Five Open-Source Learning Management Systems

Open-source software often is described as the next generation of application software. What differentiates open-source software from commercial applications is that it’s freely available and distributed. The source code is obtainable and modifiable, and it can be redistributed under a copyright license. Open-source software for learning has been used in academia, but are open-source systems ready for deployment in corporations?

Since I published the first “Learning Management Systems” report in 1997, my goal has been to help you select the right system for your organization. Check out these five open-source learning management systems (LMS), and see if they’re a match for your organization.

1. Moodle is the best-known open-source LMS. It’s also one of the oldest, having been around since 2002. With more than 700,000 courses in 75 languages, Moodle has a large and diverse supporting community — 7 million users in 160 countries. Moodle is a community-oriented tool geared more toward creating and managing interactive instructional content rather than serving as a platform for presenting content. It is module-based and supports SCORM 1.2 and AICC. See http://moodle.org.

2. .LRN was originally developed by MIT and has half a million users in 18 countries. Its highly scalable design is geared toward learning and research. Backed by a thriving user community and consortium, .LRN supports course management, online communities, learning management and content management applications. The current release has three portals — User, Class and Community — and contains a forum, file storage, calendar, news, survey, frequently asked questions, homework drop box and group e-mail. See http://www.dotlrn.org.

3. The Sakai Project began in January 2004 to develop an open collaboration and learning environment. Deployed at the University of Michigan (35,000 users); Indiana University (90,000 users) and under way at Stanford; the University of California, Berkeley; MIT; Rutgers and Yale, Sakai provides a framework, as well as tools and components, for course management and research collaboration. For coursework, Sakai’s features supplement learning by providing individualized workspaces and customization by instructors. IBM and rSmart are committed, active members of the Sakai Project. See http://sakaiproject.org.

4. ILIAS has been evolving swiftly and is supported by a strong user community. Widely used in Germany, ILIAS has a significant number of international users and good English language documentation. ILIAS provides an integrated authoring environment to create learning modules, glossaries and digital books. It also has management, evaluation and communication tools to create a complete course management system. It is SCORM 1.2- and AICC-compliant. Collaboration modules include a forum, webmail, courses and groups. See http://www.ilias.de/ios/index-e.html.

5. Claroline has been translated into 31 languages since 2002 and has more than 500 organizations in 68 countries. Its principal functions allow instructors to publish multiformat documents, run discussion forums, manage links, create user groups, compose exercises, structure an agenda, make announcements and permit users to submit papers. It is SCORM-compliant and platform-independent, running on Windows, Linux, Unix and others. Claroline’s emphasis is on simplicity. See http://www.claroline.net.

Although open-source systems are available at a low fee, they do require technical savvy to install and run. A key strength of the open movement, however, is the strong developer community. Selecting the right LMS requires determining needs and a solid comparison among many systems, including commercial systems. Open-source systems are gaining traction in the LMS space and should be viewed as a viable alternative for your organization.

Brandon Hall, Ph.D., is CEO of Brandon Hall Research, publisher of the new study “Emerging E-Learning: New Approaches to Delivering Engaging Online Learning Content.” He can be reached at editor@clomedia.com.