01 April 2013

Moodle vs. INSERT LMS (Part III)

Continuing from my previous posts here and here...

Being aware of features in other systems helps. Then people can go back and try to improve upon what they have. I would say that using the default for any course is probably a fairly low level of integration. I'm encouraged when I see examples of coursework that presents things in new and interesting ways. I've been making some connections in the D2L world as well because MN K-12 districts could receive access to that system thought the MnSCU license. Being able to move content between those systems will be important (right now D2L doesn't play nice with the latest content package but there is some hope there).

Back to business...I've seen responses in various social networks that offer some other ideas about why someone might still go with Schoology so I want to be sure to address those points as well...

It may be that distrits simply don't have much vested into any system at this point so it would be a compelling time to change if there are teachers requesting another system. It's easy enough to get everyone moved over to another system if they don't really have anything in a platform like Moodle to begin with.

My biggest fear for any system is that an administrator mandates an Online Presence and then all a teacher does is drag some files/handouts to the virtual classroom. When I have recently watched teachers present on using Moodle and Schoology, this was basically the level of tech integration I saw. I have to say, if all I knew about any system was based examples I've seen lately then I don't think I'd be all that interested in any of them. If all one wants to do is to post handouts for a face-to-face, synchronous course then it will probably be fine. Students won't use any system very effectively, if at all, when they are simply file repositories.

While I have seen examples of Moodle units that take design and engagement into account, I've not seen an example yet in other systems, and it's not due to lack of looking at finished courses. The best you can hope for is to recreate something like a web page a few clicks in.

I've also heard that people like the mobile apps for Schoology or Edmoto. Again, it's my view that the default view for just about anything is trash. Moodle courses can be designed with those users in mind so that no app is required and they can still have a positive experience.

I'm also aware that there is a Parent Portal to Schoology that others like. That functionality can be recreated in Moodle with the Mentee Block but I'd be in favor of parents finding what they need in a Student Information System rather than the site for courses anyway.

Schoology or Edmoto are not full functioning Learning Management Systems. There's a reason why you don't see colleges switching over to them, or any kind of adoption in the Online Learning arena. It's the same reason that course developers are not pushing out Schoology versions of their content. Over the course of writing these posts it has become apparent to me that systems like D2L and (the as-of-now-supported) Angel, do provide some of the functionality I find so important for building effective curriculum. If that is the case then the argument becomes, Why use Moodle if another system can do the same thing? That is something with which to wrestle. What prompted me to start writing about this topic was the fact that so many are now in the process of adopting systems and putting out RFP's or entertaining sales pitches from all over and it didn't really seem like there was any strong argument being made for Open Source. I kind of took it upon myself to be a Moodle Evangelist to hopefully allow others to take a look at what they might miss out on with an open tool.

Getting a pitch from a sales person isn't quite the same as seeing it for one's self and some conversations I've had with vendors have really bothered me.

Ultimately, I think learning about how any system addresses a need can spur new ideas and innovation. Here's why I'd still favor Moodle:
  • What you put your time and effort into should be something that you control. If you run out of money for your subscription you don't lose the functionality of all your stuff.
  • The community of Moodle users is a larger pool of users for content and support. Roughly a third of the districts in MN are using Moodle and those are just the ones I know about. Being able to leverage that into curriculum development has been promising. This has the potential to save millions across the state on curriculum costs. If these same projects can be leveraged across the country we'll really have something disruptive.
  • Paying someone to manage the installation as part of his/her day is far less expensive than support contracts from a vendor. I manage 3 Moodle installations for a district. While I could always spend more time on them, it takes me less than 5 hours a week once the installation is up and running for things like upgrades, hacks, student support, troubleshooting, etc.
  • Having Moodle administration in-house results in shorter turn-around time for support requests. A student in the systems I work with generally waits a couple minutes before given an answer. In a vendor model that might take over an hour to a couple of days since a student would notify a teacher, that teacher would notify the district person managing the account and that person would contact the vendor who would then send the answer back down the  chain.
  • Flexibility. Whether it's for Professional Development; resource sharing; troubleshooting; coursework or curriculum development, Moodle is flexible enough to provide a rich experience for them all. It also integrates nicely with PayPal.
  • It allows the the level of personalization that I need for classrooms of the future. This is the most important reason of all.
I've had a few conversations in the last week with people who do not think that any LMS will be required in the future and learning objects will be directed through the use of repositories. Here's why I think that, at least for now, they are wrong. An LMS allows for a customized pathway through learning objects. Students can be presented with an experience rather than an object to view/interact with. Context to the objects is everything and an LMS is where that context is provided. The ability to backup entire units and courses for reuse and sharing makes it much more attractive than a list of how you might go about re-creating what someone else has done. I would also add that the value of having analytics, reporting, gradebooks and communication through the site are also attractive features.

As always, I'm open to looking at examples where something beautiful has been created and shared. My future posts will likely address what real technology integration looks like for a face-to-face classroom. The examples I give will most likely be from Moodle, so hopefully your LMS can keep up ;)