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Last week's Learning & Skills Group webinar on How Companies are Making the Most of Moodle attracted over 200 people and stimulated a huge amount of conversation in the chat room.
Steve Rayson (from Kineo) gave a superb overview of how companies have used Moodle as the basis for a whole range of training, performance analysis and communication purposes. He talked about the potential for Moodle to adapt through new theme packs or custom-built modules.
There were a lot of people attending for whom even this high level talk about coding, HTML, CSS and other techie stuff was too much. Many of the questions asked seemed to indicate that they wanted to know the basics about how Moodle could help them without any customisation. It was like they were expecting Moodle to be the Holy Grail - the free application that would solve all their training problems.
What I'm going to attempt to do here is show how Moodle can help corporate L&D departments out-of-the-box, and also describe what it cannot do without customisation.
This will be very much an outline of the possible, rather than an in-depth exploration. If you want to know more leave a question in the feedback box, or drop me an email.
Moodle is free
Moodle is free. That's probably the most important thing to get your head around. It's free to download, free to use, and free to adapt.
That doesn't mean that it won't cost you anything to use Moodle. As soon as you start wanting to get real learners into your site you'll need to consider costs of things like hosting, bandwidth and support. Now, if you're in a company with a friendly IT department that may come as part of their service to you. But it may not... You might even want to consider purchasing these services from a Moodle Partner (companies that specialise in Moodle).
The difference between Moodle and most proprietary (ie. closed source) applications is that you've got a choice. You can scale up exactly how you want to, without any financial barrier to getting started. You can even install a working copy on your own Mac or Windows PC without having to know anything about webservers, databases and the like.
Moodle is simple to install
Once you've outgrown your own local version of Moodle, you'll need to get it installed somewhere. This is where your IT department will love you. Once the basic webserver and database server is setup (and the complexity here depends on how big and secure you need your site to be), actually installing Moodle is a doddle. It's the sort of thing a competent IT person can do in less than an hour.
Moodle is a Course Management System
Yes, I said "course". Not a learning management system or a learning content management system. The course paradigm runs strongly throughout the whole Moodle architecture. In Moodle terms, a course is the place where "resources" are published and used and where learners undertake "activities". Individuals have "roles" inside the course which give certain permissions. Out-of-the-box, you have "teachers" who can set up and run the course, and "students" who will do the activities.
It's important to understand this idea of the course, which is very different from your typical corporate elearning course. A Moodle course can contain many resources, which might include your SCORM packages (although these are classed as activities), as well as links to external sites, uploaded documents and even web-pages that you can create within Moodle's editor.
Similarly, a Moodle course can contain as many forums, wikis, quizzes and other activity types as you wish. Remember that, in the wild, Moodle is designed to be used with a teacher facilitating these activities - perhaps gradually introducing them over a period of time. In corporate situations, this model is less likely. So you need to consider very carefully how complex you want your course to become. Generally, the less teacher - student interaction there will be, the more simple you need to keep your course.
From the teacher's perspective, compared to similar systems, Moodle is a breath of fresh air. It allows complete control over how the course will work, with an interface that is designed around the needs of the teacher. Adding resources and activities follows a well-honed workflow that just makes sense.
Three things to remember at this point:
- Resources are things that will be used by the learner to help complete activities.
- Activities are things that can publish marks/data into the student gradebook (like a schoolteacher's markbook). That's why the SCORM packages are classed as activities.
- All the language can be changed very easily so don't worry about whether you'll have students or learners or participants.
Moodle is brilliant at user management
This is one of the reasons why so many corporates are taking the Moodle route and then adding their custom-built modules. At the heart of Moodle is a user-management system that many applications would do well to copy.
The ideal is to reduce the administration overhead (ie. people doing admin tasks manually) to zero. A well-configured Moodle site can do this almost completely. I've run a number of large Moodle sites (including a County Council, a division of a large corporate, and a national teacher professional development site). With all of them I've designed the admin processes so that they can be user-driven. As well as reduced the initial admin, this also cuts down on the number of support calls.
Here are three simple steps that you can do to bring down your admin overhead on your Moodle site. They assume you don't want any integration with existing systems.
- Use email authentication - this is the default authentication system in Moodle. It does rely on everyone knowing their email address (not always in true in my experience!)
- Allow self-registration, perhaps limiting new users to those from a particular email domain if you don't want all and sundry to register.
- Use enrolment keys on your courses. These act like passwords for each course. Once a user has entered the key they will be enrolled in the course and won't need to enter it again. If you want to group your users within the course for reporting purposes, then you can give each group it's own unique enrolment key. (NB. Out-of-the-box, Moodle has no means of grouping people on a site-wide basis. If you want to do that, then you'll need the rather excellent Moomis add-on. I'll be reviewing this some point soon.)
If you do have existing systems, again, Moodle has functionality built-in that can help with the integration, whether it's a batch upload of users or a more sophisticated check against the external system at the point of login. (To be honest most integration difficulties come from the external systems rather than Moodle). For more info see: http://docs.moodle.org/en/Authentication
That's probably enough for now. Future articles will look at the various add-ons for Moodle, the techniques I've used to create self-study systems, and when and how to use the activities at the heart of Moodle: forums, wikis and assessments.
Any advice is appreciated. I have also included a link to my review of MOOMIS for all that may be interested in learning a little more about it.
I'm afraid MOOMIS is the only plugin I know that let's you manage site-wide groups and reports. Creating custom reports isn't that hard if you're handy with PHP (so I'm told!), but I don't know of any other tool that gives you an interface to create them.
Kineo have created a SCORM report: http://tracker.moodle.org/browse/CONTRIB-1394 and a CPD reporting tool: http://projects.kineoopensource.com/projects/kos-cpd-report/wiki, that may fit the bill?
Thanks for the MOOMIS review. That's saved me a job!