La Digital Learning Experience


La Digital Learning Experience

La via dell’open source
Lug 22, 2020
6 min

La digitalizzazione del settore Education progredisce alla massima velocità, recentemente anche trainata dalla crisi legata al Coronavirus. Le aziende vedono l’opportunità per nuovi servizi e per la propria formazione professionale interna, ma esitano a procedere con gli investimenti necessari. L’open source è una soluzione?
L’articolo di seguito, il cui testo integrale è stato pubblicato in Germania su ( open-source-weg-zum-digitalen-lernerlebnis/), si ripropone di dare le risposte:


The digitalization of the education markets has reached full speed - recently also driven by the corona crisis. Publishers see the opportunities for new services and for their internal professional education, but are hesitating about making the necessary investments. Isn’t there an open source solution?

Open source is widely used in the educational field. Some publishers - but not only those - use open source Learning Management Systems (LMS) for external and internal target groups. We hereby give an overview about the features and integration options of open source learning platforms.

Based on the 2018 Global Startup Ecosystem Report, the forecasts on the educational market foresee an increase up to 7.5 billion euros in 2020. In today’s technology-driven times of online tutorials, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and Learning Apps, the expected potential of so-called EdTech (Educational Technology) in the educational sector has become reality. Not least because of a great variety of innovative business ideas.

Not only conventional educating institutions invest in EdTech, but also companies and non-profit organizations. Companies want to offer own online learning formats including precious content in order to reach internal and external target groups and to increase their loyalty. A trend of lifelong learning is developing, which goes far beyond the previous academic learning paths of colleges and universities. The responsibility for education now involves everyone, schools and academies as well as companies, agencies and associations.

Also numerous well-known german publishers, like Springer Nature, Cornelsen, Heise, Haufe Medien or the SPIEGEL have started develop high-quality digital learning offers through praxis-oriented and flexible concepts as well as innovative and effective approaches. Learning becomes more and more measurable and target-oriented.

In the past few years, this strong commitment to digital knowledge transfer has evolved into large cross-media e-learning platforms for publishers. The platforms are primarily designed for special fields such as IT, medicine, science, law or legal topics. Complex learning content is presented via video tutorials, e-books (EPUB), articles (HTML), quizzes, questionnaires and other interactive features. Further, digital learning paths are curated and learning success is optimised by integrating classroom and webinar tools or forums.


As the trend continues to grow, the range of available online learning software solutions is also increasing. What Learning Management Systems are nowadays available for companies and educational institutions and which covers all the needs?

The most common open source solutions are Moodle, Canvas, Sakai, iTunes U, Ilias, OpenOlat and Open edX. But dissemination and features are not the only criteria for selecting the right LMS. There are other important aspects to consider:

  • The open source software license: The license regulates the permission of a licensee with regard to the use of the platform as well as the creation of copies and changes to the source code and their distribution.
  • The software components: Which add-ons and dependent software components are used in an implementation and which conditions have to be met to develop new extensions? The Free Software Foundation provides more information when selecting licenses.
  • The development team: One should pay attention to the development team behind the selected software solution. For instance, is it an open source project with a mixed community of developers, or is it the product of a single company or even the work of an individual? None of these constellations is necessarily wrong, but you still have to consider the longevity and maintenance of the software.
  • Security: If possible, check and assess the security measures of every open source software. The system has to be resistant against cyber attacks.
  • Code quality and accessibility: Important factors for selecting new software - including an LMS - are the existence of thorough and complete documentation, a high number of contributors to the source code or the existence of automatic code tests.


With Open edX, the provider edX offers a new e-learning software solution, which was initially set up in 2012 by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as part of a joint project with the aim of creating a global learning community. Other large universities such as the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Texas have joined the project.

The breakthrough followed one year later, after the software was made available worldwide as open source. In the process, the project was finally renamed into Open edX. An international community was formed, including developers from large educational institutions and companies such as Microsoft, who are involved in optimizing Open edX.

By the end of 2016, edX already had more than 10 million users, who participated in over 1270 courses. Organizations and companies such as UNICEF, Samsung, Edraak Education, the European Commission, the Canadian Space Agency, General Electric, Honeywell, Microsoft, the McKinsey Academy, Cloudera, Airbus, Capgemini, RTE, Jack and Jones, IBM, Johnson & Johnson have chosen Open edX to transfer their respective educational content.


Open edX is characterized by its high level of flexibility and scalability, so the platform can be adapted according to requirements and the number of concurrent users.

The platform, which in the back end is built on linked Django applications, consists in the front end out of two parts: the LMS and the Course Management System (“Studio”).

Via the LMS, learners have access to the content offered and can consume videos, images, textbooks, problem types and exercises as well as quizzes and surveys. Furthermore, they can exchange information with other course participants via forums and chats.

Course creation and content management are done via the Open edX Studio. This is where authors or lecturers can create content and prepare learning materials for users, as well as define individual grading guidelines and specify deadlines or cohorts. In Open

edX there are no separated authoring tools such as Adobe Captivate or Articulate required to design and create content. But their use is not excluded. Course content from third-party solutions can be easily imported into Open edX, for example as SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model).

The connectivity to external services is provided by the Django REST Framework (DRF). For example, the application programming interface (REST API) can be used to address an application that can manage micropayments (for example, via Paypal) or course registrations.

All types of learning activities can be measured and analyzed in Open edX. The ability to measure learning is closely linked to the ability to act flexibly in the offering.

The Open edX architecture is supplemented by so-called XBlocks, a flexible and expandable plug-in system. XBlocks enables authors to expand the functionality to offer diversified learning models (e.g. for chemistry, mathematics or music).

Default available features like forums, wikis and peer assessments support a collaborative learning experience and promote active user participation and communication between learners.


Modular open source learning tools can be combined in many ways to offer many features and to support high scalability.
The benefit of LMS systems based on open standards is that external applications and information can be easily integrated. The use of open standards enables institutions, organisations and companies to select many use cases and expand them as required.

The most used open standards for learning tools are:

  1. Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI), the standard developed by the IMS Global Learning Consortium to enable the integration of applications into learning platforms or other virtual learning environments. It allows the reuse of already existing high-quality learning content. Authors can easily embed the respective content into the courses. In addition, one can create modular learning objects out of it and remix them randomly.
  2. SCORM compatibility: The Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) is a reference model for the cross-system exchange of electronic learning content and provides a standard protocol for interoperable reuse, recording and indexing.
  3. Open Badges: This is an open standard for certificates, originally developed by the Mozilla Foundation. Open Badges provides a “badge generator” called Badge.
  4. XML as the most widely used language for structuring documents.


Open source solutions and open standards are already commonly used in the field of learning management. Their use implies a willingness for the digital transformation and the necessity of high-performance, non-proprietary solutions. The effort will be rewarded with highly configurable and scalable software solutions which can be adapted to customer needs in a time and cost saving way.