Interview of the week: eFront

2 juin 2010

Before continuing to interview world-wide LMS leaders, this week we take a pause with a very interesting Open Source LMS: eFront.

eFront is one of these LMSs (such as Dokeos and Chamilo) which be launched very quickly and which provides a very user-friendly interface. As Dokeos, eFront is based on a mixed-model, with an Open Source version of its LMS and some commercial releases, supported by a Greek company: Epignosis LTD.

Today, I welcome Mr Athanasios Papagelis, Technical Director at Epignosis LTD…

Sébastien FRAYSSE (SF) – Could you give us a brief history of eFront and tell us who is involved today in the development of eFront?

Athanasios Papagelis (AP) – eFront is being built from a professional team of developers and through a community driven, customer-centric approach. This produces an iterative process with small development cycles that produces incremental improvements to the system followed with bigger development cycles that integrates features that need architectural changes. We make use of several aspects of eXtreme programming regarding development and testing procedures.

The initial development of eFront started at late 2001. At that time we got a fund to prototype an eLearning tool with a few advanced characteristics like automatic lesson-student matching and artificial intelligence components to aid the learning process.

The first version was ready at the middle of 2002 and was used at an EU project. We got some important feedback, a few good words :) and some funds to continue development.

At the middle of 2003 a few new members joined our core team of developers bringing fresh ideas. More companies showed interest on using our platform and a lot of feedback produced.

At the beginning of 2004 the development of our SCORM module began. We also felt the need to integrate advanced collaboration tools to the platform using new technologies. This trend led through time to the integration of several Web 2.0/AJAX tools to the system.

Version 2 was a reality at the beginning of 2005. We had a very hectic next year due to several unforeseen problems, but this was for the better.

From the middle of 2006 we came stronger producing a stable 2.5 version, selling the platform to big companies in Greece and improving our code standards. We also shifted to a multilingual and components based system. This brought us to v3, a milestone on the development of the system targeting a wider audience. We used all the inside information, feedback and features request, programming and eLearning expertise we gathered through time to produce this version.

At mid 2007 we decided that it was time to open eFront’s source and let other people contribute to the system – this strategic shift helped us improve the quality of the product and make it known to the learning community. At the same time we introduced specialized vertical solutions targeting educational institutes and enterprises.

Finally, on January 2010 we introduced the latest version of eFront (v3.6) that was built from ground-up to be faster, easier and scale better with the expected volume of users. The same time,  eFront became the second LMS world-wide that offer support for SCORM 2004/4th edition (press release). A short introduction to v3.6 can be found here.

Currently, eFront is a well known eLearning platform backed-up from a dedicated company, efficiently supported through an alive web community and sold through a network of global partners that offer professional services.

SF – Which types of industry are the main adopters of eFront: education, government, small and medium businesses, large businesses…?

AP – We’ve got dedicated editions for different types of audience. The open-source community uses eFront Community; this is the suggested eFront edition for anyone having basic needs. Colleges are using eFront Educational while companies are using eFront Enterprise. As one can imagine, the biggest user volume is using eFront Community. However, we’ve got a healthy number of installation for other editions as well. Most of our current customers are SMEs that choose eFront Enterprise for its business-logic functionality that can be, otherwise, found only on very expensive LMSs (e.g., Branch management, Job-description management, Skills management, Skill-Gap analysis).

SF – eFront was initially developed and provided exclusively as a commercial product. Why did you decide to move to an open source model?

AP – The LMSs market is a very competitive one. We found through time that in order to make a difference we needed to improve the audience and the quality of the product. We did not have the needed capital to make expensive marketing efforts thus we decided that an open-source solution would help us penetrate in a much faster way the elearning market while the same time help us improve the product under a win-win scenario for the company and the community. This strategic shift turn out to be a very successful one.

SF – How will evolve the free version compared to the commercial ones. Will some features of the commercial edition be integrated to the free one?

AP – Different eFront Editions will grow organically through time.  As the system grows, some of this commercial functionality will be moved to the community edition, making sure a balance is kept between all editions.

There are no plans whatsoever to abandon the community edition. On the contrary we want to make it the natural choice for everyone choosing an LMS.

SF – What features or capabilities of eFront are you working on today or thinking about for the future?

AP – We have a very busy roadmap. On top of that we let people suggest features through uservoice. Many of the user suggestions have already become part of the product.

The current stable eFront version is 3.6.2. The development team works on minor 3.6+ extensions and improvements scheduled for release every second Friday.

At the same time we work at a different development branch on 3.6.3 that brings important additions  to the course infrastructure.

Finally, we are on the discussion phase for important architectural extensions for v3.7 that will boost the extensibility of the system.

SF – Thank you very much Mr Athanasios Papagelis for this great interview. Our readers can visit the eFront website for further information.

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