Moodle vs Sakai: FIGHT!

Zack Rosen just posted a comparison of Moodle and Sakai, based on some available online web- and project metrics (not an evaluation of the software itself). The comparison reads like something written by a Moodle supporter, intending to show how viable it is when compared with Sakai. It is viable, but language like “All signs point strongly towards Moodle kicking Sakai’s butt and to the Mellon Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, and Sakai Partners wasting $6.6M” really isn’t productive or conducive to an objective comparison.

Regardless, there is some surprising stuff in there – I didn’t realize Moodle has 8,900 installed copies. I’d guess the majority of that are “tinkering” or “sandbox” copies – I have 2 instances of Moodle running here, but it’s only being used once for students…

A more interesting “deployment” stat would have been number of campuses using each product with students. Number of campuses using each as their sole LMS? Primary? Secondary? Experimental? Average number of students per deployment. Number of administrators or server babysitters required per deployment.

The other interesting item, which should have been obvious in retrospect, is the funding differential. Sakai had a generous $2.2M round of seed funding from the Mellon and Hewlett foundations, with another $4.4M added by the core partners (likely a lot of that “in-kind”). Moodle is run on donations – at $12K/year – plus any time contributed to the open source code (which is likely rather substantial, yet uncounted).

The web metrics are essentially meaningless for comparing the projects, except to say that lots of people know about both.

37 thoughts on “Moodle vs Sakai: FIGHT!”

  1. Moodle vs Sakai FIGHT!

    Zack Rosen just posted a comparison of Moodle and Sakai, based on some available online web- and project metrics (not an evaluation of the software itself). The comparison reads like something written by a Moodle supporter, intending to show how…

  2. D’Arcy,

    Interesting stuff on Moodle and Sakai. I’m curious if you might have some recommendations on resources for less than expert geeks on using Moodle. I have been working exclusively with WebCT because that’s what the organizations I do work for are currently using.

  3. Heather – all I know of is the documentation on the website. There is likely something better to act as an intro or guide, but it’s probably the best starting point… Best thing I’d recommend – download a copy of Moodle to your desktop and play with it. It should run anywhere that has a webserver, PHP and MySQL – and those are all downloadable if your desktop doesn’t have them.

  4. Hey D’Arcy. A few points

    * I’ve gotten some well deserved flack over the tone of my messages about Sakai and Moodle. But in the grand scheme of things I think the higher ed ICT community has been far to congenial for it’s own good and the numbers presented speak for themselves. Putting that much weight (funding / partnerships) behind Sakai in light of the Moodle project’s success was a phenominally stupid waste of resources and will result in a lot of people being burned. While the purpose of Sakai was to advance the cause of open-source software in higher-ed I think it will end up hurting that effort by sucking up headspace and funding from the Moodle project.
    * I am not involved in either Moodle or Sakai, I am a third party observer with a strong interest in open-source projects for the public sector.
    * According to this internal survey:
    Moodle deployments in higher ed are their largest user base.
    * According to the project lead of Moodle the 8,900 number reflects those that have chosen to advertise their Moodle install back with the community. Many running Moodle sites do not do this so it is believed it is actually an under representative number:

  5. You should check out the comment on Zack’s post that was just left under the title “Have you taked to USERS of Sakai?” – ouch! This is something no one really wants to talk about, usability of any of these systems (let alone the related issue of ‘and how does it actually support learning’), because it is hard to measure. But here’s my experience; install Moodle, put an instructor or a student in front of it, wait 5 minutes, come back, voila, already they are up and going. Sakai…maybe not so much. Not that I am in particular volunteering, but this is an area in need of much improvement, how to compare the usability and effectiveness of these CMS (and other non-CMS approaches).

  6. Agreed. I’m using Moodle on a project, not Sakai. Usability-wise, Moodle is better than the Big Name LMS we use on campus. Deployment-wise, it’s way easier to set up than a Big Java App. Best of both worlds.

    I’d love to see some objective analysis (and metrics if possible) on the usability of all systems from multiple perspectives (student, instructor, administrator, server geek)

    One of the things I love about Moodle is the flexible content. Want to have activities as part of the online course? OK. Self-grading assignments? Sure. Wiki-as-lesson? Uh huh. etc…. It’s either built-in or easily added via modules/plugins. The other Big LMSs have their own plugins/modules/building blocks, but they feel duct-taped together…

  7. Building on D’Arcy’s comments about additional metrics, it would be great to see a performance/stress test for Moodle vs Sakai. The long running critique of Moodle is their bloated code and the long running critique of J2EE projects like Sakai is the inherent bloat of Java. I’d be interested to see the results of bloat vs bloat 😉

  8. Jeff: Moodle has deployments serving 180K learners (in NZ). Sakai’s biggest known live deployment is UMich w/ 50K learners. UMich spends 5.75 FTE’s a year in support costs alone on Sakai and I’ve been quoted $60K a year costs for full support for an outside consultant for Moodle of 50K learners so it seems Sakai’s TCO is far larger than Moodle’s.

  9. I thought these kind of fights were already over… at least after WebCT was bought by blackboard. So now we see “large funding / open source” vs. “small funding / open source”, hmm. Seems as if both fighters have in a way not recognized that war of LMS is already over. blackboard (“large funding / closed source”) won!

    Since “large funding / open source” will not reach the budget and stamina of a company like bB you will not need that much imagination, what will happen to it. We will see, I wish both moddle and sakai all the best, oh and I will keep an eye on bB how much innovation we will see in the next years. In the meantime I will just add some lines of java-code to EverLearn. 😉

    just my 2 cent.

  10. A list of moodle sites can be found at
    Although it is possible that some may not be used by students, my playpen is not on this list, only my active moodle.

    I would suggest that the figure given would be for sites on this list, although some playpens are listed i doubt that many are.

  11. not so sure large/closed has won the war. a battle, perhaps, but everything I’m hearing and seeing is pointing to a large-scale migration to open source LMS in the next few years.

    but, in the end, it shouldn’t be the projects or philosophies that win, as much as the students that have to use these things…

  12. Helge: I think that is very far from the truth. Moodle is now the #3 LMS in the world (#1 in New Zealand) and is seeing an exponential adoption curve. This is all despite the fact Moodle is a organically grown open-source project w/o a marketing and sales team and sees most of it’s referalls coming from word of mouth. The battle of open-source vs. closed source solutions is just beginning.

  13. I agree with D’Arcy. It isn’t about wars or feature sets or philosophies – it’s about students and learning. Without the students there is no need for an LMS.

    That said… I don’t understand the constant slagging on commercial LMS. From my perspective (primarily WebCT Vista), there is nothing wrong with a commercial LMS. It’s a piece of enterprise software, much like any other piece of expensive enterprise software used in higher education.

    I’ve also worked a fair bit with the WebCT PowerLinks SDK and while I have my beefs, I wouldn’t necessarily refer to it as “duct tape” either. In fact, the current PowerLinks SDK is typically used in a manner similar to the IMS Tools Interoperability Guidelines. There’s a fair bit of potential. Some of the vendors like Turnitin have nice integrations and I’ve seen demos where institutions have created their own user interfaces for various tools via web services.

    Can anyone provide info about the Blackboard Building Blocks?

  14. Daily Update — February 7, 2006

    Here’s our take on news that matters for Tuesday, February 7. Today’s theme is combinations, and here are a some links to headlines about technology that is changing the way we live and learn.

    Gaming — James Cameron sees a future in which multi-…

  15. vs.

    The dualiths get a little tiring. As with most things, different products will suit different situations. The butt kicking is never likely to happen, the 6.6 million dollars is probably more like one million of real money, most of which probably went to infrastructure that will be used elsewhere, and the best thing that ever happened to moodle was sakai, because big american corps – university and otherwise – backed a large scale open source educational project, ‘proving’ to big time decision makers that it was a viable idea, and that we could look outside Blackweb.

    There is still something of building a better mousetrap about this kind of comparison as well, where we need to figure out what it is we are trying to teach in those classrooms anyway. Do we really need to kill the poor mouse… (couldn’t resist)

    Sakai, i am told, has been approaching the moodle people to encourage a little meeting of the minds.

    wow… what a babbly comment… well, cheers. dave.

  16. We at the Sakai Foundation do not view Moodle as a competitor but rather as a colleague, one that is helping to reshape teaching and learning and advance the open-source movement. Nor do we view serving students, faculty, researchers and academic administrators as a zero-sum game wherein a Sakai deployment or a Moodle installation represents a net gain for one community and a net loss for the other.

    From our perspective Moodle has an extremely exciting story to tell–one need only look at its growth curve as well as the British Open University’s recent decision to adopt Moodle as their enterprise CMS platform to understand Moodle’s impact. Likewise, we at Sakai believe that our work over the last 24 months to create both an enterprise-level collaboration and learning environment (CLE) and an energetic and growing international community of R1/R2 academic institutions, community colleges, non-profits and commercial affiliates (100+ organizations to date) working together to advance open source alternatives to proprietary software is a welcome development.

    Sakai is an integrative framework designed to support collaboration, research and learning both within and across institutions of higher education. It is envisioned to serve a variety of constituencies–instructors and students, researchers, ad hoc work groups, project teams etc. While Sakai is often portrayed in the marketplace as a learning management system (LMS) or course management system (CMS), the Sakai application framework has a broader purpose and is designed to support the wide variety of collaboration and learning activities that take place within education (and increasingly beyond).

    Sakai’s largest enterprise deployment to date is the University of South Africa (UNISA) MyUnisa system launched in January 2006, a rollout designed to support 6000+ course and project sites and a student and faculty population of 83,000+. UNISA’s hardware/OS configuration is worth noting and features:

    4 x HP ProLiant DL380 G4 rack mount servers
    1 x Fileserver/NFS/MySQL/DHCP/DNS,
    1 x LinuxVirtualServer Load Balancer,
    2 x Diskless Nodes
    each having
    2 GB RAM,
    2 x 3200Mhz CPU

    The fileserver runs CentOS 3.6 and the node filesystem is CentOS 3.3.

    The nodes run the following software:
    Apache 2.0.46
    Java 1.4.2_09
    Tomcat 5.5.12

    UNISA’s Sakai deployment also features the inclusion of a number of locally produced tools running under Struts yet fully supported by the Sakai application framework. In the near future we expect to support tools developed in languages other than Java, such as PHP and PERL.

    The Sakai community is committed both to the open-source model of software development and to the proposition that institutions of higher education, banding together in a cooperative and collective enterprise, can and should utilize their intellectual capital to develop and deploy tools that support teaching and learning. We encourage diversity in approach within the open-source community and believe that open source initiatives such as Moodle and Sakai offer viable alternatives to proprietary software offerings within the academic space.


    Anthony Whyte
    Sakai Foundation / University of Michigan

  17. Anthony – I completely agree with you about this not being a zero-sum game. Much cooler than that.

    Also, thanks for sharing the info about the hosting infrastructure at UNISA. Very interesting – and much more accessible than I would have guessed for a rollout that large.

  18. @Zack: Let me keep my role as an advocatus diaboli: Well I suppose if you ask BlackBoard you might get some pretty impressive collection of numbers, too. I mean where is this magic “growth curve” of moodle?

    I mean its in some of the states of the US that contracts for complete states and theier schools/universities wer signed with blackborad, right? I see very welll, that moodle makes its way. But if we talk about money (and marketshare is measured in money) you might get to some other results “who won”. I also do not see resources (of money) at the opensource movement to even win a battle.

    If we talk about if and what students can win, we take some really different perspective. Measuring success is seems to be in the end the huge difference between some of the open source solutions and the closed source solutions.

    E.g. what will it mean for SAKAI to be a success?
    What does the founder of moodle see as a success?
    And yeah, what does the CEO of blackboard see as a success?

    I think there are pretty different opinions about how to measure success. That makes discussion about “who wins”, “who hhas won” and “who will win in the end” a litttle bit complicated. But its fun annd catches attention!

    D’Arcy’s Headline “Moodle vs Sakai: FIGHT!” just invited to something like this. 😉

  19. Helge: With 8,900 installs Moodle is a serious force to be reckoned with in the market for LMS solutions for higher ed. Last year it had 2,357 installs so that makes it a 377% increase in the past year – project that out a year from now and Moodle could have well over 33,000 installs. i would be surprised if that is not near or eclipsing WebCT / Blackboard install base. The vendor servicing market will do well over $5M a year in hosting services and there will be over a $1M in platform development work on Moodle being covered by users and vendors.

    Meanwhile Sakai has 35 installs after 2 years and $6.6M spent. Despite the headspace they have captured and the money they have raised they are barely even an ‘also ran’.

  20. Moodle vs Sakai .. VLE’s are social software

    I was browsing technorati when I came across a post on D’Arcy Norman’s blog referring to comparison between Moodle and Sakai made by Zack Rosen.
    I suggest interested people go ahead and read the articles themselves, however the gist is th…

  21. For those wanting a place to learn more about using Moodle we have been collecting various training material at

    Both Moodle and Sakai are proving the viability of open source as a development model. Diversity is good, and ultimately the market forces prevail.

    Gary Benner
    New Zealand.

  22. Moodle is unquestionably versatile, robust and user-friendly for both instructors and students. However, our concern here at Consorcio Clavijero, a grouping of 40 public and private higher education institutions in the state of Veracruz, Mexico, is the level and amount of programming expertise required to create and maintain an interface with a suitable administrative system for registration, admission, recording of tuition payments, grading, and student records. How much high level programming is needed? Does Moodle or some other entity provide such an interface? Is there an open source administrative system that institutions can adopt to go beyond the obvious teaching and learning advantages of Moodle?

  23. Peter: Moodle out-of-the-box provides many or all of these functions. And if it doesn’t, you can take your pick of Moodle servicing firms that you can hire to you make sure Moodle meets every one of your needs.

  24. @Helge: Kewl seems like an interesting project but I’m assuming it never gained much traction. Anything particular I should be looking at?

  25. Two institutions in South Africa have put Sakai into production, viz. University of Cape Town and University of South Africa. In neither case can it be said that “FUD was effective in South Africa in displacing a locally developed mature open source project in favour of Sakai”.

    There are at least 4 different open source learning environments being used in South African universities including Sakai, Moodle, KEWL and OLS, as well as proprietary solutions such as WebCT.

    Institutions choose products, projects and communities for a range of strategic and practical reasons. In a global world, there’s little value in trying to make an argument that geographic proximity should trump other factors, or that one particular open source project should be everyone’s choice.

  26. Scott: Ugh, that is a messed up story. It took me exactly 1 hour of searching public websites to come up with the numbers in my post. Why do you think financial decision makers at the 60+ partner universities never asked to see such numbers themselves?

  27. Zack, one story re: KEWL that you might be interested is here ( – see the comments by Derek Keat) and the related thread on Stephen Downes’ site ( I think one of the reasons your original post comparing the numbers on Sakai and Moodle struck such a nerve is that before these numbers were out there, people were actually comparing these two in the same breath as equally ‘mature’ and well adopted open source software apps, when it was clear from your numbers that one of them was and one of them had *some ways to go.* As the story I point to above goes to show, the same FUD was effective in South Africa in displacing a locally developed mature open source project in favour of Sakai. $6million+ buys a lot of marketing.

  28. Hi Peter, Moodle supports LDAP natively for course set up, enrollment, and authentication, and that is a good way to communicate between your Student Infol. System and your LMS. Moodle also supports various other methods of querying external databases and batching input and output of data.

    We use it here at Cal State, Humboldt, with the Banner SIS. It is indeed hard to find an open source SIS that is ready for prime time, and certainly it hard to get 40 institutions to use a single SIS of any sort (unless they are not already using one:-).

    Moodle does support different enrollment and authentication systems for different users, and this feature is being extended in the uplcoming 1.6 release. I would suggest getting in touch with the good folks at Catalyst IT for help in setting up connections to different SIS systems, and they have a similar situatio in New Zealand, multiple campusses with various SIS systems or none at all.

    I believe Remote-Learner is also working on this issue.

    To Jeff:

    The long running critique of Moodle is their bloated code

    Huh? Where is that a long running critique? Before NZVLE passed 45,000 users, the longest running critique I heard was it probably wouldn’t scale because it used PHP (I guess Facebook, Yahoo, etc. had something to do with putting the PHP scalability issue to rest)?

    Anway, I show 1.6 as 30MB (without the translations). This bloated? The Sakai Binary is 61MB, so Sakai is already twice as bloated?

    Complete Moodle install for Windows (with Apache, PHP, and MySQL) = 56MB, complete Sakai demo (With Tomcat) = 68.1MB.

    Sure the Sakai source is 9.2MB, however comparing runtime to runtime it seems to me Moodle is leaner. Also, you can get Moodle much smaller than 30MB by removing modules and blocks to reduce it feature parity with Sakai. Hey Zack, make me some graphs:-D.

  29. Michael: Any thoughts on CiviCRM as a possible code-base for a higher ed SIS?

    “Hey Zack, make me some graphs:-D”

    I would love to do a followup comparison of:

    – TCO for deploying / mantaining Sakai / Moodle for 50K learners (technical support, user support, etc.)
    – Scalability of Moodle vs. Sakai – how much hardwore required for support of how many users / load.

    Any interest in helping me gather the data for such a comparison?

  30. For support data, I’m putting together our numbers for a “The Case for Moodle” presentation I’ll be presenting at CATS 2006 ( These numbers will be for Blackboard and Moodle (currently roughly equivalent). I’ll certainly provide the presentation after the conference.

    For Moodle at 50,000 users, good folks to talk to would be CatalystIT, last I heard they had 45,000 users spread over a number of different intitutions. More on the NZVLE project:
    Slideshow describing the design of their cluster:

    On of the key issues with building any large scale LMS installation is scalability in the funding model, try to base the funding on number of users or better enrollments. Building a system for 10,000 users that ends up with 20,000 users is more expensive in the long run than building a system for 25,000 users that ends up with 20,000, IMO.

    Regarding CivicSpace, well we’re in the middle of just that evaluation at CSU Humboldt. The team working on that is in the final stages of coming up with a software list for an end-to-end portal with Moodle in the middle. I know they are looking at CS, various collections of Drupal mods, SugarCRM, Centre, and others.


  31. Anthony

    I have been reading a variety of comments regarding Moodle and Sakai and I am finding myself getting increasingly confused.

    How can you say that you see Moodle as a collegue when the Sakai product offers many of the same features and so has to be in direct competition with Moodle (and any other systems doing similar things)?

    You mentioned that Sakai is often misreprented as a LMS (“While Sakai is often portrayed in the marketplace as a learning management system (LMS) or course management system (CMS), the Sakai application framework has a broader purpose and is designed to support the wide variety of collaboration and learning activities that take place within education (and increasingly beyond).”), However, you go onto basically say that it is so much more. This statement leads me to assume that certain deficiencies where identified in Moodle (I will limit myself to Moodle due to its current reputation). If so, why did the seed funders of Sakai not just invest in Moodle to rectify any deficiencies.

    I understand that market drivers work in the open source environment as well – the best prodcts get used and so survive. What Sakai seems to have created though is confusion. I am sure that which one is best, which one should we use type debates occur regularly. Would the Sakai funding not have been better used in ways that made such indecision a thing of the past.

    Perhaps though, people will say that the market will eventually make the decision and it is invariably right!

  32. It’s easy to install Moodle but it’s difficult to install Sakai.

    Also, there are alot of documentatios and materials about Moodle but there are less about Sakai.

  33. How fascinating to see a 2 year old debate such as this! At Lancaster we have exploited both Moodle and Sakai technologies. Sakai, although moderately more complex to install, seems to win in terms of user perspectives. We run leadership training courses for business professionals, in year 1 we used Moodle to provide course management and discussions and it was little used. Year 2, this year, we have used Sakai and the feedback is much more positive. During the first 6 weeks of the course participants logged in 340 times (25 participants are enrolled on the course)and made 250 forum entries. Additionally to this success we now provide e-collaboration and e-community services to researchers using Sakai. Again, the feedback is very positive from users in terms of Sakai’s flexibility and range of service.

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