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Friday, July 28, 2006

Where are open source learning applications?

Good post by Harold Jarche - Where are open source learning applications? In it he points to the learning space and says that the current status of open-source learning applications is:
  • Innovators - Elgg Learning Landscape and several others
  • Early Adopters - Moodle and a few others
  • Early Majority - nobody
  • Late Majority - forget about it

I would tend to agree with him that there are relatively few open-source learning applications, but would add a few thoughts...

First, open-source generally succeeds once an application domain is fairly well understood and the feature sets are relatively more stable. If you look at the slow creep up the application stack of open-source solutions (OS, app server, database, CRM), then its easy to see the pattern. So, we should naturally expect to see open source solutions emerge where we see relatively stable feature sets.

Second, while for my corporate clients I wouldn't recommend any open source solutions today, I'm only avoiding it because it's probably worth the $ savings in the time you would lose dealing with a tool that is not quite as robust. In other words, the cost of Captivate is less than the lost time dealing with Wink. I do think it's worth keeping an eye on:

* Virtual classroom solutions - after having gone through trying to find inexpensive solutions, there's real opportunity here for Skype+conferencing. A few early tools exist, but they are in the early adopter stage.

* Demo + Audio recording solution - Wink is early adopter stage as well, but will soon be moving more mainstream. Think of it as freeware Captivate.

* Fun Interactions - Hot Potato

* Audio Editing - Audacity

and I know there's some that do essentially PPT + audio, lots of ways to create podcasts, video, and the list goes on.

Finally, I'm not really sure that asking about open source right now is as relevant as asking about free software as a service (SaaS) models. Having used surveymonkey, blogger, pbwiki and other tools quite a bit - it's even better than open source and even less expensive (open source you need time/dollars to get it up and going). While I wouldn't recommend open-source solutions today - unless you really, really don't value your time over dollar expenditure, I would recommend using SaaS solutions.

Keywords: eLearning Trends


Harold Jarche said...

SaaS solutions are great when you need something quickly and without installation & maintenance headaches. On the other hand, I would recommend open source solutions when you have to depend on the application. With an installed open source app (and in-house expertise) you minimize the risk of the system going down. Open source scales better, too, because you can host it on your own hardware. With OS, you can look under the hood and tweek the system. This requires technical expertise but ensures more control.

Yes, SaaS is an excellent option, unless you need to own the application, and that's more of a business decision than a learning decision.

Tony Karrer said...

It's interesting that you feel that an in-house supported open source application will have better service levels than an SaaS model. Given what I've seen in terms of in-house support for many applications, that's not the case. But, I don't have any actual data to back it up. Either way, you need to have some kind of SLA established (and think about what happens when it goes down).

I would agree with your general sentiment though. If you have good in-house technical expertise AND if they are available to maintain the open source application, then it can be a good option. But, those are often two really big IFs.

You are right that you can only do configuration of SaaS. Open source suggests a level of customization that is not possible with SaaS.

I'm guessing that we are 100% agreed that it depends on the situation.