Some reflections about where Moodle is at

The term “LMS” can mean a lot of things and I rarely use it for Moodle. Moodle was always designed as a learning platform, more like an operating system or a “lego set” which allows you to create exactly the tool you need for a particular learning situation, ranging from the smallest home school up to the largest University. Every class is different.

This is possible because Moodle has evolved with a lot of configuration options over the years, and most importantly, because we are open source, our community includes a whole ecosystem of developers that have created hundreds of plugins, integrations and techniques to address specific needs and niches. It’s amazing what you can create with Moodle.

The downside of all this is that the staff who are implementing Moodle at a particular institution need to take a fairly deep and serious approach to analysing what they need, researching what is available, and customising Moodle by removing options, adding plugins and designing the interface to make it the optimal tool for their own situation. It should be well-integrated with the other systems around it. It should be made to look good with attractive school branding. Finally, like any major IT system, the inclusion, training and enculturing of the educators who will be using Moodle is absolutely critical to success. I see a lot of schools just install a vanilla Moodle with its default configuration and expect great online learning to start happening – it rarely does. Teachers on the frontline are generally far too overworked already to work all this out on their own.

From our viewpoint of working on the core Moodle platform, our priorities have been building good infrastructure that enables our community to build on top. This includes creation of good data to support analytics and computer-aided teaching and learning, better theming for beauty, responsive design and usability, better performance and stability for easier maintenance, better navigation and interfaces for getting around the system, a quality Moodle Mobile application to allow offline work on mobile devices and so on. If you haven’t looked at Moodle in a while, then our most recent releases may surprise you.

We also work on providing support services for education institutions. As well as the free community resources at which include forums, documentation and mechanisms for sharing ideas, templates and code, we have built a comprehensive network of Moodle Partners around the world, companies who can provide the detailed support needed to produce optimal results from Moodle in a particular online or blended learning situation.

What hasn’t changed is how people really learn. Sure, we use different tools and software but our brains have been physically the same for a very long time.

Ultimately it comes down to building workflows of giving information to the student to start learning, allowing them to express what they learned to other people and use their knowledge in practical situations, and then receiving good quality constant feedback on these expressions so they can continue to improve and consolidate knowledge into their long-term memory and overall thinking.

Moodle was based on a philosophy of social constructionism, which is really just an efficient way of enabling all these activities to happen among a largish group of people, and this hasn’t changed. An expert teacher using Moodle can create wonderfully rich and exciting learning environments that take advantage of all the benefits that information and communications technology provides to us.

Another thing that hasn’t changed much, however, is that teachers in general are undervalued in our society. They are overworked, underpaid and in many cases doing a good job despite the situations that the often complex and underfunded administration of teaching throws at them.

So what needs to change?

I can’t speak for all “LMSes” but I can speak for Moodle. Moodle in the end is just a tool in the hands of people and it’s not going to solve every educational problem on its own, but there are still a lot of things we can do to make Moodle more usable and accessible.

From an IT perspective, Moodle must be easier to install, configure and manage. We have a number of initiatives coming up in the software itself and in our services that will help enormously with this.

Moodle needs to be easier to learn and use well. We are improving how Moodle works on touch devices in all aspects. We should see a more gradual “slope” in the learning curve of the interface, with reduced options at the beginning that expand over time. The software itself, through analytics, can understand something of what you are doing as a teacher and proactively assist you in creating new workflows, content and activities, attending to particular events within the class, and informing you in timely fashion of things you need to know to be a good facilitator in an online course. This means true computer-aided teaching via our now-ubiquitous mobile devices. Likewise for students, analytics allow us to take a more proactive approach in reminding them of things they need to do, drawing them into conversations and other activities via gamification and other methods, and providing them with real rewards.

Finally, our work on Moodle will allow it to integrate better with other systems in the worlds of work and qualifications, reducing friction and complexity in these areas.

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