Open-Source vs. Closed-Source: Why the Technology Your LMS Uses is Important

By September 18, 2017 No Comments
open-source vs. closed source

When looking for a new Learning Management System, there are a multitude of questions that must be asked, starting with: What do I need my LMS to be able to do to allow us to reach our eLearning goals? However, one consideration that people often overlook is the type of technology that an LMS uses, which is important to consider when evaluating whether an LMS will be able to provide the type of functionality you’ll need to meet your eLearning goals.

Therefore, when beginning the LMS evaluation process, one of the first questions you should ask yourself is whether an open-source platform or a closed-source platform will be better suited to meeting your needs.

In this post, we will share what it means to be an open-source product vs. a closed-source product and why the type of technology your LMS uses is important. We will also discuss the differences between the two and highlight a few of the advantages of choosing an open-source LMS.

Open-Source vs. Closed-Source Technology: What’s the Difference?

Open-Source Software – Denotes software for which the original code is made freely available and may be redistributed and modified.

Closed-Source Software – Unlike open-source systems, closed-source software (also referred to as proprietary software) does not share their code.

To put these terms into perspective, the technology that we use every single day is either closed-source or open-source. Perhaps the most popular examples are Android phones (open-source) and iPhones (closed-source). Furthermore, the internet that we know and love today is built using open-source technology (such as Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP (aka the LAMP stack), WordPress, and Drupal), meaning that we wouldn’t be here having this conversation without it.

Commonly, open-source dominates – or at the very least gives closed-source a run for its money – in various sectors like mobile, database, and web front-end because of a few key advantages, including the ability for open-source products to be constantly updated and expanded on.

Here at eThink, we are very big advocates of open-source products, like Moodle and its corporate offshoot Totara. Open-source products give you the flexibility to utilize a best-of-breed content strategy to incorporate the best content and eLearning tools into your platform, allowing you to customize your LMS to meet your specific needs. Open-source technology also provides other advantages, including top security, ownership of data, cutting-edge technology, and high service standards.


One of the more common questions we receive is around security. A common misconception in the market is that an open-source product isn’t secure. It is actually quite the opposite. Moodle releases an update once every 6 months not only to incorporate new user-requested features but to provide security patches for any issues that may have arisen. Also, as an open-source product with visible code, the Moodle community is able to find and note any security issues, meaning that security glitches are recognized much faster and patches are turned around almost immediately. So really, the more eyes on the code, the better!

Furthermore, going with a certified partner like eThink provides you with added security, as we have our own security measures in place around our servers.

Ownership of Data

Another aspect of security, but an important advantage on its own, is the ownership of one’s own data. With an open-source system, you will always own your data and your LMS code. If you ever find that your provider is not providing you with the best possible service, you can easily bring your learning platform in-house or move to another service provider. On the other hand, a closed-source provider will be the only company that is able to support that specific LMS, which means that they could raise your prices at any time or charge you to buy your own data back when switching to a new LMS. You can avoid vendor lock situations like these with an open-source platform.

Most Up-to-Date System

With an open-source product like Moodle, you can expect the most up-to-date system. Open source often means higher-quality as more people are concerned with the integrity of the code and constantly monitor and improve it.

Not only do you have the developers at headquarters constantly working to make sure that Moodle is incorporating cutting-edge technology and features, but you also have a community of developers across the globe who can contribute to the code. If there is ever a gap in functionality, any developer can work on the functionality that they would like to see and then contribute the update to the Moodle community. These updates can be added into the core code or added in through free plugins. Speaking of plugins, as Moodle is modular in nature, the platform is incredibly flexible. There is typically more than one way an objective can be accomplished within the system, so Moodle really encourages a best-of-breed approach.

On the other hand, with closed-source solutions there is only one team of developers working to keep their system up-to-date. Also, there is typically only way an objective can be accomplished and it may not be what works best for you. Closed-source platforms are typically more rigid in terms of flexibility and customization options.

Lastly, as previously mentioned, the developers at Moodle HQ release an updated version of Moodle every 6 months. Certified partners like eThink Education are able to give our clients a voice within the Moodle community and advocate for their specific wants and needs.


As previously mentioned, closed-source solutions are solely responsible for product development, so you pay for not only the LMS license and support, but also the upkeep and evolution of the product. This may be the biggest advantage for an open-source LMS because when you go open source you don’t pay for licensing fees – only for service. This means that you should expect the highest level of service from your open-source LMS provider.

Here at eThink, service is our number one priority and the asset that has been instrumental in allowing us to maintain a 99% client retention rate over 11 years of business. We take a fully-managed approach to eLearning, meaning that our team of eLearning experts will take care of every need related to your LMS including implementation, integration, consultation, and management of your system. As part of our hands-on approach to eLearning, when a ticket is submitted we go in and make the requested changes for you – no sending you to an instruction manual or providing steps on how to accomplish the task yourself.

Therefore, when evaluating different LMS options, make sure that you are asking about their level of support as this is an extremely important consideration and one of the main reasons we have seen clients making the switch to become a satisfied eThink client.

In conclusion, these are a few of the important differences to consider between an open-source and closed-source LMS. What it comes down to is what level of control and flexibility you will need with your LMS. In particular, if owning your code is important to you and you will want to have the ability to customize your platform to meet your specific needs, then open-source is the way to go.

If you aren’t sure whether a closed-source or open-source LMS would be better for helping you meet your eLearning goals, or if you’re concerned your current software is restricting you, it may be time to talk with an eLearning expert.

Request a demo to speak with one of our eLearning experts about the possibilities available with eThink’s open-source solutions.

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