Moodle for "Power User" Institutions of Higher Education
Elizabeth Dalton | TrustRadius Reviewer
Updated June 04, 2014

Moodle for "Power User" Institutions of Higher Education

Score 8 out of 10
Vetted Review
Verified User
Review Source

Software Version

2.5

Modules Used

  • Blackboard Collaborate
  • Questionnaire
  • Subpage
  • Turinitin Assignment
  • Configurable Reports
  • Mass Action Block
  • MooProfile
  • Kaltura Media
  • Collapsed Topics Format
  • Ad-Hoc Database Queries
  • DataHub (Remote Learner)
  • Google Analytics

Overall Satisfaction with Moodle

We use Moodle as our Learning Management System to support online courses offered by our institution. We are the "adult learning" branch of the University System of New Hampshire, a publicly funded higher education institution. We offer fully accredited Bachelor's degrees and graduate degrees. Over 65% of our enrollments are in completely online courses (not hybrid or face to face). Moodle is used to provide communication between instructors and students, including provision of learning materials, support for substantive discussions in which learners explore the topics, and assessment of student learning.
  • Moodle is open-source. This means we are able to easily extend Moodle without having to pay for additional functionality. An active user community continues to extend and support Moodle use. We are able to contribute directly by fixing bugs or enhancing functionality, and these changes can be submitted to the community for use by others. We can also make use of enhancements submitted by other users. The roadmap for development and the process of engaging in that process are open and transparent.
  • Moodle is constructivist by design, supporting several means for learners to interact with one another as part of the learning process. Support for discussions is reasonably strong. The Workshop module, while complicated to configure, supports peer review of work using instructor-defined rubrics.
  • Moodle supports standards such as IMS Common Cartridge, LTI (Learning Tool Interoperability), XML-RPC, etc., allowing content to be imported from other systems (or exported to them). This enhances our ability to incorporate Open Education Resources in our course offerings. This also aided in our migration from our previous LMS.
  • Multiple hosting vendors are available to provide SaaS solutions, or an institution may choose to host Moodle themselves, depending on resources available at the institution.
  • There is an incredibly wide variety of add-ons, most of which are hosted and/or indexed at the moodle.org site, which also provides rating tools, support forum areas, bug tracking, etc. In particular, Open University in the UK, using Moodle to support tens of thousands of completely online students, has contributed a number of solid enhancements to the platform.
  • Moodle integrates with a variety of authentication systems, including most of those likely to be in use at a college or university. We have used both LDAP and CAS.
  • Moodle HQ attention is divided amongst the needs of many different types constituents, e.g. institutions who use Moodle to support face to face or hybrid courses, rather than fully online programs like ours. While anyone can make an "add-on" for Moodle, it can be difficult to get changes in the core application approved by Moodle HQ, which can limit the kinds of add-ons that can be created.
  • The number of experienced hosting providers in the U.S. is small, and one (Moodlerooms) is now owned by a commercial competitor (Blackboard).
  • Because Moodle is open source software, there is no commercial entity providing technical support. There are so many configuration options that some expertise is needed to configure Moodle for the specific needs of an institution. Commercial hosting providers can help, but many institutions will find they need at least one full-time staff member to administer and configure Moodle, even beyond administering the server used to host Moodle.
  • The interface of Moodle sometimes seems dated compared to newer applications, e.g. Canvas. Newer interface elements are being adopted into Moodle Core, but many are left to individual "Theme" developers, with varying degrees of support. Three columns are assumed, and the "Block" structure is confining (e.g. one cannot place a block in the central region of the course).
  • Although Moodle is intended to be aligned with constructivist learning principles, it cannot "force" instructors to teach in a constructivist way (nor can any LMS).
  • Reporting tools are scant. Third-party plugins are needed to provide adequate reports. We recommend Configurable Reports and the Ad-Hoc Database Queries tool. We would like to see tools like these become part of Moodle Core.
  • Automation tools (e.g. import of student enrollments from a Student Information System) have been limited and not robust in the past. This is improving, both within add-on services provided by hosting services such as Remote Learner, and within Moodle Core. This situation still needs improvement.
  • The Gradebook function is complex and generates many support questions.
  • Switching from Blackboard to Moodle helped us reduce costs at our institution during a critical funding shortage.
  • Although we have had to develop reports ourselves, our access to data and reporting within Moodle has allowed us to focus on measuring effective teaching and learning practices within our institution in a way that wasn't possible with Blackboard. We are in the process of developing specific learning analytics to further improve this aspect of our institution.
  • As we progressed in using Moodle, we found we had to allocate significantly higher resources than originally estimated, including a full-time LMS administrator internally, and increased support services at our hosting provider.
  • Canvas,Blackboard
We switched from Blackboard to Moodle based on two criteria: cost and control. We had been hosting Blackboard through a sister institution who had a schedule of upgrades and maintenance incompatible with our course schedule. We also needed to massively reduce costs during a severe funding cut to public institutions of higher education. Moodle helped us do that, even though our final costs were higher than initially expected.

Canvas was not ready for review at the time we selected Moodle. We routinely compare different LMS products as they surface in the marketplace. Canvas has a good interface, but at this time we don't feel the discussion/forum feature is strong enough to support fully online learning.
Even though Moodle is open and we could extract our course content through IMS Common Cartridge or SQL exports for import to another system, changing LMS software is difficult for faculty and not a disruption we would willingly impose at this time. We would need to see a truly compelling advantage in another system to consider switching. Moodle meets our needs fairly well at present, and we are not convinced that any other system would offer significant advantages. Total cost of ownership is still lower with Moodle than with most other systems we have reviewed.

We continue to look for LMS tools that provide even better support for learner peer review and more flexible online assignments. We use many external tools to enhance Moodle, including Blackboard Collaborate, Kaltura, Chalk & Wire, Articulate Storyline, and Turnitin. On the one hand, this gives us a "best of breed" solution that doesn't limit us to a single vendor. On the other hand, managing all these licenses can be cumbersome and expensive.
The key concerns are whether you will host completely online courses or support face to face and hybrid courses, and whether you will host your LMS internally or will need external hosting.

Moodle can be used to host courses completely online, but if this is mission critical to your institution (i.e. the purpose of your institution is to provide education and you will do this primarily online), be sure you have enough internal resources to support this application. This is not a turn-key solution. Substantial configuration is required.

If you have the resources to host your own LMS and administer it, Moodle is an excellent choice. You will be able to customize it to meet your needs, for a very modest cost (as the software itself is free).

If you are a smaller institution without 24x7 IT support, you may need to consider external hosting, and this will come at a cost. You may be restricted in how much you will be able to customize Moodle, and you will still need someone within your organization who will be familiar with administering and supporting the features of Moodle.

If you need minimal LMS support for face to face courses at low cost, Moodle is an outstanding choice.

Using Moodle

3000 - Moodle is used by instructors, students, and college staff administering educational programs. It is core to our mission as an institution of higher education providing fully online courses (as well as face to face and hybrid courses). Greater than 65% of our enrollments are in fully online courses, so Moodle is critical to those learners.
5 - We have one full-time LMS administrator. Moodle is also supported by a team of 2-4 Instructional Designers, one learning resource designer, and our regular IT staff as part of their responsibilities (up to 8 employees, including part time). Technical administration of Moodle requires knowledge of web servers and protocols, especially PHP, SQL, and some familiarity with XML. Our linux server administration is handled by a hosting service.
  • Adult students needing to complete a college degree while maintaining full-time employment and/or family responsibilities
  • Enlisted students deployed abroad
  • Adjunct faculty needing a tool to communicate with students without requiring extensive web development skills
  • In addition to our college courses, we support the Education and Training Partnership, which provides training to prospective foster families in the state of New Hampshire
  • We use Moodle to provide faculty professional development as well as student instruction
  • We use xhtml to provide twitter feed blocks in Moodle sidebars about topics of interest to the course subject matter
  • We are looking at increased use of SCORM (possibly via Articulate Storyline) to provide simulation-based learning for complex topics
  • We are considering badges for both faculty professional development and recognition of complex, high-order student skills crossing multiple disciplines
  • We are hoping to enhance learner peer review tools and promote independent learning within Moodle

Moodle Support

Moodle is open source, and must be evaluated in that context, but one also has to provide a fair comparison to competing products with commercial backing. Support varies depending on the component of Moodle. Bug reports in Moodle Core that affect security or stability are dealt with promptly. Functionality requests or features not working smoothly may or may not be addressed, depending on whether the functionality desired matches the "vision" of Moodle HQ. The user community provides excellent support for initial installation and configuration, but more complex questions may go unanswered, unless they are noticed by someone who happens to know the answer. The support forum feature at the Moodle site (the same feature used within Moodle itself) does not provide granular subscription to topic discussions, apparently by design, and Moodle HQ seems resistant to changing this feature.
ProsCons
Knowledgeable team
Kept well informed
Support understands my problem
Slow Resolution
Difficult to get immediate help
Slow Initial Response
Yes - We host with Remote Learner, a "Moodle Partner." My ratings of Moodle support do not include rankings of support provided by Remote Learner.
Yes - Bugs reported about add-ons have usually been fixed promptly by the third party add-on makers. Bugs in Moodle Core may be addressed if careful steps to reproduce are provided. On the plus side, patches to fix bugs are accepted by Moodle HQ after appropriate review, which improves responsiveness to bug reports.
While implementing the third-party MooProfile block, I had several almost real-time exchanges with the developer during which features we needed were implemented and one fix I submitted was incorporated almost immediately. This was an example of open source support at its finest. Staying active in the Moodle community definitely improves the support experience.

Using Moodle

Simple uses of Moodle, e.g. to post documents to support a face to face course and perhaps provide a discussion forum for intermittent use, are very easy. Using Moodle as a platform for entirely online courses at a college level requires considerable configuration and selection of customized add-ons to provide missing functionality. Once the system is set up, instruction to faculty and students may be required as every system has specific features and interface elements that are likely to be unusual or even unique. The open-source nature of Moodle does not encourage consistency of the interface. Disagreements in the open source community sometimes hinder improvements to core features, e.g. long-awaited enhancements to the Forum tools.
ProsCons
Like to use
Technical support not required
Quick to learn
Convenient
Feel confident using
Unnecessarily complex
  • The Topic/Week structure in Moodle helps organize course activities in the same way that an instructor's syllabus does, making it clear what tasks need to be performed each week (or other course unit)
  • The "My Home" page provides an easy overview of all tasks one needs to complete, across multiple courses
  • The Forum provides clear notification of and navigation to new, unread posts
  • Instructor grading of forum activity by students seems like an afterthought, even though forum discussions are a critical component of constructivist and social-constructivist learning. The "Rating" system is the most integrated way to provide grades, but using it in that way is not obvious to new faculty (or to students).
  • Several tools provide similar functionality, but enhancements do not work across tools, e.g. rubric tools developed for Assignments can't be used in the Workshop or in Quiz Essay Questions, and Quiz Scoring methods (e.g. short-answer matching) can't be used in the branching Lesson module
  • User-configurable reporting is not built into Moodle. The Configurable Reports plugin addresses many of these needs.
  • Blocks providing additional functionality, e.g. summaries of the 3 most recent posts, cannot be placed in the central region, only in sidebars.
  • The Gradebook function is very complex, and generates numerous support requests from instructors and students. Configuring the correct calculation of grades can be difficult for all but the simplest of scenarios (simple average). Instructors frequently override grade calculations by accident and need help restoring the correct calculations.
Yes - Multiple interfaces are provided. The downloadable apps are incomplete. However, there is also a device detection feature, with the ability to set a different "theme" when a mobile device is detected, and this works well. Unfortunately, existing themes an institution might want to use do not necessarily have coordinating mobile counterparts. This is an area that could use improvement.

Integrating Moodle

Moodle now provides core functionality to process file imports for users, courses, and enrollments, but still has significant limitations in how these files are processed. This functionality was added late, considering the frequency with which these features were requested, and is still incomplete. However, integration with important educational tools is excellent.
  • Banner
  • Chalk & Wire and other LTI-compliant tools
Our Banner integration was difficult, despite using an add-on package by Remote Learner (DataHub). Moodle does not integrate "out of the box" with Student Information Systems. Remote Learner's DataHub product allows import of comma separated value (.csv) text files, but is fussy about line ending characters, UTF encoding, etc. When we began our integration, the DataHub product (called "Integration Point" at that time) was poorly documented. Resolving various compatibility issues took nearly a year. Error logs are verbose and not organized by severity.

On the other hand, the integration with LTI tools, including Chalk & Wire, has been simple and relatively painless. Students are provided single-signon access to LTI-compliant tools and instructors also have visibility to student progress in those tools. Scores are reported back to Moodle from LTI tools (if provided by the LTI tool).
  • Possibly calendar services, e.g. Google Calendar.
This would likely be handled by a third-party add-on (it may already be supported).
  • File import/export
  • Single Signon
  • API (e.g. SOAP or REST)
  • Javascript widgets
The primary integration technology used by an LMS like Moodle would be LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability), which goes beyond single signon to provide data exchange between Moodle and third-party learning tools such as ePortfolios, Turnitin (originality checking and grading), textbook publisher supplements, and Open Education Resources. Moodle supports this very well. The other key integration technology is SCORM, provided as a way to embed interactive elements with scoring capabilities into courses. Moodle supports this well.
In areas where clear standards exist, e.g. LDAP, LTI and SCORM, Moodle implements standards well and support is good. Unfortunately, this level of standardization does not apply to Student Information Systems, likely a key integration need. Carefully review the current state of the data import process and your SIS data export capabilities. You will probably need to manually code extensive database functions to extract and prepare user, course, and enrollment data for import by Moodle. This is a significant undertaking. Budget appropriately, and plan to engage external consultants if you don't have the resources in-house. If you want to bring data (e.g. grades) back from Moodle to your SIS, double the estimated effort.