one that provides a fully-managed LMS support model, means that back-end configuration and processes can be handled by experts so you’re able to leverage a high-quality, user-friendly eLearning solution for both admins and learners. And, with the cost you’re saving by not having to pay for a software license, open-source support becomes incredibly affordable, especially compared to the typical cost of closed-source solutions.
Knowing your way around code can certainly provide an advantage when it comes to the customization of your software. You can tweak certain areas to offer additional layers of security or to interface with other types of software you’re using. Of course, if you have programming experience or professional programmers on staff, it can provide additional benefits. However, with a variety of options for support, you don’t need to be a coding expert or developer to leverage the high flexibility, interoperability, and scalability of an open-source LMS.
Open-source allows you to allocate budget towards supporting the product rather than paying for access to the product itself. This usually allows you to eliminate licensing fees and pay solely for service, which you can then expect to be delivered at a much higher-quality level than you typically find with proprietary support. This is because open-source solutions have a network of partners that are able to provide support, and with support the main focus, they’re encouraged to do a good job – or nothing is stopping you from moving to a partner that does a better one. In this regard, open-source provides a heavy advantage over closed-source when it comes to quality of service.
Many LMS hosting partners cover some or all aspects of the LMS including implementation, management, customization, and support. With the backend processes covered and a team of experts behind you, customizing your programs and managing learners becomes easier than ever. Leave the heavy lifting for your providers!
When evaluating different LMS options, make sure that you are asking about their level of support and what is included. This is an extremely important consideration and one of the main reasons that clients make the switch towards open-source products. These solutions allow for expert LMS hosting partners who can support and help develop for their digital learning programs.
The Best of Both Worlds for Open Source LMS
Is open source or propriety software a better choice for organizations interested in LMS? There’s no all-inclusive answer. It really depends on the features you need and the type of data you handle.
For many companies and educational institutions, a managed service option using open source provides the best solution. With this type of hybrid layout, you get the flexibility of award-winning platforms such as Totara Learn, Moodle™, or Moodle™ Workplace at typically a lower price point. At the same time, you receive additional security features, immediate support, effortless setup and in-depth customization from industry experts.
Not sure whether a closed-source or open-source LMS would be better for helping you meet your eLearning goals? Is your current software restricting you?Request a Demo