December 22, 2018
A Free LMS – Or a 2nd Mortgage?
December 22, 2018
A Free LMS – Or a 2nd Mortgage?
I am a Learning & Development Professional with a passion for learning and giving back to communities by educating our teenagers to be successful in their careers.
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Free sounds great, but, is it really free or just a myth?

emojipuzzeled face with question marks

Let’s have a look at Moodle:

Moodle is a great open source LMS that known around the world.  It is in use by almost all colleges and universities around the world.  You can modify it to your heart’s content and this is where the issues start to appear for the learning and development professional. While it is totally free to use, it has some major drawbacks that you will have to overcome as listed below:

  • Moodle has a very large learning curve
  • You will need to know how to configure Moodle or hire a specialist to do it for you at an additional cost (can vary from €100 upwards per module)
  • You will have to maintain the Moodle platform or hire an IT person at an additional cost (lowest cost of a fulltime person is circa €23,000)
  • Working with templates can be very complicated
  • You have no support other than the forum & documentation
  • You have to host it on a web server (extra cost)
  • You are fully responsible for ensuring that it is functionally working (extra cost)
  • It lacks the major features of a “paid for” professional LMS
  • Implementing Functionally modules will cost you extra
  • If you have a medium library of courses you may have to spend more on extra web space
  • If you have a lot of learners, your web bandwidth costs may skyrocket
  • If your web hosting site is hacked, you may have to redo your installation and could be blacklisted by the search engines
  • You are responsible for ensuring that your LMS is GDPR compliant

So, as you can see there is quite a lot to think about when you use a so-called free LMS.  If like me and you are a Full-Stack Web Developer, then doing all of the above is a walk in the park.  However, most learning and development managers have only a small amount of knowledge in web development to work with.

A Look at Captivate Prime:

Captivate Prime is a cloud-based solution that you have to pay a monthly subscription for per learner and you must pay for a minimum of ten learners to start the subscription.  Prime Per leaner Cost (as the time of writing this article) is $4/€3.50 per learner.  It promises that starting off you can set up Captivate Prime with a course up and running in ninety minutes or less. As I am using Prime, I can tell you that this claim is true regardless of your previous knowledge of any LMS.  So what do you get with Prime:

  • A Cloud-based LMS that is a turnkey solution
  • Functionality features are part of the service
  • Setup in 90 minutes or less
  • Unlimited storage space
  • Unlimited Bandwidth
  • Upgrades are managed by Prime
  • View on any Device (mobile, tablet, desktop, TV)
  • Adaptive video streaming
  • As your needs and learner base grows, Prime will grow to meet the demand
  • Prime takes care of the Hosting
  • Prime takes care of the platform maintenance
  • Prime takes care of the Platform security
  • Creat sub-LMS for other companies within your organization
  • 24/7 support

I’m using Captivate Primeasan example because I love this cloud-based system, however, there are loads more systems out there that you can check out and take for a test drive.  Remember that you need to test as many systems as possible to ensure that you find what’s right for your business and your budget constraints.

So, if we look at these two systems and identify what the costs would be for each and we will assume that the  learner base is 100 learners:

Moodle Free Cost:

Due to the amount of work you will need to do, to get Moodle looking and operating correctly to support the requirements of your business, you will most likely have to employ an IT person to set up and maintain the system. Depending on how many hours they work may cost you between €11k to €24k per year (for a junior IT person).  Add in the cost of web hosting and extra bandwidth and storage space as you grow and you will also require some extra modules to give the system more functionality, add all of this up and you are probably going to have to spend in the region of €13k to €28k per annum on this free system. Even if you can manage to handle the system yourself from start to finish and without the need to the IT person you could be looking at around €3k to €5k in operating costs. So, free is not looking so great right now!

Totara LMS Costs:

Totara LMS is a basic Moodle setup that has been super pimped up to give it much-needed functionality, that said, Totara still has a very large learning curve and requires an annual subscription that starts at around £3,500 for the basics and if you want to get support, it will cost you £100 per support hour, and you have to buy a minimum of 10 support hours. But, it attracts even most costs to it, as you have to provide your own hosting, worry about attacks, bandwidth usage and storage usage on your web hosting.  With Totara, you will have to pay to have your setup upgraded to a new Major Release of the software as updating only covers minor release updating.

Captivate Prime Cost:

Captivate Primewillcharge you $4/€3.50 per learner per month and you will have to pay for a minimum of ten learners to get started.  There are no hidden costs to worry about or major upgrades and maintenance is a breeze. You can take the 30-day free trial to ensure that it is right for your business.  So, if we look at our 100 learner base, then Captivate Prime will cost your business $400/€350 per month or $4,800/€4,200 per annum to run.

In my opinion, subscription service offering is the best way to go (not just for Captivate Prime), you eliminate all of the headaches, like maintenance, security, bandwidth, hosting etc. You can then get on with what a Learning & Development professional should be doing and not bogged down in unnecessary technical setup and maintenance.


Free systems like Moodle are great, they allow everyone to have an LMS and the software is open source, so you can do with it as you please (note in a subscription service the source code is private and you cannot tamper with, change or give away the product as with opensource software).  While paying for a subscription service might not be what you want to do, you need to step back and see the bigger picture, your cost, time and availability to handle issues that arise ad-hoc.  Not all subscriptions services are the same, as in Totara, you will have to pay a lot for support and upgrading to the next major release.

Check what exactly are you getting for your money? Talk to current clients, ask to see a sample contract and above all make sure that you take the thirty-day test drive, read the forums and the companies social media content to see how customers are being treated. Don’t be afraid to ask in the forums for honest feedback on an LMS.

2018-12-30 06:01:42
2018-12-30 06:01:42

One of the best free opensource LMS is formalms.

I try Moodle, Opigno, Drupal, Chamillo, eFront and several other and none come close to formalms. Forma is designed for corporate training,

with a responsive User Interface, in addition to an extensive elearning features like

managing courses, materials, and learning objectives. Very easy to setup and maintain.

You can customize any part of the LMS to suit you need. Take a look (work in progress) . If you need help with the setup a very friendly forum is waiting for you. Try Forma, most of the other are not gear for corporate use.

2018-12-26 18:11:09
2018-12-26 18:11:09

Cloud-based solutions are problematic in my world unless they are locally hosted clouds. Looking forward to GovCloud.

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