Just because you’re looking for a low cost solution, doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice quality. These four free and open source LMS tools are top rated for a reason.
Learning management systems (LMS) help businesses and educational institutions create, track, and manage their eLearning programs. However, most tools come with a set pricing model that can be expensive for small businesses and institutions.
While finalizing a budget for LMS software, you need to consider factors such as cost of installation, license, fees per user/course, and ongoing maintenance. On top of these upfront costs, there may also be hidden fees that could strain your tight budget.
If you only have a handful of employees or students, a free or open source LMS tool may be your best option. Small businesses that use free LMS tools will have lower software costs, while still realizing the benefits of core software features.
Open source LMS tools are often free to use and customize—unlike proprietary software with restrictive copyright licenses (meaning you can’t change source code to improve the design). Essentially, this means that an open source LMS allows more customization without having to purchase expensive licenses.
While there are hundreds of LMS tools out there, only a handful are free or open source. That’s why we created this list of the top four free and open source LMS tools.
We’ve also included a chart that provides a quick, high-level overview of all four products, listed in alphabetical order. You can learn more about our selection methodology here.
- Free plan: With GoSkills' free plan, you can create your own courses, add your own branding to the platform, and keep track of learners’ progress through the tool’s reporting functionality.
- Cost to upgrade: Upgrading GoSkills will cost you around $29 per learner, per month. The main benefit of upgrading to a paid plan is access to GoSkills' corporate course library, which hosts more than 50 premade corporate learning courses.
GoSkills is a free, cloud-based LMS for teams of any size. GoSkills LMS has no minimum user requirements, meaning users have access to its enterprise-level features no matter the size of their company or team.
Some of GoSkills’ free features include custom course authoring, course and catalog management, and access to reports and analytics that help you measure course effectiveness. GoSkills LMS also includes gamification and social learning features to help you create more engaging courses.
A course completion report in GoSkills LMS (Source)
- Free plan: Moodle’s free LMS offers a standard set of features including course authoring, learning analytics, and custom certifications. Schools or businesses that use Moodle's free plan can add up to 50 users.
- Cost to upgrade: MoodleCloud is Moodle’s paid version. Pricing starts at $120 per year for 50 users and includes unlimited courses, a personalized learning platform, web conferencing with up to 50 concurrent users, and custom certificates.
Moodle is a free, open source lms platform that lets users create customized courses. It offers tools to manage virtual classrooms, generate certificates, and measure training program success via analytics.
Moodle’s social learning functionality allows learners and instructors to send direct messages to each other on course forums. In addition, it has mobile-friendly themes, support for third-party plugins (such as Office 365), OneNote integration, and the ability to sell courses via PayPal.
A course discussion forum in Moodle LMS (Source)
- Free plan: TalentLMS’ free plan allows for five users and 10 courses and includes access to unlimited email support. There is no time limit for how long you can use the free version.
- Cost to upgrade: TalentLMS’ paid options kick off at $59 per month. This Starter plan allows for up to 40 users and includes unlimited courses and email support.
TalentLMS is a cloud-based LMS that helps businesses of all sizes train their employees. With TalentLMS, you can create your own courses and host live sessions. You can also track learners’ progress, add your own branding to the platform, and download custom reports.
TalentLMS also includes TalentLibrary, a repository of over 50 premade courses covering subjects like project management, marketing, HR, and customer service. One unique aspect of TalentLMS is that there are different versions of the tool geared toward specific industries; the software provider offers a tailor-made solution for the manufacturing, technology, automotive, and food and beverage industries.
Adding content to a course in TalentLMS (Source)
- Free plan: Thinkific’s free plan allows for up to 100 students. You can build courses with any content type, import courses you’ve already created, run student surveys, and host student discussions.
- Cost to upgrade: If you’re happy with Thinkific’s free plan but have more than 100 students or employees you want to train, you can keep the free plan and pay an extra $0.10 for each additional student. Thinkific’s lowest cost paid tier is the Basic plan, which starts at $49 per month and allows for an unlimited amount of courses.
Thinkific is an all-in-one online course platform for small to midsize businesses. Building an online course in Thinkific is simple: You just drag and drop uploaded content where you want it. Thinkific helps you build an engaging learner experience by hosting a wide variety of multimedia types, including discussion boards, surveys, and videos.
Thinkific’s platform also comes with a template library that includes options for building mini-courses, webinars, and resource libraries. Each template comes with an instructional lesson to help you make the best use of the template and introduce you to some eLearning best practices.
Uploading course videos in Thinkific (Source)
Check out our LMS software buyers guide for answers to basic questions about this type of software.
How to choose the right free LMS tool for your organization
Keep these things in mind when comparing different free or open source LMS software options:
- The primary goal you’re trying to achieve through your LMS. As you may have noticed from the products featured in our directory, there are learning management systems for educational organizations and ones for corporations. When browsing products, view them through the lens of what you’re trying to accomplish. Are you training and upskilling your employees or teaching high school students a completely new subject?
- Your must-have features. Almost every LMS has a set of foundational features, but it’s important to know what you need in a system beyond those basic capabilities. For example, do you need an LMS with course authoring functionality built in? Would you prefer a system that comes with its own premade course library?
- The number of users you’ll have. Free LMS software often has user limitations, so it’s essential to have an idea of the number of students and instructors that will be using the system on a regular basis.
- The limitations of your IT department. Customizing open source software to your needs (the main benefit of having access to the source code) requires significant IT input. If your IT department lacks the time and knowledge to take this on, customizing an open source solution may not be the best option for you.
Common questions to ask before selecting a free or open source LMS tool
Here are some key questions to ask during conversations with software providers about their LMS tool:
- What kind of support do you offer? Adopting a new tool can be overwhelming without the proper support. Before committing to an LMS, find out what level of customer support the software provider offers. Is support available only within certain hours or is it 24/7? Is it by email or phone?
- Is your LMS usable on any mobile device? Learners like to develop their knowledge and skills on the go. Ensuring participants can access courses and resources from anywhere at any time is a must, which is why it’s important to ask providers if their solution is accessible on most mobile devices.
- How easy is it to integrate your product with other software systems? If you’re looking for an LMS as a means to upskill or train employees, it’s a good idea to choose a tool that integrates with your HR software. That way, new hires’ employee data can be imported into your LMS with ease. If you have a single sign-on (SSO) tool, you’ll also want to make sure your LMS integrates with that so learners can log in to your LMS with a single click.
- What kind of reporting does your tool offer? A strong reporting functionality is an integral part of your LMS tool as it offers insights on learner performance and course effectiveness. Free versions of these tools often don’t include a robust reporting function, so if you choose to go without, make sure your team has the ability to create and customize your own reports.
How we evaluated products
This article was updated on March 31, 2021. Products considered for this article had to:
- Be included in Capterra’s Learning Management System Shortlist report, published in March 2021.
- Offer a free, stand-alone version of the software (not a trial version of the software where you must purchase a product after a limited amount of time).
- Meet our learning management system definition: Learning management software helps organizations manage and track learners progress within eLearning courses.
Note: The content in this piece that provides opinions and points of view expressed by users does not represent the views of Capterra.