Ok, picking up where I left off...
Anything an LMS can do Moodle can probably do; some of the important features of Moodle cannot be replicated by another LMS. Some of these I mentioned last time.
Rather than getting into some of the relatively simple features and tasks any of them perform I'll stick with highlighting what Moodle offers and where I think the others fall flat.
More and more I am able to build feedback loops into my courses (a number of them automated). Do the other systems do that? I am referring to things like the Lesson module, quiz feedback or the restricted access features. Sure, setting it up can take some time, but I more than make up for it when the student receives immediate feedback. I can also use that data to follow up with students.
Just the other day I was at another LMS discussion where I heard that teachers like the Facebook/LinkedIn feel of Schoology. Again I found myself thinking, so what if it looks like those things? Those things likely won't be around for the long haul. I don't know very many kids who still use Facebook. It's something they see their parents and grandparents using. It's a place to connect and maybe find out about things going viral, but that's pretty much it. I've never run into a person who tells me about something awesome they learned on Facebook or LinkedIn the other day. I do hear that from people taking classes in actual Learning Management Systems.
So like I said, a thing they can do Moodle can do. If you want to create a more social atmosphere to your Moodle environment you should work on finding ways to do that by setting up various types of forums, using the tools that allow for collaboration like Glossaries or Wikis. You could set up an RSS Feed to various social networks, maybe tweak some permissions so that you can have multiple users editing a page. Assignments now allow for group submissions; you might also want to look into some of the Moodle add-ons; there's one to enable badges. I would also suggest these two articles from Moodle News: How Moodle’s social networking features became a “virtual hangout” for students and Opinion – Can Moodle replace social networks in educational settings? Here's a presentation about Making Moodle Social and Fun.
Again, I hear people say that Moodle is ugly or clunky without really hearing what that means. I'm guessing they'd say the same about D2L or Blackboard but here's my reply: Your site probably is ugly if you are saying that, but you are speaking for yourself. If your Moodle site/course is ugly it is your fault. I wouldn't create a new web page upload a file to it and some lengthy URL to link to and say, this is ugly. I would do something to make it more attractive. I guess I'm missing something because I happen to thing that the default anything is ugly.
I've also heard the concern that people that are using iPads would have a better experience using Schoology or Edmoto. And to a certain extent I agree if we want to continue to offer students the whole inch deep/mile wide curriculum that schools are often criticized for. I do not. I want my students to have a deep and meaningful understanding of content that they can connect to the real world and their own lives. I want them to experience something and create things to share with the rest of the world. I'm not interested in giving them the Twitter post version of topics, talking points, snippets or cutting things down to the point where they lose all meaning. That's not how you connect with learners; that's how you appease people who aren't engaged in the subject matter. Also, if you want your course to work well with an iPad I can think of two suggestions, design your course so that it works well on an iPad or use a Moodle app (There are a few out there and one can be enabled as a default part of your Moodle installation).
That segues nicely to my final point for this post (there will be more to come!), Most teachers aren't designers. It took me a long time to finally get that and to actually believe it. I didn't want to believe it but it's the sad reality. Many teachers do a wonderful job finding content to supplement existing lessons, but in terms of creating something from scratch and making it visually appealing, it's just not that common. I've written about what makes for good content and design in previous posts, but since there aren't that many doing it well that means that we need to find those who are doing it and connect them with each other to build new courses. I'm unaware of any active user groups for proprietary systems; there are a number of them for Moodle.
Collaborative Curriculum Building is relatively new because of how easy it is now to create and find Open Educational Resources. To go along with that, people working within an Open Source Community are typically more likely to share what they create because they most likely received help from someone else in that community when they got started. They realize that the value in what they create is not just for a handful of their students but for the thousands who will use what they share. It saves money, you can edit what you use, it's just as good if not better than vendor content and it helps connect talented people all the while giving districts more highly trained staff that are likely to continue to create and share their skills with others. There's really no downside.
Next time, more on hacks, plugins and site customizations...