Abstract: This paper investigates the available literature on the use of Moodle as a virtual learning environment in educational settings. It highlights the various characteristics of Moodle that make it uniquely suited for educational purposes and explores the software from the viewpoint of the teacher. It also analyzes the impact of Moodle on learning and the reason why Universities choose Moodle as their LMS. Though is insufficient evidence that Moodle has actually improved the learning capacity of the students in terms of classroom interaction or academic achievement, the available literature in the form of journal articles and articles on the internet overwhelmingly suggest that Moodle is a very popular learning management system that is highly favored by students and teachers all over the world.
With the advent of the internet, online education also known as e-learning has taken off in a big way and XML programming environment is generally considered the new standard for the Internet (Brandl, 16). Moodle is an acronym for “modular object-oriented dynamic learning environment” and is a software package designed to help educators create quality online instruction and facilitate online learning. In the hands of educators, it is a tool for the management of various aspects of course content and delivery using a single integrated system. Moodle is compatible with Windows, Mac OS X, and open-source operating systems including Linux (Brooks-Young, 28). Moodle is very popular among educators because it is free of cost, easy to implement, and has a flexible design that supports a wide range of teaching and learning styles. While Moodle is used for automation of teaching tasks such as giving tests, assigning work, and collecting it, the more advanced features of Moodle facilitate collaboration, peer assessment and provide active forums for technical support and feedback. The Moodle system has recently been expanded by users to include podcasting and grade book options and another advantage of Moodle is that its software is free and is open source in nature (Brooks-Young, 28). However, there are other costs involved as Moodle can be used only where there is a local server and its users need training and ongoing support is not free. The applications of Moodle have been the subject of research in recent times and such studies show that Moodle is preferred by most instructors and students as its benefits are found too far outweigh the costs involved in the implementation and maintenance efforts. In particular, Moodle is very popular among K-12 schools and districts which operate on limited government funding. There are currently more than 2.5 million courses delivered through Moodle (Market Wire, 1) and over half a million registered users on Moodle site alone, speaking over 75 languages in 193 countries (Moodle.org, 1). This paper analyzes the features of Moodle that make it special and unique, its impact on learning, and reasons why Universities choose Moodle as their course management system.
Desirable features of e-learning Platforms
There are a few factors to be considered while choosing a CMS for use in an educational setting. In a study held within Tertiary Institutions in New Zealand by Charith Nanayakkara (2007: 1) titled “User Acceptance of Learning Management,” it was identified that three key groups of factors: individual, system, to, and organizational affected the adoption of e-learning systems in the tertiary institutions (Nanayakkara, 1). At the individual level, Nanayakkara (p. 10) revealed that level of knowledge; skills in online content design and individual acceptance are important factors for educational institutions to embrace LMS such as Moodle. While individual factors have a significant contribution to the LMS adoption, the system and organizational factors are most crucial for user acceptance in e-learning. The five essential factors for staff uptake in e-learning systems that have been identified in their order of significance as release time for staff; ease of use of LMS; usefulness of the LMS; training and support to develop online content and reliability and performance of information and communication technologies (Nanayakkara, 10). Pedagogically, many Moodle teachers desire to create a learning environment for students where students have the freedom to make mistakes and rectify them. This means there must be tools that help students to monitor their performances, manage time, reflect on their assignments and grades, re-plan and allow them to choose challenging tasks as assignments (Berggren et al, 6). The identification of these factors helps in understanding the use of Moodle for educational purposes.
Basic Features of Moodle
Moodle is has been developed as an Open Source software project, supported both by professional programmers and by users. Moodle is available free of charge under the terms of the General Public License (GPL) and this gives it a huge advantage over similar educational software such as Blackboard and WebCT whose licensing fees are quite high. Moodle offers a virtual classroom complete with all facilities and teaching materials along with detailed student records in one website that can be adapted to the needs of any educational institution. Its basic attractive feature is that it allows online collaborations between the teachers, the students, and among themselves through virtual learning spaces called ‘courses’, with its own set of content and activities called “modules”. These courses are generally password-protected so that only enrolled students can access them (Stanford, 58). Moodle is modular and hence it is easy to add extra functionalities to the system through individually developed modules with specialized functions. The basic features of Moodle are such that it is an ideal virtual learning platform.
Philosophy of Moodle
According to the official Moodle website, the design and development of Moodle are guided by “social constructionist pedagogy”. This implies that Moodle is best suited for an educational approach that is two-way and involves interaction rather than a one-way transmission of knowledge. This concept can be explained through four related concepts such as constructivism, constructionism, social constructivism, and connected and separate approach. From a constructivist point of view, people actively construct new knowledge as they interact with their environments. Constructionism asserts that learning is most effective when designed for others to experience. The concept of social constructivism holds that learning is improved by making groups construct knowledge for one another. In connected behavior, the student takes a more empathic approach and listens to other people’s ideas, and asks questions. In general, a healthy amount of connected behavior promotes excellent learning, and Moodle, according to its designers supports connected behavior and a constructive social constructionist approach through collaboration, activities, critical reflection, etc (Moodle.org, 1). Dave Bremer and Reuben Bryant (2005) in their study comparing two learning management systems – Moodle and Blackboard at Otago Polytechnic, have cited that the constructivist approach behind the designing of Moodle, gives Moodle its competitive advantage over Blackboard. In their paper, they note that the constructivism is designed into Moodle, “rather than as an afterthought” (Bremer and Bryant, 39) and this refers to the ability of teachers to build on their lessons gradually through Moodle.
As noted in the Moodle official website, a healthy amount of connected behavior promotes excellent learning and therefore, Moodle, according to its designers supports connected behavior and a constructive social constructionist approach through collaboration, activities, critical reflection, etc (Moodle.org, 1). Learning tasks or projects can be so designed in Moodle to allow for interaction between the instructor and the student or among students, allow teachers to divide students into subgroups and encourage them to interact with each other synchronously in chat rooms, or engage in asynchronous discussions in Wikis and forums (Brandl, 16). The Wiki module in Moodle enables students to collaborate on work online and these collective activities promoted by Moodle, help to nurture connected behavior in students. In accordance with the above findings, Breggen et al (2005) have noted the fact that modern learning practices that are student-centered, project-based, and socio-collaborative tend to favor group formation among the learners, which explains why Moodle’s feature of forming groups course-wide that do not change during the term of the course can be considered as a feature in tune with its philosophy of social constructionism (Breggen et al, 2005). The fact that Moodle’s design is based on a clear philosophy and this philosophy gives it a clear framework on which it can be expanded, built, and made more powerful. Its social constructionist approach is also well suited to the current global environment where digitalization of information and social networking plays a huge role in everyday life.
Special Features of Moodle
Moodle has many features that are unique to it by virtue of its design and these features are often cited by many researchers as being the reasons why Moodle is chosen over other course management systems. Breggen et al (2005) point to Moodle’s unique design that facilitates the creation of course content repetitively. This is of course a characteristic of the ‘open learning design’ in general. The architecture approach of Moodle that is modular supports instant creation and modification of course content and this allows instructors who are not tech-savvy to create useful learning scenarios almost immediately, and then progressively refine them as their skills improve. Breggen et al suggest that this could be the critical factor that can explain Moodle’s popularity with teachers. Weblogging is another feature of Moodle that has been found very enticing from the point of view of students. Ching et al. (2005) have found that students in an introductory educational technology class showed a strong interest in weblogs and the ease with which Moodle allowed them to use weblogs as part of their learning experience (Cited in Berggren et al, 2005, p.7) Jay Melton in his 2006 study on Moodle’s registration and assignment process noted that Moodle follows many of the conventions for usability such as a simple graphic interface, minimal verbal text and extra information provided through rollovers (Melton, 18). Melton concludes that these features of Moodle make registration easy for new users. Another unique feature of Moodle has been discovered by Calvo-Flores et al (2005) who have studied the possibility of analyzing student logs of Moodle using artificial neural networks to identify the students most likely to pass the course. The information is primarily intended to bring to the attention of the teachers the weak students. The neural network proposed has been developed and tested using the logs of the accesses from a group of 240 students of data processing of the University of Cordoba registered in the subject Methodology and Programming Technology. According to the proposed model, it is possible to predict the students who have problems in passing the course (Calvo-Flores et al, 586). Botturi et al. (2005) show that most of the participants (94.3%) were satisfied with the performance of Moodle because of the ease with which it allowed communication with students outside the classroom, management of digital material, and its accessibility to all students at all times.
Teixeira et al (2006), while explaining how they chose Moodle to be the CMS, say that Moodle has the following advantages: it is open and free software and hence economical to use, easy to maintain, make corrections and enhance using new modules and a lot of success has been reported using Moodle in educational settings. The fact that new modules can be attached to Moodle allows it to be integrated with existing students’ administrative management tools. Moreover, Teixeira et al (2006: 3) say that Moodle has an easy and user-friendly interface with the supporting infrastructure also being simple and platform-independent (Teixeira et al, 3). The technological requirements for using Moodle are also cheap and easy to procure – the Apache web server, the PHP for HTML page script, and MySql for the database (Texeira et al, 3). Another major advantage of Moodle is that it can also import and integrate courses structured according to the IMS and SCORM standards. This means, the course materials need not be prepared from scratch but can be built from existing documents (Teixeira et al, 3). According to an article titled “Moodle Implementation at the University of Minnesota” (PPT) by Elena Ivanova and Scott Barnard (2008) Moodle was adopted by the University because of its social constructivist philosophy which has, at its core, collaborative learning and also due to the fact that Moodle allows teaches to gradually enter the collaborative model (Ivanova and Barnard, 2) ). Moreover, Ivanova also pointed to the fact that Moodle is also easy to use and intuitive, has a rich set of tools, lots of 3rd party add-ons, good design and these characteristics are the reasons behind its successful implementation at the University of Minnesota, where the total user base has 44,000 users (Ivanova and Barnard, 3). Thus, most of the users of Moodle have been attracted by the special features of Moodle such as its open-source nature, modular structure, its philosophy, good design and extensibility, and ease of use.
Zenha-Rela and Carvalho (2006) say that what impressed them most about the evaluation of students by Moodle was that the evaluation was not perceived as an end by itself. It had the potential for provoking relevant discussion and learning in an educational context (Zenha-Rela and Carvalho, 27). Moreover, they observe that though teachers having the final decision, the blurring of the student/teacher roles when using this tool proved to be a valuable pedagogical approach, not as a mere technological solution, but rather as a social facilitator inducing learning(Zenha-Rela and Carvalho, 27). This continuity in education pattern and the ability to bring teachers and students on a common platform for interaction purposes are features of Moodle that make it uniquely suited to educational settings.
There are few other advantages of Moodle as well as pointed out by Inoue and Bell (2006) and Thomas Robb (2006). According to Inoue and Bell (2006), the reason why Moodle was chosen at the Business Studies and Computer Sciences Department of the CMI to teach freshman and Sophomore classes is because of its many features such as its emphasis on security; reduction of administrative involvement without compromising security; complete control given to the full-time teacher including the ability to restrict other teachers; the flexible array of course activities; ability to view all grades on one page and download as a spreadsheet file; upload of student assignments with a timestamp; automatic grading of quizzes; allowing quizzes to be taken multiple times at the discretion of the teacher and showing feedback and correct answers and display support of any type of electronic media content (Inoue and Bell, 136). Thomas Robb (2006, 8) says that the major advantages of Moodle are its extensibility, interface languages, and record-keeping, logs, and tracking.
Limitations and Recommendations
Future directions for Moodle are dictated by the drawbacks users of Moodle find in the present day. Jay Melton (2006) study notes that submission of an assignment through Moodle was difficult for instructors as Moodle did not features the standard purple color for visited links and links in Moodle continued to remain blue even after clicking on them and this was confusing for the participants Another problem faced by three of the participants was the language interface – three of the participants were Japanese and they felt that having an English interface made it difficult for them to understand the subtasks (Melton, 18). However, these mistakes have now been rectified and Moodle now supports many languages that can be chosen from a drop-down menu (Moodle.org, 1). In the paper titled “Evaluating Usability in Learning Management System Moodle,” Kakasevski et al (2008) have examined the usability issues of standard modules in Moodle and made some recommendations. They suggest that lessons must have more audiovisual content to make the lessons more understandable to the students. Moreover, it is suggested that the materials should be standard formats such as.doc,.xls,.pps,.jpg, and.pdf formats as these formats were supposed to be most popular among 82% of the users (Kakasevksi et al, 617). Kakasevksi et al (2008) suggest that files in other formats must be converted before being uploaded on the system. The researchers also point to the problems in online chat faced by 80% of the students and the problems in the discussion forum. This is mainly because the e-tools for communication such as chat modules, forums, and e-mails are not well developed (Kakasevksi, 618). One recommendation they make is that teachers can be allowed to place links to the official student forum instead of the discussion forum. Rashmi S. Ramagiri (2007) has observed that Moodle may be improvised to include profile pictures in the chat window and allow support for smiles, images, etc. as she feels this would improve the interactive environment of Moodle. Moreover, she suggests that there must be provisions made for allowing students to check grades, enroll in any course, and solve quizzes online (Ramagiri, 33). Organero and Kloos (2007) have studied the use of forums and observed that students do not participate in forums readily because sharing one’s knowledge is often seen as a waste of competitive advantage and also a waste of time. Organero and Kloos (2007: 3) suggest three ways to increase student participation at Moodle forums: “enabling peer-review of the quality of the posts by other students; intelligent marking of the contributions to the forums and periodical interventions from professors to the forums” (Organero and Kloos, 3). Depending on the reactions of the students and the instructions, a few changes may be made to Moodle which is made easy by the fact that Moodle is modular in structure and any additional functionality may be integrated into the system with relative ease.
Comparative Advantages of Moodle
Moodle has been studied by many people relative to other systems and almost all the studies show that Moodle has emerged as the winner and the favorite of students and instructors involved in the study. Teixeira et al (2006) have studied the migration of a learning platform from a website to a Moodle Based CMS and have found that Moodle is comparatively more advantageous than using a site for educational purposes as websites work only in one direction by feeding information for students whereas Moodle works in two ways by providing an interactive platform between the teachers and the students (Teixiera et al, 1). Dave Bremer and Reuben Bryant (2005) have conducted research comparing two learning management systems – Moodle and Blackboard at Otago Polytechnic. According to this study, it was found that Moodle was far superior to Blackboard. Dr. Khaleel Petrus and Dr. Michael Sankey (2007: 1) in their study titled ” Comparing Writely and Moodle Online Assignment Submission and Assessment” have compared student perceptions of two online course management systems – Writely and Moodle and found that students preferred Moodle system over Writely for submitting assignments for assessment and for receiving feedback due to its convenience of use and high responsiveness compared to Writely (Petrus and Sankey, 1). In another study, Michelle Moore (2003: 2) has found that Moodle is a cost-effective alternative to other LMSs such as Blackboard and WebCT (Moore, 2). Thus it is very clear from the above studies that in the present day educational context, Moodle is the best option for online educational purposes.
Enhancements and Moodle
Moodle can be customized to the needs of its users by integrating it with other modular programs. Nagi and Suesawaluk (2008) have suggested the integration of Moodle with a tool called “Reports” which can be helpful for educators to evaluate student activities and identify online behaviors and interaction patterns using the Moodle logs (Nagi and Suesawaluk, 772). Elgg can be integrated into Moodle and thereby it’s possible to have a student-centered learning environment where students have their blogs and connect with the world outside the classroom(Godwin-Jones, 2006, 8). Podcasting can be activated on the Moodle Platform by using its forum pages. Educators can create podcasts in the form of audio Mp3 files and attach them to their posts from where students may download and listen. The RSS feed tool must be activated on the specific post so that students can subscribe to it (Hall, 67). Wimba Inc, the education technology company, involved in the educational field has recently announced an enhanced integration with Moodle to incorporate the Wimba Collaboration Suite(TM) into the Moodle platform. This is expected to facilitate the use of “online video, voice, text, application sharing, polling, and whiteboarding” (Market Wire, 1). As a result, it the learning environment at Moodle will be made more collaborative and interactive, thereby increasing student engagement and retention. Another recent extension of Moodle’s functionality has been achieved through its combination with other technologies such as SCORM and XML and authoring software such as Hot Potatoes. A module for Moodle was developed by Bateson (2005) that allows Hot Potatoes, an existing authoring tool to be incorporated into Moodle. Teachers have found that it increased its flexibility. Next, SCORM, “Sharable Content Object Reference Model”, a standard for the packaging and deployment of Web-based “learning objects,” has been found to facilitate the exporting and importing of data across platforms when integrated with Moodle. With the increased ability to transmit information across different platforms using Hot Potatoes or Authorware and using merging technologies like SCORM and XML, teachers can choose and customize the tools they need for their teaching environment. With greater choice, there is greater diversity and due to this diversity, there are more and more avenues to be explored from the point of view of the teacher (Levy and Stockwell, 210). Thus the ability of Moodle to be expanded in its functional capabilities makes it an educational tool well suited for the future that is marked by rapid changes in media and communication.
Evaluation and Feedback on Moodle
Botturi et al (2007) have studied the impact of Moodle in the context of two Tessin (Switzerland) higher education institutions: the University of Lugano (USI) and the University of Applied Sciences of Italian Switzerland (SUPSI) in May 2004. Botturi et al surveyed 57 faculty members and found that 44% of respondents reported learning enhancement after Moodle was implemented, whereas 56% did not notice any change (Botturi et al, 8). Moreover, from the teacher’s point of view, it was found that 60% of them felt that students reacted positively to the new LMS and 51% of them claimed that the students had no difficulty in adapting to Moodle (Botturi et al, 8). Teixeira et al in their paper titled “Migrating from a website to a Moodle-based CMS” list the reasons why they have chosen to migrate to Moodle. Moodle is widely popular among teachers and students due to many reasons. Though the software is popular, according to Botturi et al, the adoption process of the platform in the involved universities, required that two actions be taken: all learning material available or previous learning platforms had to be migrated to e-Courses and teachers and teaching assistants had to be trained in Moodle in an application-oriented way (Botturi et al, 9).
Antonenko et al have thoroughly evaluated Moodle using a framework based on the concept that learning environments are rooted in five core foundations: psychological, pedagogical, technological, cultural, and pragmatic. Psychological foundations refer to the research, theory, and practice of the learning and thinking processes. Moodle takes into consideration several learning theories such as situated cognition (tasks in authentic context) and cognitive flexibility (the Glossary Learning Module). Pedagogical foundations refer to the instructional practices that the designers use and are generally based on the theories of learning. Moodle developers have explicitly stated that the design of the software is grounded in constructivist and social constructionist instructional principles. Technological foundations refer to the ways media affects the process of learning. Moodle supports the learning experience through its interactive, collaborative, and reflective modules. For example, the Journal module, by asking students to reflect and write on a particular topic promotes self-assessment, critical thinking, and metacognition. In the context of cultural foundations or the values of the learning community, Moodle upholds values such as collaboration, sharing, and community. On the pragmatic side, Moodle is well suited for the online educational environment. It is cheap, easy to download and install, efficient, and has cross-platform compatibility and a low-tech browser interface.
Evaluation of Moodle thus shows there is a strong background to the success behind Moodle and the feedbacks show that there is still scope for improvement and despite the numerous benefits of Moodle from the point of view of students and instructors, a little more needs to be provided to the users of Moodle via training and support – to bring them to a state of readiness to accept and use Moodle well.
To conclude, Moodle is not software to aid learning but it is entire course management and delivery system. It has many features common to other course management systems and some other special features that make Moodle very uniquely suited for educational settings. Moodle has the power to create a successful learning environment by providing a variety of excellent tools that enhance conventional classroom instruction, hybrid courses, or any distance learning arrangements. In whatever form of instruction Moodle is used, it is important to remember that its basic philosophy is social constructionism and that the design of the learning tasks must be grounded in theories of learning.
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