Open Source vs SaaS Learning Management System


For the past 20 years, the prevalence of learning management systems has increased exponentially. As technologies evolved, so have the use and application of the LMS. From just launching and tracking eLearning modules to management of all types of learning activities, events, reporting, integrations and more are now part of the norm in LMS capability. Whilst these systems have been quick to adopt leading edge technologies, the gap has grown between open source and a SaaS learning management system.

The majority of all LMS’s

  • Centralise and automate administration
  • Use self-service and self-guided services
  • Assemble and deliver learning content rapidly
  • Consolidate training initiatives on a scalable web-based platform
  • Support portability and standards
  • Personalise content and enable knowledge reuse

In recent years open sourced systems have gained much wider market presence due to the myth they offer lower capital overheads. The prevalance of companies renaming an open source system and claiming it as a new learning platform. No its still Moodle. Moodle is a good solution for schools and vocational training but simply can’t compete with enterprise solutions.

But is this apparent cost benefit all its made out to be? Can open source systems including commercial open source systems really provide end users with a learning experience that truly supports performance development?

All businesses are different. The needs around the application of an LMS will vary greatly. All businesses when researching systems available should have a detailed understanding of the business goals driving the implementation of an LMS. The decision on the platform should directly align with these goals. These business goals should not just encompass the immediate needs of the business but also the future aspirations of the business. This LMS Comparison Tool may help.

The inclusion of any LMS should be viewed as a long term investment in the development of your employees and therefore your business.

Let’s now look at a couple of the major differences in open source and SaaS systems.

DIY LMS v’s Supported SaaS Learning Management System

One of the biggest differences between these types of systems is that, open source LMS’s are a Do It Yourself (DIY) experience. Instructions and guidance are provided for the installation but what about getting to know the system, its capabilities and limitations are left up to community forums and trial and error.

Saas Learning Management Systems have dedicated technical and business support that are part of the license. Some LMS vendors have partners locally that can assist although it is difficult to get support if not in Australia. Best option is to buy an from an local LMS vendor in Australia. They know the system back to front and can help with any set up or configuration improvements. This means you have instant troubleshooting support as opposed to waiting for days from the support team in the US.


For L&D departments and business management, one of the primary requirements of any LMS is the need to get detailed and meaningful reporting. LMS developers, both open source and proprietary look at this requirement in a number of different ways. The most common are:

  • Provide a small amount of standard reports that capture a vast amount of data such as course completions, training progam progress or assessment results.
  • Some include the development of customised reports as part of the implementation cost
  • Some include the ability to link to an external reporting application and let the administrator build their own reports. This usually requires some coding ability and an in depth knowledge of how to conceptualise and build report structures
  • Ideally you standard reports but also access to customised actionable reporting both graphs, lists and tables that map to all the data in the LMS.


All businesses change over time, this is a fundamental concept. What drives a business today may well be a secondary concern next year (or even next month).

With this in mind any LMS should be capable of easy adjustment and changes over time.  Thins like the range of functionality, the look and feel, accommodate new users and user group requirements and to link to other enterprise systems such as HR or Payroll.

Most LMS available today can do this however the path to adopting change is quite different. Open source systems struggle with the integration of additional learning needs, for example starting to have face to face training where previously only online courses were offered. Also where additional third party systems might require integration to provide new or enhanced user records.

The primary reason for this difficulty goes back to the availability, focus and quality of support available around open source. It’s hard to find community based support ideas that will suit your particular need and more importantly help you troubleshoot issues as they occur.

Many of the open source systems require some knowledge of database management and programming, even coding, to be able to adjust the systems functions and outputs. If the administration team does not hold this skill set it can be a timely and costly to engage or hire the resources to update the system.

With the Saas LMS’s changes to the system are made considerably easier owing to the fact 99% can be done by the client.

LMS Enhancements

The LMS industry is not unlike other IT based industries in that the only constant is change. New technologies and social trends drive development of new features and functions.

System upgrades and enhancements are handled in very different ways. For open source systems, upgrades and new functionality are often only provided when an existing user develops the changes themselves, then makes the changes public (not always for free). This can work quite well when there are many users who want the same customistion. But often the customisation is built to fill quite specific business requirements and therefore may not suit your requirements.

Saas LMS have a team dedicated to research and development of upgrades and enhancements and their focus is not only making the changes robust and bug free, but also on making changes open to configuration depending on the business need.

LMS Upgrades

In essence, of the systems currently available on the market there is very little difference in terms of “out of the box” functionality or capability, the real differences are realised with the support and services wrapped around the system, the thought, planning and support for enhancements and the usability of the system for both learners and administrators.

Software upgrades are often a difficult and costly exercise for businesses. Especially if the original system has been specifically configured to fit unique business need. With Birch, the upgrade process is continual and more importantly part of your subscription.

  • All upgrades are part of the support and maintenance package, there are no extra or hidden costs this is not the case with all systems.
  • An upgrade does not affect any configuration that has been done in the clients system, all configured items transfer seamlessly into the upgraded software package.

B Online Learning adopted a governance model that allows clients to make suggestions for Birch Learning Platform roadmap. So our clients are constantly involved in getting the sytesm they need and want.

Find out more about Birch Learning Platform  or contact us to discuss how it can help you.

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