Many associations have, at some point, considered the benefits of choosing an open source LMS for delivering their education programs. This is especially true of associations that may be considering implementing an online learning platform for the first time, or those with a limited budget. At first glance, open source LMS may seem to have certain advantages over a commercial, purpose-built association LMS - no upfront licensing costs, full control over how the system can be customized, etc. However, there are hidden costs when purchasing an open source LMS that may not be immediately apparent at the RFP stage, but should be carefully considered before investing the association's time and resources into an open-source LMS implementation.
Hidden Costs of an Open Source LMS
With an open source LMS, all that is purchased is the platform itself, with its standard configuration, which can be fully customized as long as you have the right staff resources within your association. Open source LMS solutions require the association to have in-house IT resources with the right expertise to implement and customize the platform, in addition to an internal project manager, whose responsibility is to deliver the LMS on time (and within budget). Implementation and customization of the functionality of an open source platform will require a significant investment of time and association staff resources that can easily be underestimated. Because the platform is open source, it will have been designed to provide the basic functionality required by a wide range of organizations from multiple industries, and may require significant customization to support the unique requirements of your association. This may also impact on the availability of staff resources for other projects, resulting in delays and other costs to the association.
A purpose-built association LMS will already have much of the functionality required by associations including certification, CE credit tracking and management, eCommerce, standard reports, and possibly even conference management. An association LMS vendor will complete the implementation with their technical staff completing any required customization or integrations, and will provide a project manager to oversee and manage the implementation of the new LMS platform, working in conjunction with the association to deliver the project on time and within budget.
Support and Maintenance
Aside from the initial implementation, there will also be ongoing support and maintenance requirements including customization, enhancements, bug fixes, and general day-to-day support. Those opting for open source LMS platforms are basically left to fend for themselves when it comes this, unless they pay for a separate support and maintenance contract (if this is available), or contract a partner of the opensource platform to provide support.
In contrast, technical support and maintenance is usually included the license agreement or under a service level agreement. This support can include trouble-shooting, bug-fixing, and access to patches or updates. Certain purpose-built association LMS, such as TopClass LMS, provide integration with certain association management systems as standard, which can reduce the costs to associations for this essential service. In addition, some LMS vendors offer professional services to assist associations with customization, migration of content, or integration with other systems.
Third Party Solution Providers
With open source LMS , after the purchase of the platform itself, for any additional queries a solution provider 'partner' organization must be contracted to provide other required services, such as consulting, implementation, training, configuration, integration, migration services, hosting and support, customization, or add-on solutions. Depending on the needs of the association, it may be necessary to contract with more than one solution provider to achieve a complete LMS solution that is customized, integrated, and fully supported, as each partner may provide a specific service. For example, separate partners may be required for training and integration, increasing costs, and requiring the association to maintain communication with multiple vendors.
With an experienced LMS vendor of a proprietary LMS solution, the vendor has both ownership of the software and the required skilled staff resources to provide these services, meaning no third party solution provider is required. This simplifies communication with the association, increases efficiency of resolving customization or support issues, and builds a relationship that allows the vendor to gain a complete understanding of the associations requirements. One of the additional benefits of paying for an association LMS is the experience that a qualified, experienced vendor can bring to bear on the project, based on years of partnering with associations to deliver education and certification programs. This experience can reduce time and costs associated with projects, and provide guidance on best practice so the association does not have to research and devise solutions to their requirements from scratch.
Case Study: Limitations of an Open Source LMS
The Australasian Society for Ultrasound in Medicine (ASUM) was founded in 1970 as a professional society to address issues such as education and training, professional standards, research and scientific interchange, bioeffects and safety. ASUM is a multidisciplinary society whose mission is to advance the clinical practice of medical ultrasound for the highest standards of patient care, in Australia and New Zealand.
ASUM had previously been using an open-source learning management system to deliver their online education to 3,400 members. However, there was no proper integration between the open source LMS and iMIS, their member database, causing significant issues and a general loss of productivity. This also required members to remember two sets of login credentials which made accessing the LMS resources more inconvenient and time-consuming. As the LMS was open-source, there was also no support available to assist with integration, customization or even day-to-day issues.
ASUM was experiencing productivity issues in managing their education programs for two reasons. Firstly, their open source LMS was not designed to meet the unique needs of associations. This meant that resolving day-to-day issues was more time-consuming than it should be, and any customization of the platform to adapt it to the requirements of the association would require additional IT resources, which many associations may not have in-house, resulting in additional costs for 3rd party solution providers. Secondly, there was no proper LMS to AMS integration between the open source LMS and their iMIS engagement management system. This meant that data could not be transferred between the two systems, resulting in productivity issues for the association executives managing their education program.
ASUM needed to replace their unsuitable open source LMS with an association LMS, which would:
- seamlessly integrate with their other systems to resolve productivity issues,
- provide the features required to enable the association to efficiently provide education programs to their members,
- enable the association to receive day-to-day support and maintenance, and guidance on best practice from an experienced vendor.
Resolving Open Source Issues with an Association LMS
ASUM wanted to streamline their systems and make them more accessible to members. The key requirement for their new LMS was a secure integration with iMIS engagement management system and a Single-Sign-On (SSO) system so their members could access all of ASUM’s member resources with only one login credential to remember. The new LMS provided an integration bridge with iMIS engagement management system, which automatically synchronizes member and training information between the two systems. For the learners, the LMS to AMS integration bridge provided a clean user interface with a customizable look-and-feel for consistent association branding, single sign-on, and automatic user creation to allow members to access training directly from the ASUM website. The flexibility of their chosen LMS, TopClass, ensured that ASUM administrators also had the necessary level of control over management of user information and educational content, allowing the ability to efficiently manage their member’s learning experience. One of the key advantages for ASUM over the open source LMS platform, was the availability of experienced, readily accessible support from their association LMS vendor.
“One of the key advantages of using TopClass over our previous open source LMS was the excellent support we've received. The WBT Systems support team have been great - knowledgeable and responsive. The TopClass interface with iMIS allowed us to rapidly remove many of the productivity issues we were facing.”
- Alex Watterson, Project Manager, Australasian Society for Ultrasound in Medicine
The implementation of an association learning management system, specifically designed, customized, and integrated to meet their needs, helped ASUM to rectifying the productivity issues experienced with the previous open source LMS. The two-way integration between TopClass and iMIS has enabled the association to more efficiently deliver educational resources, and streamline their online learning program . For more detail on how ASUM achieved this, access the case study at the link below.
Are you using an open source and experiencing difficulty in managing your association's education and certification programs? Request a demo today of TopClass LMS to see how a complete, purpose-built association LMS could make a difference and save you from hidden costs...