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Free, flexible software for elearning


FlexibleWith elearning on a stellar rise, more and more organisations are looking to introduce or improve their online learning management systems. Ray Lawrence considers the software options.

A wide variety of software packages is available to allow companies to manage their elearning systems. These include proprietary solutions, systems developed in-house, and open source software.

Of course, the most appropriate option depends upon a variety of factors: the in-house skills available for initial set-up and ongoing administration, the desired sophistication of the learning management system, accessibility, and the number of users (proprietary companies often charge per 'seat' or per user). Choosing software with a solid and active user base will also help ensure that the software provider will continue development and offer ongoing support.

Photo of Ray Lawrence"Open source software is no longer only an option for IT nerds."

Open source software is free to download and use owing to the absence of licence costs and, according to a report this June in The Financial Times, even the European Union's competition commissioner has urged the European Commission to use software from open sources.

Many organisations begin their experience of open source software with help from a third party and use the training they gain to up-skill their own staff. They may then choose to manage the ongoing administration themselves and use a consultancy to help them explore more complex facets of the system and its application to their particular training needs. But open source software is no longer only an option for IT nerds. It includes really intuitive and easy-to-use applications which are constantly being added to and refined, benefiting from continual peer review and enhancements through its community of users.

Tips for using open source software

Here is some advice on using open source software to develop a learning management system:

  • Think about the learning outcomes first and then which tool will help you to achieve these with your learners
  • Focus on the activities, try to think beyond the content
  • Don't think that using open source software means the burden is all on your in-house team. Consider using consultants to train your staff or to help you provide the vision to make your learning management system great
  • Choose open source software that has a large and active user base, sizeable development network and a choice of third party trainers/consultants
  • Consider sophisticated open source software that allows the learning management system to be set up to closely match the objectives of your organisation
  • "Many organisations begin their experience of open source software with help from a third party and use the training they gain to up-skill their own staff."

    Verify how ongoing research and development will be funded or carried out on your proprietary or open source system. There are concerns in the industry that the proprietary systems vendors are increasingly merging, which could lead to a monopoly situation. Could you be linking this mission-critical application to a single company whose business aims you don't fully understand and can't influence?

    Think about what other systems you may wish to integrate with your learning management system (e.g., HR, finance). Open source software is an open system which makes it far easier to integrate with other software applications than proprietary applications – and someone else in the open source community may have already produced a free middleware patch.


    Tait N (10 June 2008). 'Kroes seeks open-source software for EC', Financial Times.

    Ray Lawrence is director of HowToMoodle, which offers third party consultancy and training in the use of Moodle, an open source learning management system. For more information visit Tel: 0845 226 1073


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