The Hidden Cost of Open Source LMS

The availability of free software has increased over the years with the development and release of programming kits for apps and software, community and support forums, and freemium software that offers limited use for free, but requires paying to get all software features unlocked.

The LMS market is no exception.

Open source learning management systems have become increasingly popular, and on paper they always sound good.  They’re free: how can you beat that price?  The term free is usually a misnomer; there is almost always a cost associated with using open source LMSs.

Let’s take the following example: you’re an HR director for a small firm, and want to update your legacy LMS on a shoestring budget.  You search the internet for free LMS and click on the first search result for an open source product that looks good.  You view the demo and are amazed. This looks perfect! And it’s free!

“Learning management software this good should cost twice as much!” you cackle to yourself.  Excitedly, you grab the first IT tech who wanders past your door and make her watch the demo.  “This looks good,” she says, “but we’ll need to purchase another server to support this, we might need to hire somebody to rewrite the open source code for our business needs, and, hey, who’s going to be managing this project? How long will this project take? Who do we go to for troubleshooting?”

After a slight pause, punctuated with the dulcet chirps of crickets somewhere nearby, you realize that there’s slightly more to an open source LMS than just downloading and launching it.

Hardware, coding, project management, and support personnel are all needed to keep an open source product up and running.  These technical requirements sometimes aren’t clearly spelled out, but a total lifecycle cost of an LMS should be at the forefront of your mind when you start the selection process to make sure that a free LMS solution doesn’t cost more than the commercial off the shelf solution.

Questions to Keep in Mind When Purchasing eLearning Content for an LMS

Many guides on buying eLearning content talk about the quality of the content, the experience of the developer, the number of courses the developer has available for purchase, references, and etc.  These are all very important topics that cannot afford avoidance, however there are some other questions that are important to keep in mind when purchasing content.  Reviewing these questions could help to save you from making a costly mistake.

  1. Pricing

    • Are you purchasing on a per user basis?
    • Are you purchasing unlimited use?
    • Are you purchasing attempts?  This probably does not occur very often, however it is important to confirm that each attempt from the same user does not count against your user licensing.
    • Are their options available for bundling course topics and reducing cost?
    • Does the price of content use in an LMS differ from the price of use in the provider’s delivery system?  Confirm you are purchasing content to reside within your LMS, it may be more expensive, but you have the added benefit of all training records in one location.
  2. Demo

    • Does the provider give a demo on the content you are requesting?
    • Does the provider give access to demo content to test functionality in your LMS?
    • Will there be a dedicated support person to troubleshoot potential issues in your LMS?
    • Ask for the option to view an eLearning course start to finish so you may judge the quality.
  3. Completion / Assessments

    • Is there a final assessment on the eLearning?
    • Are their ‘check-point’ assessments within the eLearning?
    • Can percent completion be factored into the pass/fail decision? This means that a viewer has to watch a percentage of the total content in order to pass the eLearning – they will not be able to skip ahead and take all the assessments.
    • Is there an ability to customize completion / assessment pass/fail scores?
  4. Extras

    • Does the content come with job aids?
    • Does the content allow for submitting feedback?
    • How and where does the content utilize bookmarks? Example: If the content is closed in the middle of a video, when reopened, will it start at the beginning of the video or where you left off?  Does the user have to physically click the save button to bookmark?
    • Are their help texts provided within the content?
    • Does it come in multiple languages?
    • Ask how often the content is refreshed (if you are purchasing content that requires refresher courses)?
    • Are there any accessibility options?
    • Ask about SCORM (1.2 or 2004), AICC, and xAPI (if applicable) conformance.
    • Does the content provider offer personalized certificates at completion?
mautic is open source marketing automation