Addressing the Decline of Open Source LMS for #altc Discussion

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11 replies
  1. Dave Lane
    Dave Lane says:

    Free and open source solutions are *not* on the decline in any way. They’re burgeoning. What many mistake for decline is the fast *natural selection* process which takes place in the FOSS world: when a better idea comes along, there’s less *social inertia (e.g. long term support contracts, sunk costs of integration, budgetary cycle, procurement processes, etc.) to fight – people can rapidly adopt better technologies. At the OERu, we think the LMS has done its dash and we’ve already moved on (but still 100% FOSS!). To be fair, LMSs like Moodle are still the best tool for a few jobs, and we incorporate them into our software mix – but as an adjunct rather than the main player.

    We’ve opted for a “loosely-coupled component-based” model instead: https://tech.oeru.org/many-simple-tools-loosely-coupled We’ve termed it our NGDLE – here’s a lot more info on it: https://tech.oeru.org/2018-update-oeru-technology-stack including a case study showing how extreme the benefits of this model can be… our cost structure and flexibility will make most folk who’re stuck maintaining legacy Microsoft-based IT infrastructure weep (as well they, and their institutions, should).

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  2. Phil Hill
    Phil Hill says:

    Dave, thanks for comment and links. If only you didn’t use the NGDLE language . . . 🙂

    I appreciate the sentiment of reduced social inertia and of movement to newer concepts such as loosely-coupled tools. I’ll take a deeper look at OERu usage.

    However, these arguments do not support idea that there is no decline in any way. Certainly in North America, the usage of open source LMSs is a very clear trend, and as shown above there is a small trend, or at least plateau, outside NA in higher ed. It’s all well and good that there are different concepts benefiting from FOSS, but the broad adoptions still matter.

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  3. Dave Lane
    Dave Lane says:

    Well, yeah, open source LMSs appear in decline (based on the research you present). And I’m willing to agree that educational institutions are also moving away from FOSS… they’re idiotic to do so (I don’t believe in candy coating it – they’re just dumb to be locking themselves into proprietary monocultures). Overall, outside the specific market of educational technology, FOSS is going from strength to strength – which is why corporations like Microsoft are desperately trying to make over their horrible historical image… sadly, they’re having some success because people are painfully gullible.

    Intrigued to know why you’re cringing about NGDLE – maybe it has different connotations in the US than in NZ… I’d be keen to understand that.

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  4. Phil Hill
    Phil Hill says:

    Dave – again, thanks for input.

    My cringing about NGDLE is that, like many EdTech terms (e.g. see personalized learning), it has morphed from a specific usage driven by EDUCAUSE project funded by Gates Foundation into a marketing catchall phrase. The gee whiz “next generation” is overwhelming the specifics of loosely coupled ecosystem.

    In your case (OERu), you clearly hit the loosely coupled aspect, but I am curious about the core platform that was key to NGDLE. The idea there was that you need to core system for non early adopter types, so that the basics are all there, yet other tools / architecture allow replacement, addition of specific functionality (specifically following the ‘do one job well’ attribute you reference). Q. What is the green center of OERu tech stack? Does that imply rosters only, or is there something else there?

    To be clear, I’m cringing about the marketing overuse of term and not arguing that EDUCAUSE got “it” right and must be followed by all. Just wondering if NGDLE usage in your case has same meaning as original initialism.

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  5. Dave Lane
    Dave Lane says:

    Heh heh – I don’t have much nice to say about the Gates Foundation (I emigrated to NZ from Seattle) and we actively try to avoid association with them. (I have been convinced by Anand Giridharadas’ thesis on billionaire philanthropy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_zt3kGW1NM )

    I think our aim is to usefully reclaim the term NGDLE, because, honestly, that’s what we’ve got. I don’t think we have a “green core”… The whole idea is to not build a structural dependency on any particular component.

    If anything, our current platform has 2 main foci: our MediaWiki (https://wikieducator.org) for course development (we only allow “free cultural works” to be incorporated into the materials) with version control and templates to facilitate the development of rich, re-usable OERs, and our WordPress multisite (https://course.oeru.org) which presents courses (however, our partners can target literally any WordPress site as the presentation tool – courses are automatically “rendered” as mobile-friendly WP sites direct from WikiEducator – see https://tech.oeru.org/oeru-mediawiki-wordpress-snapshot-toolchain for how that works) to learners. And we’ve already got in mind better replacements for both MediaWiki and WordPress – but we’re taking our time.

    As a matter of principle, we make *all* our materials visible even to anonymous learners. The only reason people register and log into our sites is to have persistence of their data, a record of their participation, and the ability to participate our various social media (Mastodon, Discourse, Rocket.Chat, and our own WEnotes which ties everything together – see https://tech.oeru.org/wikieducator-notes-oerus-course-feed-aggregation-and-messaging-system).

    The rest of our stack is comprised of learner-facing resources that enhance pedagogy options (we use tools like SemanticScuttle, Hypothes.is, and we’ve recently introduced H5P widget integration into our OER assembly workflow), tools for collaboration (both learners and educators – Discourse, Rocket.Chat, Mastodon, Etherpad, Jitsi Meet), adminstration tools (like Mautic, NextCloud, and CollaboraOffice), and monitoring of system health and usage (all anonymous – like Matomo, YourLS, Icinga2, and others).

    In future, we’ll be separating out our learner identity management (currently that’s handled by our WordPress multisite) into its own directory system. That, in turn, will facilitate our introduction of Single-Sign-On into all the services we provide, making everything even more seamless from both learner and educator perspectives. Every single component of our system is fully Free and Open Source Software.

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  6. Dave Lane
    Dave Lane says:

    Also, I should’ve mentioned – we also use Limesurvey to engage with learners and educators to gain insight into their preferences. We have a Moodle, too, which we use exclusively for course assessments used to award participation and completion certificates (including digital badges).

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  7. Brett Dalton
    Brett Dalton says:

    I preface this as a) my personal opinion and not connected to any past or current employment and B) having worked in edutech on both the University side implementing and running system, and aon the vendor side I can say in larger institutions the move away from open source (in APAC at least) is a strong trend. This is exactly the same trend the IT industry saw with email, website CMS and similar tools saw 20 years ago. First everyone had a bespoke niche tool that they built or cobbled together because that was all there was or commercial was just too expensive. Then reliability became an increasing concern as it became business critical, commercial options became more of a commodity and cheaper, then they realised the business risk of bespoke tools when the small number of staff leave and take institutional knowledge with them. Commercially supported tools where you have certainty for at least the contract period are increasingly attractive. Very few unis run their own email servers any more, LMS are going the same way.

    Open source has its place and is still strong in the many tools out there, I am currently trying to implement an open source tool, but the business risk is high. As an example this tool has 3 code branches which are barely documented, no road map, no security reviews (and it handles some student PII), no guarantee of future updates unless the institution is willing to dedicate staff to learn and maintain it. Moodle clearly doesnt fall into this class of tool but many of its plugins do, they often are only maintained while someone has time or interest. This is both a reputational and operational risk to an institution for a business critical system, even if it’s only a small part of it.

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    • Dave Lane
      Dave Lane says:

      Out of interest, Brett, how does your institution mitigate the risks of
      a) an IT supplier failing to meet contracted obligations,
      b) an IT supplier changing its terms of trade (e.g. jacking up its prices),
      c) an IT supplier being acquired or going out of business?
      How do you explain to learners the sacrifices in privacy, waived rights, and data sovereignty when forced to accept terms and conditions of 3rd party proprietary tools required by your institution for them to complete their studies?
      How do your learners feel that their creative work and educational history is often contained within proprietary data formats or on proprietary cloud services, where they only way they can access it following their study is to pay that proprietary vendor to access it. Do any of them point out that this is indistinguishable from a data “hostage situation”? All food for thought.

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  8. Phil Hill
    Phil Hill says:

    Dave – sorry for delay in comment being posted, as WordPress flagged as spam that had to be approved. Maybe next time you won’t describe better replacements for WP. Thanks for description – quite interesting.

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