Open-Source vs Closed-Source LMS: Understanding Key LMS Technologies

As software designed to deliver, administer, track, report, and document education and training programs, learning management systems (LMSs) are becoming increasingly important in the digital age. With more schools and businesses turning to distance learning and training models, students and employees need organizations to go beyond the somewhat restrictive medium of print to the more accessible and sophisticated LMS platforms and technologies.

When reviewing options for digital learning and training environments, two terms are likely to come up: open-source and closed-source. Differentiating between each option allows a business or educational institution to make a more informed decision about which software is more suited to meeting the goals and needs of the organization.

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

Closed-source software (or CSS) typically refers to proprietary software and code, meaning the general public cannot access or use the code freely. CSS is more restrictive than open-source software, and some would argue more secure and less susceptible to manipulation. However, despite the privacy built around CSS, it’s expensive to develop, run, and maintain. Users will also need valid licenses and authentication to access CSS platforms, limiting the usability and flexibility often needed from educational and training programs. Examples of closed-source platforms and software include:

  • Skype
  • Java
  • Google Earth
  • Microsoft Office
  • Adobe Reader
  • iOS

Open-source software (OSS) refers to code and software open to the general public, meaning anyone can access the code and use it or modify it to fit their applications or needs. While OSS allows for greater freedom and flexibility in design and accessibility, its nature demands a focus on rigorous security protocols to ensure the safety and operation of the application, software, or platform. With the implementation of best security practices, there is no reason to assume that OSS is less secure than CSS. Examples of popular OSS platforms include:

  • OpenOffice
  • Firefox
  • Moodle™
  • MySQL
  • Android
  • WordPress

When discussing LMSs, an organization is often best served with an open-source learning platform because of its increased flexibility and accessibility features. However, each enterprise will need to weigh the pros and cons of open- and closed-source options against corporate objectives and strategies.

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Top Benefits of Open-Source Platforms

LMS open-source platforms and software are the most beneficial resource to any distance learning or training program. With OSS, an organization can incorporate a best-of-breed strategy, meaning its platform will contain the most up-to-date eLearning tools and content for its needs. However, beyond access to current applications and content, OSS provides numerous advantages over CSS:

  • Customization: OSS is made from modifiable code. The openness of the code means companies can change or integrate essential elements into existing applications, allowing for a unique user experience. CSS won’t allow easy alterations or upgrades without going through tedious authentication steps.
  • Security: People and organizations often assume OSS is a security risk. While there is truth to potential vulnerabilities, an OSS is as secure as the company managing it. For instance, Moodle™, a renowned LMS, runs biannual updates, incorporating security patches. The visible code of OSS often results in faster discovery of risks with quicker patches because of the community of users. Therefore, while some OSS is less secure than CSS, most have robust security features or the means of fixing potential issues with speed and efficiency.

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  • Data Control: OSS allows a company to maintain ownership of its data, unlike CSS solutions. With CSS, a client is at the mercy of the proprietor of the software, meaning the client is a victim of potential price adjustments and data buybacks if unsatisfied with the service they're getting. Using OSS platforms ensures clients maintain control over their data because they own it.

The Top 2 Open-Source Learning Management Systems

There are many LMS open-source platforms to choose from, but not all will provide the options an organization requires. To ensure a business or academic institution receives the best service and flexibility or customization available while maintaining security, they should opt for partners with significant experience and reputation in the LMS market, which can narrow the options to two.

1. Moodle™

With more than 213 million users worldwide, Moodle™ is a leading LMS platform. It was created to provide a scalable, all-in-one, customizable, and flexible solution for both teaching and learning. Used by organizations such as Microsoft and hailed by the University of New York, Moodle™ is a proven partner. The platform is easy to use and requires no licensing fees; it’s a free OSS for commercial and non-commercial projects.

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2. Totara

Used by over 19 million people and available in more than 35 languages, Totara is an open-source education platform quickly becoming the gold standard among corporate LMSs. The program uses multi-tenancy to support multiple organizations and groups. A company can also use the platform to target external learners, like customers and contingent workers. Several high-profile clients use the service, including PepsiCo.

Selecting an open-source learning management system platform is challenging, especially if you’re still on the fence about which type of platform, OSS or CSS, is right for your business or institution. You don't have to make the decision alone. Contact our team for expert advice or request a trial now to test our solutions!

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