Jacqus du Plessis and Alex Koohang
Underlying Open Learning Development—Reflections on Elements of
Success in Open Sourcing
Jacques Du Plessis and Alex Koohang, University of Wisconsin-
Thursday, September 29, 2005, 3:15-4:00 pm
mp3 podcast Right click and 'Save Target As' for manual download
Higher education institutions have begun the formation of open source
applications in recent years. They reduce vendor control and lock-ins.
They are flexible and possess definitive access, control, ownership, and
freedom (Young, 2004).
Freedom to choose, increasing user access, increasing user control,
encouraging the formation of a global community/communities of
practice, promoting quality, and enhancing innovation in teaching and
learning are among many benefits open learning model offers (Coppola
& Neelley 2004). Claroline (http://www.claroline.net), .LRN Course
Management (http://www.collaboraid.biz/products/dotlrn), Moodle
(http://moodle.org) and EduZope (http://www.eduzope.org) are some
examples of open source CMS options.
Open source is software’s source code made freely available to
anyone who wishes to expand, modify, and improve the code. The
success stories of open source model are Linux (http://www.linux.
org) and NetBeans (http://www.netbeans.org/about/index.html). The
source codes to both Linux and NetBeans are available to anyone
examples of the open source model are learning object repositories
such as CAREO (http://careo.netera.ca), Distributed Learning Object
Repository Network (DLORN) (http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/dlorn/
dlorn.cgi), MERLOT (http://www.merlot.org/Home.po), Open Course
(http://opencourse.org), and OpenCourseWare (MIT) (http://ocw.mit.
The research emphasis of this paper is to explore the reasons
why open source works. The specific areas addressed include the
structuring of the community, the evangelism efforts, the license
agreement, and quality control.
The paper uses the essay, “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” (Raymond,
1999) as a basis to explore the underlying differences between
traditional commercial software development and the open source
Several open source developments are investigated and a review
of literature is used to analyze the communities of practice, the
development cycles, the mainstream acceptance of these applications,
and the longevity of these development projects.
As Raymond (1999) indicated, we find that the Bazaar’s infrastructure
is crucial. Without an infrastructure the mission of the Bazaar is
frustrated. However, a good infrastructure allows the vision of the
Bazaar to be realized and the affordances of group-think and group-production
can be realized.
When looking at software development, the fi rst analogy describes the
traditional corporate environment and the open source development
environment. The cathedral-type system requires order and it is
managed top-down. This model claims private ownership and exists
primarily in a spirit of competition. The source code is proprietary
and every effort is made to make users dependent on the cathedral’s
The bazaar-type of development is less predictable. It is an
environment where strangers all over the globe participate in the
development and enhancement of software. The tire-kicking, willing
contributions, bartering, and collaborations happen freely to express
and meet the needs of the participants. Unlike the cathedral, the
bazaar exists because people are willing to publicly collaborate in
development. The bazaar is based on public ownership. Should an
entity depend on a product, their source code can protect them should
the development infrastructure disintegrate.
The concept of reusability can be seen from the context of either a
service or a product. The transformation of libraries helps explain this
reality. Traditional libraries provide reusable products (books). The
same book can be checked out many times. On the other hand, digital
libraries provide a reusable service. The library would be subscribed
to databases. This access to the database is a reusable service. The
moment this access fee is not paid up, the library loses the service
and with the service gone, there is no product either. A library that
purchased a product instead, would still have the product should the
money to enhance the acquisitions dry up. It is then a question of
ownership once the money has been paid. Within the context LOs,
the future will continue to offer both types of reusability. What should
be avoided is to predominantly have access to LOs as a service which
implies being at the mercy of an institution or individual for access.
Textbooks (a tangible LO) illustrates what will be in the future, but
it also illustrates what is lacking in alternatives. Textbook companies
strive to produce the best possible product. The catch is the cost. The
product is good, but the costs are high, and the textbook company
has to ensure that the textbook has to be purchased frequently to
maximize the return on their investment. This is done with copyright
protection and frequent updates and new editions. In theory, an
open-source textbook could bring great minds together to continually
develop a superb product and to ensure free distribution. This might
offer a much-needed alternative that is presently not adequately
Although there is evidence of open source code as far back as the
50’s, the infrastructure that the Internet provides in tying together
the global community has laid the groundwork for the development
of networking and P2P interactions and a social understanding of new
ways of working and collaborating. Many of these efforts are now
maturing. The maturity is rated against the success of the products
and how well such products hold op to their commercial counterparts.
The time is right for several developments to migrate into each others
purviews, viz. open source development, open learning, sharable open
content, especially reusable learning objects, unfettered by copyright
Coppola, C. & Neelley, E. (2004). Open source open learning: Why
open source makes sense for education. Retrieved October 27,
2004, from http://www.rsmart.com/assets/OpenSourceOpensLear
Young J. (September, 2004). Five challenges for open source. Chronicle
of Higher Education.