What Are The Best Free Hosted Course Management Systems On The Internet?

by Kelly Walsh on February 13, 2011

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“Round 1” in a look at the many free, richly featured CMS & LMS apps available in the cloud.

What options exist for teachers who want to try using a Course Management System, but don’t have one available in their school? Fortunately, there are many free CMS/LMS tools available on the Internet. The heavy snows across the US this winter pushed the value of these tools to the forefront of my mind – courses hosted in a Learning Management System position students and teachers to keep course work moving forward when schools are closed due to inclement weather.

There are actually so many free and low cost CMS tools out there that learning about them turned out to be very time consuming. I spent many hours searching and reviewing web sites, and selected the most impressive looking tools to list below. I created two groupings of these applications – those that provide unlimited use for teachers for free or for nominal fees, and those that have useful free functionality but charge higher costs for full capabilities.

I should also mention that there are also plenty of free open source LMS/CMS platforms available, with Moodle and Sakai leading the way, but they require that you either install and maintain them locally, or pay for hosting. So while these powerful tools are free for licensing, they require equipment and technical talent and time to put in place and maintain. In this post, we’re only looking at free hosted options.

Options Providing Unlimited Courses & Unlimited Users
These applications appear to have extensive functionality, and offer a full range of functionality to individual instructors for free or for nominal fees. I’m really looking forward to learning more about some of these tools when I take a closer look at selected apps next week.

SchoolRack: Allows for unlimited users, but you need to upgrade to their “plus” pricing plan to get unlimited pages (which, if I understand correctly, equates to unlimited courses). However, the plus plan pricing is so low at just $6/mo., as to be nominal. There is a lot of rich functionality to this application. Click through to this FAQ page, or this “For Teachers” Features page, to learn more.
  
Schoology: Schoology’s defines itself as ”an enterprise level learning management system and configurable social network”. This is certainly a robust application that provides most of it’s functionality for free. There is additional functionality such as customization and integration that requires fees, but these are geared towards enterprise users, and the base functionality should be more than adequate for individual teachers.
 
Rcampus:  Rcampus weaves together it impressive looking functionality by combining their Course Management System with modules for ePortfolios, eCommunities, iRubrics. Their personal edition is free, while their enterprise edition requires licensing fees. For teachers looking to do their own thing, the personal edition is all they should need. 
  
MyiCourse: This application has a real entrepreneurial spirit, and seems more geared towards business than academia, but I see no immediate reason that it wouldn’t well suited to academic use. There is an optional $10/month fee to turn off banner ads that teachers can simply forego (there is also $25/month option if you wish to include your own banner ads – not something most teachers would want). They also offer this menu of (free) courses, where you can learn about how the tools works. 
 
Other Free Options
The applications each have limited free versions, and charge a more substantial fee for full functionality. It was challenging at times to determine if some of these sites warranted listing in the above section, but if wasn’t very clear that an individual teacher could use all the functionality they were likely to require, for an unlimited numbers of students, I listed them below rather than above.
 
NfomediaThis site’s features are listed here; pricing is listed here. Three courses can be hosted for $120/yr., which is quite reasonable. Their home page shows that 395 colleges/universities are using the application, but that they only have 507 courses up, which was a little surprising.

Edu20.org:
Up to 2000 students for free, which is certainly substantial, but there are a lot of functional limitations under the free plans. The functionality they offer is extensive, but you do have to upgrade to one of the 3 “Premier Plans” to take advantage of some of these functions. Click here to check out their demo page. Their inexpensive Bronze plan is quite affordable and functional for the individual instructor.
 
Latitudelearning: Free for “groups below 100 users”. I’m not sure if that means you can unlimited courses, but only a maximum of 100 users at any one time, or something different. There was no FAQ page, and I struggled to find anything else that clarified much about functionality or if there are other differences between their free LMS and their paid LMS. Their pricing options are here.  
 
CourseSites (from Blackboard): As the proverbial “800 LB”  gorilla of the LMS world, a free offering from Blackboard would certainly seem to be promising. CourseSites provides for to 5 free courses. Learn more on their FAQ page
 
EctoLearning:  This site is entirely free, with unlimited users and courses, but I was hesitant to include it in the top section for a few reasons. EctoLearning presents itself as a “Personal Learning Network”, rather than an LMS or CMS, and it’s feature set was not very evident. The social aspect can be a good thing, and they certainly seem to have a good focus on the concept of joining together students, teachers, and classrooms across the street or across the world to collaborate. While this is in many ways a benefit of the platform, it raised questions in my mind about the privacy of courses and course materials, which can be a fundamental requirement for some instructors. Unfortunately, the link to their Privacy Policy was not functional, so I couldn’t really get clear on this.
 

Next Week – A Deeper Dive
I want to focus more closely on the top set of apps above - the ones that provide for unlimited course and unlimited users. Next week I’m going to look more closely at these and select one to trial. I’m considering setting up a free course to introduce readers to some of today’s most important education technologies. I hope you’ll come back and join us!

In the meanwhile, if you have any suggestions or questions, please comment. I have no doubt that there are other CMS/LMS applications that provide some level of free, hosted capabilities, so feel free to mention any that I may have missed. Thanks.

Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
Moodle 2.0 versus Blackboard 9.1 – a Brief Comparison
Exploring the World of Free Teaching Productivity Resources on the Web
Learning about Moodle – a leading open source LMS

About 

Kelly Walsh is Chief Information Officer, and an adjunct faculty member, at The College of Westchester in White Plains, NY and is the founder and author of EmergingEdTech.com. As an education technology advocate, he frequently delivers presentations on a variety of related topics at schools and conferences across the U.S. Walsh is also an author, and online educator, periodically running Flipped Class Workshops online. His latest eBook, the Flipped Class Workshop in a Book was published in September, 2013 and is available here. In his spare time Walsh also writes, records, and performs original (and cover) songs (look for "K. Walsh" on iTunes or Amazon.com or check out his original song videos on here on YouTube ).

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

K. Walsh January 22, 2013 at 7:01 pm

Smily – Moodle is used to support thousands and even tens of thousands of students in institutions across the world every day – go for it!

Smily Myra January 22, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Thanks , Excellent list. But please let me know if I can go with moodle with my 1000 users ?

Jeff Walter August 17, 2012 at 12:39 pm

The LatitudeLearning.com LMS allows you to set up non-SCORM self study courses that you can attached PDFs and PPTs to. To do this add the desired PDF, PPT or other files (i.e. MP3, WMV, etc.) to the Resource Library. Next create a course with the Deliver Method set to “Self-Study” and attached the desired resources to it.

You can signed up for a Forever Free LMS at http://www.LatitudeLearning.com/FreeLMS . You’ll get a free 100 user LMS in our standard configuration. You’ll be able to create as many courses and upload as many resource files as you want.

LaPichardo May 11, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Hi, thanks for the research. I am new to CMS and this entry has been very helpful for me.

ashish March 13, 2012 at 3:27 am

hi there

is there any Free LMS/CMS which allows to upload courses in non scroom format too like

pdf, ppt

thanks
reply to : mail.eddfin@gmail.com

Khala Johnson February 15, 2011 at 12:40 pm

This is great information! As institutions continue to move toward online learning, I’m sure we’ll see more of these applications put to use.

Elissa Clemons February 13, 2011 at 6:24 pm

I don’t think that I would have though to look for free CMS/LMS but this is really good information. Inclusion of either free CMS/LMS in a school can allow learning to continue rgardless of the weather. This could provide options for students to take classes on subjects that may not be taught in their district. Students and teachers can meet in the classroom at specified times for instruction and submit work fro review and feedback from peers before attending classes.

Evan February 13, 2011 at 4:34 pm

My new website offers ePortfolios for teachers, over 3000 lesson plan links, links to open source software and tools, curriculum standards, and multimedia. All of this is indexed in an easy to use database with no ads and will always be free.
RCampus was not bad, but too much freedom gives a MySpace look and you did not include Instructure that just went Open Source.

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