15 Sep 10 Open Source_Competition for e-learning vendors
Open source software source code and other rights (usually bestowed on copyright holders) are handed out under a software licence in the public domain. Individual users can then modify and redistribute the software, enabling application co-creation.
Filling the gap optimally – Open source
Companies incorporate e-learning into their ongoing training and development activities, while universities and schools offer e-learning opportunities to their full time and distance learning students. Over the last 3-4 years, there has been a steady rise in the number of users who have boldly experimented with open source technologies to aid their learning functions, from large corporate houses to Ivy League universities. The academic field has universities such as the Oxford Institute of Legal Practice, which has been using Moodle to introduce a range of e-learning elements such as webcasts, podcasts, chatting, MCQs, interactive materials, and portfolios to its students. Also, within the corporate segment, publishing companies such as CNET have used Moodle to deliver e-learning content online. While these efforts initially did stem from the relatively mature e-learning markets (the US and UK), word has definitely spread through online communities. Users in developing countries are now finding open source applications a viable solution to their many learning challenges. The recent economic turmoil made open source an important and viable option for many, as learning budgets were among the first to be slashed. As an example, the Moodle website shows increased activity in 2009 amongst users in countries such as Brazil, Mexico and Portugal. The reasons behind this rise can be better understood through a SWOT assessment of open source e-learning applications.
Implications for e-learning outsourcing companies
Open source e-learning has carved a niche for itself within the e-learning outsourcing industry. Service providers have varied views about its implications on their businesses. These are somewhat dependant on the position of the company in the industry value chain.
- Large international players are generally supportive of open source technologies. For example, Blackboard in 2007, declared that it will not pursue patent infringement cases against open source projects and schools. As a complementary strategy, for targeting the Small and Medium Enterprises segment (which forms a significant part of the open source community), large e-learning providers are turning to hosted LMS solutions, which are more cost effective and competitive.
- Medium and small international players (and even some large companies) are in fact expanding their services portfolios to include open source related services. These include companies like Kineo, Infinity Learning Solutions, Activica and many others. Services include integrating features for open source learning platforms, course content, consulting, implementation and ongoing maintenance for the technology.
- e-learning outsourcing companies in popular offshoring destinations, however, have a different take on open source. It imposes a potential challenge to their value proposition against onshore companies – cost savings. Players in offshore locations are able to offer solutions at competitive prices for international buyer communities. But with open source applications available for free, the long term may see this niche segment as a strong competitor for offshore providers. The majority of such companies ValueNotes interviewed remained hopeful, and mentioned that the open source sector may result in further business for them after all. Corporates/universities looking at cost-effective learning solutions may turn to outsourcing the implementation/feature development/maintenance for their open source systems to offshore providers.
The future looks bright for open source software in the e-learning domain, with evangelist-like supporters, both among the service providers and buyer communities. With the range of technologies that are currently being employed, there is no one particular method that will address industry challenges. The integration and collaborative frameworks which are currently evolving among providers, users and ultimately, technologies suggest that it will always be a host of solutions that each unique user will be able to choose from to address his e-learning needs.