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(For more resources on Moodle, see here.)
So let’s get on with it…
Moodle is an open source Learning Management System (LMS) used by universities, K-12 schools, and both small and large businesses to deliver training over the Web. The Moodle project was created by Martin Dougiamas, a computer scientist and educator, who started as an LMS administrator at a university in Perth, Australia. He grew frustrated with the system’s limitations as well as the closed nature of the software which made it difficult to extend.
Martin started Moodle with the idea of building the LMS based on learning theory, not software design. Moodle is based on five learning ideas:
- All of us are potential teachers as well as learners—in a true collaborative environment we are both
- We learn particularly well from the act of creating or expressing something for others to see
- We learn a lot by just observing the activity of our peers
- By understanding the contexts of others, we can teach in a more transformational way
- A learning environment needs to be flexible and adaptable, so that it can quickly respond to the needs of the participants within it
With these five points as reference, the Moodle developer community has developed an LMS with the flexibility to address a wider range of business issues than most closed source systems. Throughout this article we will explore new ways to use the social features of Moodle to create a learning platform to deliver real business value.
Moodle has seen explosive growth over the past five years. In 2005, as Moodle began to gain traction in higher education, there were under 3,000 Moodle sites around the world. As of this writing in July, 2010, there were 51,000 Moodle sites registered with Moodle.org. These sites hosted 36 million users in 214 countries. The latest statistics on Moodle use are always available at the Moodle.org site (http://moodle.org/stats).
As Moodle has matured as a learning platform, many corporations have found they can save money and provide critical training services with Moodle. According to the eLearning Guild 2008 Learning Management System survey, Moodle’s initial cost to acquire, install, and customize was $16.77 per learner. The initial cost per learner for SAP was $274.36, while Saba was $79.20, and Blackboard $39.06. Moodle’s open source licensing provides a considerable cost advantage against traditional closed source learning management systems. For the learning function, these savings can be translated into increased course development, more training opportunities, or other innovation. Or it can be passed back to the organization’s bottom line. As Jim Whitehurst, CEO of RedHat, states: “What’s sold to customers better than saying ‘We can save you money’ is to show them how we can give you more functionality within your budget.” With training budgets among the first to be cut during a downturn, using Moodle can enable your organization to move costs from software licensing to training development, support, and performance management; activities that impact the bottom line.
Moodle’s open source licensing also makes customization and integration easier and cheaper than proprietary systems. Moodle has built-in tools for integrating with backend authentication tools, such as Active Directory or OpenLDAP, enrollment plugins to take a data feed from your HR system to enroll people in courses, and a web services library to integrate with your organization’s other systems. Some organizations choose to go further, customizing individual modules to meet their unique needs. Others have added components for unique tracking and reporting, including development of a full data warehouse.
Moodle’s low cost and flexibility have encouraged widespread adoption in the corporate sectors. According to the eLearning Guild LMS survey, Moodle went from a 6.8 % corporate LMS market share in 2007 to a 19.8 % market share in 2008. While many of these adopters are smaller companies, a number of very large organizations, including AA Ireland, OpenText, and other Fortune 500 companies use Moodle in a variety of ways. According to the survey, the industries with the greatest adoption of Moodle include aerospace and defense companies, consulting companies, E-learning tool and service providers, and the hospitality industry.
Why open source?
Moodle is freely available under the General Public License (GPL). Anyone can go to Moodle.org and download Moodle, run it on any server for as many users as they want, and never pay a penny in licensing costs. The GPL also ensures that you will be able to get the source code for Moodle with every download, and have the right to share that code with others. This is the heart of the open source value proposition. When you adopt a GPL product, you have the right to use that product in any way you see fit, and have the right to redistribute that product as long as you let others do the same.
Moodle’s open source license has other benefits beyond simply cost. Forrester recently conducted a survey of 132 senior business and IT executives from large companies using open source software. Of the respondents, 92 % said open source software met or exceeded their quality expectations, while meeting or exceeding their expectations for lower costs.
Many organizations go through a period of adjustment when making a conscious decision to adopt an open source product. Most organizations start using open source solutions for simple applications, or deep in their network infrastructure. Common open source applications in the data center include file serving, e-mail, and web servers. Once the organization develops a level of comfort with open source, they begin to move open source into mission critical and customer-facing applications. Many organizations use an open source content management system like Drupal or Alfresco to manage their web presence. Open source databases and middleware, like MySQL and JBoss, are common in application development and have proven themselves reliable and robust solutions.
Companies adopt open source software for many reasons. The Forrester survey suggests open standards, no usage restrictions, lack of vendor lock-in and the ability to use the software without a license fee as the most important reason many organizations adopt open source software.
On the other side of the coin, many CTO’s worry about commercial support for their software. Fortunately, there is an emerging ecosystem of vendors who support a wide variety of open source products and provide critical services.
There seem to be as many models of open source business as there are open source projects. A number of different support models have sprung up in the last few years. Moodle is supported by the Moodle Partners, a group of 50 companies around the world who provide a range of Moodle services. Services offered range from hosting and support to training, instructional design, and custom code development. Each of the partners provides a portion of its Moodle revenue back to the Moodle project to ensure the continued development of the shared platform. In the same way, Linux is developed by a range of commercial companies, including RedHat and IBM who both share some development and compete with each other for business.
While many of the larger packages, like Linux and JBoss have large companies behind them, there are a range of products without clear avenues for support. However, the lack of licensing fees makes them easy to pilot. As we will explore in a moment, you can have a full Moodle server up and running on your laptop in under 20 minutes. You can use this to pilot your solutions, develop your content, and even host a small number of users. Once you are done with the pilot, you can move the same Moodle setup to its own server and roll it out to the whole organization.
If you decide to find a vendor to support your Moodle implementation, there are a few key questions to ask:
- How long have they been in business?
- How experienced is the staff with the products they are supporting?
- Are they an official Moodle partner?
- What is the organization’s track record? How good are their references?
- What is their business model for generating revenue? What are their long-term prospects?
- Do they provide a wide range of services, including application development, integration, consulting, and software life-cycle management?
Installing Moodle for experimentation
As Kenneth Grahame’s character the Water Rat said in The Wind in the Willows, “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” One of the best tools to have to learn about Moodle is an installation where you can “mess about” without worrying about the impact on other people. Learning theory tells us we need to spend many hours practicing in a safe environment to become proficient. The authors of this book have collectively spent more than 5,000 hours experimenting, building, and messing about with Moodle.
There is much to be said for having the ability to play around with Moodle without worrying about other people seeing what you are doing, even after you go live with your Moodle solution. When dealing with some of the more advanced features, like permissions and conditional activities, you will need to be able to log in with multiple roles to ensure you have the options configured properly. If you make a mistake on a production server, you could create a support headache. Having your own sandbox provides that safe place.
So we are going to start your Moodle exploration by installing Moodle on your personal computer. If your corporate policy prohibits you from installing software on your machine, discuss getting a small area on a server set up for Moodle. The installation instructions below will work on either your laptop, personal computer, or a server.
Time for action — download and run the Moodle installer
If you have Windows or a Mac, you can download a full Moodle installer, including the web server, database, and PHP. All of these components are needed to run Moodle and installing them individually on your computer can be tedious. Fortunately, the Moodle community has created full installers based on the XAMPP package. A single double-click on the install package will install everything you need.
To install Moodle on Windows:
- Point your browser to http://download.moodle.org/windows and download the package to your desktop. Make sure you download the latest stable version of Moodle 2, to take advantage of the features we discuss in this article.
- Unpack the archive by double clicking on the ZIP file. It may take a few minutes to finish unpacking the archive.
- Double click the Start Moodle.exe file to start up the server manager.
- Open your web browser and go to http://localhost.
- You will then need to configure Moodle on your system. Follow the prompts for the next three steps.
- After successfully configuring Moodle, you will have a fully functioning Moodle site on your machine. Use the stop and start applications to control when Moodle runs on your site.
To install Moodle on Mac:
- Point your browser to http://download.moodle.org/macosx and find the packages for the latest version of Moodle 2. You have two choices of installers. XAMPP is a smaller download, but the control interface is not as refined as MAMP. Download either package to your computer (the directions here are for the MAMP package).
- Open the .dmg file and drag the Moodle application to your Applications folder.
- Open the MAMP application folder in your Applications folder. Double click the MAMP application to start the web server and database server.
- Once MAMP is up and running, double click the Link To Moodle icon in the MAMP folder.
- You now have a fully functioning Moodle site on your machine. To shut down the site, quit the MAMP application. To run your Moodle site in the future, open the MAMP application and point your browser to http://localhost:8888/moodle:
Once you have downloaded and installed Moodle, for both systems, follow these steps:
- Once you have the base system configured, you will need to set up your administrator account. The Moodle admin account has permissions to do anything on the site, and you will need this account to get started.
- Enter a username, password, and fill in the other required information to create an account:
- A XAMMP installation on Mac or Windows also requires you to set up the site’s front page.
- Give your site a name and hit Save changes. You can come back later and finish configuring the site.
What just happened?
You now have a functioning Moodle site on your laptop for experimentation. To start your Moodle server, double click on the StartMoodle.exe and point your browser at http://localhost.
Now we can look at a Moodle course and begin to look at Moodle functionality. Don’t worry about how we will use this functionality now, just spend some time getting to know the system.
You have just installed Moodle on a server or a personal computer, for free. You can use Moodle with as many people as you want for whatever purpose you choose without licensing fees.
Some points for reflection:
- What collaboration / learning challenges do you have in your organization?
- How can you use the money you save on licensing fees to innovate to meet those challenges?
- Are there other ways you can use Moodle to help your organization meet its goals which would not have been cost effective if you had to pay a license fee for the software?