Everyone loves free, especially with software.

Free software should be in a class by itself, because it often rumbles into three areas:

  • 100% free with no watermarks, limited features/capabilities
  • 100% free but with limited features (if you want those gone you pay for it)
  • 100% free but with limitations (and you cannot upgrade – some ATs actually do this – with the goal of you buying another of their products)

In the 100% free with no limitations, I have personally found quality to be all over the place – sometimes excellent other times “ahh, I see why it is free”.

Yet, we as “humans”, (can’t speak for ancient aliens) like free.

Especially, people seeking a LMS.

Criteria

I already have spoke ad naseum about the pros and cons of any free open source platform, so my criteria on what I feel are the best 10 free open source systems are presented below.

The reason I state “free” open source, is because “open source” itself is not necessarily free.  I’m not talking about your customization of it, rather that with some companies they charge for you to use their open source code.  Hence, the word “free”.

All the systems below are 100% free open source systems.

Since basically anyone can offer a free open source system, if they have the technical skills to create such a platform, I went about and developed requirements to be part of the process. 

One Note:  Open source systems in general are not “turnkey”, which means you have to do some customization to the platform – either heavy customization, adding plugins and so forth.  Some of the free open source systems nowadays have a psuedo-turnkey, which provides a really basic look and feel platform that if you wanted do – could be launched in short order.

To be considered in these rankings each system must

  • Have an active community of developers – people who constantly contribute to the system
  • Offers plugins, add-ons
  • Have either in the offering itself or via 3rd party sites – tutorials, books, whatever to help people build the platform
  • Is “active” today, there are platforms out there that haven’t had an update in more than a year – they were not considered
  • Standard set of features – the typical features you would expect to find in a commercial LMS (again, this might be via plugins)

I should note that in the world of free open source systems, a couple of items are starting to show up

  • Some free open source platforms, offer hosting for an additional fee.  At one time it was all – “on your own servers” or nothing.
  • Some free open source platforms, have moved over to fee based systems.

Top 8 – Why 8?  Why not.

#8 Eliademy

A very simple based LMS that is free for teachers.  Although there are plenty of systems out there free for teachers and then fee based for districts, etc., a couple of items set this apart. 1 – offers quite a bit for teachers including the ability to create a course catalog and courses, assessment tool and has a mobile app for Android.

2 – Besides it being open source, students can take the courses via the teacher uploading their e-mail addresses, which to me, says that the system is first and foremost focused on the teachers, rather than many other free teacher/fee everyone else platforms, whereas the goal is to get the districts on board.

#7  Metacoon

System is focused on education and offers a series of modules.  The two that are free are more than enough to get you going, especially since the core – MetaStudy includes 70 tools (I call them features, but whatever).

MetaStudy is the the LMS itself and it comes with access to their education sharing resources network. Features include forums, chat, course authoring, learning environment and learning paths, file sharing and file repository. It accepts SCORM, LDAP, QTI and SSL. Metaauthor is an assessment tool, which yeah I agree, the title doesn’t go with what it is does.

#6 OLAT

First off there is no relation to OLAF the cute bird cartoon character, so sorry to disappoint OLAF fans.  Anyway, OLAT comes to us from the University of Zurich and offers a strong set of features.

 These include assessment tool, social including chat and forums, learner home page, calendar, email notifications, bookmarks, file repository, certificates, add users and groups and course catalog.  One of my favorites is browser check because while vendors say their systems are browser agnostic, I have found in many systems this not to be the case.  So having a browser check is a good idea.

 #5 ATUTOR

Another of the early free open source systems that were available on the market, eons ago (okay not that long ago).  Still a strong free open source platform with a strong committed community.   Features include social with profiles, inbox, e-mail notification, file storage aka file repository, SCORM, course authoring tool,  supports IMS, QTI, assessment tool, announcements, backup manager, blogs, polls, analytics and I could go on. 

#4 Opigno

The name sounds like a song you would sing as a good on your pogo stick. Okay, maybe just me.  Anyway this surprise free open source learning system has a lot going for it.  Okay are you ready?

In one long breath features include course management, certificates, calender, forums, role management on admin side, authoring tool, assessment, news/announcements, video gallery, surveys, e-commerce, messaging, chat, LDAP and CAS integration, SCORM 2004 and search bar.

Whew.  Oh, it is also SCORM compliant. 

#3 Sakai 10

I will admit that Sakai in the past has been okay but nothing wowsy.  Well, that has changed.  The way the system is pitched it almost appears if it is fee based, but it is not, well unless you want it hosted then it is (a common theme in some free open source platforms). 

Sakai has a large faithful following and when you gaze into this product you can see why.  Features include assignments, gradebook, course management, assessment tool, syllabus tool, lesson builder aka course authoring tool, announcements, social, calendar, messaging, file repository including sharing, polls, presentation tool, workspaces, ePortfolio, analytics, IMS and SCORM.  System also supports mobile.

#2 forma.lms

This is not your granddad’s Oldsmobile, wait, wrong ad.  Actually, it is not your grandma’s free LMS.  

I think this platform has real potential but it will come down to the community, which is active right now.  Features include certificates, classroom management, calendar, event management, e-commerce, analytics, reporting, multi-tenant (aka extended enterprise aka parent/child aka portal/sub portal), competency management, skill gap analysis and much more.  

As you can quickly see the system I believe is geared more towards corporate than education – which is what free open source platforms tend to be built initially for or are still geared to.

#1 Moodle

The King still lives, and no he is not hiding out in a bar in Bolivia (sorry conspiracy fans).  I’ve written on various occasions about Moodle, so no need to regurgitate.

That said, the system was initially built for education, still is heavily used in education and some of you might not know this but its intention and build for that matter was a CMS.

Anyway, it is now more of a LMS with an inordinate amount of plugins and add-ons.  There is even a mobile app for Moodle.  The community is extremely active and committed and dare I say it? (Say it!)

Okay, I will say it –  some are bordering on fanatical with their love of the solution.  I think any LMS vendor our there would want such dedication for their system, but alas it is not to be. 

Moodle does rank in my top 50 LMSs, which only reinforces how strong this system can be with the right customization and add-ons. Especially since there are several well known vendors whose initial system was built on the infrastructure of Moodle, and then there is Totara (fee based) who is a heavily customized version of Moodle.

Bottom Line

I’m sure there will be folks who say what about edcast – but edcast is not free, the source code OpenEDX is free – and no offense to the community, I just didn’t see it as strong as the others. As for Pearson OpenClass, while it is a free LMS, but not open source – for if it was, it would be in the top five.  Google Classroom is not a LMS, despite is PR pitch.

So, here they are.

The top eight.

Feel free to marvel.  Feel free to gaze.

But, best of all,

Feel FREE to use.

Because they are.

FREE.

E-Learning 24/7