Imagine Yannick Warnier tells you “I make the easiest, friendliest Learning Management System possible.” Chances are you find him intriguing, amusing perhaps.
Now, imagine he also tells you he wants his LMS to be always free and open source. How do your react? Chances are he has seen your reaction. He will likely keep his smile as he listens to your skepticism.
Warnier has been through a storied history that started under a decade ago. It’s one where Chamilo, BeezNest and Warnier have ended up on top. Their figures are not a threat for the leaders of the LMS Space Race just yet. Chamilo is a distant second in the open source LMS space after Moodle, third if you consider Canvas open source. It manages to surpass Sakai everywhere except North America. BeezNest, Chamilo’s main commercial partner and source of funding, is smaller than the average Moodle Partner. Despite the scale, Chamilo’s fast-paced growth and fervor is worth keeping tabs on. Warnier spoke to us for an exclusive interview, where we tried to figure out if Chamilo is the future of the Open Source LMS, or if I were to agree with the thousands of Chamilo users in Europe and Latin America most of all, it is already here.
Claroline, Dokeos, Chamilo: Short and storied timelines
Chamilo and the eponymous Association begin in 2010. There are, however, both earlier and later starting points to the story.
We can start with Claroline, Belgian LMS precursor that reached its peak in the mid-aughts. If you were a student in Europe or Latin America at the turn of the millennium, you might have been a Claroline user. You might also have forgotten all about it by now. I know I almost did. Perfect ways to describe Claroline are dependable, and nondescript.
Universities would find in Claroline a straightforward translation of the physical lecture. But a growing faction of the development community wants more out of it. The problem: Going corporate is, for some members, tantamount to treason. Here we have the first of many schisms to come. In 1999, Dokeos, a “fork” of Claroline for small businesses, is born. Confident, it breaks off from academia. Warnier becomes an active contributor in 2004.
The leaders of the Dokeos project start to sow discontent among the community, who mostly agree on the importance of the corporate segment, if not with many of the corporate-akin practices. The conflict reaches a height when Dokeos officially announces its intentions to limit distribution. Parts of the system would no longer be open, or remain exclusively cloud-based. Amid this crisis Chamilo sees the light of day, in 2010. It does not mind that people keep seeing it as another fork of Dokeos for a few more years.
A final episode, Chamilo LCMS, is a redesign from the ground-up. But LCMS fails to get traction. The Association decides to listen to the community and in 2015 drops its support to rally around Chamilo going forward.
Where are they now:
- Claroline exists as a single page application. The latest, Claroline 12.5, was released in November, 2019.
- Dokeos lives on as a cloud-based app and claims 500,000+ users. While it claims to be “open to the point of promiscuity,” access to Dokeos Community Edition is burdensome. (Somebody send me a tarball!)
‘You won’t concern yourself with another LMS ever again‘
Warnier saw Chamilo’s birth and meteoric rise while living in Peru. Early on our conversation, we switched to Spanish, as he was more comfortable in it. The bulk of the nearly 30 million Chamilo users in 2021, up from 11 in 2016, come from Latin America. While Yarnier is back to is birthplace in Belgium, the Chamilo Association headquarters, which he heads, are in lovely Lugo, Spain.
Warnier is a practical man, and so is Chamilo. Plenty of thought goes into making Chamilo a simple and straightforward experience. But it soon becomes clear that simplicity is not mere corporate culture motto. Instead, it’s Warnier’s only way to think and live. He’s still passionate about open source, and as opinionated as the next FOSS advocate. Chamilo and BeezNest’s greatest strength is the ability to reconcile ‘simple’ and ‘open’.
With some defiance, Warnier believes that usability should be non-negotiable for true open source projects. If the software makes numerous assumptions about the developers and users, if it expects a certain background, does it really deserve to be called “open”? A simple but staunch principle can shine a light. Chamilo is not only easy to use as a student or user, it’s also easy to set up and manage. The Chamilo Association feels light and streamlined. To become an Association member all you have to do is to contribute “something.” BeezNest, Warnier’s other executive affair, is Chamilo’s top provider. BeezNest’s engineers also develop and maintain the software, funded by the Association members. As it turns out, BeezNest is also the top contributor to the Association, giving 50% of its revenue. Prospective partners can join and upon approval, there is only a fixed annual fee required. Customers can request a quote at [email protected] and will get one from each provider—all six of them. New features also come courtesy of clients who are fine with making their code public. It makes for a compact, sturdy ship with an enviable consistency among open source projects.
Getting started with Chamilo is a matter of setting up a free account at campus.chamilo.org. Right away you have a demo, a trial and a platform from where you can start selling your courses. If you have made content in another LMS, the course creation walk-through will be a breeze. Chamilo also supports SCORM and LTI so you can add them in. A “Buy courses” option takes you straight to Chamilo’s course catalog. Maintained by BeezNest, it gives you access to dozens of courses, ready for you to teach them on your Chamilo.
If you’re ready to start, head out to chamilo.org/en/download and get the latest release of the software, version 11. Then go to 11.chamilo.org/documentation/installation_guide.html, make sure your system has the required software and follow the steps. Chamilo is a LAMP\WAMP based system, so the process might strike you as familiar. Only much speedier.