Is Free Worth The Cost? 6 Pitfalls Of Using An Open Source LMS Vs. Paid Solutions

Open Source LMS Platforms: Are They Worth It?
Roman Samborskyi/
Summary: They say there’s no such thing as free lunch. But what about free software … does using an unpaid LMS have any actual consequences? In this article I explore the pitfalls of using an open source LMS versus paid eLearning solutions.

Open Source LMS Platforms: What To Avoid When Opting For A Free Platform

There’s a theory that if you’re offered something for free, it’s because you’re the product. In the digital sphere, unpaid apps usually mean someone is gathering (and selling) your data. In the LMS space though, open-source products are pretty popular. Especially among eLearning professionals who are just starting out and want to wade into the development waters. Or organizations looking to cut their online training expenses. But what’s the real cost of an open source LMS vs. paid solutions for implementation in your office? And are paid eLearning solutions a wiser investment? Here are some of the cons associated with open source platforms you may want to consider before writing off cloud-based or locally installed systems.

1. They Require Coding Knowledge

Most of us can Google our symptoms and treat them with over-the-counter meds. We might even opt for homeopathic remedies. In the same way, many of us can build an app or download programming script. But like the meme says, ‘Don’t confuse your Google search with my medical degree.’ In the same way, we shouldn’t assume basic coding skills suffice to opt for open source LMS vs. paid solutions. Configuring open source LMS for your organizational needs is a complex task. If your in-house techies don’t know the right programming language, you’ll have to hire (expensive) experts. So much for free!

2. They Take Longer To Customize

Once you find the right staff, you have to factor in the duration. Tailoring the LMS for your systems and requirements could take days, maybe even weeks. Outsourced programmers will have to be paid, fed, and possibly housed. Even if you have the right skill set in-house, they’ll have to take time away from their regular duties. For example, your L&D team can spend as much time developing personalized content to fill gaps. Thanks to the fact they’re coding the back-end to prepare for the big launch. And that carved out time eats into their billable hours, so you can tabulate the exact cost of your ‘free’ software. You’ll need lots of plug-ins too for an open source LMS vs. paid solutions choice.

3. They Usually Don’t Have Formal Support Systems

When you invest in a paid app, it comes from a verified LMS vendor. They’re a fully functioning organization, with techies, customer care, and an observable chain of command. When there’s a problem, there’s a specific person or process you can use to escalate. However, with an open source LMS vs. paid solutions, it’s all about the internet. You can Google your query, and you’ll get lots of hits, but they’ll all be from user forums. Those are ‘end customers’ just like you. There’s no way to verify their authority, validate their expertise, or confirm they know what they’re doing. Plus, you might soon discover that their community has been in hibernation for the past month and no one is actively answering questions.

4. They’re Not As User Friendly

With canned software, UX is as important as UI, so visual designers play a big role. Multiple skill-sets collaborate to ensure you get a product that’s intuitive and pleasant to play with. Open source LMS vs. paid solutions has a strong focus on the technical side of things. Your coders can tweak and adjust it, but your graphics team can’t do much with it. So, while you might attain peak functionality, online learners are still likely to find it clunky. If you do invest in a visual designer, it would have to be one with superior coding skills. Which means they’ll charge more.

5. They Typically Have Lower Levels Of Analytics

Canned software vendors know data collection and tracking tools are a priority for buyers. Their engineers and developers put a lot of effort into crafting the right systems for analysis and implementation. Open source LMS vs. paid solutions is more concerned with technical capacity. It’s heavier on back-end functionality than on the intricacies of big data. So, in addition to LMS configuration, you’ll have to develop automated reporting and features for staff monitoring. You might even have to buy compatible analytics software or plug-ins to add on that crucial functionality. There aren’t any out-of-the-box reports to fall back. Unlike paid eLearning solutions.

6. They Might Not Have Mobile Capacity

Paid Learning Management Systems – especially if they’re cloud-based – come primed for mobile. They might have rapid authoring tools for quick app development. Or they may contain smartphone app templates that are easy to populate. As well as previewers so that you can make minor adjustments before launch. Most paid eLearning solutions come optimized for mobile right out of the box. You simply plug, play, and start using your app. Open source LMS vs. paid solutions doesn’t always have mobile responsiveness and/or adaptiveness built in. You have to code it separately, which costs more money and time.

The biggest problem with free open-source software is it’s not actually free. It may be cheaper than paid training products, but it costs more than you think. You need highly skilled coders to customize it, which expends a lot of time and money. There’s no ‘official’ support team, you simply learn from fellow users, who may or may not be legit. The design interface is often taxing, mobile linkage isn’t guaranteed, and the analytics fall far short of paid apps. So, before you rush for ‘free’ learning systems, think about the true cost, then make your decision. In fact, meet with your team to identify which tasks are involved and how much time it might take to complete the implementation process.


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Do you have a dedicated team of experienced IT techs and want a fully customizable open source system? If the pros outweigh the cons, use our free online directory to find the ideal open source solution for your organization. You can peruse the top open source learning management systems to see if they're the best bet for your organization.