With a global pandemic, supply chain issues, and political and economic upheavals resulting in school and work disruptions, the need for online education and training that works in today's world has increased by leaps and bounds. Have online programs kept up? Have the learning management systems (LMSs) they use been able to satisfy the thousands of first-time e-learners who may be having to do their work in relative isolation on a phone or tablet, rather than a laptop or desktop system? In many cases, the answer is a resounding "no." Online education experiences have been lambasted for being ineffectual, and educators and training providers openly worry about "lost years" of failure-riddled transitions to e-learning.
What are the main problems? By and large, students and instructors who are new to e-learning and are working remotely do not succeed when learning experiences are complicated, hard to follow, and provided in a single format, such as text only. Almost without exception, they fail when they do not feel they are in touch with anyone, but are adrift and alone, with infrequent, if any, interaction.
Even Moodle, which has emphasized learner interaction, collaboration, and engagement since its inception in 2002, was assailed by detractors. Even though Moodle put out frequent updates, and at the start of 2022 was in version 3.11, it wasn't enough. So, Moodle underwent a massive update with version 4.0, with an emphasis on the user experience. To tackle the issue of getting lost, Moodle makes it easy to navigate. The new design is engaging and new, with refreshed activities keeping students engaged and on track, and instructors informed. Moodle 4.0 has an entirely different user experience and has new features, such as an integrated Dashboard with a built-in Calendar and timeline, which pull in all the deadlines and important dates in an easy, at-a-glance, clickable interface. Many improvements have been made to the activities and resources, and all of them work even better than ever with themes that are more responsive than ever so that they work equally well on tablets, laptops, smartphones, and desktops.
Moodle is designed to be intuitive to use, and its online help is well written. It does a good job of telling you how to use each of its features. What Moodle's help files don't tell you is when and why to use each feature and what effect it will have on the student experience, so that is what this book supplies.
So, with that, we'll get started with a guided tour of Moodle. The goal of this introductory chapter is to give you an overview of the tremendous flexibility and customizability of Moodle, one of the world's most popular and widely used learning platforms. After this chapter, we will learn how to design and develop outcomes-based learning programs that can be used for both training and education, and that follow instructional design principles and accommodate educational psychology to maximize learning.
Moodle is a free, open source LMS that enables you to create powerful, flexible, and engaging online learning experiences. I use the phrase online learning experiences instead of online courses deliberately. The phrase online course often connotes a sequential series of web pages, some images, maybe a few animations, and a quiz put online. There might be some email or bulletin board communication between the teacher and students. However, online learning can be much more engaging than that, especially in a world where we have become more accustomed to incorporating "live" (also called "synchronous") experiences with "on-demand" (also referred to as "asynchronous") content to do as much as possible to replicate the interactions in face-to-face learning. With Moodle 4.0, the user experience is much more streamlined and intuitive than in previous versions, and you can interact more easily using your laptop, tablet, smartphone, or desktop devices. For teachers and administrators, there are more features and options than ever in Moodle 4.0, which opens up more opportunities for you to design a learning experience that results in satisfied students who can demonstrate that they've achieved the course goals.
In this chapter, we will cover the following topics:
- The history of Moodle
- Moodle's philosophy
- A plan to create your learning site
- Step-by-step instructions for using Moodle
- Applying the Module philosophy
- The Moodle experience
In this chapter, you will learn what Moodle can do and what kind of user experience your students and teachers will have when using Moodle. You will also learn about the Moodle philosophy and how it shapes the user experience. With this information, you'll be ready to decide how to make the best use of Moodle's many features and plan your online learning site. First, we will learn about the history of Moodle.
The history of Moodle
Moodle's name gives you an insight into its approach to e-learning. The official Moodle documentation at http://docs.moodle.org states the following:
The phrase online learning experience connotes a more active, engaging role for students and teachers. It connotes, among other things, web pages that can be explored in any order, courses with live chats among students and teachers, forums where users can rate messages on their relevance or insight, online workshops that enable students to evaluate one another's work, impromptu polls that let the teacher evaluate what students think of a course's progress, and directories set aside for teachers to upload and share their files. All these features create an active learning environment, full of different kinds of student-to-student and student-to-teacher interactions. This is the kind of user experience that Moodle excels at and the kind that this book will help you create.
Moodle's philosophy of learning
For those of you who are interested, the underlying learning philosophy of Moodle is that of "connectivism." This means that people learn from one another, and Moodle's framework is structured to maximize interactivity with other students and the content itself. When Moodle first debuted, the philosophy usually involved forums, with some potential for real-time chat. However, with the ability to include webinars using BigBlueButton and other add-ins, the possibilities of synchronous (real-time) and asynchronous interactivity have expanded.
One thing to keep in mind as you develop a course that incorporates connectivism as a learning philosophy is that you'll be working with the affective (the emotional) as well as the cognitive domain. This means that you will be engaging the emotions (which is good for motivation). Connectivism also means that you can encourage the sharing of experiences and allow people to build on prior knowledge and experience. Building courses that allow students to scaffold their knowledge with experiential and prior learning can give rise to a very solid approach. Your students will be able to do more with their knowledge, particularly if the course has to do with applied knowledge and skills.
Keep in mind how you will advance the learning objectives as you develop the course. What kinds of students will you have? Will they be in cohorts or be learning individually? How much interaction will be effective? Now, let's learn how to create a plan for your learning site. Even though Moodle was designed for collaborative interaction, it is a very flexible platform and you can design courses for individual self-guided learning as well.
A plan to create your learning site
Whether you are the site creator or a course creator, you can use this book to develop a plan to build your courses and curriculum. As you work your way through each chapter, you will learn how to make decisions that meet your goals for your learning site.
This will help you create the kind of learning experience that you want for your teachers (if you're a site creator) or students (if you're a teacher). You can also use this book as a traditional reference manual, but its main advantages are its step-by-step, project-oriented approach and the guidance it gives you about creating an interactive learning experience.
One of the most exciting new developments with Moodle is that Moodle now has a cloud-based virtual learning environment (VLE) called MoodleCloud. It is free for you to use for 2 weeks if you have fewer than 50 registered users (students, instructors, and so on). You can still customize the course, and you can build in a great deal of flexibility and functionality. It does not have the same number of options as a self-hosted site that you can customize with some of the Moodle partners, but it is straightforward, affordable, and easy to use. MoodleCloud allows you to experiment with designs and also start by building a smaller site or cluster of courses that you intend to grow. It also makes it easy for individuals and organizations to develop new kinds of training, collaboration, and education, and then scale up when needed. Furthermore, MoodleCloud is effective for incorporating webinars offered through its built-in activities, BigBlueButton, or linking to outside webinar providers such as Zoom, GoToMeeting, Google Meet, Teams, and more.
Step-by-step instructions for using Moodle
When you create a Moodle learning site, you usually follow a series of defined steps. This book has been arranged to support that process. Each chapter will show you how to get the most out of each step. Each step in this section is listed with a brief description of the chapter that supports that step.
As you work your way through each chapter, your learning site will grow in scope and sophistication. By the time you finish this book, you should have a complete, interactive learning site. As you learn more about what Moodle can do and see your courses taking shape, you may want to change some of the things that you did in the previous chapters. Moodle offers you this flexibility. This book also helps you determine how those changes will cascade throughout your site.
Step 1 – learning about the Moodle experience
Every LMS has a paradigm, or model, that shapes the user experience and encourages a certain kind of usage. An LMS may encourage very sequential learning by offering features that enforce a given order on each course. It may discourage student-to-student interaction by offering few features that support it while encouraging solo learning by offering many opportunities for the student to interact with the course material.
In this chapter, you will learn what Moodle can do and what kind of user experience your students and teachers will have when using Moodle. You will also learn about the Moodle philosophy and how it shapes the user experience. With this information, you'll be ready to decide how to make the best use of Moodle's many features and plan your online learning site.
Step 2 – installing Moodle and configuring your site
Chapter 2, Installing Moodle and Configuring Your Site, goes into more depth about how to either install Moodle, customize a solution with a Moodle partner, or use a standard cloud-based installation such as MoodleCloud. This chapter will help you decide on the right hosting service for your needs. It will also help you install and configure Moodle so that it works in the way you would like.
Functionality booster: If you would like to find the latest ways to customize your Moodle installation or add new apps, you can visit the Moodle docs. Here is a link to the Moodle docs for version 4.0: https://docs.moodle.org/400/en/Main_page.
Step 3 – creating the framework for your learning site
In Moodle, every course belongs to a category. Chapter 3, Creating Categories and Courses, will take you through creating course categories and then creating courses. Just as you chose site-wide settings during installation and configuration, you can choose course-wide settings while creating each course. This chapter will tell you the implications of the various course settings so that you can create the experience that you want for each course. It will also show you how to add teachers and students to the courses.
Step 4 – making decisions about common settings
In Moodle, course material is either a resource or an activity. A resource is an item that the student views, listens to, reads, or downloads. An activity is an item that the student interacts with or that enables the student to interact with the teacher or other students. In Chapter 4, Managing Resources, Activities, and Conditional Access, you will learn about the settings that are common to all resources and activities and how to add resources and activities to a course.
Step 5 – adding basic course material
In most online courses, the core material consists of web pages that the students view. These pages can contain text, graphics, movies, sound files, games, exercises – anything that can appear on the World Wide Web (WWW) can appear on a Moodle web page. In Chapter 5, Adding Resources to Your Moodle Course, you will learn how to add this kind of material, plus find links to other websites, media files, labels, and directories of files. This chapter will also help you determine when to use each of these types of material.
Step 6 – making your courses interactive
In this context, interactive means an interaction between the student and the teacher, or the student and an active web page. Student-to-student interaction is covered in Chapter 5, Adding Resources to Your Moodle Course. This chapter covers activities that involve interaction between the student and an active web page, or between the student and the teacher. Interactive course material includes lessons that guide students through a defined path, based on their answers to review questions and the assignments that are uploaded by the student and then graded by the teacher. Chapter 6, Adding Assignments, Lessons, Feedback, and Choices, tells you how to create these interactions and how each of them affects the student and teacher experience.
Step 7 – evaluating your students
In Chapter 7, Evaluating Students with Quizzes, you'll learn how to evaluate students' knowledge with a quiz. This chapter thoroughly covers creating quiz questions, sharing quiz questions with other courses, adding feedback to questions and quizzes, and more.
Step 8 – making your course social
Social course material enables student-to-student interaction. Moodle enables you to add chats and forums to your courses. These types of interactions will be familiar to many students. Chapter 8, Getting Social with Chats and Forums, will show you how to create and manage these social activities.
Step 9 – adding collaborative activities
Moodle enables students to work together to create new material. For example, you can create glossaries that are site-wide and those that are specific to a single course. Students can add to these glossaries. You can also allow students to contribute to and edit a wiki in class.
Moodle also offers a powerful workshop tool, which enables students to view and evaluate each other's work.
Each of these interactions makes the course more interesting but also more complicated for the teacher to manage. The result is a course that encourages the students to contribute, share, and engage. Chapter 9, Collaborating with Wikis and Glossaries, and Chapter 10, Running a Workshop, will help you rise to the challenge of managing your students' collaborative work.
Step 10 – managing and extending your courses
Chapter 11, Groups and Cohorts, will show you how to use groups to separate the students in a course. You will also learn how to use cohorts, or site-wide groups, to mass enroll students into courses.
Every block adds functionality to your site or your course. Chapter 12, Extending Your Course by Adding Blocks, will describe many of Moodle's blocks, help you decide which ones will meet your goals, and tell you how to implement them. You can use blocks to display calendars, enable commenting, enable tagging, show navigation features, and much more.
Step 11 – taking the pulse of your course
Moodle offers several tools to help teachers administer and deliver courses. It keeps detailed access logs that enable teachers to see exactly what content the students access, and when. It also enables teachers to establish custom grading scales, which are available site-wide or for a single course. Student grades can be accessed online and can also be downloaded in a variety of formats (including spreadsheets). Finally, teachers can collaborate in special forums (bulletin boards) reserved just for them. This is what will be covered in Chapter 13, Features for Teachers: Logs, Reports, and Guides.
As you put together the course site, you will build in the Moodle philosophy, which incorporates both connectivism ideas about how people learn, as well as social constructionism, both of which stress interactivity.
Applying the Moodle philosophy
Moodle is designed to support a style of learning called social connectivism. This style of learning is interactive. The social connectivist philosophy emphasizes collaboration and believes that people learn best when they interact with the learning material, construct new material for others, and interact with other students about the material. The difference between a traditional philosophy and the social connectivist philosophy is the difference between a lecture and a discussion.
Moodle does not require you to use the social connectivist method for your courses. However, it best supports this method. For example, Moodle enables you to add several kinds of resources that students can interact with and use for their foundational instructional material, and then interact with in collaborations, assessments, and more. There are various resources in Moodle 4.0. We will go over the use and function of each one in a later chapter. Please note that Moodle 4.0 features redesigned icons:
Let's look at these icons in more detail:
- Book: A multi-page resource with chapters and subchapters
- File: Digital content that can include supporting files
- Folder: Bundles files together
- IMS content package: A collection of files packaged according to an agreed-upon standard to be reused in different systems
- Label: Information inserted between links to other resources and activities
- Page: A web page resource created using the text editor
- URL: A web link
Moodle enables you to add even more kinds of interactive and social course material. This is the course material that a student interacts with by answering questions, entering text, uploading files, and more. The following screenshot shows the various Moodle activities, along with their new icons, which were updated in Moodle 4.0. We will look at these in more detail later in this book. A quick introduction will suffice here:
Let's look at these icons in more detail:
- Assignment: Allows you to upload files to be reviewed by the teacher.
- BigBlueButton: A webinar with many features.
- Chat: Provides live online chat between students.
- Choice: Multiple-choice questions, plus interactive "Did You Know" engagers.
- Database: A collection of entries/records.
- External tool: Enables you to interact with resources and websites.
- Feedback: Custom surveys with multiple question types.
- Forum: Asynchronous discussions.
- Glossary: Students and/or teachers can contribute terms to site-wide glossaries.
- H5P: An HTML5 package containing interactive content launched from within Moodle.
- Lesson: A conditional, branching activity.
- Quiz: Many different types of questions are provided here, including multiple choice, matching, short answer, and numerical.
- SCORM package: A collection of files that are packaged under an agreed standard, focused on learning objects.
- Survey: Verified survey instruments that can be used for many different purposes.
- Wiki: This is a familiar tool for collaboration with most younger students and many older students.
- Workshop: This supports peer review and feedback for the assignments that the students upload.
In addition, some of Moodle's Plugin add-on modules called "blocks" add even more types of interaction. For example, a developer has created a block called "Appointments," which provides a form for teachers to book 1 on 1 appointments with students. The students can be notified and it can be added to both the teacher's and the student's calendars. Note that the Calendar is also a block. Now, let's learn how to shape the learning experience with Moodle.
The Moodle experience
As Moodle encourages interaction and exploration, your students' learning experience will often be non-linear. Moodle can enforce a specific order upon a course using something called conditional activities. Conditional activities can be arranged in a sequence. Your course can contain a mix of conditional and non-linear activities.
In this section, I'll take you on a tour of a Moodle learning site. You will see a student's experience from the time the student arrives at the site, enters a course, and works through some material in the course. You will also see some student-to-student interaction and some functions that are used by the teacher to manage the course.
Working with the demonstration sites to learn and practice
Moodle.org contains two types of demonstration sites where you can start a course from scratch or experiment with courses that are already partially completed and populated. They are both in Moodle 4.0. You can choose your role so that you can experiment with being a student, teacher, manager, administrator, and more. To enter the site and begin, go to https://moodle.org/demo:
The Sandbox option has more roles and is often easier to use if you want to practice working with plugins. It is located at https://sandbox.moodledemo.net/. You will need to log in as an administrator.
The demo site – Mount Orange School
Let's take a look at the way that the site is set up. Notice that there is a menu at the very top of the screen. It provides several menu items, including Home, Dashboard, My courses, and Site administration. On the right-hand side, you'll see a column of menu items that says Main menu. This is a "block" that has been set up to help students quickly find their way through the course and go to the places that have been set up. This aspect is new in Moodle 4.0:
The following is a close-up of the navigation bar at the top of the screen:
Let's review each option:
- Home: This is the page you're on now. To edit it, go up to the top right-hand corner and click on the Edit mode slider button. Once you've turned that on, you'll see that little pencil icons and gear icons pop up everywhere, ready for you to start editing.
- Dashboard: This is a valuable tool that helps students organize their tasks, manage time, and then track the progress of their courses. Any time that you upload a resource or an activity that has a date due, it will appear in the calendar and the timeline.
- My courses: This screen lists the courses that you have enrolled in. It is different than the listing of courses on the site's Home page, which will list all the courses for the site.
- Site administration: This page looks different for different users. For a person with administrator permissions, when you click on the link, a page will open with different categories of configurations. Once you open the Site administration page, you'll see a horizontal navigation bar with a list of links. They include the following:
- General: This contains all the general settings and utilities, which range from analytics, competencies, and badges, to licenses and security. The important thing to remember with this list is that all the settings are universal, site-wide settings. You can customize the different courses so that they have independent settings.
- Users: This is where you administer site-wide settings for user accounts, permissions, privacy, and more.
- Courses: This is where you manage and access all the courses and categories on the site, upload new courses, set activity chooser settings, and set up backups.
- Grades: Here, you can set the site-wide settings for grades, grading scales, grade categories, and more. You can also set up site-wide grader reports and grade history.
- Plugins: Moodle 4.0 has a wide array of plugins, which are also activities and controls. If you want your site to do something, chances are, you can find it as a plugin. Keep in mind that plugins can be site-wide or specific to a course or a course category. For an at-a-glance look at the default settings and availability of the different plugins, you can click Plugins overview.
- Appearance: This is where you can set the appearance of your site and incorporate themes. The default themes in the demo site are Boost and Classic.
- Server: Unless you are an administrator, you will have very few reasons to tamper with server settings. However, you may need to look at tasks, email configurations, and web services.
- Reports: This area contains various performance reports for the software and activity of Moodle.
- Development: This area contains links for developers who are creating new code or enhancing and customizing their installation of Moodle. There is a template library that makes it easy to get started. Cookbooks are widely available in Moodle repositories and on GitHub.
Just for fun, let's log in as though we are an administrator for the Moodle Sandbox demo and see what it looks like as we start to configure the site and a course.
Logging in as an administrator on the Sandbox demo site
You've registered as an administrator and have logged in. Now, you can experiment with your first course. Once you've logged in, you'll see that you can switch roles or maintain your role as an administrator. Scroll down and you'll see a link to My first course:
Using moodlecloud.com for cloud-based hosting
Moodle has created a cloud-based version of Moodle, which allows you to set up courses, develop a sandbox, and launch courses. It is located at https://moodlecloud.com/app/en/login. The pricing depends on the number of users and courses. MoodleCloud is hosted by Moodle and always has the latest version and supports several themes. However, it does not offer all the different themes, and may not be as robust as a solution for those with dedicated servers. I've used it often and I like it. The only downside is that there is sometimes a time lag.
The main menu
Log into MoodleCloud or the Sandbox site. Be sure to switch on Edit mode in the top right-hand corner. For the Sandbox demo site, please to go to sandbox.moodledemo.net. Note Moodle sandbox demo in the left of the following screenshot. Under that, you'll see a horizontal line of menu items:
Once you've set up your site, you'll see that there are several menu items on the upper row. They have changed in Moodle 4.0 and make it easier for you to go to the most often-used categories in Moodle. You will see Home, Settings, Participants, Reports, Question Bank, and More:
- Home: This is your site's home page and can be configured to describe the school, list courses, and more.
- Settings: This category allows you to set the site's home name, summary, and announcements, as well as adding blocks, such as a Calendar block and a Timeline block.
- Participants: Here, you can enroll, unenroll, and manage users. While managing users, you can create groups, groupings, manage permissions, and assign roles.
- Reports: Reports have been expanded in Moodle 4.0. You can add competency breakdowns and upload guidelines and rubrics. In addition, you can generate user logs and look at live logs of user activity. You can even create activity reports, track course participation, generate statistics, and set up rules for monitoring events.
- Question bank: The fact that the Question Bank appears in the menu of the site's home page is new in Moodle 4.0. It has been set up this way to make it easier for you to develop and manage questions that will then be used for quiz activities. Quizzes of all sorts constitute the heart of many courses, and part of the job of a Moodle site administrator or teacher is to develop, classify, manage, and deploy these questions. We'll learn how to write effective quiz questions, as well as showing you how to work with quizzes and quiz questions, later in this book.
- More: This dropdown menu contains three links which relate to your site's content and functionality. The links are: Content bank, Filters, and Course reuse.
Modifying the course and menu items
As always, to be able to edit a course or the menu items, you'll need to go to the top right-hand side of the page and click on Edit mode. After that, you can add activities, resources, plugins, and more. We'll go into all of that throughout this book. For now, let's look at how the Moodle experience has been enhanced through Moodle 4.0. Notice that My courses still lists your courses, but now, it shows which ones are in progress, and how much of each has been completed:
Then, to further enhance the user experience and enhance time management and develop self-efficacy, Moodle 4.0 has improved the course Timeline, as well as the course Calendar, so that they show the student's deadlines, which can be combined with group members if desired:
Moodle encourages exploration and interaction among students and teachers. Moodle 4.0's new, redesigned icons, enhanced navigation, and improved user experience have a positive impact on collaboration, interaction, and reflection, resulting in a platform that enhances its core social constructionist pedagogy. As a course designer and teacher, you will have the maximum number of tools at your disposal if you work in this way, which will make your learning experiences as interactive as possible. Creating courses with forums, peer-assessed workshops, surveys, and interactive lessons is more work than creating a course from a series of static web pages. However, it is also more engaging and effective, and you will find it worth the effort to use Moodle's many interactive features. Moodle's design is focused on enhancing learning, and you will enjoy the features that make self-guided and collaborative learning effective.
In this chapter, we learned about the history, development, and underlying philosophy of Moodle. We also learned the basics of how to start designing a site in which you'll build courses, and then include activities and resources in them.
Keep in mind that if you're using the cloud-based VLE version of Moodle, MoodleCloud, you will have built-in options and may not be able to modify the course in the way you could if you had a customized installation from a Moodle partner or a self-hosted installation.
Now, it's time to learn about the basics of Moodle's architecture, and at least read over the installation and configuration information provided in Chapter 2, Installing Moodle and Configuring Your Site. Don't be afraid of the technology. If you can master the difficult art of teaching, you can master using Moodle to its full potential.