The Top 5 Open-Source Learning Management Software Systems
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By Micah Fairchild
Decoding the Differences Between Open-Source LMS Systems
Like many other business functions, Human Resources has not been insulated from recent economic woes and is (like accounting, finance, and others) increasingly being called to "do more with less". This new reality of fewer resources (i.e. human, financial, and physical) has caused a number of companies to venture outside of the traditional software paradigm and into open-source territory for HR software. In fact, open-source HR adoption may well be on the rise, as a 2010 Accenture study found that 69% of organizations expect to increase open-source investments, and just over 33% indicated expectations for migrating mission-critical operations like human resources to happen soon.
Within HR, few functional areas are as ripe for open-source HR application deployment as Learning Management Systems (LMS) due to the relative maturity of the software offerings. E-learning has now been with us for decades, m-learning is finding a solid foothold in organizational strategy, and increased attention has been garnered for rapid, cost-effective learning solutions that happen outside of the traditional classroom. Yet, thanks to the efforts of educational institutions worldwide, Learning Management Systems have also received an influx of development and maturity from inside the classroom as well—from K-12 on up to doctoral-granting schools. Regardless of deployment location though, the focus has been the same; how to help learners understand and apply information in the most effective and efficient way.
Because open-source Learning Management Systems require little to no cost for software licensing (though myriad other costs do apply), more and more organizations have found the financial incentives for open-source HR implementations compelling. In turn, this has driven a boom in the vendor market for open-source LMS solutions, with additional source-code solutions being developed every day. The question is: how do you know which of these HR vendor solutions is right for you? Here, we discuss the major points and pitfalls of the major players in the LMS open-source market (in no particular order).
Open-Source Software Player # 1: Moodle
Ironically, though I just stated these solutions were in no particular order, Moodle (aka: Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment) tops the list as far as adoption, applicability, and favor. Using PHP and open source databases, this solution has the capability to create custom features (e.g. wikis, blogs, etc.); custom blocks (such as VoIP, and Peer-2-Peer elements like Skype); and has an integration package that allows the software to work well with additional open-source HR programs or tools like MySQL. Further (though not originally designed for corporate use), thanks to platform specifics, Moodle is flexible enough to be widely-scalable for full classes, stripped down for "blended" applications, or collaboration-based for activities (e.g. recruitment and onboarding initiatives). While flexible, these open-source HR applications, just like their commercial counterparts, require technical skills for software customization and integration with other HR systems.
Open-Source Software Player # 2: Sakai
With financial backing from the Sakai Foundation, this open source HR software uses the Java platform to deliver functionality geared often associated with Content Management Systems (CMS) and research collaboration. Though able to distribute similar custom features as top contender Moodle, having a system based on Java may better support larger development teams and a more scalable HR application. Additionally, the forum, messaging, and file sharing aspects of Sakai are second to none, especially when coupled with the usability this LMS software offers.
Open-Source Software Player # 3: Docebo
Offering simple integration to HR management systems and third party productivity systems such as WebEx (video conferencing), Docebo is a learning management solution designed to provide comprehensive functional software aspects for a given learning activity—from user activity tracking to business intelligence (BI) reporting. Highly utilized in corporate as well as educational settings, adoption rates for this software are rising—likely due in large part to customization capabilities and integration functionality with key infrastructure elements such as collaboration software (e.g. Lotus or SharePoint).
Open-Source Software Player # 4: Open e-LMS
Claiming to be the first standards-based open-source LMS designed for B2B (business-to-business), Open e-LMS is increasingly catching the attention of businesses worldwide (landing major contracts with Merrill Lynch, Sea France, and others). This solution includes a SCORM-conformant LMS and an industry-leading authoring tool (called Jackdaw).
Open-Source Software Player # 5: OLAT
Based out of the University of Zurich, OLAT (Online Learning and Training) is one of the longest-running HR open-source solutions available (started in 1999), with multilingual capabilities, over a dozen code developers, and host of HR capabilities that closely mirror the Web 2.0 offerings of Sakai and Moodle. Like Sakai, OLAT is developed using the Java platform and may therefore be more appealing to larger enterprises.
Open Field for Open-Source HR?
The above list of the major players in open-source learning management systems proves that adoption momentum is clearly being captured for open-source LMS, but the same cannot necessarily be said for large-scale HR functions such as talent management. While open source platform tools such as Linux, PHP, MySQL and others have benefited from a veritable army of tech-oriented contributors that drove adoption rates higher, that luxury has not been as widely available to HR software initiatives. This is because, as a whole, the Human Resources industry has not been nearly as technically-savvy as other business functions. As such, wide-spread enterprise open-source implementations for HR software hasn't kept pace with other open source business applications. Knowledge Infusion's Jason Overbook agrees, saying, "There definitely is a future, I just don't know when it will hit the mainstream." Nevertheless, certain HR open-source software applications such as Learning Management Systems are maturing, and are proving to be viable alternatives to proprietary solutions. The only question is whether your company is ready for open-source learning management. So are you?