Talk has been heating up lately regarding the use of open source versus proprietary systems for learning. For example, if you check out Michael Hanley’s blog, you’ll see that he’s dedicated most of his recent posts to this subject. Sophia Peters provides another interesting post entitled Deciding Between Open Source and Proprietary Software? In her article, she makes the following assertions:
- Open source software has grown to include […] an adherence to established standards, which is a high priority for open source software development.
- Proprietary software has closed standards that hinder further development.
The debate regarding open source versus proprietary is one that will rage on for a long time and it is not really black or white. However, I think there is one thing that most people can agree upon:
A solution based on standards is the best way to lower costs and protect the return on investment for learning projects in the long run (and, yes, there is an investment whether you use proprietary or open source software).
Having said this, the assertions stated above would lead us to believe that open source is the answer to all of our issues with standards in e-learning. Brent Schlenker, commenting on Michael Hanley’s blog, says: “. . . once people get past their initial fears and the stigma, the Open Source learning development community will grow exponentially.” While I admire the enthusiasm, experience in other application areas has shown us that this is not always the case. (Does your company use an open source ERP system, or perhaps SAP or Oracle? Does your company use an open source Enterprise Content Management Solution, or perhaps Sharepoint or Documentum?)
Let me make what at first blush may seem like a preposterous argument:
Open source has failed to reach critical mass in a number of technology sectors, and may also fail to do so in learning for the foreseeable future. One reason is clearly a lack of robust adherence to standards that negatively impacts functionality and limits a developer’s ability to create sophisticated solutions.
I know, how can I say such a thing? I didn’t believe it myself, so I did the following Google search: “Moodle and standards.” On the first page I ran into the following post entitled On Open Source, Open Standards, and Lock-in. Here’s the salient bit:
Moodle happily ingests those formats, acting to absorb content into what then becomes an inescapable pit of quicksand. It’s a one-way trip. Content can check in, but it can never leave.
If Blackboard did that, there would be villagers marching in the streets with torches in hand. The Blackboard SCORM import/export stuff might not be perfect, but at least they try to let people move content out.
With Moodle, it’s currently a vendor lock-in proposition. The only saving grace is that the vendor just happens to be an open source project. But it’s still lock-in.
So, open source Moodle does not export to SCORM, the most prevalent e-learning standard?
The post is dated March 2008. Its 18 months old, so I did a quick search of the Moodle forums to see what the status of the SCORM export feature is today. It’s marked as major and it seems to still be open. You can read the comments yourself but here is one that caught my attention:
There are people that use the fact that moodle is “scorm compliant” as one of its many virtues. Now I’m realizing that it is NOT scorm compliant – moodle can import courses but not export them in scorm.
This is a big priority for any software that wants to call itself a viable competitor in this field.
Well, according to these posts, at least Moodle can import SCORM – or can it?
Perusing Moodle.org a bit further, I came across the following:
SCORM 2004 is not completely supported in Moodle at this stage. Parts of the API have been implemented, but others such as Navigation and Sequencing have not yet been implemented.
So, open source Moodle sort of imports SCORM 2004, the most prevalent e-learning standard?
I’ll stop here because the point of this post it certainly not to crack on Moodle or say that open source is a bad investment. I don’t believe either. I think open source software can be a great viable solution for many organizations. In fact, we use open source here for our web content management.
The point that I am trying to make is that standards and breadth of functionality are hugely important and to make the assumption that the term ‘open source’ automatically translates into these can lead to uninformed decision-making and projects that don’t reach their expected ROI. Or to put it more simply:
Open source or proprietary? You’re asking the wrong question.
About the Author
Dawn is the main contributor to the Dawn of Learning blog and her writing is behind its success, driving readers back time and again. She is a proud vegan and health enthusiast and lives in San Francisco with her husband and daughter. She is an accomplished speaker and writer, having written numerous white papers and trade articles and speaking yearly at numerous tradeshows on the popular subjects of personalized learning experiences, cloud learning, content strategy, single source and XML.Follow on Twitter More Content by Dawn Poulos