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What type of LMS is best for your school: proprietary, open-source, or cloud-based?

This post has been updated on October 23 2018.

The e-learning industry is booming and the technology that made this possible is constantly evolving. Wherever you turn, there’s something new that ed-tech people talk about, from big initiatives like BYOD programs to smaller things like new educational apps and even updated LMS features.

Educational institutions that have embraced e-learning many years ago and opted for a school LMS to create learning materials for students, oversee their progress and better manage their learning process now split into two categories: those that love their learning management system and those that don’t. At least not any more.

The latter are forced to look around for new options that promise to meet the needs of the modern learner and the modern school or college better than their obsolete counterparts. That's the thing with ed-tech; it never stops evolving. Everyone needs to keep up.

So, what are the most common types of learning management systems available for educational institutions? And how can someone decide on the best option?

What type of LMS is best for your school?

While the answer to this question is tightly connected to the particular needs of your school, district, college or university, most of the learning management systems currently on the market fall into three big categories: proprietary, open-source and cloud-based. Each of these LMS categories have advantages and drawbacks. So in order to make the best decision, check them out:

What type of LMS is best for your school?
  • Proprietary LMS

    This type of LMS may not have all the bells and whistles, but it works. There may be some strings attached, and little room for movement, but it will always have your back.

    The best thing about a proprietary LMS is that it’s reliable. It might have a well-known name, and it does what every LMS is supposed to do: create and manage online courses. A proprietary LMS is usually accountable for the well-functioning of the system, so school management has fewer things to worry about. At least theoretically.

    Because on the other hand, this type of LMS can be quite expensive. You will have to pay for the all-the-time service. Plus, it's rather restrictive. New features are hard to add and the customization of your school’s own learning portal is limited.

  • Open-source LMS

    Open-source learning platforms revolutionized the education landscape by focusing on teaching and pedagogy on top of the technical proper functioning of the system.

    The great majority of open-source LMSs are free, or at least freemium (meaning that the basic package is free and your school can use it limitless, but if you need or want other advanced features, you'll have to pay extra). An open-source LMS is easy to use and also customizable. You can access the source code and personalize your learning portal, add features, and even fix bugs. That’s the beauty of a system built by a collaborative community.

    But the other side of the coin of the collaborative community should not be ignored. If a knowledgeable member of the community drops the project they were working on, it might take a while until someone as knowledgeable can continue the work. Responsibility is diminished in this setting. Also, an open-source LMS comes with some hidden costs: hosting fees, maintenance fees, back-ups, extra storage space, more tech support.

  • Cloud-based LMS

    A cloud-based LMS built on the practical part of creating online learning materials and managing students’ learning advanced by proprietary platforms, kept the focus on teachers and pedagogy of open-source ones, and took a step forward by turning the attention over the learners and their needs.

    A cloud-based LMS comes with low initial costs and transparency for later expenses. It offers a variety of tools and features, meeting even the most sophisticated learning needs of students and educators alike. The best things about such an LMS is its scalability; it works the same if this year you use it for 200 students and 20 teachers and the next one you grow to 1000 students and 50 teachers.

    As far as the drawbacks of cloud-based LMS are concerned, things are not that clear. Some say that it's its reliability on an internet connection could be one; but the internet is spreading in more classrooms every day. Others point to data security. True, there are still vendors that don't comply with the latest security standards and don't have the latest security certifications, but there are also vendors that are up-to-date with everything related to this. Whatever way you choose to look at it, the advantages of a cloud-based LMS turn the balance in their favor.


There are many aspects that can influence the decision to change the current school learning management system, many voices to be heard, and many documents to be created during the process. It may not be an easy decision, but having a clear understanding of the available LMS categories and characteristics is definitely a great first step.

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