A Learning Management System (what is often called an LMS) has become foundational to blending technology into education experiences. Without its one-stop curation of class management activities such as attendance, homework, grading, discussions, resources, and more, each with their own separate website, login, and password, technology use in education would be defined by chaos. There are many LMSs to choose from, but none as flexible, scalable, feature-rich, and affordable as the open source ecosystem of Moodle.
Moodle got its start years ago as a method to organize blended learning and online classes. Now, it provides over 90 million educators, administrators, and learners in over 200 countries with a single robust, secure and integrated system to create personalized learning environments. Besides thousands of K-12 schools, users include the State University of New York, Microsoft and the Open University, and the London School of Economics. Because it’s Open Source and platform-agnostic, it has few limitations, but this flexibility and scalability comes with a price. Setup and use are reputed to be more challenging than other LMSs. In fact, I can attest to that from experience.
There is help, though. Following “How to get started” (the next section), I’ll share an easy way to unpack Moodle in your school.
How to get started
With a reminder that Moodle is Open Source, which means the basic framework can be augmented with just about any addition conceivable (as you’ll see in the section, “23 Ways to use Moodle”), here’s how to start:
- Download the Moodle software to your school server. It’s free. There’s no licensing fee. It’s adaptable to more than 120 languages and scalable to small groups or large schools. Because it’s web-based, it works on all platforms including mobile devices (with a downloadable app). Because it’s installed on your server, it affords privacy options unavailable in cloud-based LMSs.
- Customize the program to your needs using the drag-and-drop interface. Add free plugins of your choice provided by a robust online community. This isn’t as hard as it sounds. For example, I stumbled my way through it with no programming experience or Moodle background at all.
- Train all stakeholders on how to use the Moodle LMS just as you would with any new program.
- Assign at least one person to manage the Moodle ecosystem. This includes user training, troubleshooting, rolling out patches, installing updates, and answering user questions.
How to get help with Moodle
There are many companies out there that will assist in training your stakeholders and troubleshooting issues associated with your new Moodle LMS. One of these is the free VerveEd. It uses an experiential, self-paced environment to walk teachers through all the steps needed to create and use the Moodle platform and then provides nine hands-on “challenges” that users complete to assess their Moodle knowledge in a real-world (albeit sandbox) Moodle environment. Challenges include topics such as:
- adding class resources
- adding assignments
- exporting the gradebook
All learning takes place within Moodle, not through videos or quizzes. Progress is memorialized with badges for each category and a “Professional Development Certificate” which shows all badges collected during the training. By the time educators complete VerveEd’s exercises, they have the confidence to excel in their own Moodle classroom. If you’re an Administrator, you can track the progress of all your teachers through your VerveEd dashboard.
VerveEd offers fee-based Premium and Enterprise licenses that provide in-situ or customized training.
23 Ways to Use Moodle
Moodle works off of modules which are activated by downloading mostly-free plug-ins. This is similar to what you’d do for a self-hosted WordPress blog — find the plug in, download, install, and then customize. Because it is open-source and has a robust developer community, as of this printing, there are over 1300 plugins (click the link for an update). This means that, unlike most LMSs that offer a finite set of tools, with Moodle, you are only limited by your imagination.
- Student blogs to encourage writing, collaborating, and perspective-taking.
- Student forums and class chats to encourage communication both in and out of school and perspective-taking.
- Podcasts of lessons, how-tos, reviews, and more.
- Peer review of student writing to encourage collaboration and perspective-taking.
- Shared classroom space to allow classes to work together toward goals and projects.
- Online book discussions to support literacy groups. This can be accomplished with the forums plugin.
- Quick quizzes that allow students to take a quiz as a warm-up or exit ticket.
- A student-generated glossary of terms or concepts. This is student-driven and available for all future students.
- A Workshop module where students can collaborate on classwork and learning.
- A Database module to collect information on students, parents, classes, or any other relevant topic.
- A Wiki module to incorporate the collaborative nature of wikis into learning.
- A Gallery module to visually collect projects or information for digital storytelling, videos, art class, or any other purpose that suits a ‘gallery’ approach.
- A variety of online webtools that can be used within the Moodle environment. This number grows every day and currently includes popular webtools such as Voicethread, GeoGebra, Photostory, and Moviemaker.
- A module allowing for the embedding of slideshows, gadgets, and other html-coded content for a more authentic learning experience.
- Adobe Connect to provide online meetings within Moodle for teachers, administrators, and even students.
- Checklists to track activities.
- Two-way written or face-to-face dialogue between teacher and student.
- Games like hangman, Sudoku, and crosswords.
- A module to allow for the use of Google Apps within Moodle.
- Turnitin plagiarism detection within many aspects of the LMS including quizzes, blogs, and forums.
- Quick Mail to encourage communication between teachers and students as a group or individually.
- A virtual suggestion box using Padlet or Linoit to encourage transparency and troubleshooting.
- Award badges to students to applaud success.
Overall, there isn’t a more flexible, scalable, affordable LMS that will allow you to differentiate for varied needs, personalize content, and respond quickly and facilely to the ever-changing demands of teachers and students. The learning curve, though steeper than most LMSs, is well worth it. Let me know if you disagree.
Here are screenshots from a Moodle LMS:
Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, contributor to NEA Today, and author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.