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Moodle: Pros, Challenges

Many end users have inquired about Moodle, specifically its pros and cons. This is an encore article on the benefits to using Moodle and what you need to know - before you say yes.

I want to make something very clear – Moodle and other open source LMSs, Learning Portals, CMSs, etc. are NOT out of the box solutions. They are not turnkey.  This is extremely crucial and important.  You must customize.

Moodle:  Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment

Much has been written about the pros and cons of Moodle. I will identify the highlights.

Cons

  • Administration is difficult, confusing and not user friendly
  • User management
  • Reporting is limited
  • More of a course management system, than a LCMS/LMS as they try to push it. I say this because its real strength IMO is in the education sector, and you see it,  in its overall presentation.  Yes, corporations are using it, but a significant number of schools, colleges, universities are as well.
  • Flexibility efficiency is lacking
  • Help materials within the system are awful
  • You can either have all open, which many companies do not want, or are stuck with course keys and other additional non-necessary steps
  • You need technical skills

Pros

  • Free
  • Unlimited users
  • Enormous amount of add-ons and plug-ins
  • More and more tutorials online, a result of a vast online community of user groups
  • Resources – guides, etc. all free
  • You can host it on your server or on an outside server (can also be seen as a con)
  • If you host on an outside server, many will install it ahead of time for you and have the experience in doing so
  • APIs and mashups – which is really can expand Moodle to the next level of learning

Evil Realities of Moodle – Tech Demons

The biggest challenge you will face with Moodle, and in many cases with open source LMS/LCMS solutions is that you need to have strong technical skills. Having a skill set of using the Net, MS Office, Articulate, etc., will not work.

You will need skill sets that would include programming – javascript, HTML, CSS, XML, perhaps Ruby on Rails, .PHP, databases, .SQL., etc.

Even if you have it hosted on an outside server, while it will automatically provide you with a vast amount of programming languages, typically it is not WSYWIG.

If you host it on your own servers, you will need to have someone – a minimum of one person who knows programming languages and can customize.

Customization

Moodle and some other open source LMS/LCMS solutions are not really “out of the box” solutions. They provide the features, software, etc., but  their real strength is for you to customize it, and continue to tweak and you build, add on and develop.  So, you need to have someone who can do this in your organization. You need someone dedicated to provide this to you, whether they are in your IS/IT areas.

Interoperability

Sure you can upload courses into your open source LMS/LCMS, but with third party off the shelf courses and with some 3rd party developers, you will still face interoperability issues. So tweaks with code with the third party vendors/developers – tied to your system still applies. Again, another reason you need someone who has technical skill sets, unless you have those skill sets yourself.

They would also need to know and ensure that the courses would work with your SCORM system (whether it is 1.2, 2004 or SCORM in general).   To learn more about interoperability challenges, please read my blog article.

Bonus Challenges

  • What if something goes wrong with your system, while you have end users in it? Do you have a process on how to handle that?

Worse, what if your key IT/IS person is sick, injured or leaves the company, do you have a back-up that can and knows the system to handle anything and make mods, etc?

  • You have unlimited users, but with off the shelf courses, the same issue still applies with seat purchases. You still have to purchase seats for that content and that will cost.

They will not give you unlimited seats – okay they will – but it will cost major $$$.   For your own content/courses, it is free – so you can have unlimited users.

  • Do you have someone who can dedicate the time needed for your open source LMS/LCMS? At many companies, it can be difficult to have someone who has unfettered amount of time to do so, considering everything else on their plate.

Scheduling becomes a challenge in of itself, especially with small IS/IT departments, where the person is expected to handle multiple tasks.

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4 comments

  1. I understand and agree that Moodle takes some administrative effort to get humming (though depending on how you manage it the levels vary from minimal to extraordinary); what I’m not sold on is the customization bit. Once installed, Moodle does work “out of the box” generally and the most important administrative tools are controlled through quick check boxes or drop down menus (and are well documented online if users need the added support/help).

    Is there an LMS out there that does not require a minimal level of setup but provides the same features? Edmodo is probably the simplest LMS I know, but it’s capabilities are more limited than what many view as modern LMSs.

    I’m curious to know what LMS you’re working with now and if you know of any others that truly can be called “turnkey” and…perhaps what your definition of “turnkey” is (as most LMSs will still require course resources to be created, which is, imho, hardly turnkey).

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    1. Turnkey does not mean course resources. What it means, is that once it is installed whether it be on your own server or if it is SAAS (and in that case, turned on), it is ready to go. Customization is not needed, albeit, typically you can skin it, and some vendors offer some customization – which they the vendor will do – (not the end user – nor the end user having to locate a programmer on their end) – either at no/charge (many small dog vendors, will do this) or charge.

      To your specific points:

      Many small dog vendors are now providing customer service and tech support at no charge to their end users. Others charge for tech support. Training on the product, depends on the vendor, with some offering it for free.

      Thus the client (end user) does not need to have their own tech support on hand, unless the issue relates to their own computers i.e. OS issues, etc. – and sometimes, here is the irony, some vendors for small things like this – actually will help the client. Last time, I looked with Moodle this does not happen.

      Yes, paid LMSs are not open source system. If you want to add APIs at some point – if your vendor supports it you can. You can do the same thing with mashups and open source – again your vendor has to support it. And I am seeing an increase in doing this.

      Personally, I disagree with your out of the box premise. What you can do is so limited, it is minimal. Someone who wants a strong LMS, will want to do some major customization more so than Moodle does right out of the box – i.e. right off the shelf.

      Moodle is not a turnkey solution, i.e. download and whalla its a full blown system. It just isn’t. However, there are plenty of LMSs that offer full blown and lots of features, right out of the box.

      If you want to say that Moodle right out of the box is equal to say any paid LMS, I can mention with its features (and I’m not referring to one that requires modules, nor one that is at a price point, beyond 12K, for everything), then that is fine. But, I seriously doubt it and have not seen that to be the case.

      With a paid LMS, you can have ZERO tech skills – depending on which one you purchase (over 90%). You cannot have ZERO tech skills with an open source LMS – if you want it to do anything.

      There are over 245 LMSs in the marketplace – paid ones.. some of which actually sit on a Moodle framework – the difference, they have significant programmers, capabilities and capital.

      I love open source solutions and LMSs, btw, but people should be aware that it is not a turnkey solution without some sort of customization to really make it zing.

      Moodle is like an ERP solution. Customization is needed depending on the organization and what you want done to it. If I am a company, I am going to want some things different then what a higher ed place has or K-6.

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  2. I don’t cook out of the box and nor do I train out of the box. So, even when offered a “turnkey” – it just simply isn’t.

    Many clients are neither MIT nor Oracle. Small businesses may see elearning as a fast way to improve business or, grudgingly, as a cheap and fast way to comply with regulations.

    Either way, clients (and learners) outside the education realm seem to find it hard to see (and pay) for more than what they imagine is a slam bam website or blog equivalent (which they believe anybody can make… for better or worse).

    The specifics of back-end better and worse are good points, Craig. Thanks for re-posting this.

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