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Is a free LMS the right option for charities?

3 min reading time

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone in the sector that times are tough for charities. The Covid pandemic hit income streams hard.

An added dilemma for many was how to deliver training to employees, volunteers or indeed service users when face-to-face training was suddenly no longer possible. The move to e-learning was essential and for some that meant a free LMS platform.

But for many charities, there was a steep learning curve.

"Covid meant we had to stop delivering face-to-face training to volunteers, so we had to move things online quickly," said Hubken client Jane Griffin, Head of Partnerships at LGBT Youth Scotland.

LGBT Youth Scotland - Moodle LMS

Jane was not alone. At the beginning of the pandemic e-learning providers were inundated with enquiries from L&D managers across the charity sector and beyond desperate to transition to e-learning as quickly as possible.

For some that meant looking at free options.


Free e-learning platforms – too good to be true?

While it is possible to distribute e-learning without a direct financial investment the old adage that you get what you pay for certainly holds true. The world’s most popular e-learning platform, Moodle, will often be the first thing you see if you Google ‘free e-learning platform.’

For good reason. Moodle is a tried and tested LMS.


Moodle is open-source, which means that the ‘source code’ on which it’s built can be obtained freely and amended by anyone with the necessary programming knowledge.

In reality though things aren’t quite that simple:


6 disadvantages of free e-learning platforms

  1. Integration and set-up challenges – getting started can be confusing. If you already have an e-learning platform, migrating your data into the new platform can be difficult. If you don’t, you’re likely to need help that won’t be on hand with a free platform.
  2. No technical support – unless you have an in-house IT team familiar with LMS platforms, you’ll be on your own with any technical problems that come up.
  3. No administrator training – modern LMS platforms like Totara Learn and Moodle pack a surprisingly wide range of features. E-Learning administrators often don’t realise how many tools there are to make training their audiences easier and more effective. An LMS training session can be a real eye-opener (and hassle saver).
  4. No platform updates – the leading LMS platforms receive major yearly upgrades. You won’t get automatic upgrades with a free platform and may have to pay for future upgrades, as well as paying someone to implement them, otherwise your LMS will soon get out of date.
  5. Hidden costs – while you aren’t paying a license fee there are other costs you’ll incur. You’ll need site hosting. You’ll need to pay someone to manage technical support work and of course you’ll have to invest time in setting up and maintaining the platform, which unless you are using highly trained volunteers will cost money in wages.
  6. Lack of additional services – branding your LMS, using it to sell your courses, access to off-the-shelf content, reporting options, system plug-ins to develop your platform and more.


When you choose a managed open-source solution the possibilities for developing the way you train your teams are endless.

Explore our e-learning services


Managed open-source: Why it works for charities

When choosing a new LMS you have 3 main options:

  1. Buy a proprietary solution – this is a ‘closed-source’ platform built and owned by a business who license its use to you. This is generally a very costly option which often comes with long-term contracts and increased difficulties with things like migrating your data to a new platform the in future.
  2. Get a free platform – if you have very basic needs and little or no budget this may be the right option, but it does come with drawbacks as we’ve discussed.
  3. Choose a managed open-source solution – this is a best of both worlds option combining cost-effectiveness with a team on hand to get you set-up and keep things running smoothly. They take care of all the technical aspects of running an online learning programme so you can focus on achieving the training outcomes you need.


Here’s a top-line guide on how Hubken’s managed open-source solution compares to other options:

How Hubken’s managed open-source solution compares


Charity credentials

Hubken are e-learning partners with charities ranging from international household names to small, local charities. All want to have the best value technologies to deliver their e-learning programmes without compromising on power and functionality.

Hubken are e-learning partners with charities

You may see that last row and think are Hubken really unbiased? While our solutions are based on Moodle or Totara technologies if we can’t offer you what you need, we’ll tell you so and recommend where else you could look.

We also invite you to compare our costs and services with other options. It’s about being straight, open and honest. And we’d also say friendly!

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