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Apart from being a great tool for developing learning activities for a wide variety of audiences, Moodle also has the capability to be used as a community and collaboration tool to meet a wide variety of business needs. In this article by Jason Cole, Jeanne Cole and Gavin Henrick, authors of Moodle for Business: Beginner's Guide, we will discuss the benefits of open source software as it applies to Moodle, explore how to install Moodle and get a basic course up and running. In this article, we shall:
- Discuss Moodle in the context of its use in non-education organizations
- Install Moodle for experimenting and learning
- Set up a class and add some resources and a forum
|Read more about this book|
(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?
eBook Price: $29.99
Book Price: $49.99
|Read more about this book|
(For more resources on Moodle, see here.)
Creating a course
A course is the basic organizing structure in Moodle. Throughout the article we will be using courses as the primary place to collect resources and activities. You do not need to use Moodle courses just for the delivery of traditional instructions. We can use courses to control access to sensitive information and encourage collaboration, as well as deliver traditional instructions.
Time for action — creating your first course
Courses are essentially containers for resources and activities. You can limit access to courses or open them up to the world. We'll start creating a basic course shell, and then we'll look at how to add some resources and a simple forum.
- Log into your Moodle site as the administrator.
- In the Settings menu on the main page, select Site administration | Courses. This will reveal the course administration sub-menu.
- Select Add/edit courses.
- You will then see the Course categories area. Course categories help keep courses organized and can help your users navigate courses more effectively. You may want to create course categories for various skill groups to help your users find courses that would be valuable to them. Select the Add a new course button:
- You will then be taken to the Edit course settings page. Here you will need to enter some basic information about your new course. Don't worry too much about these settings now, you can always change them later.
- Course full name: The full name of the course. The user will see this displayed across the top of the course main page.
- Course short name: The course short name appears in the navigation breadcrumbs across the top of the Moodle screen.
- Course ID number: The ID number is used to map the course back to an external data source, like an HR system or an ecommerce cart. The ID number is used to automate enrollments. For now, leave this blank.
- Course summary: The course summary is a short synopsis of the course that appears in the course catalog.
- Format: The course format determines the primary organizing structure of the course. The Weekly format organizes the course chronologically. The Topics format organizes the course by topic. The Social format creates a course with one main forum that appears as the course main page. The users can still access all the activities provided by Moodle. The SCORM format uses the course to play a single SCORM object. For now, leave the setting on Weekly.
- Number of weeks / topics: The number of weeks or topics the course has.
- Course start date: The course start date determines the date the weekly course format should use to start creating sections.
- For now, leave the other settings at the defaults. If you are curious about what the settings mean, click the question mark next to the setting label to bring up the Moodle help system.
- Click Save changes. You will then be taken to the Enrolled users screen where you can add other user accounts to your course. If you are setting up the course on a fresh installation of Moodle, there aren't any other users to enroll. As the admin, you can always get access to the course.
- Click the short name of your course in the breadcrumbs at the top of the screen:
- You will then see the editing screen for your course:
What just happened?
You have now added a blank course to your Moodle site. Courses are containers for resources and tools with controlled access for users on the system. We will be using courses as community sites and resume collection sites, as well as internal and external training sites.
Basic Moodle tools
Now that you have a course on your Moodle site, it's time to start looking at the editing interface. The would be easier to follow if you have a basic understanding of how to add resources and create simple activities in Moodle. We won't cover all the options or every tool; there are other books and documentation on Moodle.org for the areas we miss (as well as training courses from Moodle partners).
If you have experience developing Moodle courses, you can skip to the next section. But if you haven't built a course in Moodle, you should probably try the activities below. The Moodle editing interface can be a little daunting at first. Once you understand a little of the structure, it is actually quite simple.
Time for action — adding a resource
The most basic use of Moodle is to share files with other people. While there are many ways to distribute files to other people (file servers, e-mail, websites), Moodle does have some advantages over those methods. Moodle has fine grained control over who can access your content, and it's easy for people to get the latest copy of the document.
To add a file to a course:
- Go to your course and click on the Turn editing on button at the top-right corner of the course.
- In the section where you want to add your file, select the Add a resource menu, and then select File from the drop-down list.
- Enter the name of your resource. This will be the link your users will click on to access the file.
- Add a description of the file in the Description box. The description should briefly indicate the purpose of the file.
- Click the Add button to bring up the file selection dialog:
- To add a new file, select Upload a file from the menu on the left. Browse for the file you want to add. You can also edit the Author input box and choose a license for distribution. Most of the time, you will want to leave the license on All rights reserved.
Moodle 2.0 enables you to select a copyright license for the material you are uploading. By default, any content in Moodle is yours and you keep all rights to the content. The open source license does not extend to your content, just the Moodle code. The other licensing options allow users of your course some rights. Public Domain allows the users to do whatever they want with the content. The Creative Commons licenses allow the users to do more with the content, but reserve some rights to the authors. You can get more information about the Creative Commons licenses at http://www.creativecommons.org.
- You can then select a display option for your file. The options are:
- Automatic: Moodle will select the display option automatically.
- Embed: Your file is displayed within the page, using a plugin if necessary. Moodle wraps the file with its own navigation.
- Force download: The user must always download the file to their personal computer.
- Open: The file is displayed in the window, with no Moodle navigation around it.
- In pop-up: The file is displayed in a new browser window with Moodle underneath.
- The display resource name option allows Moodle to display the original file name (along with the name of the resource you just set).
- The other settings determine who can see the file. We will cover these in a later article. For now, click on Save and display to see your file in Moodle.
- The example below shows an image file with the embedded option and display description turned on.
What just happened?
We just uploaded a single file to Moodle that can be viewed by anyone with access to the course. The link to the file appears in the section where we added the resource.
Have a go hero — organizing resources
Now that you have uploaded a single resource, you can begin to experiment with the file system in Moodle. Your challenge is to add three different resource types, and select the appropriate display option. Word Docs, PowerPoint files, and PDF files are common file types, but experiment with media files such as MP3s as well.
eBook Price: $29.99
Book Price: $49.99
|Read more about this book|
(For more resources on Moodle, see here.)
Creating a forum
Forums are the basic collaboration and communication tool in a Moodle course. Many people are familiar with web forums; most popular news sites have comment sections with reply capabilities attached to their news stories. Moodle's forums are threaded discussions, which is a fancy way of saying you can keep them organized by discussion topics.
You may have noticed there is already a forum in the course you just created. Moodle creates a special News Forum by default. This forum only allows teachers to create posts, and is meant as a place to post course announcements.
Beyond simply distributing course news, forums can be used for discussing learning activities, be the learning activity, or for general collaboration within a community of practice.
Time for action — creating your first forum
Let's start by creating a simple forum for our learners to discuss a case study in a course. We'll want everyone to post to the forum and have an open discussion.
- In the section where you would like to add a forum, select the Add an activity drop down and then select Forum:
- You will then be taken to the Adding a new Forum screen. Enter a name for your forum. Like the resource link above, the name of the forum will become the text of the link to access the forum.
- Select the Forum type; these are your choices:
- Standard forum for general use: This is a standard threaded discussion board where anyone can start a new discussion topic.
- A simple single discussion: A forum with only one discussion topic.
- Each person posts one discussion: A forum where each person in the class can post a single discussion topic.
- Q and A forum: A question and answer forum where the participants must first post a question before they can see other user's questions.
- Standard forum displayed in blog-like format: A standard forum where anyone can post a discussion topic, but the topics are displayed in a blog-like format.
- Enter a Forum introduction. Remember, the introduction is displayed at the top of the forum when participants first enter. Explain the purpose of the forum and any particular requirements for posting or participating.
- Choose a Subscription mode, either optional or forced subscriptions. Forum subscriptions are one of the great features of Moodle. When users subscribe to a forum, they will receive a copy of each message in their e-mail. It's a great tool for staying involved in the conversations.
- Choose whether Read tracking is optional, on, or off for this forum. Read tracking tracks read and unread messages for participants. I find this a useful tool and generally recommend it turned on.
- Set the Maximum attachment size for the forum. Participants can attach files to their forum posts (we use it to share screenshots of bugs and problems). This setting keeps them from attaching truly massive files (or sharing audio and video where it really isn't appropriate). If you want your users to attach word processing documents, set this to under 50 MB. However, if they are supposed to attach slide decks or video, set it to the maximum setting.
- The Maximum number of attachments determines how many attachments a user can add to a forum post. If this is set to 0, they can't add any attachments at all. In our example, we might want the participants to attach their analysis of the case, so we'll set this to one.
- The next three settings cover blocking thresholds for people who are abusing the system with too many posts (it also prevents runaway forum spam should someone get on a public forum for those purposes). The time period is the time over which the number of posts is counted for the Post threshold for warning and the Post threshold for blocking. If a user exceeds the warning threshold within the blocking time, they get a warning on the screen. If they exceed the blocking threshold, they are prohibited from posting for the blocking period.
- The Grade category determines where in the gradebook any scores for the forum are recorded. Forum posts are not graded by default. In our example, we don't want to give a grade on an open discussion of a case study.
- If you did want to use ratings, you would set how the grade is set in the next section. The score for a forum is determined by the aggregation type for the ratings. The options are:
- No ratings: There are no ratings in the forum.
- Average of ratings: The average of all the scores for all of the participant's forum posts.
- Count of ratings: The number of posts with ratings.
- Maximum ratings: The post with the highest rating determines the score.
- Minimum ratings: The post with the lowest rating determines the score.
- Sum of ratings: All of the ratings for the participant are added together to determine the score for the forum.
- You can then restrict the ratings to within a range of dates.
- Again, covering groups and access permissions is out of scope for this article. For now, click Save and display to see your new forum.
What just happened?
We have now created a forum for our users to communicate with each other in a Moodle course.
Forums in Moodle can be rated by either a facilitator or by participants in the class. In an educational setting, this can be used to give a participation grade or determine the students' score on an assignment. In a corporate setting, forced participation in a discussion can be de-motivating. How could you use the forum rating system to encourage participation in your online discussions? What other settings could be used to tune the discussion to meet a specific need?
Have a go hero — doing more with forums
Create a forum of a type other than the standard forum for general use. How is it different from a user's perspective? How could you use it in your organization?
We learned a lot in this article about open source software, the advantages of Moodle, and how to install and begin to use it.
Specifically, we covered:
- Moodle, as open source software, is free to download, install on any machine, and use with as many people as you want.
- Moodle Partners provide professional support for Moodle, so if you want someone to train you, provide Moodle hosting, or customize it to meet your needs, there are a number of companies out there to help.
- It is easy to set up a course and add static resources to Moodle to share with others.
- Adding basic activities in a course, like Forums, is easy to do with a simple web interface. There is also a lot of hidden power to customize the application to meet your needs.
- Moodle 2.0 for Managing Compliance Training [Article]
- Integrating Moodle 2.0 with Alfresco to Manage Content for Business [Article]
- Integrating Moodle 2.0 with Mahara and GoogleDocs for Business [Article]
- Securing a Moodle Instance [Article]
- Roles and Permissions in Moodle Administration [Article]
- Moodle: Authentication Methods [Article]
- Introduction to Moodle Modules [Article]
- Promoting Efficient Communication with Moodle as a Curriculum and Information Management System [Article]
About the Author :
Gavin Henrick has worked with technology in business, learning and development for over 10 years. He has been consulting on using Moodle, Mahara and other open-source applications for the last 4 years. He has run several websites and runs his own blog (www.somerandomthoughts.com). He is a regular speaker at a number of Moodlemoots and conferences on the use of Moodle in the corporate space focusing on practical examples of usage.
Gavin recently joined the the Moodle Partner Remote-Learner and is based out of Canada working with a range of organisations in Canada and Europe.
Jason Cole, Ph.D is the Chief Operating Officer for Remote-Learner, US, an official Moodle partner providing hosting, support and instructional design services. Jason oversees Remote-Learner’s daily operations, providing technical services to over 1,100 clients, from small non-profit organizations to Fortune 500 companies.
Jason started using Moodle at San Francisco State University in 2003 when he led the transition from Blackboard to Moodle. Later, he led the implementation of Moodle at the Open University in the UK, currently one of the top three largest Moodle deployments in the world. Over the ensuing 2 years he successfully architected a system that currently supports over 225,000 student users with multiple enrollments.
Jason is the co-author of Using Moodle (c2006 & 2007) published by O'Reilly Community Press, and has been the organizer of several successful Moodle Conferences in the US and UK.
Jeanne Cole is a Senior Project Manager for Remote-Learner US. She is an experienced Moodle course developer and project manager who has migrated hundreds of courses from other learning management systems to Moodle, as well as created courses from client materials. She also has experience managing projects applying multiple open source products to meet a wide variety of client needs.
Prior to her Moodle career, Jeanne worked as a project engineer / manager for contractors in the US and UK.