Update 9/27/2017: We’ve updated this list to remove some outdated LMSs or LMSs that are focused solely on schools rather than corporations. We’ve also updated the existing information as well as the screenshots.
People will do a lot just to get something for free.
I have a friend who once wrapped his entire body, head to toe, in tin foil.
He wrote “steak + guacamole” on himself, and then made his way to his local burrito joint. He endured stares, embarrassment, and giggles all for one, glorious thing: a free burrito.
Luckily, if you’re looking for a free or open source learning management system (LMS), you don’t have to break out the tin foil.
I’ve collected a list of the very best freemium (any software that has a basic free version with the option to pay for additional features), totally free, and/or open source LMSs out there, and it’s all below, no enduring of awkward stares on the sidewalk required.
The software on this list was chosen for being free and/or open source, useful for corporate training, and is arranged in order of popularity based on Capterra’s reviews at the time of publication. The order of the list might change in future updates.
Moodle is open source and totally free, but certain optional peripherals and support from third parties can cost money. Users should keep in mind that open source solutions can cost as much or more than proprietary software because of the internal tech resources needed to implement and maintain them.
Moodle’s welcome screen
Moodle has most of what you would expect in an LMS, including student dashboards, progress tracking, and support for multimedia classes. Additionally, it includes mobile friendly themes, support for third–party plug–ins and add-ons, and the ability to sell courses using PayPal.
Because Moodle is a big player in the open-source LMS space, it is supported by a large, active community with tons of plug–ins 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 preconstructed 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 layperson to learn and set up. Other potential downsides include incomplete reporting and no easy way to manage groups of learners.
CourseSites—a free version released by Blackboard Learn—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 it allows the creation of up to five active “course sites” (each representing one discrete class).
An example of creating a lesson plan in CourseSites
CourseSites gives users the ability to log in using popular web services such as 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.). 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 such as grades.
3. Sakai 11
Another open–source solution, Sakai differs from Moodle in a few key ways. 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.
The Sakai 11 update aimed to make the interface cleaner (and more optimized for mobile), as well as improve navigation. Sakai also overhauled the gradebook and assessment systems and added tools to lesson design.
Calendars within Sakai
Sakai integrates with Google Docs, and includes tools such as a wiki, online testing, presentation slides and the ability to use Dropbox.
Sakai enjoys the support of a well-endowed educational foundation, which oversees the strategic development of the software. This means that significant resources can be brought to bear should any major issues arise.
Sakai serves a narrower clientele and so there is not as broad a community of support, plug–ins and add-ons.
LatitudeLearning is a “freemium” LMS that is free to use for up to 100 learners and then starts at 55 cents per user per month.
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.
A course in LatitudeLearning LMS
LatitudeLearning includes certification, integration with WebEx and GoToMeeting, as well as collaborative whiteboards, and support for nine different languages. It also has extensions (such as eCommerce) that can be purchased.
LatitudeLearning’s focus on corporate training sets it apart from more academically focused solutions. For businesses and training professionals this focus is definitely a pro. However, LatitudeLearning does not yet have mobile support, or a third-party 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 instead of Java. 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). Dokeos’ open-source version is only available as a download, rather than being cloud-based.
Lessons in Dokeos
Dokeos boasts a built-in course authoring tool, as well as premade quiz templates, private groups, and a chat tool.
With Dokeos’ “Oogie Rapid Learning” feature, users can convert both PowerPoint and OpenOffice Impress to SCORM. 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.
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 a student information system (SIS). Schoology does not share the prices for the Enterprise Package on its website.
A course in Schoology
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 highly praised in reviews, and the modern interface and integration with cutting edge cloud apps helps to bring it out of the pack, though it 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.
A course in ILIAS
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 allows users 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, this may be the LMS for you. Additionally, an active community that even sponsors its own annual conference ensures support issues will be dealt with. However, it suffers from a clunky interface design, and some features included with other LMSs ( such as mobile integration) require the installation of plug–ins or other add-ons with ILIAS.
Similar to LMSs that are 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 large community of developers working on it and the advanced functionality it offers reflects this, including Open Badges support and Tin Can/xAPI integration.
If you’re not familiar with Drupal, ELMSLN may present a difficult learning curve. Yet an active development community, and frequent updates will ensure a useful, feature-rich system if you already know, or are willing to learn, Drupal’s back end.
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.
Example of a public Myicourse college
White–labelling, as well as the ability to sell courses (Myicourses takes 10%), make this system as a good option for corporate training. 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 certifications.
If your course content is sensitive and not something you want online for everybody to see, the free version may not be for you, as your material will be posted publicly. The free version of this tool is limited, and students will have to deal with banner ads. However, the tool itself is straightforward with built-in course creation functionality.
10. 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.
A sample class in OpenSWAD
As an open–source platform, the SWAD system is highly configurable, allowing you to edit mail domains, banners, degree types, notifications, and more. You can share files on the platform, and there are 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 such as gamification. However, the ability to access the tool online for free, and the fact that it offers the basics in a small implementation package make it worth a look.
11. Open edX LMS
The product of a 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.
A course within the Open edX LMS
The biggest differentiator here is not any special functionality, but the fact that this tool is supported very publicly 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 features 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 also means it must cater to a broader audience. For instance, it may not include certain advanced functionalities, such as gamification, out-of-the-box. That said, with such a huge community, and tons of prebuilt course content already available for free, if you want something that does the basics and does them well, this could be a good fit.
Chalkup is an LMS that doesn’t like calling itself an LMS. The origin story on Chalkup’s website suggests it was born out of a frustration with traditional learning management systems.
Whatever you call it, it has the features you’d expect from any good LMS (course creation, online hosting, Dropbox-esque submissions, etc.).
Chalkup’s instant messaging feature
Instructors can grade projects from in-app rubrics. Chalkup also features an instant messaging function with group and direct options.
Chalkup has Google Drive integration, which is useful for many businesses. It’s primarily used by schools, specifically K-12, but there’s nothing about it that should inherently bar it from being used by corporate trainers.
Chamilo is a free LMS developed in Spain. It’s open source, cloud-based, and designed for the corporate world. It’s an offshoot of Dokeos, which does not have a free version.
A Chamilo profile page
Chamilo is a customizable system with an edit-friendly source code. It has user customization options, including profile pages, which can be helpful for social learning. Thanks to its Spanish origins, it also comes in several languages, including Spanish, English, French, and Italian, so if you’re working in English, you have options.
Chamilo is a clever system, however, it is absolutely a fork; it can’t quite stand up on its own, that is to say, it doesn’t add much to the original Dokeos. The open source code has a strong online support community, but the memory cost is fairly large since it comes with a lot of files.
Chamilo reviewers recommend that you try it extensively before deciding if it’s right for you. They also suggest you avail yourself of the tech support Chamilo offers.
Claroline is sometimes heralded as the original LMS. The argument is that most “LMS”s are actually “TMS”s—meaning they manage and are geared toward the teachers far more than the learners. Claroline attempts to be learner-focused instead, by keeping the system as streamlined and as intuitive for the learner as possible.
A Claroline course
The system is extremely simplified, which allows for it the be very streamlined and stripped down. There isn’t a lot of clicking around to find what you need. There are also social learning aspects, such as the ability to have students peer-edit one another. Claroline also comes mildly pregamified with achievement badges.
The streamlining and simplicity have a downside in that, aesthetically, the software looks a bit low tech. And while English versions are offered, the main site and other web resources are in French, so turn your autotranslate on if your browser has it.
Focused on corporate training, Coggno is a web-based LMS that is offered free of charge to all businesses.
Coggno’s results reporting
Coggno is free because the vendor doesn’t actually sell software. It provides the software as a host for the courses it designs, which you can buy separately from the LMS. This is a pretty innovative angle, especially since you can use the LMS for as long as you want, for as many people as you want, without forcing you to buy any courses. If you do want to buy premade courses, they have a marketplace that lets you choose a la carte. You can also sell your courses in this marketplace, and retain a portion of the profits.
While many LMSs can be adapted to either education or corporate training, Coggno is definitely designed for corporate training, and won’t be able to meet the needs of a school (schools might want to check out free school administration software instead). Coggno isn’t fully customizable, though.
A Docebo fork, Forma is billed as an add-on that can play more like an upgrade, or even a stand-alone software platform.
Forma.lms course list; Forma comes in multiple languages, including English
Much like Coggno, Forma allows you to sell your courses through its marketplace. Some of the more interesting features include en masse editing tools for user management (which is nifty if you’ve ever spent 20 minutes meticulously clicking single boxes on a list), and a customizable reporting function.
While aimed at corporate training, we have a Forma review that reports that Forma has worked great for educational settings, too. Many of the aspects of Forma are fairly standard for an LMS, but there is a lot of power “under the hood,” as one user says. The reporting and management tools are also more extensive than they may appear.
17. iTunes U
iTunes U is a surprisingly effective LMS with a lot of potential, if you’ve got a lot of Mac users and you’re willing to get creative. Apparently, at least one university dropped Blackboard in favor of iTunes U.
iTunes U library view
It comes free and preinstalled on all iOS devices, it has loads of content—a good chunk of it free—and allows for custom course authoring.
The content library offers both business and school materials, and you can work with in-app worksheets and complete lessons. If you have a small group of learners, it could pleasantly surprise you.
Going all-in on iTunes U is unexpected, and the balance between novelty and use may make it a hard sell to your users (or your managers). However, it will really differentiate your courses. If you don’t have a lot of Apple fans, you’ll be in for an expensive hurdle to get the proper devices, but if your students or organization are Mac-friendly already, there’s really no reason not to try iTunes U.
Based on Drupal, Opigno is a cloud-based LMS that is free with limited functionality for up to five users. After that, prices begin at $35 per month for ten users, and another $.35 for each additional user.
A lesson page in Opigno
Opigno offers certificates for completion of certain courses. You can also lock courses to prerequisites, requiring that some lessons be completed before others can begin. You can also offer a subscription service to your courses, so if you’re offering a course that is optional, rather than required, you can track and manage who’s enrolled and who isn’t easily.
Some features that you’d see standard with other free LMSs are only available on Opigno’s paid version. In-app messaging and IM, for instance, are available only on the paid version, as are the live meetings. Then again, if you don’t mind juggling different applications, there’s always Skype for that purpose.
Another fork, Totara uses Moodle’s open-source system as a skeleton for its own open-source LMS. Appropriate for corporate training and for colleges, it’s a well-rounded system overall.
Record keeping on Totara
Totara makes a point of having its code be fully open rather than partially open. Some notable features are badges for course completion and performance recognition, and mobile functionality.
You have a lot of control over Totara, with options such as the ability to set courses with an expiration date to keep learners deadline-focused. There’s also reporting for compliance and, yup, it’s both Tin Can and SCORM compliant.
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 or tweet me @CapterraHalden.
Like free software? Check out some other great options:
- What Learning Management Software Costs
- 5 Free eLearning Templates and How To Best Use Them
- The Must-Have LMS Checklist for New Buyers
- 9 Cheap Alternatives to Moodle for Small Businesses
Looking for Learning Management System software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Learning Management System software solutions.