Open source learning management software like Moodle is free – sort of.
You still have to pay for supporting the software (as you would with proprietary software as well). But for many organizations looking at getting an LMS, even those that they take into account the value of getting it without having to pay a license, forget about the additional types of value that open source provides.
Advantages of the Open Source Learning Software Licensing Model
As Richard Wyles points out in a brilliant white paper, Leveling the playing field for procurement of open source solutions, many companies forget to think about a range of added-value bonuses that you get from going open-source:
Place a score or qualitative value on issues such as vendor lock-in, exit costs, speed of the development and release process, number of contributing coders/companies in relation to your risk exposure, ability to keep the code and support of interoperability standards. These are valuable attributes often over-looked by the purchaser.
Supporting the Open Source LMS. More Choice, Improved Flexibility and Better Value
As we’ve seen, the open source model offers some intrinsic benefits, which we’ll soon explore further in another post. But the open source model also affects how support is delivered. We mentioned previously that both open source and proprietary learning management solutions would require support, but that support still takes different and advantageous forms:
First, there’s greater choice when it comes to obtaining support. Open Source LMS users don’t just avoid vendor lock-in when it comes to licensing. They can also shop around for a support vendor that will meet their needs in terms of pricing, level of expertise, reputation or a host of other factors.
Second, support tends to be more flexible. You can request module additions or theme customizations a la carte with an open source model; with proprietary software, users may be forced to adopt a “premium package” license option that will include all of the functionality they need, along with a bunch of capabilities they’ll never need. Indeed, as one client we talked to recently noted, users of open source software have the advantage of figuring out which improvements they want to implement themselves or through experts. “We chose Lambda Solutions because we were looking for a place that could not only host our Moodle, but help put it together as well,” says Pre-Collegiate Learning Center Director Lauren Ariev Gellman. “We were especially impressed with Lambda because they would allow us to add on to it ourselves once it was set up.”
Third, as Wyles points out, “an open source subscription offers code support and maintenance, security updates, error correction, and patch updates…” but that’s not all. You’d likely get that as well with a proprietary system. Where open source support really moves ahead of the pack is by offering new features and new version releases. Those items tend to add a significant premium if you’re going through a proprietary model (and this is a very familiar scenario for anyone who has upgraded Microsoft or Apple products over the years.
While evangelists of open source licenses often tout lower cost as the key benefit, it’s probably more accurate to say that open source licensees are getting better value.
(Creative Commons image available for commercial use and adaptation via Ultra-lab)