A Decade With Moodle

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By Joe Thibault, Founder of MoodleNews (Now LMSPulse)

10 years ago, I started writing about Moodle. I had the intent of creating a monthly online magazine that covered all of the great things I saw happening across the Moodle community. Putting fingers to keys on those first posts was part leap of faith, part naivete, part uncontained fan-boyism for a piece of software that would not only help advance my own career and company, but become an online educational baseline for millions of users worldwide.

Little did I know that first post in late 2009 (read it here: “Moodle Wikis for Students”) would be the start of my small contribution to a rising wave of momentum for Learning Management Systems, including, but certainly not limited to, Moodle. A lot has happened in the world of online education in the last decade, and I think we all owe a lot to Martin Dougiamas, the Moodle Community, and the Moodle code itself, for each helping us usher in an era of widespread adoption of online resources for education.

If you’re interested in the story of the LMS as told by user counts, adoptions, and installations, there’s no other source better than e-literate and their awesome quantitative research on LMS adoption. For my own qualitative recounting of the decade, let me just say this: The blog you are reading right now started with just 1 post and now has over 6,290 articles focused on Moodle, LMS and elearning in general. While the name has changed, the spirit remains the same: We love talking and writing about what’s cool and hip, and that which amazes us on a daily basis as online learners.

In lieu of a recounting of highlights and “Best of” in the last decade, let me posit a few observations and hypotheses of where we’ve been and what’s to come for Moodle, elearning, and education in general.

Moodle’s ‘Belt and Road’ Initiative

When it comes to LMS adoption, I think that Moodle played an important role in Gartner’s Hype Cycle helping educational institutions across the “Trough of disillusionment,” by providing a low-cost, low-risk solution to moving classrooms online.

We can attribute the initial “Trigger” and “Peak” to the likes of Blackboard and WebCT,which of course captured the imagination of educators worldwide. As the Hype Cycle fatefully tells, they launched products that were far out of reach for individuals and most institutions.

Climbing up the “Slope of Enlightenment,” we find ourselves on the “Plateau of productivity.” We’ve seen the creation of a wholly new LMS (Canvas) and a slowing growth of adoption in western countries. I can’t overstate the impact of an LMS that any Joe —yes, referring to myself— could install using a cPanel and $100 level hosting plan to deliver courses! And that was 10 years ago. From lone teachers, to savvy IT admins, to Moodlepreneurs: What other reliable solution costs almost nothing? Moodle was it. It paved the way for many “small time” users to educate their students using technology and the internet. Moodle alone has made online education more accessible than any other LMS.

The analogy to the current “Belt and Road” economic development initiative might be a stretch. However, without Moodle I’m not sure that many institutions would be where they are today without the groundwork laid by the world’s most popular open source LMS. Today’s Instructure and Brightspace should take a look at how many institutions they’ve “won” which were previously institutional-run Moodles, but have graduated (grown?) into an enterprise level LMS.

Size matters

One of the most interesting things that happened in the last decade was the impact of thinking big in education. The early 10s ushered in the rise of MOOCs and their evolution and progeny continue to define education as it lives online.

Why does this matter? Moodle’s classroom approach is still based on a social constructivism model. It is teacher and student-driven, meaning its best use case scenarios provide intimate personal experiences between learners and teachers. It is the relationship what allows us to build and explore the classroom content. MOOCs on the other hand, well, do not. They can be as impersonal as watching a video lecture from your couch and throwing your reply into a Twitter-like stream of conversation with no accountability, and only the student’s own will as the driver of progress.

Compared to what we may envision when conceptualizing “classroom”, many modern classrooms have no physical presence at all, only their online, web-based tools and materials where a student occupies a classroom of one. There is a nascent movement to replace that lost teacher/learner/content intimacy with something different but just as effective. I would call it the “learning experience,” but that would be a disservice to the many wonderful experiences that live teachers in hybrid or fully online classes are able to offer. What used to be called instructional design (delivery still by instructor) is now more often called “learning engineering” or “experience design.” A bigness/scaled classroom vis-à-vis a small intimate classroom approach are two entirely different things. As different as a 15-student classroom in a computer lab versus a 10,000-student massive online “experience.”

These nuanced and different approaches to online education have different needs and goals. Each has started to influence the development of LMS and will continue to do so for years to come.

Moodle is only just getting started

When I first wrote about the Moodle Users Association, I was thrilled at the potential of democratic influence on the development of Moodle core. While the MUA hasn’t realized the millions of dollars of investment I dreamed of, it has planted an important seed that will continue to grow as Moodle’s long-term development comes more into focus.

In the last decade we’ve seen Moodle —the company— mature and evolve into a savvy enterprise keeping the long-term health of its core product front and center of its mission, even going so far as to accept external investment to further its development efforts. MUA plays a role in that and will continue to over time, as more and more institutions rely on Moodle’s network of Moodle Partners to service their LMS.

An additional change for Moodle is its expanded control over the experience of being a Moodle user. This while simultaneously keeping(if not setting) the pace of the development of the core elements that institutions need on their LMS checklist; and seeking new revenue sources that maintain the network while creating new opportunities. No small task!

Starting with the custom Moodle Mobile Apps (perhaps the best of any LMS), then continuing with MoodleCloud, MoodleNet, Moodle Workplace and others, Moodle HQ has created more consistent experiences for users; and taken over or replicated some models that exploited the use of its open source model. I think the next decade will help to solidify its place among the major LMS providers while strengthening the product and network of authorized partners.

In the closing days of 2019

I still am a daily Moodle user (more aptly, a fanboy), but my enthusiasm for education (especially web-based) casts a much wider net these days. The past decade has been a great one for fans of technology and education: Whether you watch from the sidelines, referee, or find yourself on the field in this great game of advancing, improving, and expanding access to education. Whatever product, service, team, or fanboy/girl you hold dear I only say this in the new year: Glad to have you on the team.

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