Is Moodle Good?
In this post, I will address some of the most common questions, my students who are exploring Moodle for the first time, ask:
“Is Moodle GOOD?”
If you have ever wondered any of these questions – “why moodle lms?”, “is moodle an lms?”, “what moodle can do?”, “moodle what is it good for?”, “which is better moodle or blackboard?”, “why moodle is bad?”, “why moodle is the best lms?”, “why moodle is used?” – then you should read this post.
In this post, we will see the biggest deciding factors to implement Moodle – over any other commercial LMS. And immediately after that, we will also see when Moodle might not be an ideal solution to implement. (NOTE: if you prefer seeing a video instead, scroll to the bottom :-)
Reason 1: Moodle is cost FREE.
There is no cost involved to download the latest copy of Moodle and run it on a server. You can contrast this with other Commercial off-the-shelf LMSs such as BlackBoard, Desire2Learn, Canvas where the LMS costs can run into tens of thousands of dollars – or even more – depending on the size of the educational offerings.
While on this topic, I will state the obvious also – while Moodle is free, implementing ANY LMS, including Moodle is going to incur other costs – for example in hardware servers for hosting, maintenance, customization, branding and so on. So, do be clear, that while Moodle is free unlike other LMSs, there will be other expense heads that will be similar to any other LMSs.
Because Moodle is free, it will cost you next to nothing to try it out completely before you implement something. In fact in this course, you will learn how to install Moodle literally on any given Windows machine – just as a fully functional test server.
Unlimited free future upgrades also. How would you like your LMS to be able to upgrade into all foreseeable future – with no additional costs. And you will be able to do that with Moodle. While other commercial hosted solutions can promise frequent upgrades – they typically come with subscription costs and will usually be linked to number of students on the system. So – as your installation grows – your subscription costs also will grow. And this is not something you will face with Moodle.
Reason 2: Moodle is Open Source.
When you download Moodle you get the complete source code – period. You are free to customize anything, everything or nothing. Since the code is open, it’s simply a matter of modifying it to add the functionality you want. Don’t try that with proprietary software!
Of course, you will need the technical chops to be able to code – or hire economically to do this. But this is something impossible with proprietary code.
Reason 3: Freedom.
Proprietary systems actively seek ways of locking in customers. Whether it is multi-year license deals, or inability to export your information easily – in case you choose to leave. There may also be proprietary encryption of data – or any other of the many ways that corporations seek to retain you as a customer.
But, open software like Moodle does not attempt to lock you into anything. If one day, you choose to change your LMS – all your data is there for you to take and leave as you wish.
Reason 4: Simple Design.
By design Moodle is incredibly simple in User Experience. This simplistic design makes it easy to learn – and rebrand. Having said that, Moodle has a strong plugin ability – so you can get a modern UI developed easily and plugged in to give a completely new look and feel to your own installation.
The newer versions of Moodle have convenient drag and drop features – and many Moodle themes are now industry standard with a nice responsive design. This responsive design means that Moodle can be easily accessed over many devices like mobile phones and large screens also.
And now, for the rest of this post, let’s see situations when Moodle will not be an ideal solution. Most of these are common to open source projects in general.
Reason a. Support for installation, setup, configuration, maintenance & customization. For all of these – you will have to initiate action. That is – if you do not have the technical skills required for setting up and properly maintaining your installation – Moodle is going to be a difficult proposition. These are all things that you have to make arrangements for – by yourself.
You can get support from Moodle’s forums, documentation and Moodle partners worldwide.
With paid, proprietary solutions, you will likely have a time bound responsive ticketing system – which you will lack with Moodle. Of course, there are many shops that will provide maintenance support for a fee – if you want to go in that direction. There are also huge forums where literally tens of thousands of issues have been resolved earlier – and so been documented.
From my personal experience – a great many times you see complaints on the forums about Moodle – will be because of poor Moodle setup, or suboptimal configuration or weak infrastructure. And not really about Moodle LMS itself.
Reason b. Very Simple Requirements. If you need a very simple learning page with simple content, simple announcements and some simple payment mechanism – then Moodle might not be a good fit for you. You might be better off using a tool such as WordPress – using some learning plugins.
Moodle is a complete learning platform – with a lot of configurability, re-usability, plug and play architecture – and there is a lot of power under the hood. If you are more familiar and comfortable with WordPress, for simple solutions – Moodle might not be a good choice for you.
Having said that – don’t confuse simplistic requirements with smaller organizations. Moodle works great for small schools with tens of users and all the way up to large educational institutions with tens of thousands of users.
Reason c. When you want the User interface hugely different from Moodle’s core tech stack. At this point in time, early 2016, Moodle is not well suited to use certain front end techniques such as AJAX. However, there are great improvements in mobile device support with almost all new themes supporting responsive web design.
The bottom line is – if you are looking to implement a radically new user interface for your learning platform – carefully inspect Moodle’s UI infrastructure. Or else you might end up investing a lot of time and money on the UI rather than on the learning experience itself.
Having said that, Moodle is very easily theme-able, colors, look and feel are all very easy to customize – and there are a great many commercial, inexpensive, professional quality pre-built themes to choose from – with varying degrees of support.
Moodle still operates with the tried and tested web interface – lists, icons, buttons and other such interface components that users are very familiar with. While it may not be very fancy – it requires no great learning at all – so the focus upon using Moodle is on the learning content itself than a fancy UI.
So, in summation, Moodle is 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 because Moodle is open source, the community includes a whole ecosystem of developers that have created hundreds of plugins, integrations and techniques to address specific needs and niches.
The downside is that the staff implementing Moodle – need to take a deep and serious approach to analyzing what they need, researching what is available, and customizing 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 en-culturing of the educators who will be using Moodle is absolutely critical to success. A vanilla Moodle with its default configuration will rarely lead to great online learning.
Teachers on the front-line are generally can not be expected to work all this out on their own. And so a lot of the success criteria will lay with the Moodle Administration and the School Administration teams.