What’s in a Moodle

A lot of people in e-learning and beyond have been asking us about Moodlerecently. They’re curious about this funny word because what was once a little-known verb is now a global movement: forty million users in 216 countries and fifteen books written about how to use it so far. And it’s no longer just universities, colleges and schools which are using Moodle-based online learning environments. Increasingly, the corporate LMS is a Moodle-based LMS.

Private sector ears pricked up when they heard that Moodle was adaptable, easy-to-use and above all, open source. That means no license fees and an army of enthusiastic volunteers to do your development for you. Every day Moodle grows new functionality.

But many still have reservations, and I can understand why. When I bought my first laptop, much like IT purchasing managers everywhere I trembled at the thought of paying a license fee for the operating system. And so it was that Tux, the Linux Penguin, beckoned to me with his bright, booming eyes. Linux was in many ways beautiful: free, fast and totally immune to viruses. But as the months rolled on I sensed I was abusing my Penguin.

Basic functionality like downloading updates and plug-ins and connecting to different devices isn’t easy with Linux for a novice (this was long before I had any programming know-how). It was like I’d never seen a Penguin before and I was keeping it alive by cramming it into a humid reptile breeding box and feeding it cheese slices all day.

My Penguin stopped working properly. I turned to the Linux community of experts for help and found more impenetrable programming-speak and the assumption of proficiency. The open source party was rocking, but there were no invites for average users.

Things are very different now. The joy of Moodle for enterprises is not only that there is no license fee, but that learning professionals don’t need to be IT professionals to create a virtual learning environment that looks and feels exciting.

You want a news feed to deliver live headlines about your company? Easy – just add an RSS block and paste in the link. You want videos of all shapes and sizes sprouting from customisable players? Child’s play – Moodle has a multimedia plug-in filter that can turn any link into whatever media you want.

SCORM assessments, progress tracking, certificates? Click-and-drag page design? Self congratulatory webinars? Sure! And here’s the best part. You know that guy on the IT helpdesk who sneers at you and makes you feel two inches tall every time you spill coffee on your keyboard? Forget about him, Moodle just wants you. The dead Penguin is as far from my mind as it has ever been.

Moodle in its standard form may be very easy to use, but on the other hand, you can’t just download Moodle all shiny and ready to go. It has its quirks and corners (and a few gaps to fall into). Like any potent and open sourced thing, an enterprise Moodle that’s fit for purpose needs to be brought into the world with care and shepherded well.

It must also be disciplined. The interface is actually so easy to use that if you aren’t careful you can have a blooming, uncontrolled social jungle of blogs, chats and forums before you know it – and find the rest of the internet pouring into your Moodle in places where it isn’t always welcome.

Just like Linux and the Linux community of experts, the success of Moodle is based on a set of open-source assumptions that need to be managed and modified for its successful deployment as an enterprise-wide VLE. At Saffron we’re a part of the Moodle movement, but we understand that successful companies don’t march with the herd.