Training the Web Worker Way: Moodle

21 Comments

Here’s a possible update on the old saying, “Those who can: do. Those who can’t: teach.”

Moodle

Those who need to teach, train or monetize their skills use moodle. There’s about a bazillion Content Management Systems out there, with more being released into the wild daily, so when I heard about moodle as a possible solution for a project I’m working on, I expected to see yet another CMS. Not so.

Moodle is an open source/free Learning Management System currently running on about 40,000 sites with nearly 20 million users. Those numbers have been steeply climbing the last several months.

With moodle, you can create anything from the online equivalent of a major university down to a tiny mini-site used to orientate new hires for your online business. With about 320 community and core modules, you can build your online courses out of everything from standard multiple choice quizzes to forums, wikis, podcasts and videos, all without touching a line of PHP code.

Moodle has solid (some might say too solid) roots in academia, pedagogy, and the world of teachers and students. More than a few major figures in the online world have recently gotten into moodle as a way of going from blog posts and ads to online training and real money.

Some examples of moodle in action: Brian Clark, the guy behind the popular Copyblogger site created a paid site, Learning Sells, using moodle. He used it to sell the idea and provide training of how to go from popular blogger to online training guru without going broke. Aaron Wall of SEO Book fame has converted from ebooks to a paid moodle site to provide ongoing instruction in the complexities of search engine optimization.

More and more ISPs like this one are now offering one-click installs of Moogle, a sure sign of customer demand. If your web host doesn’t offer a one-click install, then you’ll have to install it yourself, so you’ll need a host that has PHP 5 and a database such as mySQL.

Online training fills in that huge gap between what we went to school for and the Internet-enabled Web Worker world we find ourselves in now…for little or no cost. Think of it as online communities built around actually learning how to do something. For example:

  • Your auto mechanic may be getting a skill tune up at Digital Literacy Project.
  • Your mom who still talks with fondness about the archeology classes she took back in college can learn how to read Egyptian hieroglyphs and catch up on how technology is changing archeology (hint: DNA matching and GPS positioning) at Glyphdoctors.
  • You’re now finding yourself doing business with colleagues online and learning a starter vocabulary in say Portuguese would help – this moodle training site and countless others wants your business.

If you’re toying with the idea of getting over to the teaching side of the trainer/student relationship, you find a near inexhaustible trove of moodle sites, including videos. You can also try out moodle locally on Mac or Windows, or you can play with it online at Open Source CMS.

21 Comments

Matt Apple

I’m a programmer for a fairly large community college (14,000 students this semester). We’ve been using Moodle for about a year and a half. I work with Moodle all day long(current version 1.9.7), mostly problemshooting, designing and running reports straight out of the database (that the Moodle interface doesn’t let you do) and interfacing Moodle with other systems. All in all we have a love/hate relationship with Moodle. It is for the most part functional and our students and teachers can mostly get along in Moodle. But we are frequently confronted by undocumented Moodle weirdness and it sometimes has a “not ready for primetime” quality to it. During my manic phases it sometimes inspires me to write a Moodle-clone that solves all the issues that I have with Moodle. But then I quickly come to my senses. I still like it better than Blackboard, which is what it replaced here at our school.

But since its free don’t take anyone’s word for it, download it onto your machine, set it up(its easy) and then play with it for a while.

Alison Cross

I have built a small website for a friend who wants to run 3 on-line creative writing courses, each with a maximum of 8 students.

She uses moodle at university and loves it, but I think that she should try out other completely free options to see how successful (or not) the courses will be.

Reading all the comments has confirmed my thoughts that there are other, entirely free ways that she could run these modules.

Thank you very much, guys (and guyettes!) :-)

JHG

That’s really interesting, was not aware this was existing and top as freeware. Good stuff.

Webmaster Forum

I do agree with you that moodle is a great cms and i had seen alot of sites using them.

indre

sobre mi ay poco soy mujer que vivo en espania migustaria abrir su propio negosio .nesesitava un producto que contiene elementos nesesarios.soy lituana no spyk inglich jei kas domina daugiau rasykit.

PKayne

Are you serious MoodleMan? That example (because one worked) are horrendous, straight out of 1995 web design school. Moodle is ugly as the day is long. And as a modern day User interface designer (not the 1970 hacks that are ripping off people for mediocre web design) it’s a down right nightmare of a technical system to properly design for. CSS Zen gone horribly wrong.

From the interface development side, its major drawback is the poor style coding within the html. The HTML is supposed to be the cake and CSS the icing. Well this cake had icing, nuts, screws, nails all in it. 90% of divs had a minimum of four classes and 1 id tag. And every other tag had inline styles in the HTML! You can’t adjust that. Some inputs had styles some didn’t. Absolute chaos.

Any non-table neanderthal could see that the developers working on Moodle’s front-end coding are just plain confused, because the thing is so freaking adhoc. The result is that it definitely limits creating an interface that is not only aesthetically appealing but aesthetically functional. Inclusion of features that augment the user experience and enhance ease of use are truly difficult.

But thank god it’s not impossible to surmount this garbage mountain. I did it, so look out for finally a good design using Moodle in the next few months. Moodle needs to realise that not only content is important but the way how you present the content makes it accessible.

MoodleMan (Julian Ridden)

Moodle does not have to be ugly. Check out http://playpen.riverview.nsw.edu.au or http://ignition.riverview.nsw.edu.au for two examples that are not.

I have been a keen advocate of Moodle for some years now. It is customizable, extendable and one of the more intuitive systems I have come across. I would certainly say it is an Enterprise level product (Open University UK use it with tens of thousands of users) while having a zero cost point to purchase.

While not without it’s flaws, I do think it is one of the better systems out there. Check out my blog for more details on what you can do when you invest some time with Moodle

Mattias Wirf

Weird comments about the UI, J Lane. If you are the one installing and administrating the platform, why not make your one theme and include the things you want?

Jimmy Turner

No product is perfect and personal preferences, business or the odd grievance or sour-grapes can influence opinion.

Anyway Moodle is definitely getting there, but don’t take my subjective view let the world-wide statistics speak for themselves:

Registered sites: 41291
Courses: 1827266
Users: 18793534
Teachers: 1878145
Enrolments: 20046737
Forum posts: 22067840
Resources: 13260588
Quiz questions: 16533755

This is on April 5th ’08 – see here for latest stats : http://moodle.org/stats/

I would be interested to hear about a more popular LMS/VLE – but I won’t hold my breath! ;)

Cheers,

Jimmy T (UK)

Mr. Crash

Having been subjected to both webCT and moodle at university I can tell you first hand…

WebCT is *awful*
The lecturers can’t use it, so it was plagued with broken links or missing items, it’s slow, whinges when i use browsers that render things properly (opera and safari) and just generally looks hideous.

Moodle has a poor interface.
But at least it allows for a usable discussion, as opposed to webCT where it’s antiquated system is so awful to use most people don’t bother.

But all my lecturers could work out how to use moodle – they got notes up on time, many of them even actually used the discussion/wiki modules and provided extra support for students. Never ended up with things saying “replace this heading” like someone had taken a slab of copy pasta and dumped it on all the pages at the beginning of each semester (as was the case with webCT).

These points alone make it far better than webCT.

David Huston

3 Lane is just plain wrong about Moodle. I have shown and shared moodle with lots of teachers and they love it! It is rock solid stable, its features just work, and has many options for different purposes.

I used to design my own course web site with Dreamweaver and my own ISP. I thought it worked great. But when I tried ti train non-tech people on it, they all gave up because it was al just too complicated. Moodle, otoh, is fun and easy to use.

I use it to post lots of content–in MS Office format, pdf, or easy to create web pages. post assignments on a calendar, create links to web contact, give online quizzes, and have students upload their assignments and use the connected gradebook, too. All these features were easy to learn and work handily. The discussion boards are GREAT! They are local, not centralized, so it’s much easier to keep discussions separate. Complex discussion boards are confusing to many students.

Moodle is cautiously exploring the social network approach, but, to be frank, moodle’s strength is for teacher-moderated sites. Use Ning if you want the benefits of a social network for your class–but be prepared to give up the educational features built into Moodle.

Moodle’s default UI is not beautiful, but there are many themes you can choose for free and for a small fee and they are easy to install.

I think 3 Lane has it all wrong. My experience has been just the opposite of his/hers. I think the original article had it right.

Reggie

I’d agree that Moodle’s UI is indeed ugly. However as someone in the K12 level, it offers features that allow us to actually use an LMS. Privacy concerns by parents/admins/teachers at times handcuff users.

Moodle is ‘free’- or kind of (not including support, hosting ect). However it allows teachers to assess, to organize classes and to facilitate discussion easily. Sure, it would be nice to give each student a blog, discussion board account and Gmail account. However unless you can host in house, restrictions prevent you from that. Get a moodle installation going and you’re good.

J Lane

Bob: Unfortunately, it’s really hard to recommend any LMS product. I’ll mention briefly that I worked at a University for about 10 years doing technology support of faculty in their teaching. We were a WebCT institution, but nobody was happy with it either.

Moodle was looked at time and time again because, at the very least, it’s free so we wouldn’t be paying for a steaming pile of… you get the idea. Every time, our faculty vetoed it because the UI was a pain in the neck to use: it didn’t work well for them posting their courses, assignments, quizzes or, their marks. I rolled it out for a couple of faculty members who wanted to really put it to the test one semester by using it in their courses and spent hours every week providing support to them because things just weren’t intuitive (seemed like software bugs, but it was just that it wasn’t obvious what you had to do).

Personally, I rolled out the best tool that I knew of for the job. Most classes only need a couple of functions – a discussion board (there are a million available), a blog, a wiki, or we had an in-house solution for submitting/reviewing assignments and submitting grades. I have a hard time justifying “integrated” solutions when the pieces are of such inferior quality (regardless of if they have rounded corners PK).

I think the best bet for web workers at large, looking to venture into this field is Learnhub (linked in my last comment), but even that isn’t perfect. As for colleges/universities/school districts… I don’t envy any of them. WebCT/Blackboard is a huge monolith and doesn’t seem to care to improve. The biggest thing they have going for them is that they integrate well with student information systems, and they have a large, locked-in customer base that would be hard-pressed to move to anything else.

I guess, what I’d recommend above all else is for people to look at what they want their course offering to be and to match it to the best tool for the job. If you’re presenting a series of content modules, just blog them. You can save future modules as drafts and publish them when you’re ready. Want class discussion/collaboration? Roll punBB, phpBB, . Need online assignment submission? Get your students to post them to Google Docs and share them with you. Quizzes/testing? I haven’t really checked out many alternatives, but I’m sure a quick search will give you a few.

PK

I hear it all the time, “Moodle is ugly”. Yes, it may be maybe too old fashioned, not enough round corners(hey, Moodle has round corners too ;)), no huge sign BETA, not enough 2.0, not enough social networkish, not enough blink-blink… ;)
But if you think about usability, lot of work has been done on Moodle.
You were right, that Moodle has been hit by feature creep, but this is why it is so widely used. It has everything you could think up about e-leaning. And I can assure you, it is not because “someone has it too” but because “someone needs this feature, so be it”. It just takes some time to learn how to control it ;).
BTW another useful site with video tutorials, result of last year GHOP.

J Lane

Moodle is the bottom of the barrel of LMSes. It’s one that I frequently point to when trying to explain what not to do for interface design.

It’s biggest problem is that it suffers from bad feature overload. Essentially, they tried to match WebCT/Blackboard feature for feature, and didn’t spend any time thinking about whether they should implement a feature, or what the best way to do it is. The just puked all kinds of modules into a single piece of software, released it as open source, and called it a day.

Do yourself a favour, skip Moodle. Unfortunately, the majority of LMSes are terrible, Learnhub looks somewhat promising, Desire2Learn is alright as well amongst paid-for options.

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