The world of learning has been buffeted by the GFC and its after effects. Almost all forms of learning have been impacted. In Australia, as in other parts of the world, corporate training budgets have been cut and any training considered “discretionary” (read non – compliance) is being questioned.
This dark cloud as always, come with a silver lining. It provides an opportunity for the learning function to explore ways to reduce costs of delivery and improve ROI and when the organisation and stakeholders are more amenable to taking risks and accept changes. Using Open Source approach is one such opportunity which should be given serious consideration. Once dismissed as the “wild west” and a fringe concept, it has matured and is increasingly being considered “legitimate” in the the corporate world. Let us first talk about the open source approach and how you probably use it without being aware of it.
So what is the open source approach ?
In production and development, open source is a philosophy that promotes free redistribution and access to an end product’s design and implementation details. At its essence, open source happens when a bunch of people get together and develop software (or other concepts and products) which is then made available to anyone who wants to use it – free of charge. You can make changes to the software, for example to improve it or add new features, but are expected to contribute the code back to the software without any charge. Many open source projects start up with only the ones with the strongest community and value proposition surviving. The fascinating facet of open source is that people donate their time and expertise without expectation of monetary rewards.
Open source has gained critical mass in software development. Anyone using a computer connected to the internet is likely to be using open source software either directly or indirectly. There is a whole range of open source applications that you can use including browsers e.g. Firefox (link) and alternates to Microsoft Office such as OpenOffice. However even more widespread is the use of open source technology in software foundation of the internet. As an example the www.learningcafe.com.au is almost entirely open source based. The software behind the web site is based on LAMP (Lamp, Apache, MySQL and PHP) and the application it uses is WordPress, one of the most popular blogging application.
Audacity is an audio editor you can edit, fine tune and change audio recordings. Audacity is an open source free software (free software) that gives you the freedom to use it, study how it works, improve it and share it with others. Audacity has been developed by a group of volunteers have written almost 160,000 lines of software code valued at mare than $2 million (at an average salary of $55,000 per year).
The open source approach is now being applied in other fields of endeavour, such as biotechnology. The principles of open source are also being used in other fields such as beverages – OpenCola and Free Beer and laptop hardware design VIA Open Book.
Impact on learning technologies
While it has not percolated into the world of corporate learning to the same extent, open source applications has had a major impact on the world of learning. Audacity is the overall top rated media tool in the eLearning Guild research report Media for eLearning:Top Tools. For most of us there is very little reason to choose a proprietary software over Audacity for audio. Moodle an open source learning management system has over 66,000 registered sites in 218 countries with over 58 million users. In the eLearning Guild research report on Learning Management systems (2010), Moodle was rated as the top LMS and for :
- Satisfaction with living up to promises.
- Satisfaction with time to implement.
- Satisfaction with business impact.
Regardless of whether you are a fan of open source software, you will have to agree that the numbers are impressive.
Why don’t we hear more about Open Source then ?
I don’t remember when I last made lemonade at home. I buy my lemonade in big plastic bottles or cans from the super market. There is lots of advertising to influence my kids to think that drinking a brand of lemonade will make them cool. It is easier to buy even though I know making home-made lemonade will be healthier, cheaper and environmentally friendly. There are lots of companies that rely on me buying lemonade from the super market to make profits which include the lemonade manufacturing, packaging, advertising, transport and the supermarket. Using Open Source is a bit like home made lemonade. Commercials vendors don’t talk about it (because there is no licensing fees) and it does not come in easy to use packaging. It takes a bit of effort and courage to explore open source for corporate learning.
However, this is changing. Open source has matured and they are now available in easier to use packaging. In my next blog I will explore where and how to use open source in corporate learning.
Would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Are you using or planning to use open source concept and products for learning at work ?
Open source in corporate learning – The need to take it seriously.