Friday, 16 June 2017

Moodle looks rubbish: The myth that may be costing HE institutions

It was interesting, but not entirely surprising to read Phil Hill's blog on e-Literate suggesting a dramatic slow-down in the take-up of Moodle in HE Institutions.  Not surprising because there seems to be a myth about Moodle that has always flickered in dark corners and is fanned into flame by for-profit LMS providers at the nearest opportunity.

This myth is that Moodle looks rubbish.

Other LMS providers set up a course content page filled with as many html5 gadgets as they can imagine, and compare it to the most basic topic-format Moodle page.  "There we are!" they declare, "Look how rubbish Moodle looks compared to our system!  And in the modern world where students are using tablets and mobile phones more and more, isn't it important that your University LMS looks smart and contemporary?"

And so Universities look at these other LMS systems and think: 'Ooo, it has this, or it has that!  Our Moodle doesn't have them!'  Which in turn prompts a whole bunch of questions about whether the University needs to 'update' its LMS systems by paying through the nose for a different one.

But of course the reality is that Moodle can replicate pretty much anything these other LMS systems have - and it has the capacity to do a lot more besides.  The problem of outdated Moodle systems probably stems from an underfunding of the Moodle development team within the University itself.

Moodle is open-source - that means it's free to use.  However, you still need people to shape it and develop it to suit your needs.  In times of increasing financial pressures, it would not be altogether unusual if some institutions prefer to support the maintenance of Moodle (keeping it ticking along as it is) rather than the development of it (the continual evolution of it to meet the ever-changing needs of students, staff and technology).  If you don't invest in that development though, then your Moodle is just going to sit there - unchanging - looking older and more tired by the day.

Hence the myth that Moodle looks rubbish - when it doesn't have to.

I love Moodle, precisely because you can shape it to your needs.  When you start using Moodle, your first question is "what do I need it to do?", and then you figure out how to make it do that.  You take control of the process, and can direct it to suit the purposes of your students, your staff, or your pedagogy.

The problem with for-profit LMS providers is that when you buy into them, you given them permission to tell you what to do, and how to do it.  Ultimately, some people might prefer that - and if so, fair enough.

It would be a shame though, if institutions turn their back on all the possibilities Moodle provides, and dive into expensive deals with for-profit LMS systems on the basis of a false assumption that Moodle cannot look as good as them.

At UEL, we have just updated our Moodle theme: This video shows how...