Adopting Open-Source Software Applications in U.S. Higher Education: A Cross-Disciplinary Review of the Literature

Jun. 20, 2009

Source: Review of Educational Research. Vol. 79, Iss. 2; p. 682-701. (June 2009).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Open-source software-software delivered with its source code-is an outcome of the convergence of information and communication technologies (ICTs).
Higher Education institutions in the United States are considering Open Source software applications such as the Moodle and Sakai course management systems and the Kuali financial system to build integrated learning environments that serve both academic and administrative needs. Open Source is presumed to be more flexible and less costly than commercial software. This article reviews the literature from the fields of Software Engineering and Education to determine the state of the current body of knowledge around the key drivers of Open Source adoption.

Research Questions

The following questions frame this review:
* What are the key drivers underlying the adoption of open-source software as a viable means of capitalizing on ITC convergence to serve both the pedagogical and business needs of U.S. institutions?
* What direction should educational researchers pursue to assess the effectiveness of open-source software applications in building an integrated learning environment for the academic and administrative sides of institutions?


This review focuses only on open-source software at the application layer, with emphasis on systems that support teaching and learning. It includes 2,180 references from 58 resources which focusing opensource software at the network infrastructure level.


There is some indication that institutions of higher education in the United States view open-source software as the key to balancing pedagogical needs with the need for administrative efficiencies. In this review, the author outlines five themes that dominate the software engineering literature and the education literature on the drivers of open-source adoption: (a) social and philosophical benefits, (b) software development methodology benefits, (c) security and risk management benefits, (d) software adoption life cycle benefits, and (e) total cost of ownership benefits. She identifies gaps in the literature in terms of evaluating open-source software as the key to capitalizing on ICT convergence to serve both teaching and learning needs and administrative needs. The author also discusses the opportunities for more rigorous research to measure the effectiveness of Open Source software in creating a balance between sound pedagogy and business efficiencies.

Updated: Jul. 02, 2009