Nothing is ever free… or is it?
Sometimes a product is free, but you’re not getting the full benefits. Sometimes it’s free, but they’ll upsell you on something later. Free learning management systems seem great from the outside with buzzwords like no-cost, open-source, and flexibility.
But you need to do your due diligence before committing to an LMS, whether it’s free or not. Choosing the wrong option could mean the failure of your company’s learning and development program. It could even end up costing you more money than paying for a traditional learning management system would.
What Are Free Learning Management Systems All About?
Why would a company give away its software or product for free? Are they being altruistic, or is there a catch here somewhere?
Free learning management systems are usually open-source, meaning that the platform is open to users and coders to change and play with as they deem fit. This sounds fine, right? A community of learners working together towards a better learning system is beneficial.
Open-source software offers a lot of advantages for some organizations. They’re blank slates that you can leave your stamp on and customize to any degree that you want. However, don’t let that fool you. Free systems come with a host of drawbacks, any one of which could dramatically affect your business. Below, we’ll explore what you need to know.
Free learning management systems may not provide the necessary security to protect your company and employee information. Training data, analyses, and personal information may be compromised. In most cases, open-source systems are designed to a pretty low baseline with the intention of the end-user customizing the security to their own preferences.
This might be fine if you have the time, in-house talent, and the budget. You’re able to create any level of information security that you might need. However, most SMBs (and many enterprise-level organizations) don’t have the time, budget, or talent needed to create safeguards and security solutions capable of withstanding the ever-growing range of digital threats today.
Although you have a community of similar users and developers, there is often no company-specific or training-specific support with free learning management systems. This means that if you have a question regarding how your company should best meet compliance, you’ll get hundreds of forum-based answers—but no specific and relevant advice.
In a worst-case scenario, you’re on the hook for training your own support team. That can be incredibly challenging without paying for a training program from a third party, which just increases your costs. Plus, any customization you do may affect the training and support you receive. If the LMS isn’t identical to what the training provider uses, you may be on your own.
You also have to consider how long it will take your team to learn how to use the system. In some cases, that might be weeks or even months. That time is also tacked onto the backend of development, which means you could be looking at incredibly long lead times before you can even touch the LMS, much less put it through its paces.
Installation of software, especially if transferring from an existing platform, can be challenging. Free learning management systems often do not help with installation or setup, and you are left to fend for yourself. This can cost you a lot of time and money.
Oftentimes, you’ll end up hiring a contractor or IT specialist to help you install it anyway, which means that your “free” system is already racking up the costs. However, finding someone to install it and set it up your LMS can be pretty challenging in its own right. It’s not something that any IT contractor can do, and you will need to spend time researching your options if you don’t have the in-house talent to handle setup.
Open-source means customization, right? That’s true. But it also means there are no processes in place that enable simple customization for your business. Thus, companies end up contracting out this work to create a branded LMS with company-specific training—costing even more money than a traditional LMS!
Dealing with content developers can also be challenging. Do they really understand your brand? Do they have a good grasp of your company culture or how you relate to your employees? Personalization is about more than just slapping your company logo on the dashboard – it’s an in-depth process that reaches into the very roots of your training material.
As the saying goes, you must spend money to make money. The purpose of your LMS is to train your employees to improve performance, enhance efficiency, and reduce errors. Often, using a free LMS will deliver the necessary training materials, but without any of the critical features that should go into a proper training and development system, such as tracking, analysis, data reports, and continuous follow-up.
Without the proper tools in place for ongoing training evaluation, you will be wasting time—and therefore money—on training that is having no real effect. The right learning management system will provide you with flexible, convenient tools that allow you to measure progress, gauge knowledge retention, and even gain feedback from learners about what the system could do better.
Open-source systems don’t necessarily equate to free learning management systems. Frequently, what you see is what you get. You’ll receive training courses, but you won’t necessarily get the effective training your company needs to make money. You’ll get the basic framework, but no help in installing and implementing it. You’ll have the ability to customize your content, but no help in doing that in line with brand standards, corporate culture, or ethics.
Be wary of free learning management systems that claim they are the only solution to personalization and a community of support. You can usually get this and more features with a low-fee, web-based learning management system. eLeaP enables personalization, 24/7 support, and training pathways to create a strong network of learners—all to boost your growth, stability, and success.