Learning management system is widely used in organizations for managing and administering training of employees. One of the most common types of Learning Management System available is Open Source or Free LMS wherein the source code of the software is available openly for download and is free to use.
The prospect of implementing an Open Source Learning Management System for free or very low cost makes it an attractive proposition for organisations. But while an Open Source LMS like Moodle is free to download and use, there are other costs associated with implementation that an organisation should be aware of.
So what are the hidden costs of an Open Source LMS?
Setup and Customization Cost
Once you have downloaded and installed an Open Source LMS like Moodle, you get access to the code for free and do not have to pay for user licenses. But, to get the LMS running, you will need skills to set up the server and implement a hosting architecture to handle concurrent users. You can either take help from your IT team or hire experts from outside to do it for you. In either case, you will end up spending time or money or both.
Open Source LMS like Moodle are rich in features and offers flexibility to customize features and design as per your need. Once installed, you will need to customize it to reflect your site branding and configure the features you need. You can either engage a Moodle Implementation partner or rely on your IT team for this. Again, in both cases, it is not free.
All the server set up, customization and site branding activities need either expert assistance or in-house team effort. The setup and customization cost of Moodle is typically estimated to be between USD 10,000 to 15,000.
Once you have set up your Open Source LMS and customized it to your need, you will need to host it somewhere for users to be able to access it for learning and training purpose. You can either host the LMS on-premise by purchasing the hardware or host it on the cloud by subscribing to a hosting service such as Amazon, Google, Rackspace and GoDaddy.
While hardware purchase is a capital expenditure, cloud subscription is relatively cheaper and is estimated to cost around USD 200 - 350 per month.
Even if you decide to amortize the capital investment over 3 to 5 years, the hosting cost can easily be estimated to be around USD 3,000 per year.
Technical Support Cost
Unlike the commercial LMS, Moodle and other Open Source Learning Management Systems do not come with a dedicated technical support. Most support is forum based, and its often hard to find a solution within a stipulated time frame.
As the customization and administration of an Open Source LMS is your responsibility, you have to do de-bugging and upgrade of software on your own. There are tutorials available on the internet, but it may take time to understand them and solve the problem. You will need to have a dedicated IT team member for technical support or will need to hire someone to do it for you but it will again cost you money.
Technical Support cost is estimated to be between USD 10,000 - 12,000 per year.
Training and Administration Cost
Moodle or other Open Source LMS is not easy to administer and need expert assistance. You will need to budget for a Moodle Administrator whether you decide to do it yourself or hire someone full time or part-time. Further, you will also need training your administrator(s) or yourself to use Moodle.
The combined training and administration cost of Moodle is estimated to be around USD 8,000 – 10,000 per year.
Additional Cost of Upgrades
Post the initial customization and setup of open source LMS, there is often a need of installing the next upgrade or add a new feature at a later stage. This is the cost which organizations often do not budget upfront and comes as a surprise later.
You will need expert help or IT team support for installing upgrades or add new features. Assuming a regular upgrade once a year, this cost is estimated to be around USD 1,500 – 2,000 per year.
Open Source Learning Management Systems offer a great alternative to commercial LMS when you consider the freedom from License Cost and the flexibility to customise and personalise the LMS. But they also come with hidden costs of setup, hosting, maintenance and support. There is also an added responsibility of maintenance and support.
If you have a technical team in-house to support with installation, hosting, maintenance, support and upgrade activities, you can explore an Open Source or Free LMS. It is recommended you consider and budget all the hidden cost that comes along with it and make an informed choice.
For organizations looking for a hassle-free installation, maintenance, and upgrade experience, Cloud LMS could be a better alternative.
To dive deeper into the practical world of Cloud LMS, take a trip around MindScroll Free Trial and experience the process yourself.