Sakai 12, Struggling Open Source LMS, Is More Important Than Ever

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The latest article by the Apereo Foundation Board reads like a case study. Also, as a promotion for the benefits of Open Source, Free Open Source Software (FOSS) in particular. And given the recent troubles of Apereo’s flagship LMS Sakai, it also read as an attempt for relevance.

“The Value of Open Source Software for Education” has good intentions. But it will be hard to influence anyone. It uses the NYU example to draw general conclusions about Sakai’s user experience. It extrapolates facts to pretend every user can enjoy what the NYU has.

“The Value of Open Source Software for Education” has good intentions. But it will be hard to influence anyone. It uses the NYU example to draw general conclusions about Sakai’s user experience. It extrapolates facts to pretend every user can enjoy what the NYU has.

And for our space, it glosses over a basic question. Why Sakai, if Moodle is superior at the technology, user volume and market levels?

Sakai, why?

At a fraction of Moodle’s userbase, US-based Sakai’s reported 4 million global user figure is still the envy of many. Some estimates place it as high as the fifth most popular LMS worldwide by installations.

Imagine as if Moodle was run by the Moodle Users Association. Who are also their biggest users. Institutions can switch from Moodle, and its development roadmap stays the same. With Sakai, the experience is proportional to the organization’s involvement. Unlike Moodle, Sakai’s features reflect nothing but their users’ needs. (Weighted by their engagement with the project.)

A proposition that can be off-putting. Sakai is a high-maintenance deal that can give users a higher and longer reward. (But it does not have to.) It takes more involvement, but too much of it has shown to hinder its development and split the community. Commercial vendors can provide support, in a history riddled with unfortunate episodes. A couple of dramatic outages were not Sakai’s responsibility but dented its reputation.

Apereo has a list of Commercial Affiliates. A leader at one of the US Moodle Partners, formerly close to Sakai, laments the limited scope of the initiative. To date 11 affiliates offer Apereo’s technologies. 7 of them provide support to Sakai.

Sakai Project, Sakai Foundation, and onto the Apereo Communities

In 2004, 5 US-based universities pooled into a digital knowledge and resource-sharing effort. 2 FOSS advocacy groups, including the Open Knowledge Initiative and Jasig, joined in. An $8 million USD grant allowed the project to carry on. A year later, Sakai 1.0 was ready.

For some reason, Sakai was named after Hiroyuki Sakai (right), from Japanese TV show Iron Chef.

Membership expanded fast. In 2009, An unhappy faction set out to build the coming release, Sakai 3, from scratch. Now named Apereo Open Academic Environment, it never satisfied the core community. “Old school” Sakai remained the more active, if hampered. But development picked up. In 2013, Sakai merged with Jasig, giving birth to the Apereo Foundation.

In 2018, the last remaining founder, Georgia Tech, left Sakai. All five currently run Canvas LMS. The Apereo Foundation houses Sakai CLE (, Apereo OAE, and other projects.

Sakai 12

Sakai 12.6, the latest in the series started last August, brings a host of popular features not found on other LMS:

  • A “Welcome Empty State” for the Gradebook
  • Bulk file download
  • Automatic scaling after point-value editing
  • “Soft” and “Hard” delete of assignments on record
  • Visual indicators for score dropping, per categories
  • Display maximum possible points attainable

A last notable update is the LTI Advantage Certification. It enables the LMS to interact with LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability) compliant applications. They can exchange data, functions and interfaces. Moodle, Canvas and Blackboard already support it.

Why choose Sakai?

The experience of NYU with Sakai is one of the most closest to the ideal. Which is to say, not very representative. However, this and other parts of the Apereo Foundation statement help bring some facts to light.

  • An investment in Sakai goes almost entirely to its ongoing development. This compared to increasing marketing efforts by Moodle and Partners. Canvas LMS spends not more than 25% of revenues in the technology.
  • The Apereo Foundation is a non-profit with transparent governance and financials. Moodle is a private organization. As a public company, we know more about Canvas LMS health than Moodle Pty Ltd.
  • Joinin Sakai is an invitation to engage in long-spanning conversations about the future of tech-aided learning. An ongoing subject of recent time is the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE).

Interested in trying out Sakai?

Read more: “The Value of Open Source Software for Education”

Visit sakailms.org and apereo.org.

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