Skip to main content


May 2014

5 reasons for open source in learning

Blog posts



Shaping the future of learning

Although there are still some who still won’t even entertain the thought of using open source technologies in a commercial context, in our experience the tide has now firmly turned from why should we? to why wouldn’t we? in business and government alike.

Take a look around you. It’s highly likely that you’re already using open source technologies in your office in one way or another: Linux is common operating system alternative to Windows, and Open Office provides a free alternative to Microsoft Office.

How many of you are using an Android-platform phone? Use Firefox as your Web Browser? Not to mention other free-to-use software such as SugarCRM, GIMP and other productivity tools.

5 reasons why open source is good for business and learning


Often the biggest factor when choosing a learning technology solution, open source technologies offer a highly-scalable and cost-effective alternative to proprietary systems.

This is largely achieved by the fact that you pay for services (from a solutions partner) not the underlying code. There’s also no per-user, per-year fees. In cash-strapped L&D budgets, it’s essential to get more for less.

In the UK, the government now mandates the use of open source technologies, stating in the report on ‘Open Source, Open Standards and Re-Use: Government Action Plan:

"Procurement decisions will be made on the basis of the best value for money solution for the business requirement, taking account of total lifetime cost of ownership of the solution, including exit and transition costs.”

“Where there is no significant overall cost difference between open and non-open source products, open source will be selected on the basis of its additional inherent flexibility.”

Freedom of choice

No doubt you’ve been there before. You’ve spent ages going through your tender process, choosing a partner/solution and a lengthy implementation process, only to find that although the software is fundamentally perfect, the partner you’ve chosen to work with is on a completely different wavelength (not in these parts, of course).

But with open source technologies, this isn’t an issue: If it’s not working out with your current supplier, you can move to a new one.

Not only does opening up access to the code benefit the market (as it allows for a bigger innovation footprint), but it also allows the development of a market place that is geared up to support businesses of varying sizes and needs.

This is true of both Totara and Adapt. Although at Kineo we have a core focus on larger enterprise systems and customised learning, other suppliers are able to utilise their expertise in different areas to provide alternative solutions to smaller companies with different requirements.

Our advice? Always to go with the partner that best meets your needs: one with a good cultural fit with your own company and has the experience and innovation to work in partnership over a sustained period of time, not just a one-off project. After all, it’s the design and learner experience that counts, not the underlying software.


Think you’re safer with a ‘big name’ provider of proprietary technology? Think about what’s happened in the L&D space over the last decade. One of the biggest issues with proprietary tools is that they are discontinued, or their parent company gets acquired, or worse still, they go out of business.

Open source projects have their own roadmaps and are independent of vendors – meaning the software is a safer option in the long-run as you’re not putting all your eggs in one basket: If the partner you’re with goes out of business, there is always another company who’ll be able to step in and carry on where they left off.

Adapt and Totara both benefit from being part of a development community, with a number of solutions companies able to offer design and delivery services.


Lack of customisation options is also one of the main complaints about proprietary software: Not only are you limited in your choice of partner, you’re also likely to be limited to out-of-the-box solutions that are either bloated with features that you don’t need, or worse still, are just not fit for purpose.

With open source solutions, you can customise to your heart’s content. If you’ve got the in-house expertise, you may not even need an external support to do this. There’s often a development community too, facilitating sharing and collaboration amongst developers.

Proprietary tools don’t enable this sharing and development process: The tool is the tool, and customisation is discouraged at best, and often not an option at all.


There is a long-standing myth that for one reason or another, open source is insecure. But part of this misconception is that the strength of security lies in the software itself, whereas the steadfastness of the hosting solution plays a huge part in.

But open source technologies are used widely across a range of government departments – even the CIA uses Moodle – and software often passes the most stringent of security tests, benefitting from being managed by a community, rather than one company’s development team.

Linus's Law, named after Linus Torvalds (the creator of Linux) supports this, posing:

"Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow."

Open source projects like Adapt and Totara follow methods to ensure that only high-quality, stable versions of the code are released outside of the developer community to ensure the integrity of the code for the end users.

Getting started with open source technologies

It’s a long time since we first started talking open source with Moodle LMS (the world’s most popular learning management system) way back in 2006. We’ve since gone on to embrace the open source ethos, with the release of Totara LMS in 2011, and more recently the Adapt Learning Framework in January 2014. We’re also working with clients to bring Open Badges features to Totara, thanks to a grant from Mozilla.

So, how can we help you? Want to see how open source LMS and elearning can transform your business? We’d love to help you. Either leave us a comment below or get in touch.



Shaping the future of learning

Kineo helps the world’s leading businesses improve performance through learning and technology. We’re proud of our reputation for being flexible and innovative, and of our award-winning work with clients across the world.

Leave us your comments