A Basic Guide for OER/Appendix 4: Open Source Software Applications in Education

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Appendix Four: Open Source Software Applications in Education

Open source is the concept and practice of enabling access by both users and developers, to the programme source code, enabling both developers and users to be able to modify or add features to the source code and redistribute it.17 In this regard, collaboration and circulation are central tenets to the open source movement. Open source software offers an alternative to proprietary courseware, in education. Open source software is cost effective as it does not entail licence fees, has open standards that facilitate integration with other systems and can be easily customised. Aberdour18 has highlighted that the low cost of open source Learning Management Systems (LMSs) allows institutions to dedicate funds they would otherwise have spent on licensing, to the development of the open source LMSs or on professional development for efficient use of the LMSs. Further, open source LMSs open up spaces for participation in communities of practice that support each other in the development of the software.

Aberdour specifies that there are over 50 open source LMSs to choose from, but only a few of these are recommended as they

  • Have an open source initiative approved licence;
  • Have an active development community
  • Have released stable versions
  • Are SCORM compliant
  • Have published details about previous adopters
  • Have a stable organization supporting ongoing development
  • Have had third party reviews published.

Examples of some commonly used Open Source Educational Software and their compatibility and usage are specified in the following table.19

LMS Tool
Moodle www.moodle.org Linux, UNIX, Windows, Mac OS X, FreeBSD, and any other system that supports PHP Downloaded about 500 times a day. More than 28,000 registered sites, over a million courses, a learning community of 10 million.
Bodington www.bodington.org Shibboleth, Linux, Microsoft, Mac OS X, or UNIX Implemented at University of Leeds, UHI Millennium Institute, and University of Oxford. Provides services to 15,000 users with a single server.
Claroline www.claroline.net Microsoft, Linux/GNU, Mac OS X; complies with SCORM and IMS/QTI. Available in 35 languages and has users in more than 80 countries.
Dokeos www.dokeos.com Supports SCORM import and LDAP. Data can be imported using CSV or XML files. In 30 languages and more than a thousand organizations. Implemented at Ghent University and Vrije Universiteit Brussel. More than 28,000 users and 3,600 courses.
LRN www.dotlrn.com LORS Central, Curriculum, LORS Management, .LRN Ecommerce, Project Manager, Page Editor, Staff List, Syllabus, Expense Tracking Almost half a million users in 18 countries
ATutor www.atutor.ca Complies with W3C WCAG 1.0 and W3C XHTML 1.0; supports content developed in IMS or SCORM. More than 17,000 registered installations worldwide.
OLAT www.olat.org Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Solaris, and UNIX. Conforms to SCORM, IMS QTI, and IMS Content Packaging Popular within the European higher education community
Sakai www.sakaiproject. org Complements commercial software like WebCT, Blackboard, ANGEL Learning, and Desire2Learn. Adopted by many reputable universities worldwide.

The criteria by which software can be licensed as open source are set by the Open Source Initiative as follows:

  • Unrestricted distribution. Users can distribute or sell the software without paying royalties.
  • Source code distribution. The source code of the entire open source product must be easily modifiable. In the absence of the source code, the product must cite a low-cost resource where users can obtain it.
  • Modifications. The license allows modifications, and its terms remain unchanged for distribution of improved versions.
  • Author’s source code integrity. If the license allows patch file distribution along with the original source code, a user cannot modify the code and distribute it except by giving the new version a new name.
  • No personal discrimination. No person or group shall be discriminated against during open source product distribution.
  • No restriction on application. Open source software can be used in any field and for any purpose.
  • License distribution. The privileges attached to the original programme extend to all who receive the programme, so recipients do not need to apply for a separate license.
  • License must not be product-specific. The rights associated with a license extend to products extracted from a larger software aggregate.
  • No restriction on other software. No restrictions are allowed on distribution of open source products bundled with products developed on other software platforms.
  • Technology neutrality. Licenses should not be issued on the basis of the specific technology involved.20


Aberdour, M. (2007). Open source learning management systems. Available on: www.epic.co.uk/content/news/oct_07/whitepaper.pdf

Lakhan, S. E. and Jhunjhunwala, K. (2008). Open Source Software in Education. EDUCAUSE Quarterly, vol. 31, no. 2 (April–June 2008



17 Shaheen E. Lakhan and Kavita Jhunjhunwala. Open Source Software in Education. EDUCAUSE Quarterly, vol. 31, no. 2 (April–June 2008)

18 Aberdour, M. 2007. Open source learning management systems. Available on: www.epic.co.uk/ content/news/oct_07/whitepaper.pdf Examples of Commonly used Open Source Software in Education

19Shaheen E. Lakhan and Kavita Jhunjhunwala. Open Source Software in Education. EDUCAUSE Quarterly, vol. 31, no. 2 (April–June 2008)

20 Shaheen E. Lakhan and Kavita Jhunjhunwala. Open Source Software in Education. EDUCAUSE Quarterly, vol. 31, no. 2 (April–June 2008)