Should you launch your course on a hosted LMS, or use an open-source option?
Many first-time course instructors, when looking for the best LMS option for their online course, turn to hosted LMS solutions such as Teachable, Udemy, or Thinkific. The attraction is obvious: these hosted platforms take care of many of the technical aspects of launching a new course, connect the new course to a wider audience of learners, and provide a handy toolset for instructors who may not have the technological confidence to set up on their own.
This is all well and good. Clearly, these hosted LMS platforms have a lot to offer, particularly by way of convenience for the user. But they also have some downsides that make them a poor option for more ambitious instructors who have plans to turn their course into a serious business enterprise.
If you want to launch a course as a hobby, by all means, use a hosted platform. But if your course is your life’s passion, here are six reasons an open-source LMS will set you up for long-term success.
1. You control your content.
When you first start out on a hosted LMS, you may design your course based on the tools offered at the time. But what happens if your LMS decides to discontinue one of your favorite features? It happens. A tool you once relied on disappears, a content type becomes unavailable, and areas of your course no longer function the way they should. You may find a work-around, but the bottom line is the same: you are at the mercy of whatever your hosted platform is willing to support.
2. You maintain brand integrity.
A hosted LMS usually provides templates for instructors to use as they upload their course materials. These may save a lot of design work, but they also don’t allow for a lot of branding. You’re going to be restricted by what the LMS host provides, and the customizability can sometimes be as limited as playing with colors and fonts.
Meanwhile, because an open-source LMS is accessible to a wider audience, it works with a broader range of themes. Or, if you’re really committed to solidifying your brand look and feel, you can work with a developer to create a custom theme. When your course doesn’t look like everyone else’s, it’s easier to set yourself apart from the competition.
3. You retain your customer data and your community.
When you’re on a hosted LMS, your learners aren’t necessarily your own. If you choose to leave the hosted platform, you may not be able to easily port that customer data to your new platform, and you’ll be limited in whatever data you do collect by the integrations provided by the LMS.
But with an open-source LMS, you not only have more control over what data you can collect from your learners, you can also ensure that data is handled responsibly and securely. In the age of GDPR compliance, that may be more important than ever.
4. You have full development capabilities.
Course customizability isn’t just about appearances: it’s also about the tools and features you use. What if you want to create some new course feature for students that takes advantage of a new teaching style? Or what if you have a custom content type that’s not supported by your hosted LMS? In a closed-source system, you’re out of luck.
But open-source means your development team has full access to the code, which means you can create whatever tools you need to achieve the most from your online course. Open-source removes limitations, allowing you to do more with your course.
5. You can prioritize updates.
Speaking of development, your hosted LMS will release new features from time to time. However, they will do so on their own schedule, and with priorities that respond sluggishly to customer demand. Enough users have to request a feature for it to end up on the production list, and even then, it must be developed, tested, and released. This means that new updates will inevitably lag behind industry trends, meaning your course will lag with them.
When you use an open-source LMS, the production schedule follows your priorities. Sure, you have to either develop those updates yourself or else find a plugin that has done it for you, but that timeline is under your control. You won’t ever find yourself in the position of wanting a new feature that never gets released.
6. You own your business.
Finally, while you may use the hosted LMS to earn an income, the business you’re building isn’t entirely yours: some portion of your hard work goes toward building the business and brand of your LMS host. You may gain a reputation and do quite well for yourself, but after all that hard work, you’re still tied to your hosted platform.
On the other hand, with an open-source LMS, your business is all your own. Your brand comes first, your community is your own, and the experience you provide is fully adaptable to what you want to build, and to what your learners need.
Yes, open-source requires more set-up to launch. But the payoff is massive.
As we said before, a hosted LMS is a fine choice (perhaps even the ideal choice) for someone who isn’t confident in their technological abilities, or who wants large parts of their course managed for them, or who wants to create a course as a fulfilling side-project. In these cases, a hosted LMS provides a convenient, out-of-the-box solution that can benefit many instructors greatly.
Choosing an open-source LMS isn’t the easy option, although it’s also not prohibitively difficult. For most instructors, getting started requires some basic tech-savvy, but not more than what most of us need to navigate the Internet in the first place. And yes, to get the absolute most out of your LMS, you’ll probably want to work with some developers to create some of the custom functionality you’re looking for.
But the reward for this extra work is an online course that delivers the best possible learner experience to your users. Furthermore, it’s something you can confidently invest your energy into without fear that the platform it’s built on will collapse beneath your feet. Ultimately, it’s a question of ownership. If you want to own your course, an open-source LMS is the only way to go.