open source elearning platform

Why Free Open-Source Learning Platform Is Not Free

Training and Education Technology

The biggest driver for open-source software is the word “free.” It’s the stuff dreams are made of, an open-source learning platform that is free to download, free to use, and has no pesky licensing fee to contend with.

The truth is, you usually get what you pay for, and the thing nobody talks about is what happens after you download your “free software.”

There’s one thing you should always keep in mind: “Free” always comes with a cost.

The costs can be pretty sneaky, though, but it’s definitely something to think about. Consider these areas of “hidden costs” associated with free open-source learning software:

  • What about the time that it takes to figure out how to use the software?
  • How long will it take for you to figure out which features to activate and which to shut off?
  • What plug-ins should you download and integrate?
  • What about the expertise you need to make it work – can you get free training for that?
  • What happens when a new version is rolled out; will it be free, too?
  • Will you feel stuck with the older version because the features you have integrated may not work with the new version?
  • How much time will it take to implement the program?

Time is money. And when you are putting in hour after hour to get your open-source training platform up and running, you are wasting your time, energy and money. At first glance, free seems pretty cool, but when you look deeper, it really isn’t free at all.

Why Free Open-Source Learning Platform Is Not Free?

When you take the time to think things through and analyze the situation, you’ll see that an open-source platform:

1. Is not Comprehensive:

You’ll have to buy third-party plug-ins. Free versions of software are usually bare bones and missing key features. You definitely won’t get all the bells and whistles that you would with a paid version. You won’t have the ability to customize the software without dropping some cash on third-party plug-ins in order to get it to do what you want it to.

See for yourself. Look at the costs of the plug-ins that you will need, and compare that expense to the cost of a fully functional system that is not free. Include in that total the time you spent searching for the plug-ins and learning how to use them or what you will need to pay developers to customize it.

2. Is not Easy to Customize:

You’ll have to hire developers. When you get a free training platform, all you’ll get is a skeleton of the system. Customizing it is not an easy task. Unless you are a highly trained developer, you will have to hire one to get the system to do what you want. Developers don’t come cheap either.

Don’t think you can get away without customizing your system, either. It will have to be done, because you won’t have what you need to run an effective training program. You’ll need someone with the know-how to make it the way you want it.

3. Is Difficult to Scale Operations

It is difficult when you think of scaling operations. Sure, it can support thousands of users/learners. But you’ll have to get experts to work on scaling the operations. A free open-source learning platform does not have the flexibility that will allow you to scale the operations.

This means yet another expense as you find someone who will do that for you, too. Let’s see, you are buying the plug-ins you need, hiring a developer, and now hiring experts to help you work on scaling the operations. How’s that free software looking to you now?

Don’t think that you can get away with not paying for these things. You can’t — not if you want a system that is effective and user-friendly and looks professional. The polish of a well-done, professional system goes a long way in building credibility.

4. Is Difficult to Upgrade

When a new version comes, some of the older plug-ins will not be compatible. In fact, there is the very real possibility that none of the plug-ins you purchased will work and you’ll have to start over from scratch. This means that you will have to integrate more advanced plug-ins all over again.

This also means hiring a developer, because you are essentially starting with a whole new system. If you are keeping a tally of expenses, this is about the point where you start nodding your head in agreement that free isn’t really free.

5. Has No Dedicated Expert Support

No company is going to dedicate customer support for a free program. Yes, there are dedicated communities that can help resolve the issues. However, there’s no timeline attached to it. See, the free version of a program is the gateway to a fully functional system that has a price tag. When you lay down that cash, you’ll get the support, but until then, you are on your own, which means that you will rely on the open-source developer community to solve any issues — that is, unless you’ve hired dedicated experts.

If there is support, it will likely involve emailing a help desk that returns canned responses several days after you request help. If your system is down, then that’s several days that you are dead in the water. If the canned emails don’t provide the information you need, then you are still out of service.

6. Interface Customization Means Additional Expenses

It will cause you to end up spending more money by hiring experts to customize the interface and add the required functionality. It sure looks like this “free” system is really racking up quite a price tag. You may be able to get away with a free system if you don’t need any customization.

Your free online training software is now carrying a price tag that is likely somewhere in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars – far more than a system that you pay for, actually. Your best bet is to avoid the free junk; you can’t afford it.

Finding a good open-source learning platform that does what you need it to do will require an investment. You can’t take shortcuts on quality. Plus, you don’t have the time to customize it on your own taking help from product manuals or relying on open-source community.

So, think before you finalize on your online learning platform.

Amanjot Kaur

A marketer by profession and an explorer by nature. I love to read, learn, travel, experiment with new music and food, and have a good laugh.

4 thoughts on “Why Free Open-Source Learning Platform Is Not Free

  1. Amanjot, Interesting post, but I’m not sure I entirely agree with your first statement. Cost may be one factor, but in the case of some OS linux, apache for instance and other things like PHP, it’s not just cost. It is user base, community, flexibility and stability.

    I presume you are from WizIQ. Do you use free/OS tools under the hood? Adapt (Learning object developer) is another offering with promise. (Disclaimer: I have no association with these products)


    1. Derek, agreed, many a times it’s the user-base, community and flexibility that compels people to jump on the ‘open-source’ software bandwagon. A lot of help is available online. Anyone can fix bugs, help with customization. But there’s no qualified support available. Either you spend time figuring out what went wrong or keep waiting for the experts to reply on your query.

      And cost does matter. This cannot be denied. The plug-ins and customization services do cost money. In fact, that’s the only revenue model.

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