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Switching from Proprietary Learning Management Software to Open Source

File:Children collecting wood

A Few Items for Your Consideration

What is a learning management system (LMS) or course management system (CMS)?

It is an integrated and comprehensive software package that supports the:

  • development,
  • delivery,
  • evaluation, and
  • administration

of online education or training activity.

You can obtain additional information about LMS selection by referring to Selecting a LMS?  

What is open source software?

It is computer software for which:

  • The source code is available to the end-user.
  • The source code can be modified by the end-user.
  • There are no restrictions on redistribution or use.
  • The licensing conditions are intended to facilitate continued re-use and wide availability.

(Joint Information Systems Committee of the Higher Education Funding Councils for England, Scotland, and Wales)

Why switch from proprietary LMS software to open source?

  • Cost and to avoid potential increase in fees
  • Need to free-up resources
  • Issues with reliability and security
  • Lack of vendor support
  • Difficult or unable to customize – no access to source code or vendor slow to respond
  • Dissatisfied learners and faculty
  • Existing software may not be kept current
  • Concern re: “all eggs in one basket”
  • Address the use of multiple LMS on campus
  • Limited scalability of existing software
  • To participate in open, more collaborative communities

Prior to the conversion:

  • Discuss issues that arise when mounting any major project management activity, such as objectives, priorities, resources (hardware, software, and people), timelines, and the critieria for measuring success
  • Determine learner and faculty goals/objectives
  • Ascertain interoperatability with existing third party vendor products

Also consider:

  • Security
  • Timing of conversion - preferably not during the most active term
  • Cost of conversion – savings emerge only after the conversion is complete

Ensuring a successful transition:

  • Provide course shells with basic functions
  • Provide instructors with design and technical support
  • Establish a trial site with duplicate courses
  • Consider outsourcing the conversion process; but remember, when the consultants leave, they take their expertise with them
  • Produce and distribute brief step-by-step instructions for frequent activities. Place these instructions online too.
  • Make available short online and face-to-face tutorials about the new LMS


  • Compare various software and, if necessary, vendor support. Consider seeking comparison studies performed by various organizations or groups such as the Western Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications (WCET) which provides independent reviews, side-by-side comparisons, and consulting services - Edutools or  
  • Check with other users
  • Pilot the software with sample learners and faculty
  • Plan for implementation

Usually, when you try to please everyone, you fail to please anyone!
Thus, you need to decide whose needs should receive priority - the learners, faculty, administrators, technical staff.

When selecting software:

  • Focus on meeting the needs of learners and instructors
  • Be cautious of hype and vapourware
  • Align the purchase to organizational goals
  • Plan each step of the implementation.
  • Provide everyone with accessible, timely, and reliable support.

Remember to record your selection procedures carefully so that you can conduct a more effective and efficient evaluation next time - and there will be a next time as software evolves, learner needs change, and the business model is altered to meet financial and political constraints. 

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