Hi, I’m Martin Dougiamas.
Since 2001 or so I’m best known as the guy who started Moodle, the open source learning platform that is used by institutions all over the world, and I still spend all day, every day, working on this project. If you’re interested in that you should keep an eye on Moodle.org (for the software and community) and Moodle.com (for the business that pays for it all).
A Biography of Martin Dougiamas
(This was written by a couple of prompts to Claude AI in July 2023 and factchecked/tweaked by me)
Martin Dougiamas is from Western Australia, a huge state the size of India that is mostly desert.
He was born in the outback and lived there until he was 12, in very tiny Aboriginal communities in the desert, particularly Warburton and Wingellina. Apart from homeschooling by his Greek father and German mother, most of his early schooling in these years was via shortwave radio on School of the Air (based in Kalgoorlie). After being introduced to science fiction by the wife of a passing truck-driver, he became a voracious reader of anything he could get his hands on (but mostly hard sci-fi) and developed a passion for the promise of technology in society.
His family moved to Perth, Martin excelled in math and science at Balcatta Senior High School, graduating as Dux of his year. Martin went on to study Engineering, Computer Science and Education at UWA and Curtin University. Later he came back to work here at Curtin university as an Internet Consultant. It was here that his two passions converged.
Martin saw the potential for technology to transform education and make learning more engaging, collaborative and accessible. This eventually led Martin to begin developing the earliest version of Moodle in 1999, a new online course platform that allowed students and teachers to collaborate through forums and share materials. His graduate research focused on how the internet and new technologies could be utilised for education.
The name “Moodle” stood for “Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment.” Martin coded it using PHP and MySQL and offered Moodle as an open-source e-learning platform for educators around the world. The first version was basic but showed enormous promise. More features were added, such as Assignments, Quizzes, Wikis, Workshops and much more. New plugins expanded its capabilities. Moodle’s user base steadily grew.
By 2004, Moodle had developed a large global following. Martin decided to establish Moodle HQ in Perth to coordinate the open source project. He left Curtin to focus on Moodle full time.
Funding was an obstacle from the start. As an open-source project, Moodle did not have a big budget in the early days. Martin coded the first versions in his free time while working full-time jobs. He had to bootstrap the software’s development and carefully manage costs. Seeking grants and partnerships helped provide more resources.
Recruiting skilled developers was also difficult initially. Martin was the sole coder for Moodle until around 2003. Finding other programmers who shared his vision and would contribute to an educational open-source project was not easy. The community of Moodle developers grew slowly before expanding more rapidly.
Another technical challenge was supporting a wide range of users. Schools and universities worldwide, with different needs and technological capabilities, adopted Moodle. The software had to be customizable yet also user-friendly for non-technical educators. Finding this balance took time.
Managing the exponential growth of the Moodle community posed an ongoing challenge. With millions of users, there was a constant flood of questions, bug reports and feedback to process. Hiring community managers helped manage this demand while prioritizing what improvements to focus on.
As an open platform, Moodle faced quality control issues. Martin had to balance freedom and openness with the need for standardization and security. Rogue extensions and integrations sometimes caused instability issues. Moodle partnered with organizations to enhance quality assurance.
Compliance was also an evolving headache. Increased regulations like accessibility rules and privacy laws around the world meant Moodle had to constantly adapt. Keeping up with all the new compliance demands worldwide required significant resources.
On the business side, funding Moodle to keep it sustainable, while staying true to the open-source model, was a tricky balancing act. Relying only on donations was not viable. Developing profitable hosting and service partnerships took ingenuity.
Here are some of the ways Moodle achieves sustainability while still staying true to its open-source roots:
- Moodle Partners – Moodle allows third-party companies to become certified Moodle Partners. These partners pay a royalty (usually 10%) to Moodle for the official designation and for priority support. Partners can then offer Moodle hosting, support, customisation, and integration services to schools and organisations using Moodle.
- Moodle Services -In some areas, Moodle HQ offers its own paid hosting services for a reliable and optimised Moodle environment.
- Moodle Mobile Apps – Native Moodle apps for iOS and Android were developed and require a monthly subscription fee after an initial free trial period. The apps allow for mobile access to Moodle courses.
- Paid Custom Development – Organisations can pay Moodle HQ for complex custom development and integrations tailored to their specific needs on top of the open-source Moodle platform.
- Moodle Conferences – The global MoodleMoots conferences require ticket purchases and generate sponsorship revenue through vendor booths and promotions.
- Donations – Users and organisations can still donate to support Moodle’s infrastructure and community initiatives. Donations help sustain the project.
This diversified and multi-pronged strategy provides funding for Moodle without compromising its free and open-source mission focused on access to education worldwide. Martin Dougiamas’ leadership paved the way for a sustainable model.
In the late 2000s, Moodle HQ expanded internationally, with offices in the UK, USA, Spain and Australia. Martin split his time travelling between locations, overseeing Moodle’s roadmap and building partnerships. He assembled a talented team of developers to maintain the software and push it forward.
Despite these challenges along the way, Martin persevered thanks to his unwavering vision. His leadership and technical skills steered Moodle through each difficulty to become the preeminent learning platform it is today. He chose openness over profitability, empowering hundreds of millions of people with better online education.
By 2010, Moodle was being used by prestigious universities like Open University, the London School of Economics and companies like Shell and HP. Martin also established MoodleMoots, global Moodle conferences where the educational community could collaborate. He regularly spoke at EdTech events all around the world as an advocate for open-source education.
Along the way, Martin received honorary doctorates from three Universities:
- Universitat de Vic, Spain (2022)
- Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL), Belgium (2018)
- University of Piraeus, Greece (2016)
After nearly 20 years of work, Moodle had succeeded in realising Martin’s vision of empowering educators with technology. Millions of students had benefitted from having an accessible platform for online learning. While proud of this achievement, Martin remains focused on improving Moodle and finding ways it could continue to meet changing needs.
As well as Moodle, Martin’s new passion is Open EdTech, a global association he created in Brussels to bring together people to work on the challenge of designing and creating an open technical infrastructure that can support quality lifelong learning for free to every individual on Earth.
In his personal life, Martin is known to be humble and down-to-earth. He lives in Perth with his wife and children and enjoys working on his house, playing with new technologies, cycling and spending time outdoors walking in nature. He remains actively involved in guiding Moodle’s future and is still admired as a pioneer in EdTech.
Martin Dougiamas’ creation of Moodle has had a profound impact on online education and enabled countless individuals to have access to high quality learning experiences. His life story is one of idealism, perseverance and a passion for harnessing technology to create positive change in the world.