Which LMS is a competitor to Moodle

Comparison of eLearning platforms - thesis 2004 vs. 2017

13 years ago I was allowed to write a diploma thesis at the Cologne University of Applied Sciences, which is now called TU Cologne, with the beautiful title eLearning Platforms: Open Source Software vs. Proprietary Software - Presentation and Comparison. The work compares the largest free platforms at the time with the two proprietary market leaders and answers the question on 133 PDF pages as to whether open source platforms can generally keep up with proprietary big ships - in short: yes. What has become of the candidates from back then?

Diploma thesis as an eBook

Abbreviation: The diploma thesis is available as a book on demand and now also as a hardcover book - but you can also simply have the PDF free of charge, you shouldn't spend any more money on such an old software evaluation. Not that I have anything against it, but as an author I would immediately sign the lousy Amazon review ... But it could still be interesting: To take a look at the platforms from back then, to collect arguments in favor of open source or to find out general information about eLearning and open source. And the systematics developed for the comparison could also be easily applied to current evaluations.

Brief history

2004 was different than today. Home computers were still called that, laptops weighed as much as a case of beer, the dot-com bubble had just burst and the "new media" were actually still quite new. In lectures, for example, we were introduced to this strange new search engine, the Top dogs like Altavista or Yahoo! Wanted to make life difficult in the future and completely dispensed with advertising on the homepage: Google. The internet was only slowly being colonized by non-techies and delicate business models were sprouting up everywhere - but a lot was still a little, shall we say improvised, unprofessional.

Today it is no problem to test platforms such as content management systems, blogs, LMS and so on. As a rule there is Online demos and thanks to the excellent test environment Xampp (Windows + Apache + MySQL + PHP + Perl), most platforms can also be tested locally very easily. In addition, most of the projects are much more professional today and the candidates from back then are above all more mature. In 2004, manually setting up an Apache server was still a mess, not to mention the gruesome Tomcat horrors. And just because the servers were up at some point didn't mean every platform was up and running ...

At the time, eLearning was a fairly new, still little plowed topic and the market did what it always does: Kill and Consolidate.

The candidates from back then

The two proprietary market leader back then: Blackboard and WebCT - Consolidated here in 2006 Blackboard the online learning pioneer WebCT swallowed. The work suggested that the open source segment was indeed an interesting alternative to the proprietary segment - and so it is not surprising that the merger of the two users switched to open-source, license-free competition.

The Open source platforms in the field: Moodle, ATutor, Ilias, OpenUSS, Spaghettilearning, Claroline and Eledge. For some, the doorbell may ring, others should at best be known to insiders - surprisingly, however, at first glance all platforms seem to still exist, even if spaghetti learning has long been called DoceboLMS.

So what happened to the Learning Management System (LMS), usually smaller university projects? There is no new evaluation for obvious reasons, but a short "Where are they now?" / "Yesterday and Today" is a short time for LMS historians and open source friends, maybe helps one or the other who are with today LMS and their selection are concerned and hopefully answer the question of whether my assessment at the time was reasonably correct;) And it was: Yes, open source can keep up and especially Ilias, Moodle and ATutor can convince.


Blackboards LMS goes by the name of BbLearn and, surprisingly, seems to be the market leader - at least with regard to the USA, Canada, Australia and GB and according to the data from edutechnica. As I said, this is just a quick look back, so now I save myself looking for scientific-grade statistics. A quick look at the demo Instructor point of view: Everything seems clear and easy to use. But somehow I would have expected more pomp, ultimately the interface is a pretty simple database GUI without any eye candy. There are many, many options for creating courses, such as direct webcam recording and 16 different types of exam tasks.
To the demo.


Very gratifying: If you look at the edutechnica numbers from just now, you can see that Moodle takes second or third place depending on the category - not bad for a 90s product from the Australian hinterland and not bad for my assessment at the time. From Lhonor view The same applies to Moodle as to BbLearn: simple, clear and many functions.
To the demo.


ATutor comes from Canada, is still actively maintained and is generally in a very good position. Above all, the LMS supports a particularly large number of people Accessability and interoperability standards. A look at the Teacher side is still sobering: No pomp, and much less simple and clear than Moodle. The surface is a bit ugly mess.
To the demo.


Iliad proves it also successful open source projects in Germany gives: The platform is still very popular, is used at many universities and the fact alone that the Employment Agency Iliad for 100,000 users operates, speaks a clear language (source: Wikipedia). The Backend definitely has the best optics so far. It takes a little bit of navigation for the navigation, but then that too. And there are also plenty of functions. Here, too, the following applies: Iliad has indeed prevailed.
To the demo.


OpenUSS from Münster seems to be reasonable dead. The links on the homepage lead to nirvana, there has been no update for years - and no demo either, so only the old screenshot here.

Spaghetti learning

The most beautiful name and somehow a likeable project - since version 2 it has been called DoceboLMS. On Sourceforge there is still an update from 2016 that Homepage is dead and there is not much else to see of the pasta system. It's a shame, but it was to be expected.


Last update 2013, otherwise only dead links, appear here R.I.P. appropriate?!


Our neighbors from France are going into the race with Claroline - and after all, the project still seems active to be. It probably didn't turn out to be the big hit - otherwise large parts of the website would not be available exclusively in French. And the Teacher view suggests that Claroline has at least not made huge jumps since then, maybe you were just satisfied. Everything is very simple and old-school, functionally it hangs behind Moodle or Ilias and there were simply nicer interfaces.
To the demo.


Here is an excerpt from the work on sustainability:

  • In the opinion of the author, Eledge, OpenUSS and spaghetti learning must be described as critical on this point.
  • The ATutor and Claroline projects are largely stable.
  • Moodle and Ilias are the two largest and oldest and therefore currently the safest OS platforms that are dealt with in this thesis.

Even if this article only takes a cursory look at the current projects, the prognosis seems reasonably accurate - and what's interesting about it? Well, I would take it to mean that today it is a damn good idea not to just blindly buy proprietary solutions, but to deal intensively with open source solutions. The often quoted Doubts about the sustainability of open source “alternatives” are in any case somewhat obsolete. It was already possible to predict whether the projects, which were still extremely young at the time, would survive - WebCT, the market leader at the time, is history.