Here it is, a comprehensive guide to the new kid on the block: Moodle Workplace. You are invited to join this exciting journey through the latest variant of the most-used Learning Management System (LMS), Moodle.
Without further ado, let's get started. In this chapter, we will introduce Moodle Workplace and cover its various new key features. We will then compare this newly updated software with its little sibling, standard Moodle, and with Totara, the other popular Moodle distribution for learning in organizations and businesses. Then, we will explore Moodle Workplace's business model and its versioning policy.
So, we will cover the following topics in this chapter:
- Introducing Moodle Workplace
- Comparing Moodle Workplace and standard Moodle
- Comparing Moodle Workplace and Totara Learn
- Understanding Moodle Workplace's business model
- Understanding Moodle Workplace versions
Introducing Moodle Workplace
According to moodle.com/workplace, Moodle Workplace empowers "your team with an effective learning solution for training and development."
Moodle Workplace, or Workplace for short, is an open source LMS that has been developed by Moodle Pty Ltd. Workplace is based on standard Moodle and has extra features specially designed for corporate and organizational training, resulting in a powerful and flexible platform for workplace learning.
The main targets for Workplace are companies – from small to medium enterprises, all the way to global corporations and governments (regional and national), as well as public sector and non-governmental organizations, such as charities, foundations, and healthcare providers. However, Moodle Workplace is not limited to these entities: a university might make use of Moodle Workplace for the training and development of its employees, while using standard Moodle as their LMS for students.
Comparing Moodle Workplace and standard Moodle
The usage of the term Moodle – both as a noun and a verb – has been synonymous with the leading open source LMS. However, there are multiple components in the Moodle product family, and the one almost everyone refers to as Moodle is technically called Moodle Core. The high-level components can be seen in the following diagram:
Let's have a closer look at each of the components in the preceding diagram.
Moodle Core or standard Moodle
Moodle Core is the original open source LMS, which has become the de facto standard worldwide in educational settings, particularly in schools, colleges, and universities. Since its inaugural launch in 2002, Moodle Core has become the benchmark that every LMS is measured against. It has won a wide range of international accolades and established itself as an ecosystem for a large number of educational tools and services.
Standard Moodle contains facilities for formative and informal assessment, synchronous and asynchronous communication and collaboration, grading, competencies, and much more. Various standards, such as SCORM, LTI, and IMS, have been adopted, and integration via numerous standard protocols is available, including SOAP and REST web services, Active Directory, and SAML.
A key ingredient to the success story of Moodle is its flexibility and customizability. In addition to hundreds of application configuration options, various elements can be tailored to your needs, including the look and feel of the LMS to represent the corporate identity of your organization. Think of Moodle as a massive box of Lego bricks, where you can either follow pre-built sets or build your own individual system. A major contribution to the latter is Moodle plugins.
Moodle plugins and Moodle LMS
While standard Moodle is a powerful and comprehensive LMS, very few sites solely rely on the base system. Instead, add-on modules are used to supplement the feature set of standard Moodle to customize the platform to individual requirements. These add-ons are called Moodle plugins and are mostly community-contributed additions to standard Moodle, extending its functionality for a specific use case. At the time of writing, there are over 1,750 (!) entries in the official Moodle plugins database at moodle.org/plugins.
There exists a plethora of third-party Moodle plugins that add new functionalities, fix problems, or integrate Moodle with external systems and cloud services. This also covers add-ons for commercial software popular in workplace settings, such as the following, for example:
- Office systems: For instance, Microsoft has developed a suite of plugins to allow Microsoft Office 365 usage within Moodle. This includes logging in via OpenID, access to OneDrive, integration with Office resources, and Outlook calendar synchronization.
- Web conferencing: Various commercial web conferencing suppliers provide plugins for their system to be used from within a Moodle course. Examples are WebEx, Zoom, and BigBlueButton.
- Video platforms: Streaming is a highly effective way to transport video content, which is already supported via basic integrations with YouTube and Vimeo. The Moodle functionality of the latter can be nicely enhanced using the popular Video Time plugin. Additionally, dedicated video platforms, such as Kaltura, also provide suites of plugins for smooth integration with Moodle.
Moodle Pty Ltd – the company behind Moodle – has developed a set of Workplace plugins that contain the key features of Moodle Workplace that sit on top of Moodle LMS. These plugins are the main focus of this book. All Moodle plugins still work in Moodle Workplace, with the rare exception of features that conflict with Workplace functionality.
Some of the Moodle Workplace plugins will make their way into standard Moodle over time, so Moodle LMS users can benefit from the investment that has gone into the Enterprise Edition of Moodle. The priority and timing will be determined through a collaborative approach with the Moodle community and Moodle Partners.
This section gave you a brief overview of the delta between standard Moodle and Moodle Workplace. Since Workplace is an extension of Moodle LMS, the differences are clear cut. This is different when it comes to Totara Learn, which we will cover in the next section.
Comparing Moodle Workplace and Totara Learn
Totara LMS is a subscription-based Moodle distribution that was launched in 2010 by Totara Learning (www.totaralearning.com). Initially, it was an extension to standard Moodle, plus some plugins, that was kept in lockstep with Moodle's releases until version 2.9. Moodle introduced competencies and learning plans in version 3.1, which conflicted with their counterparts in Totara. Totara LMS was renamed to Totara Learn, and new versioning was introduced that is currently at release 13 (see www.totaralearning.com for details).
- Totara Learn: An LMS for training and development
Totara Learn is Totara's flagship product and has been the only serious contender among the open source Moodle LMS distributions for the commercial sector, until Moodle Workplace arrived on the scene. Totara Learn is the product in the Totara suite that is used for comparison with Moodle Workplace in this chapter.
Key features include online learning design and delivery, offline seminar management, assessment and certification, learning plans, program management, adaptive learning, and reporting.
- Totara Engage: A Learning Experience System (LXP) focused on social learning
Totara Engage provides a secure social space powered by people, where learning comes recommended and self-directed, and not just mandated by the organization. Totara Engage is an LXP that supports day-to-day workplace communication, knowledge sharing, and discovery.
Key features include peer-to-peer content creation and sharing, collaborative workspaces, integration with Microsoft Teams and Slack, informal learning, messaging, discussion, recognition, pulse surveys, and action lists.
- Totara Perform: A performance management tool supporting various HR activities
Key features include appraisals, check-ins, goals, OKRs, 360° feedback, competencies, evidence banks, and reporting dashboards.
There might be additional products added to the mix in the future, but for now, these are the available components. All three products make use of the same underlying core business logic represented in a shared services layer.
Totara Learn and Moodle Workplace target the same audiences and are effectively competing products. You may ask what the differences are between the two available offerings. Generally, these dissimilarities can be grouped into the following three categories:
- Features unique to Moodle Workplace
- Features unique to Totara Learn
- Features that exist in both products but are implemented differently
Let's take a look at these in more detail.
Features unique to Moodle Workplace
There are several features that only exist in Moodle Workplace that are not offered by Totara Learn. An example is dynamic rules, where automation can be achieved via "if this, then that" rules to trigger actions when certain conditions are met. For instance, when a course has been completed, a certificate will be issued, and a notification will be sent to the user and also to the responsible manager.
Totara Learn comes with so-called dynamic audiences, which support similar workflows, but are nowhere near as comprehensive and flexible as Workplace's dynamic rules.
Another example is the migration tool, which supports the export and import of various Workplace elements into other Workplace instances.
Features unique to Totara Learn
Equally, some features are unique to Totara Learn. For instance, seminar management is a component covering room and equipment management, manager approval, sign-ups to the course catalog, and much more.
Moodle Workplace contains the appointments feature mentioned earlier, which covers some of the same use cases, but to date, it is no match for Totara's seminar management functionality.
Another example is the highly customizable course catalog offered by Totara Learn. It allows users to browse, search, and filter courses, programs, and certifications. Moodle Workplace currently doesn't have a catalog feature.
Features that exist differently in both products
Another good example is the way managers are modeled. In Totara Learn, a manager has a 1:1 relationship with a user; that is, one user is the manager of another user. Both users belong to one or many organizations. In Moodle Workplace, a user belongs to a department, and a manager is responsible for this organizational entity. Every user that belongs to the same department reports to the manager in charge. The result – one user is the superior to one or many other users – is the same in both systems, but their implications when implementing user profiles and synchronizing HR data are significant.
There are plenty of features that belong to this category but a full comparison is beyond the scope of this treatise. Instead, we offer some pointers on how to decide which is the better product for your setup.
So, which is the better product?
The only way to answer this question is that it depends on the project at hand and its requirements. For instance, if your organization only provides sporadic face-to-face training, Moodle Workplace is likely to suffice. However, if you require full-blown seminar management, Totara Learn might be the better option. A thorough evaluation of each element and how it responds to your requirements is highly recommended to make an informed decision.
It has to be noted that both systems continue to grow organically at a breakneck pace. Also, both products' architects look sideways to see what the other side is doing, and we all know that competition is good for business!
Both Moodle and Totara offer their services through global partner networks. While the principles behind the partner models are similar, the business models are very different. Moodle's business model is discussed in the following section.
Understanding the Moodle Workplace business model
60% of Moodle's revenue comes from the sectors that are targeted by Moodle Workplace, that is, commercial, not-for-profit, and government. Well-known examples of organizations that run Moodle include global enterprises such as Google, Cisco, Coca-Cola, Shell, Intel, and Bridgestone, but also large organizations such as the United Nations, which relies on Moodle as its LMS.
Moodle's main stream of revenue comes from Moodle Partners (Standard, Premium, and Integration), who pay royalties on all Moodle work. Customers who (hopefully) engage with a Moodle Partner pay fees for the services provided, such as consultancy, hosting, support, custom development, theme creation, and integration work. These high-level revenue streams are displayed in the following diagram, showing the overall Moodle business model:
Moodle HQ employs a global team of staff who develop and maintain a range of offerings, comprising the following six products (see moodle.com/products for more details):
- Moodle LMS: Standard Moodle plus Moodle plugins (as was covered earlier in the chapter).
- Moodle App: This includes the Moodle app, the Moodle Workplace app, and related chargeable branding services. We will deal with the Workplace app in Chapter 10, Mobile Learning.
- MoodleCloud: A Moodle Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offering of Moodle LMS and Moodle Workplace (see further in this section for details). There is a free basic plan for small Moodle LMS projects; all other packages are paid-for offerings.
- Moodle Workplace: Well, you know what this is…
- MoodleNet: An open source social media platform for educators, integrated with Moodle and focused on collaboratively curating collections of open content.
- Moodle Education: The Moodle Educator Certification (MEC) program is a comprehensive teaching and learning curriculum designed to help you develop transferable knowledge and skills to be effective educators in today's growing digital workplace.
Both standard Moodle and Moodle Workplace are open source under the GNU Public License 3.0. However, unlike standard Moodle, which is available from the download section of moodle.org, Moodle Workplace is currently only available through Premium Moodle Partners (www.moodle.com/partners). Workplace can either be hosted in the data center facilities of a Moodle Partner or on-premises. The latter requires you to sign a three-way agreement between Moodle HQ, your Moodle (Premium) Partner, and your company. You need to agree to the Moodle Workplace License, which outlines your responsibilities as the customer.
The purpose of the aforementioned arrangement is to protect Moodle's significant investment in Moodle Workplace and to ensure that the Workplace source code is not distributed to any third parties.
The other option for utilizing Moodle Workplace in your business is via Workplace on MoodleCloud, a SaaS offering from Moodle HQ. It is a turnkey solution for sites of up to 1,000 users that includes a video conferencing tool (BigBlueButton) as well as access to content from GO1. However, Workplace on MoodleCloud does not allow you to install plugins or themes, and certain features and configuration settings cannot be changed. Depending on the chosen package, different Workplace features are limited, for instance, the number of tenants allowed or the number of custom reports that can be created. For more details and pricing, contact your Moodle Partner.
Now that you are familiar with Moodle's business model and its primary revenue streams, let's have a look at the Moodle Workplace versions, which differ slightly from the release schedule of standard Moodle.
Understanding Moodle Workplace versions
Moodle Workplace versions are based on the releases of standard Moodle, so Moodle Workplace 3.9.2 is based on standard Moodle 3.9.2. Minor versions of Workplace are released the day after their standard Moodle counterparts, which typically takes place on the second Monday of odd months (January, March, May, July, September, and November). The same applies to unscheduled releases in the case of a severe security issue or serious regression being fixed. Major versions of Workplace are released 1-2 weeks after the respective major version of standard Moodle. The release frequency is twice a year (the second Mondays of May and November).
Moodle Workplace is always based on the official update (minor version) that does not have a "+" sign.
Currently, backporting to older releases is not supported by Workplace, even if the standard Moodle counterpart is still under support. However, this is likely to change in the future. The following timeline diagram demonstrates the interdependence between standard Moodle and Moodle Workplace releases:
Version 3.7 was the first (mostly internal) version of Moodle Workplace. This book is based on version 3.9.2, which is the most up-to-date release at the time of writing. Standard Moodle 3.5 and 3.9 are Long-Term Support (LTS) releases that will be supported for 3 and 5 years respectively. The next major release of standard Moodle will be version 4.0, to be released in November 2021.
Each Moodle Workplace release is a full distribution that contains standard Moodle, all Workplace plugins including the Workplace theme, and several core modifications that can be either future core fixes or Workplace-only patches that allow Workplace plugins to hook into the Core functionality. That is, when installing Moodle Workplace, you do not have to install standard Moodle first and then add plugins or apply Core patches.
This section has provided you with an overview of the Moodle Workplace release schedule and its relationship with the standard Moodle releases. This timetable should be taken into account when planning updates and upgrades, as this is likely to involve maintenance work as well as some downtime.
In this chapter, you have been introduced to the key features of Moodle Workplace, such as multi-tenancy, dynamic rules, reports, and many more. You have learned about the divergence between standard Moodle and Moodle Workplace, which is a powerful extension of the base product. The design and development of this delta between the two products is quite a technical masterpiece, maintaining 100% compatibility with standard Moodle while adding a plethora of features that can be used consistently throughout the system.
We have also covered the popular Totara product suite and explained the dissimilarities between Moodle Workplace and Totara Learn, both in terms of functionality and commercials. This led nicely into Workplace's business model, showing its main revenue streams and stressing the importance of Moodle Partners. Finally, you have been given some insight into the Workplace versioning policy and its dependencies on standard Moodle.
Understanding the information we have covered in this chapter is important in order to acknowledge the depth and breadth of Moodle Workplace and the impact it is likely to have when you provide your team with such a powerful learning solution for training and development. Yes, Moodle is a bit late to the party, but when it finally turned up, it brought a superstar of a guest along.
Now, equipped with this knowledge, it is time to give you a more detailed overview of Moodle Workplace. Let's start in the next chapter with the basic concepts and terminology that are crucial when working with Workplace.