To be or not to be Moodle

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Right now you are probably in one of three camps when it comes to open source LMSs, specifically Moodle:

  • Huge fan and most likely have it
  • Not a fan of it
  • Thinking of soup, I mean Noodles!

And you may be thinking, okay, here it comes – here comes the “hate” with Moodle. 

It is not hate that I bring upon you good folk, rather it is the facts concerning Moodle and to be fair a comparison between it and in general commercial systems (since feature sets may differ, systems do differ to a degree, design, UI, my mom’s BBQ chicken (mmm), etc.)

I humbly thank you; well, well, well

Moodle has a very hardcore fan base and I applaud that. 

I wish many products in the e-learning market had such a fan base, oh wait, Articulate does, but on the LMS side of the house, not really.  I mean people either really love their system, dislike it and stick with it, or dislike it and search out another platform, but Moodle has fanatics (and I mean no disrespect to that).

Who are the core of these fanatics?  Well, clearly it comes from the education crowd or as we pitch it in e-learning, edtech (which is e-learning education, i.e. education technology, blah blah).

Anyway, it is education.  This is Moodle’s core audience.  But there are plenty of folks on the corporate side that are using Moodle too.  As many as education? Uh, no not even close.

But both audiences are using it and I will add that under the corporate umbrella, I will slide in non-profit, association, etc.

The heartache

With so much fanfare at least from the Moodle crowd and those who are seeking an open source system (BTW there are plenty out there, not just Moodle), the question on whether to go with Moodle or not, is something that happens on a daily basis.

Spend a few hours zinging around Linkedin and you will find people touting the benefits of Moodle, perceiving Moodle as the best choice including better than commercial systems and so on.

What I rarely see are people who have used Moodle and found issues with it or ended up scraping it, and then posting about it.  Which surprises me, because there are plenty of folks out there who thought Moodle was the route to go, heavy customized it, then found out the minuses on Moodle – too late I might add.

Must give us pause

There are commercial systems built on Moodle and heavily customized.  Yes, Totara is built on Moodle, but I am talking more about some very well known commercial systems who have so customized it, that it no longer appears as it once was.  Here you also find two camps of the customization commercial angle

  • Initial infrastructure, but so heavily customized that any updates, etc. are built by the vendor themselves and in essence it is just the pieces of the structure. These vendors do not use any items, plugins, etc., from Moodle community.   I should add there are systems built on Drupal, DNN too.
  • Built on Moodle, state that they are built on it, and any updates i.e. plugins, add-ons, features come from the Moodle community.  What you get is a customized version of Moodle, but you can still go into the code and tweak it yourself – if you have that expertise.

On the latter side, the downer is that you are paying for something you can get for free.  Sure, they have customized it, but those “new features” etc. come from the community, the same community you could go to and get it yourself.

I have no problem with that, nor those folks who do other things but offer to customers a customized system they built on Moodle.  What bothers me are those folks who do it, but do not provide the Moodle code – as they are supposed to, by using Moodle.  

As for those who do include the Moodle code for free download but sell a customized version, again no issues with it. In fact, they can easily become a very profitable platform, quickly I might add.

As Hamlet once said, “Tis Moodle Facts”

Before I delve into the comparison between commercial and Moodle, let’s put out some facts – real facts on Moodle. 

  • It’s free
  • It requires heavy customization.  Moodle is not a turnkey platform, i.e. out of the box ready to go
  • You either build your own plugins or get them from the Moodle community, which is very active
  • It has a reputation for poor documentation
  • Tutorials on the net do exist – many people are unaware of that
  • It was developed as a CMS not a LMS – surprise!  But, it is used as a LMS
  • It was developed for the education community, which as noted above is still its core audience
  • It can either look good or look bad, because of the customization.  Most of the ones I have seen (and not customized by a vendor per se), really are not that impressive.  No one is going to mistake the UI for uber Modern (again, sans vendor build).
  • Unlimited learners

Slings and Arrows

There are costs involved which surprises many people – because it is free.  But, you know that “customization” statement comes into play, plus something else people tend to forget.

  • It requires resources (people) to build the system and maintain it.  If there is an issue, you need to have someone fix it.  Companies that use Moodle tend to have a good size staff in-house to handle it. Those who do not, are often caught off guard.  And even if you have the staff in-house, the last time I looked, they still cost money.  I mean a person who is a FT employee, gets benefits (I assume), and a salary.  Thus, they are not free. 
  • If you hire someone, they are a resource.  If you do it, it is best to get someone with Moodle experience and those people tend to cost more than non-Moodle background folks
  • Customization can be pricey, depending on what you do.
  • You will need a help desk or support, because when an issue arises, people will want help.  They might go to your administrator, but they – i.e. your admin – still needs help.
  • Updates, maintenance are your responsibility (Again, whoever is handling it)
  • It has to house somewhere.  This is something people tend to forget.  Which means you have to either have the servers in-house (and again, have to factor in the server cost – which many tend to not do) or have it hosted on the web.  Perhaps you use Amazon S3 or Rackspace – you pay a monthly fee for either of them, or any of the other server farms out there.  Some folks have it hosted via a service provider they use for other things.  Regardless, it is not free.
  • Additional fees can spring up – some people use APIs from other products, including those that are fee based.  If you have thousands of registrants, you might need to have a company oversee that to get them into your platform.
  • Training – as in you train the admins how to use it – you handle yourself.  Thus, you need to have the expertise and knowledge to do it. The worst thing you can do, is have the person who built the system (Assuming they do not have a training or teaching background) provide the training.  Just because they are an expert in building Moodle, doesn’t necessarily make them a great trainer/teacher.
  • It is not uncommon to see yearly budgets for Moodle in the range of 80K to 150K or even higher and that likely does not include the resources factor (that we tend to forget).

You will also need to stay current with the latest technology and capabilities – something that many of us do not have the time to do or knowledge or background to do so (and there is nothing wrong with that).

Some of my IT friends, gurus in their own right, are not up with the latest technology or capabilities.  Sure, you as a Moodle person could rely solely on the community to provide everything you need, but is that something you would want to do on a daily or yearly basis?

That if you be honest and fair, your honesty should admit

I have seen schools including HE who have created really amazing UI design. Heck even better than some okay a chunk of commercial systems.  Equally, I have seen quite a few schools including HE who have done the best they can, but fall short.

The point is, just like anything there is slick and there is dated. 

Bottom Line

To be Moodle or not to be Moodle, that is the question.

For it isn’t really free, nor universally easy to build or use (learner and admin side), nor something for everyone.

And I’m not sure Hamlet would be able to provide the answer.

Maybe Rosencrantz.

E-Learning 24/7










  1. You make some great points about selecting the correct LMS for your organisation and making sure the implementation is successful.

    If you are considering implementing a new LMS think about the bigger picture, like all open source systems Moodle is easy to dive into but it is also easy to shoot yourself in the foot.

    Much of the criticism I see where Moodle isn’t working for an organisation is because there has been no thought put into the implementation – quality standards, training, linking with curriculum etc.

    Unfortunately many organisations new to LMSs seem to fall into the trap of thinking Moodle leads to e-learning, and after 12 months of struggling to make any difference give up citing Moodle as the problem.

  2. Dear Sir

    Rosencrantz or Guildenstern may both be as puzzled as I am about to Moodle or not to Moodle. This is the knowledge century and I live in India where we need LMS but cannot afford expensive licensed LMS. Yet we have Moodle Partners in India who can give us customisations / plugins… and at cheaper rates than the West So, those of us who want an LMS might well veer towards Moodle

    What do you suggest?


    Date: Fri, 15 Aug 2014 17:34:08 +0000 To: [email protected]

  3. I long for LBM, or life beyond Moodle. I was an early adopter of Moodle at my University (about 10 years ago) and I was pretty excited about it. That was before Facebook, probably before the term ‘social media’ even. Today, it is not just Moodle, but most LMS’s that are dated. They are after all ‘management systems’ and managers do seem to love them. Pity so few managers are educators.

    What has changed everything is the web, and particularly the social web. Moodle can be setup in different ways, but nine times out of ten it is topic 1, topic 2 and so on. It looks and feels like lecture 1, lecture 2. Often it is no better than a content repository. The forums are clunky, and even the quiz managers are primitive.

    There are some advantages though. It logs student activity, so it is useful to document lack of participation for recalcitrant students. It is a handy place for submission of assignments and the grade book works OK. What Moodle is not though is a good environment for social learning. This semester I have embedded a Talki forum in my course Moodle shell. As soon as the students login they are in the conversation. Amid the discussion I do have links to resources, including a course web page, but essentially the heart of the course is the forum and everything else attaches to it. I will also still use Moodle for some assignment submission.

    I have looked for alternative systems, that are a social learning model. is along the lines, but seems too simplistic particularly for including rich multi-media content.

    And yes, you could just use a Facebook group. It probably would be better than just using Moodle, but I do like the idea of my own real estate rather than sharing/competing with Facebook.

    The question is not ‘to be or not to be Moodle’, but rather how do we get the management system out of learning?

    1. By making the LMS the hub – and tie the learning components around as a community. But the fact remains, people want the ability to have analytics and tracking – two components of any learning platform – and honestly are needed.

      You do not though, have to make your learners follow a required path, nor make courses mandatory. I always made our courses available to all learners, internal and depending on the company I worked at – our customers. They selected what they wanted to learn and whalla went on their way.

      I still wanted the analytics though, important data can be extracted – including what works – courses taken and which ones are duds – and if they are a dud, find out why.

      There are plenty of TDs. TMs, L&D, VP of training folks who subscribe to the – let them select and learn – and bounce around the course (the true premise of WBT) – which I subscribe to (and did above incl. bounce around the course aka non-linear). The challenge today is we need more of them and less forced learning via a linear process.

  4. I’ve been through WebCT, Blackboard 9.X and Moodle 2.X an an ongoing path to enlightenment in eLearning. However, all of the LMS systems are starting to show their age. With cloud based computing, mobile devices etc, there are other options that don’t revolve around a behemoth like an LMS…

    1. I politely disagree. On the educational front there are plenty of systems that offer cutting edge features, robust UI and capabilities that make sense. Although to me, one item edu systems in general are lacking, is pure asynchronous based delivery aka self-pace. While they will say they do via the create content, it is not the same thing. They are synch based solutions for the most part, although I have seen a few that are now offering asynch.feature sets.

      On the biz side, again, a lot of amazing LMSs, with features sets you can drool over and a slick UI. I don’t care if they pitch themselves as a learning platform, learning system or anti-LMS, they are a LMS – its all about buzz words in the industry.

      Thank you for your comments

  5. Another great blog, Craig. People do forget that although Moodle is ‘free,’ it has hidden costs associated with it. However, to be fair, we’ve come across folks who don’t realize they have to have an LMS administrator at all. It’s as if they feel the LMS should administer itself. The truth is, although we can make life for the LMS administrator much easier than in some systems, companies must have that resource available to ensure life for learners is the simplest one possible. That’s not a ‘hidden cost.’ It is an assumed cost: the vendor assumes that if you are shopping for an LMS, you know someone must administer it for the sake of the learners. How easy it is to administer is one of those criteria for purchase. If you feel you need to get into the business of tracking training, you need to understand base costs, hidden, assumed, and outright.

  6. I meant poor in the sense of writing of it – they use a lot of technical and technology related jargon and unless you are an IT person familiar with those terms (and many IT people are not), you will struggle.

    Make it so anyone can figure out what they can do and not someone who is an IT programmer.

  7. Moodle has been an incredible platform for our professional, non-credit certifications and our workforce training. The dirty little secret is there is no LMS that will meet all of your requirements out of the box, so why pick on Moodle? The good news is that, with the help of a Moodle Hosting Provider, you can usually get the expertise, customizations, support and the product for under $4k/year. Try doing that with any other LMS. Elearning Experts proved to be an excellent Moodle provider for us at UTIA.

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