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Top 5: Open Source LMSs

A big advantage of all open source LMSs is that with development continually occurring new features are regularly made available to the community, for example Web 2.0 features were very quick to find themselves on these platforms.

The downside is that they tend to become bloated with every feature possible, and the often needed refinement of an already present feature is left neglected. So rather than staying simple and focused, these systems begin to offer everything possible: not simply a VLE or LMS, but more of a learning management, virtual learning, authoring, and collaborative social networking environment!

In addition to ever growing features, the past few years has seen an element of commercialisation taking advantage of the open source concept. Not only have vendors begun to offer customisations of open source 'products' such as Moodle, WordPress (blogs) and MediaWiki (the wiki that powers wikipedia), but a couple of the open source LMSs have commercial arms of their own.

For the time being you can't go wrong if you choose Moodle as the vanilla basis for your LMS.

However, there are other contenders that we'll group into two chasing packs, both a long way behind Moodle. The front-runners feature Dokeos, Sakai and Ilias; outsiders feature amongst others Docebo, ATutor, and OLAT. Here's five that interested us most - in no particular order.

  • ATutor
    The biggest feature about ATutor is its accessibility and interoperability. If you need an LMS that must be fully accessible then this could be for you. However, a potential pitfall because of this is that for SCORM tracking to function it requires the Java Runtime Environment to be installed on the client side.
  • Docebo
    The model Docebo operates is interesting: an Italian commercial organisation developing its own open source LMS and providing commercial services around it. This commercial/ open source hybrid is an interesting business model with a great query/ reporting tool. Unfortunately at present usability is a bit confusing.
  • Dokeos
    Although originally a 'pure' open source venture Dokeos has spent the past few years building credibility in the corporate space as a serious corporate e-learning platform', with a lot of the more recent developments financed by Dokeos corporate clients. Dokeos appears to have now gone down a similar commercial approach as Docebo. To this end it now offers three flavours of Dokeos: the original Free open source incarnation, plus two commercial offerings: a Pro version, and a Medical version. The biggest issue at present is that the Dokeos development team has just all left! See our next item.
  • Chamilo
    This is an interesting development, and certainly one to watch. With Dokeos having increasingly gone more commercial over the past 18 months lead Dokeos developer Yannick Warnier left at the end of 2009. Since then Warnier and his entire development team from Dokeos have started their own offshoot, Chamilo. The Chamilo team says they will embrace private business in the usage and commercialisation of Chamilo, but do caveat this by stating they want to avoid 'parasitism' - in other words as long as private companies develop extensions and give something back to the community, then all's well. We'll have to see how Chamilo develops as it diverges away from its Dokeos roots.
  • Sakai
    Sakai is education based with its road map focused on collaborative learning. Sakai calls itself a Collaborative Learning Environment (CLE) and intends to be best suited to group work, with students interacting online. Sakai is a good all round performer, although of the five listed this system is written in Java and not PHP. This isn't a problem if Java expertise exists, but it's in shorter supply than PHP skills.

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