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Moodle myths

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Once Moodle is stable, it will be put under licence. If it were any good, they’d already be charging for it

Martin Dougiamas is on record that Moodle will always be free and under the GPL. Even if it weren't, the community could take the latest GPL code and continue development from there. One of the reasons why Moodle's so good is that it's open source code, and so the world wide educational community can contribute to making it better still.

In other cases where such things have happened, the community quickly "forked" the tool and continued it, with ongoing improvements, as an open-source project. What is out there up to this point will stay out there - legally - even if something in the future did not. Nobody can "buy" Moodle, and any coopting without the consent of the global community wouldn't get very far.

Moodle needs a full time, php developer on your staff- or at least a lot of technical support to run it in house

There are plenty of institutions running Moodle as is, without any php developers in sight. You don't need to know any programming if you just want to run an out of the box, as a full featured, rich Moodle site.

That said, PHP is actually a fairly easy language to pick up, and the Moodle code is well documented, so if you did want to help with development, it's a fairly gentle learning curve. We have documentation and a process to help you.

It is also fair to say you need a certain amount of technical know-how to run any program on the web securely. But this has more to do with getting a web-server, SQL database and scripting language up and integrated than running a Moodle instance itself. If you can run your own webserver, you should be OK to run Moodle on it.

You don't actually have to run Moodle in house. There are well respected Moodle Partners who'll run Moodle for you. Some of the more enlightened educational consortia (Regional Broadband Consortia in the UK), or some local non-profit authorities may provide Moodle hosting. Moodle will work on plenty of commercially hosted webspaces too.

Moodle won’t be compatible with our other systems/software

Moodle will run on FreeBSD, Linux, Mac OS X, Solaris, Windows and many others. It's compatible with a huge range of databases through ADODB integration. There's a whole host of authentication and enrollment mechanisms, including LDAP and arbitrary external databases. Moodle will allow teachers to integrate content in a wide range of different formats, including SCORM, Flash, MP3s and RSS feeds. On the Roadmap for future releases is a Web API which will allow easy integration with other web-based applications.

Finally, remember that this is open source software, with a well documented data and file structure. If Moodle's not compatible with a particular application at the moment, then you can pay a developer to code up that integration, or develop it in-house.

Moodle just doesn’t have the commercial experience we’re looking for

Check out the partners. Moodle is in use throughout the world by corporate clients for in-house training, including flight schools, pilot and mechanic certification, health professionals and all other varieties of professional development. Remember, Moodle is a tool (an application). The PEOPLE that make up the Moodle world-wide community have experience across the board in every industry and every sort of education setting. In fact, you'll be hard-pressed to find a more committed group of educators and trainers in one place on the web than on moodle.org. Further evidence of the commercial applications of Moodle are supported by the fact that Microsoft Corporation funded the modification of Moodle to work on their SQL Server platform (if you choose to use that instead of mySQL) and that the support for features ranging from clustering to built-in payment mechanisms is growing with each version.

You can’t just use Moodle out of the box – the basic Moodle install just isn’t that sophisticated

Have a look at the feature list, all of which comes as standard with every Moodle download. Additional themes, blocks and activities are easy to integrate and the vast majority are free, open source code too. In fact, one of your problems will be to determine which combination of sophisticated features are best going to meet your needs right out of the box.

You can do a full install on a Windows or Mac OS based personal computer in the time it takes to download a 50MB file, run an install program (less than 10 minutes), and type Localhost. This install includes a webserver, the database, and the Moodle installation. While this basic install is not appropriate for an enterprise installation, the simplicity of the install along with all its features is a testament to the robustness of the platform.

There’s no documentation, training or technical support available – you’re on your own

There's excellent documentation online, provided by the user and developer community. Being online and digital, this resource is updated daily and keeps abreast of Moodle developments as they happen - with far more details than any book could provide, and certainly more than any commercial vendor offers for their product.

There are lots of books on Moodle. A few examples: Jason Cole and Helen Foster have written an excellent introduction to Moodle for teachers, available as a proper book from O'Reilly. Additionally, Packt Publishing has several other books on Moodle teaching and administration available.

Most users find the Moodle interface intuitive which helps reduce the training requirements. Many organizations offer Moodle training to their members on line and in face to face settings. Some Moodle Partners moodle.com also specialize in training.

High quality, timely technical support is available from the user and developer community in the Using Moodle course on moodle.org. Some LAs and RBCs (Local Authorities and Regional Broadband Consortia in the UK) support Moodle in their areas. Commercial support contracts are available from authorized Moodle Partners moodle.com.

The Total Cost of Ownership is actually higher for Moodle than it would be with a wholly commercial platform

Stop and think for a moment about TCO. With both Moodle and commercial platforms, you'll still need to pay for hosting, support, training and content, one way or another: with Moodle, more of these costs can be brought in-house, because the code's open source and Moodle's great at providing the tools teachers need to write online activities themselves, but that doesn't mean you have to.

The difference is that with Moodle, there are no licence fees to pay. None, nada, zero. If you must spend money, please help us by making the software better, to improve Moodle for the common good. None of your money needs to go to meet shareholder dividends or pay back the venture capitalists. Furthermore, you're not exposed to the risks of commercial suppliers unilaterally increasing their licence fees, or going out of business. You are also not restricted by license agreements - you can use it however you like. There isn't an "Enterprise" version that costs many times more than the basic (but has the features you actually) need - Moodle comes with everything you need.

It's that Moodle offers significant savings over other applications. For example when the UK government agency Becta examined the Total Cost of Ownership of open-source software on desktops in UK schools, they found significant savings compared to commercial alternatives. The savings on support costs were particularly impressive. It's likely that these savings would have been greater still had they examined web-based applications like Moodle.

Moodle is just no good for an institution as large as mine

Does that mean you have more than 30,000 on line students? Universidade de Brasília has 34,000 users, San Francisco State University (SFSU) has 34,000 active users, The Austrian Federal Ministry of Education has over 110,000 on their site and the UK's Open University has well over 180,000 users. There are plenty of other less than 30,000 user institution systems officially using Moodle.

Moodle works for large institutions who also have a large numbers of users.

Moodle is just not designed to cope with my specific group of learners or customers

Moodle's being used successfully from elementary education, including early years provision, up to higher education, in all subject areas including art, languages, the humanities and mathematics. It's also established itself in the world of life-long learning, teachers' CPD, corporate and government training environments.

We have all our stuff on *******, it’s just not worth the hassle of switching to Moodle

The switch may not be that much of a hassle, as Moodle will happily import content in a wide range of standard formats, including SCORM, Blackboard and WebCT questions. There are an increasing number of Further and Higher Education institutions that are making the move.

Pedagogically, there's much to be gained from moving to a VLE which puts social, collaborative learning at the centre, and acknowledges the vital role that learners have to play, as well as providing teachers with the tools that they need to build effective on-line learning communities, rather than just presenting resources and activities.

From a financial perspective, the costs involved in switching to Moodle should be quickly recouped through savings in licence fees.

Moodle is free and therefore can't really be as good as something produced by a large company which earns millions in Licence fees every year

The fact that Moodle is both free and Free (as in Free Speech) means you are certainly not buying something on blind faith that it will fit your needs, as with most commercial products.

For example, the efforts of the Moodle core team are entirely public. Anyone can watch progress in our issue Tracker, download recently written code and take part in their conversations in the forums. This means that anyone who wants to (and there are literally hundreds that do) can assist in developing either the core code, custom plugins and modules, integrations and themes, or by reporting bugs that appear. A licence fee to a commercial product will not give you access to over 150 contributed code extensions that are in Moodle's modules and plugins database. Nor will the fee have such a public and transparent issue reporting system as MoodleTracker. A License fee will not buy you these outstanding features.

On top of that, many institutions that use Moodle decide to devote some of their own in-house expertise to maintaining parts of the Moodle code, or developing new features. Because Moodle is free, this makes sense. With a commercial product, customization is only made by the company and their price includes all their overheads and profit. Moodle's community (or customer) direct input gets more bang for the resources spent. And there is no yearly licence fee.

All this open activity and discussion with the entire software application community is a big advantage for the Moodle user. The secretiveness inherent in a proprietary application also stifles customer based innovation and change. In a proprietary for profit company everything is controlled and developed in house. with the goal to maximize profit. As with most Open Source software, Moodle develops much faster for a given amount of cash input than commercial software.

Additionally, a commercial company has to devote significant resources to selling a virtual learning environment product to potential customers (and others). This translates into less money and focus in meaningful product development. Moodle has no such overhead, leaving more resources for customer drive development.

Put together, the stable open source core and dozens of custom plugins means that Moodle can be tailored to fit your institutional needs much better than a secretive, one-size-fits-all offering. These are some of the reasons Moodle has such a large install base of satisfied users.

You need to be an expert and tech savvy to use Moodle

Can you click a mouse? Know what a hyperlink does and looks like? Attach a document to an email message? Assuming that you have Moodle installed and run for you, that is about as advanced as you have to be to start using Moodle in a way that most users begin to use it – as a ‘digital cupboard’, a storage space for your files and folders where you and/or your students can view and download them 24/7.

But don't be boring and use it JUST for that. Even some of the basic interactive activities like Forum or Choice for example, do not require a great deal of skills – just a little bit of imagination.

You can certainly get a lot more out of Moodle as your proficiency grows but don’t burden yourself too much about it. Do you have to know all about the fine inner workings of a particular car before you drive it?

With Moodle, you need to be on computers all the time

Moodle IS an online management system and at some point you and your students will have to spend some time in front of a computer. But the extent of time spent in front of a computer depends entirely on what you use Moodle for.

Moodle supports delivery of courses ranging from fully online to the occasional use to perform a certain activity or access a resource. The extent of screen time is entirely up to the teacher. The majority of teachers around the world use Moodle in courses that are a mixture between offline and online teaching, learning and assessment. In fact, a hybrid, blended model of courses where Moodle simply supports and/or extends the face-to-face and other activities is by far the most widely used way of using Moodle by teachers and students worldwide.

Students will love Moodle because it is online and in 'their world'

A dangerous myth! Do not assume that just by using technology and having courses online will instantly make your subject somehow more desirable, that students will love your teaching or the content, get better grades etc. Good use of Moodle is all about asking good questions and good, insightful, reflective teaching with the selected tools at hand. And no matter how digitally advanced your students, they will look to you for the human ‘touch’, knowledge and guidance.

Regardless of how technically (un)sophisticated you are in using Moodle, good teaching and built human relationships remain the key to success in using it. An orchestra conductor can have access to the greatest musical instruments and individual virtuosos but (s)he still has to make sure they play together well.

Moodle is just about fun and games, it’s a time waster and does not encourage 'real work'

For those for whom learning is opposite to fun and games, Moodle does not come packaged with games (but you can install them). ‘Making learning fun’ is not the driving force behind Moodle, ‘making learning valuable’ is. It really comes down to pedagogy – the science, or rather art of teaching. If students are not engaged and want to waste time, they usually will (or at least try to) waste time with whatever they find – each other, pens, computers, paper clips, phones, anything really to be off task, including Moodle.

Moodle is an all-in-one package of fantastic tools to engage, encourage and/or extend students in the primary purpose of education – learning. This goes particularly for learning by doing, sharing, observing and working with others, including yourself as a teacher. If you don’t see this type of learning beneficial, Moodle will probably be of less use to you.

Moodle is just another thing we need to learn, deal with and worry about now. Admin will probably switch to something new in a year or two anyway so why bother using in and learning about it now.

While certainly hugely popular around the world, Moodle is just one of the many content/learning management systems with similar features around these days. Regardless of the brand and functions, the use of such systems is increasing at a rapid pace in schools, businesses and other organisations. If your students attend tertiary study they are very likely to use such a system as essential to complete their studies.

By learning about and using Moodle, you will build a range of highly transferable skills you and your students can take to your next job, even your retirement! Most importantly, you will build a way of thinking and the confidence to harness and use the power of increasingly ubiquitous digital technology in a merger with the timeless task of education – safely, manageably, one module at a time. And if Admin decide to change from Moodle to something else (and why would they want to do such thing? ;-) ) it will take you much less time to learn the tricks of a new, similar software. More importantly, you will know how to put it to good use.

See also

A top 10 list in Moodle Docs started life in a post by Josie Fraser, as part of the 2005-6 HUGToB campaign. Thanks to Josie and others for their contributions.