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Jane is a very effective advocate of Elgg, the open source social networking and social publishing platform. She calls it a social-learning platform, and uses it as the base from which a whole load of activities are started, and to introduce the concepts involved in social learning.
As I came home, I was pondering whether I would use Elgg for this purpose, or whether I'd use Moodle. It's a tricky one, because whichever platform you use, you will be using it for two different purposes:
- Formal, directed learning activities
- Providing a space to explore informal, learner-led activities
|Informal, directed learning activities||
Great for the tutor. Easy to setup standard sets of activities and to switch them on over the course of the programme. Easy to administer large groups of learners.
Designed to support social-constructivist approaches to learning in formal education settings. Excellent discussion forum capabilities.
Creating multipage web resources only possible with the additional "Book" module.
Administering users and adding them to groups looks like a manual process for each user.
Lots of functionality available to the learner from the start. Can be confusing to know what to do first.
|Providing a space to explore informal, learner-led activities||
Moodle can do the social-network stuff, but it takes some digging and a fair bit of work for the administrator. For example, each user's name is a link to their profile which then gives you access to other things they've posted. But it's not easy to find things on the same or similar topics. There are also other modules that you can add to provide additional facilities.
No user upload of files for sharing - without additional modules (See: Moodle and Social Networking)
The Elgg interface is based around the individual and building their network. So it's ideal for this purpose.
Links between people, files, posts etc are made explicit through a consistent tag engine. This can be confusing to navigate at first, but for the expert user group can be extremely powerful.
In today's instance, with the opportunity for an initial face-to-face workshop to iron out niggles with the Elgg interface, I think I would have chosen Elgg, as Jane did.
If the programme had started online, I think I would have started with Moodle as it's much easier to move things on gently (following Gilly Salmon's five stage model), and then expanded out with Elgg or perhaps Mahara, which integrates with Moodle.
I've also discovered that there's a plugin for Elgg that allows you to upload and create users from a CSV file.
It's still not as fully featured as Moodle, though, which allows you to create user accounts, add them to courses and to groups within courses all from one CSV file.
That's not to say Moodle cannot incorporate social tools, it's just it's a lot harder...