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Open Source business models in education

March 7th, 2007 by Graham Attwell

I’m trying to write a funding bid but keep getting diverted by the discussions going on on the blogs. Anyway I will write a quick entry now and then get my head down to business.

Dave has written a sad tale on the problems of open source business models. I don’t agree with him that open source is broken – far from it. I have little problem in persuading potential clients to use open source (in my experience they really don’t understand or care).

But I used to work for Knownet, and know from my bitter experience the problems of developing an income stream for a company developing open source applications for education.

Our business model was based on developing instances on use in mainly European funded projects. It worked – to an extent. But we still ended up working way to many hours and with recurrent cash flow problems. It was essentially a voluntarist model.

And of course there is money to be made out of customisation, support, training etc. But this does not fund mainstream development. The open source model is based on the benefit form many developers working together around the same code. But – in reality there needs to be someone organising, driving and inspiring such an effort. ELGG would not exist without the vision and drive form Ben and Dave.

Education is (or should be) a public good. I have written before about how the development and use of proprietory e-learning applications is effectively privatising education and is crippling innovation in pedagogy – in developing new ways and understandings of teaching and learning.

If we value open source in education – not just because it is better code – but because of the values it brings to education and learning – and if education is a public good – then open source development in education should be supported by those who support (ie fund) education. In the UK there is a great deal of money beings pent of educational technology. At least some of that money should be ring-fenced for open source development. This could be through an agency or might involve the creation of a trust or foundation to manage the development.

I think we should start a campaigning and lobbying for this. Because without such a fund I fear the issues Dave talks about will not go away.

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