UPDATE: 10/01/2015 – This list has been updated with additional free/open source LMSs and comparisons thanks to a lot of great feedback in emails and the comments. New solutions appear at the end of the list (after the first eight) and bring the total to 18 top free and open source LMSs products.
I have a friend who once wrapped his entire body, head to toe, in tin foil.
He also wrote “steak + guacamole” on himself in permanent marker, and then sauntered (in public, on public sidewalks with normal people all around) to his local burrito joint. He endured the stares, embarrassment, and giggles all for one, glorious thing: a free burrito.
People will do a lot just to get something for free. Luckily, if you’re looking for a free or open source Learning Management System, you don’t have to go crazy and break out the tin foil.
I’ve collected a list of the very best freemium, totally free, and/or open source LMSs out there, and it’s all below, no enduring of awkward stares on the sidewalk required.
This is the gorilla in the room of open source LMSs. Moodle is primarily aimed at the education market, but is also used by plenty of corporations for eLearning and training purposes, including big guys like Cisco and Subaru. Being open source Moodle is totally free, but certain optional peripherals and support from third parties can cost money, and it should be stressed that open source solutions can cost as much or more than proprietary software because of the internal tech resources you need to devote to implement and maintain them.
Moodle has most of what you would expect in an LMS, like student dashboards, progress tracking and support for multimedia classes, and additionally includes mobile friendly themes, support for third party plugins and add-ons and the ability to sell courses using PayPal.
Because Moodle is the big open source player in the LMS space, it is supported by a massive and active community with tons of plugins and options to customize it to your exact specifications. It also benefits from a lot of online documentation for help with support issues or questions as well as loads of pre-constructed courses that may just save you from having to create your own content. All this comes at a price, however, and Moodle has been criticized as overly complex and difficult for a lay person to learn and set up. Other potential downsides include incomplete reporting and no easy way to manage groups of learners.
Blackboard is a very well-known name in the eLearning community, and they’ve released a free version of their Blackboard Learn software called CourseSites. CourseSites is aimed at individual instructors and, like Blackboard’s other offerings, caters to the academic rather than the corporate market. The software is web-based and free, and allows the creation of up to five active “course sites” (each representing one discrete class).
CourseSites has the ability to login using popular web services like Facebook and Gmail, and supports an unlimited number of students and easy integration with Blackboard’s other offerings.
CourseSites is not open source software, so it avoids some of the issues which plague those (lack of support, a requirement that you be tech savvy to implement etc.) and it’s a very user-friendly system as it was created with the individual teacher in mind. It is, however, missing some of the functionality of Blackboard’s paid offerings, which may make it less useful for institutions and organizations. These include white-labeling and branding features, custom scripts, single sign-on, integration with a wider enrollment system and the ability to batch and archive things like grades.
Another open source solution, Sakai differs from Moodle in a few key elements. It is built on Java, as opposed to LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) and while it is open source, only certain key stakeholders and commercial affiliates are allowed to contribute to the source code. It is aimed at academic institutions as opposed to corporate training.
Sakai integrates with Google Docs, and includes tools like a wiki, online testing, presentation slides and the ability to use Dropbox as well.
Sakai enjoys the support of a well-endowed educational foundation which oversees the strategic development of the software. This means that significant resources ($6 million compared to Moodle’s $12,000 per year) can be brought to bear should any major issues arise. That said, because Sakai is Java-based as opposed to LAMP, some have argued this increases the total cost of ownership for users. Java servers and developers are typically more expensive than PHP ones. Additionally Sakai serves a narrower clientele and so there is not as broad a community of support, plugins and add-ons as there is with Moodle, for instance.
Latitude Learning is a “freemium” LMS that is free to use for up to 100 learners and then starts at $1,000 a year with optional add-ons. It’s a largely web-based system and targets corporate training and B2B environments. Clients include Chrysler, GM and the American Board of Emergency Medicine.
Latitude Learning includes certification, integration with Webex and GoToMeeting, as well as collaborative whiteboards, and support for nine different languages. It also has extensions (like eCommerce) that can be purchased.
With over three million users, Latitude Learning is definitely scalable and a focus on corporate training sets it apart from all the other, more academically focused, solutions on this list. For businesses and training professionals this focus is definitely a pro. However, Latitude Learning does not yet have mobile support, or a 3rd part content library, and its add-ons can be costly if you need to extend any of its functionality.
Dokeos is another open source solution, this time built on PHP as opposed to Java like Sakai. It originates from France, and has seen wide adoption there and in Belgium (as well as 60 other countries comprising over 6,000 total installations). It relies on an on premises model as opposed to SaaS.
Dokeos boasts a built-in course authoring tool, as well as pre-made quiz templates, private groups, and a chat tool.
With Dokeos’ “Oogie Rapid Learning” feature it’s easy to convert both Powerpoint and OpenOffice Impress to SCORM, and Dokeos has a lower learning curve than Moodle (and looks better out of the box if aesthetics are a priority). Dokeos does suffer from difficulty in customizing user levels, and users have reported that response times for questions/issues on the forum are long so that support may be an issue.
eFront is an open source LMS, with a paid, hosted version available as well. The company that runs it is based in Greece, and the paid versions start at $85 a month. While the open-source version is no longer supported officially by eFront, you can find older releases on SourceForge.
eFront includes an intuitive icon-based interface, a course creation tool, as well as internal chat and built-in forums.
Because this is open source backed by a for-profit company, the support forums tend to be active and technical issues get resolved. That said, the free open source version of eFront lacks eCommerce functionality, certification, and social media integration.
Schoology is a freemium LMS aimed primarily at educators (similar to Blackboard’s CourseSites). It’s web-based and the Basic Package is free for instructors, with the option to upgrade to an Enterprise Package if you want specialized support or integration with your school’s SIS platform. Schoology does not share the prices for the Enterprise Package on its website.
Several of the stand-out features for Schoology include mobile access, Google Drive integration, content creation tools, and access to a library of public courses and other content.
Schoology’s mobile functionality and workflow are top-notch, and the modern interface and integration with the newest cutting edge cloud apps helps to bring it out of the pack, though it may not be as full-featured as something more complex like Moodle, and doesn’t include private messaging between students.
ILIAS is an open source, web-based LMS developed at the University of Cologne in Germany, where it enjoys a wide user base of installs. Its user base (5,000 current installations) is a mix of universities and government and defense organizations, primarily in Europe.
ILIAS is security certified by NATO and used in NATO’s high-security intranet as well as by several national defense departments and armed forces. Additionally, the system makes it easy to set different user roles and control access to separate parts of the software.
ILIAS has a long pedigree (13+ years) and has managed to retain a growing user base and coherent code-base, so if you’re looking for something with strong security, that’s likely to be around for a while (something “safe”), this may be the LMS for you. Additionally, an active community that even sponsors its own annual conference ensures support issues you may have will be dealt with. However, it suffers from a clunky interface design, and several features of other LMSs (like mobile integration) require the installation of plugins or other add-ons.
This open source, Canadian LMS includes contributions from as diverse a group as the University of Toronto, government of Ontario, and the American Academy of Opthamology.
ATutor is paired with another free/open-source system called AContent, which is an LCMS that allows for course and test authoring using the same functionality as the ATutor LMS. This means you only need to really learn one system for both creating and delivering SCORM-compliant learning content.
The standard open source caveats apply (make sure you’re fairly technical before trying to implement it yourself, for support you may have to rely on FAQs and community forums unless you want to pay extra etc.), but ATutor otherwise has a lot going for it. A very active online community means getting bugs fixed and questions answered is pretty straightforward, and the wealth of available functionality should satisfy most LMS requirements you have.
Canvas offers a paid version with pre-built course content and hosting, or an open source option that relies on you to provide the content, hosting etc. The open source version is free for individual teachers if you want Canvas to host it (click the “Build It” link), or free for unlimited users if you host it yourself. Canvas boasts 15,000,000 users worldwide, and organizations that use it include Champlain College and Michigan Tech University.
Canvas offers a wide array of unique functionality, including Integration with hundreds of third party apps, mobile apps on both iOS and Android, and built-in video recording.
The free version is limited to one user if you’re looking to have Canvas host it for you, and the system is very clearly aimed solidly at the academic market (Canvas’s parent company, Instructure, offers a paid corporate training LMS separately). That said, Canvas is a slick tool, designed from the ground up to be a modern web application, with plenty of functionality for the educational space.
Much like LMSs built on WordPress, ELMSLN is a free extension for open source content management system Drupal. ELMSLN has been installed in over 12,000 Drupal systems, including those of Penn State University and University of Wisconsin-Madison.
ELMSLN is a very active open source project, with a plethora of developers working on it and the advanced functionality it offers reflects this. From Open Badges support, to Tin Can/xAPI integration, ELMSLN is on the cutting edge of eLearning functionality.
If you’re not familiar with Drupal, ELMSLN may present a difficult learning curve. Yet an active development community, and a plethora of updates will ensure a useful, feature-rich system if you already know, or are willing to learn, Drupal’s back-end.
12. Google Classroom
Google’s free LMS offering is only available to accredited academic institutions (those with a Google Apps for Education account). Google Classroom is also free for any number of students and teachers.
Having been built by Google, Classroom integrates very well with other Google properties like YouTube, Docs, and Drive. An intuitive look-and-feel, combined with functionality like commenting on individual course content encourages student engagement.
As we said in our Google Classroom review, the tool is not quite yet a full-featured LMS. It’s missing features like automated grading of quizzes and tests, or adding of students. However, it’s a great tool for a blended learning course to cut down on paper and ensure tighter collaboration between students.
This free, web-based LMS is already used at several hundred different schools worldwide. Kornukopia offers all its core modules free of charge to “valid schools,” though may charge at a later date for advanced or add-on modules.
Kornukopia is an advanced academic LMS. That means it supports things like Common Core, mobile access, and an integrated student information system (SIS).
Kornukopia doesn’t yet charge for anything, but they do state their intention to “make a profit by providing schools, students, parents and teachers additional value,” so there is some risk that their current free version may not remain free, or that their business model may change in the future. However, the tool itself, while limited to academic organizations, is clean, straightforward, and intuitive.
Myicourse allows users to create online “colleges” which house multiple courses. If you decide to make your courses public, creating and running them is totally free (Myicourse makes money through ads), but if you’d prefer to keep them private, the software is only free up to 100 students.
Easy white labelling, as well as the ability to sell courses (Myicourses takes 10% if you choose to do this), marks this system as a good option for corporate training (as opposed to the large amount of academic-only tools on this list). Being able to track student traffic, course sales, and more also adds a layer of quantitative detail that makes it a great fit for those offering things like certifications.
Unfortunately, if your course content is sensitive and not something you want online for everybody to see, the free version of this tool is limited, and students will have to deal with banner ads. However, the tool itself is easy to use and straightforward with built-in course creation functionality.
15. NEO LMS
This freemium LMS, previously “EDU 2.0” but since rebranded, allows accredited schools with 400 students or less to use the platform for free. The company also offers a paid LMS, MATRIX, for businesses and other organizations that are not accredited learning institutions.
Aside from the clean and modern interface, NEO LMS stands out with its ease of use and integrated eCommerce functionality, as well as native iOS and Android apps, and built-in gamification features like badges.
Unfortunately, the free version of NEO LMS is limited to accredited schools, and some users have complained about difficulty exporting grade rubrics. However, its well-designed UI makes it easy to pick up and use, and the transparent visuals encourage students to check on their own progress and assignments.
16. Open SWAD
Open SWAD (which stands for “shared workspace at a distance”) is a product of the University of Granada. It’s open source, but also available for free as a cloud-based system. SWAD is currently used by the National University of Asunción in addition to the University of Granada.
Being open source, the SWAD system is very configurable, allowing you to edit mail domains, banners, degree types, notifications, and more. You can easily share files, and there’s built in forums and chat along with an Android app.
OpenSWAD was developed primarily by Spanish speakers, and this can be apparent in some of the terminology or grammar in the English-translated pages, and the tool doesn’t support newer functionality like gamification. However, the ability to access the tool online for free, and the great job it does offering the basics in a small implementation package make it worth a look.
Created by Pearson, OpenClass is a totally free online education platform with a focus on social learning. It’s open to everyone, though primarily aimed at the K-12 and higher education market, and is used by organizations like NuSkool and Abilene Christian University.
This web-based tool puts a premium on social learning, and this is apparent with its integration of profiles, shares, feeds, and statuses, as well as option to video chat within the software. Additionally its mobile and tablet apps make it easy to access on-the-go, and a curated learning content marketplace offers course content and Open Educational Resources from publishers.
OpenClass doesn’t offer support, but does have a full user community to answer questions. Additionally, while the software itself is free, Pearson is hoping users will go on to buy additional content from them. That said, this is a very solid hosted solution with great modern features and a continuous update cycle that will keep it relevant for a while to come.
18. Open edX LMS
Last, but not least, is this well-known collaboration between Stanford, MIT, and Google. Open edX is an open source platform for creating and hosting MOOCs, as well as smaller classes and training courses.
The biggest differentiator here is not any special functionality, but the fact that this tool is supported very publically by such heavyweights as MIT and Google. Not only is there a huge, active community around Open edX, but tons of guides and help getting started with it. The tool also comes with more than just the Open edX LMS (which itself includes progress tracking, a built in discussion wiki, and detailed reports) such as Open edX Studio which lets you create courses and content.
Open edX LMS has wide adoption and a big user base, but that does mean it needs to cater to a lower common denominator. For instance, it may not include advanced functionality like gamification out-of-the-box. That said, with such a huge community, and with tons of pre-built course content already available on the platform for free, if you just want something that does the basics and does them well, this could be a good fit.
A couple other great options that we don’t have space to discuss here, but may be worth your time include Chamilo (a Dokeos fork), Forma LMS (a Docebo fork aimed at the corporate training market), OpignoLMS (another Drupal LMS), Varsity Learning (free for individual teachers) and Claroline (an older but well-known open source learning and collaboration platform).
Who did I miss? Would you consider something like Edmodo a free LMS, or is it more a teacher/student discussion tool? Sound off (or include pictures of yourself dressed as an LMS) in the comments!
Header by Rachel Wille
Looking for Learning Management System software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Learning Management System software solutions.