There are many different Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) that education providers use. The most common, from a recent survey targeting the post 16 education sector in London, is Moodle. This appears to be increasing with many non Moodle users thinking about moving or actually in the process of migrating to Moodle. JISC Regional Support Centres (RSCs) do not prescribe any particular solution as different systems suit different learning providers. However, due to the sheer number of providers using Moodle, I thought I would offer a few thoughts on the latest version of Moodle called Moodle 2.0. I am not going to cover the features or potential of the new version but consider some of the wider organisational issues that might be worth bearing in mind before taking the plunge.
Moodle is coming up to 12 years old and has evolved steadily during that time. The latest version, Moodle 2.0 was released in November 2010 and includes some major changes to both the features as well as changes to the underlying structure. These latter developments are intended to create a solid platform for future development. Moodle 2.0 is able to offer users a better interface using features such as ‘drag and drop’, it also includes much improved styling and design options intended to improve the ‘look and feel’ so important to users. However, there are many other new features. Users can create and customise their own page, cohorts of learners can be created independently of course groupings, on-line resources can be embedded or linked seamlessly into Moodle, and there is the facility to create a learning activity where students peer review each other’s work. These, along with many other new features, I believe make moving to Moodle 2.0 very compelling. A very good overview of these new features can be accessed via the following link Moodle 2 overview
What to consider before moving to Moodle 2.0
If you have a mature VLE in place you may have customisations, extensive use of plug-ins, interfaces with other systems, and considerable content. Your options are to start a fresh install of Moodle 2.0 and run this in parallel to your existing VLE. Another option is to migrate your content over and recreate the links and functionality of your existing system. How you do this depends on how you deliver your current system. Do you host internally or contract a hosting provider to deliver your VLE? If you host externally it may be worth discussing the migration options with your hosting provider. If your VLE project is in need of refreshing it might be a good idea to start afresh taking the lessons of past experience and configuring the system and steering the project accordingly. One of the key messages I give to college management teams is that they should see their VLE as a project rather than a purchase. A healthy VLE is one that evolves and develops as the college grows and improves the services it offers to its clients.
Another thing to think about is the pedagogy of Moodle and how well understood this is within your organisation. Moodle 2.0 builds upon the social constructivist educational model. This model sees education and learning as based in social interaction in groups and learning as being an activity in which people participate. This is in contrast to the idea that knowledge is absorbed individually and passively. The so called web 2.0 social networking tools such as Youtube, facebook, Flicker etc. are therefore a key element in Moodle 2.0. Moodle does not attempt to host or store resources which may be used in learning but rather act as a gateway to such resources and provide learning activity tools which can utilise such resources. Therefore a learning provider that blocks or restricts web based resources is unlikely to realise the full potential of Moodle as an educational tool. It may be useful to undertake some internal dialogue within the college to identify a way forward that is right for your organisation prior to the deployment of a new system.
Using Open Source
For those of you using a proprietary VLE there is a cultural shift in moving over to Moodle. Moodle is open source software and is free to download and use under the General Public License (GPL). This means that it is supported in a different way to a system that you might procure from a supplier. There are different ways to establish support for open source applications. Some people host their own servers and have the skills in house to secure, maintain and upgrade them. Others contract a hosting company to provide a system for them. There are different service levels available from very basic hosting to additional services such as integration with other college systems (typically MIS), training and support. An important point to consider when moving to open source software is that you can acquire support free via the user community. If you are new to open source software this may feel quite strange at first as you may be coming from a culture where you have a Service level agreement (SLA) with a company and if anything goes wrong you call the company and they sort it out if it is within the terms of the agreement. You can procure similar such agreements with companies to support open source applications but you can also seek support via the community. This is often more effective and usually cost free, although it may require more engagement on your part than you are used to. It might be worth contacting other organisations who use open source software to find out which approach to support they take. Some hosting service suppliers offer other systems and tools which work alongside the VLE to deliver a powerful set of educational resources which can truly transform your organisation into a 21st century outfit. VLEs can be integrated with MIS systems, registers, individual learning plans (ILPs), repositories, assessment tools, e-portfolios and organisational web sites. They can form the basis for a portal to your organisation. This creates a single point of entry into all of the resources you make available to students and staff and is delivered through a personalised interface.
Another point to consider with open source applications like Moodle is flexibility. If you have the skills or wish to contract someone who does, you can add or amend the system yourself to tailor it to your own needs. This is because the source code is available to both view and edit. Although this may sound daunting, many organisations have added enhancements to the system over time. The protocol is that you share any enhancements you make with the wider community in the spirit of the open source movement. The result of this is that the development time of the open source software is often far better than it is for proprietary applications. This may be one of the key reasons for the success of Moodle worldwide over the past 12 years.
Should you adopt Moodle 2.0?
I predict that Moodle 2.0 will become a huge success and will take, what is already a very successful VLE system, to even greater heights. If you want your college to be among the best it would be worth evaluating what Moodle 2.0 could deliver for your college.
If you would like further information and advice on getting the best from technology in post 16 education contact your JISC Regional Office
I hope this is useful and would appreciate any feedback.
Martin Sepion is a Senior Adviser for the JISC Regional Support Centre London based at University of London, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU
See post on Tips for getting started with VLEs http://rsclondonnews.blog.ulcc.ac.uk/2011/05/17/virtual-learning-environment-tips-for-getting-started/
For general information about Moodle visit http://moodle.org/
For a list of other VLEs visit
RSC London Events http://www.rsc-london.ac.uk/events/