Using Moodle to put your educational content online

If you have educational content that you’d like to put online, commercially or just to share, I recommend you give Moodle a look. The array of tools available for this sort of task is somewhat daunting. There are paid, open source and freemium options available, and they come under various genre names— typically along the lines of Learning Management System (LMS) or Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).

Moodle, an acronym from modular object-oriented dynamic learning environment, is open source software for developing an online course. It has some key advantages but also a couple of drawbacks. Here’s a summary.

It’s free. You can give it a try and see if it works for you before spending money on a paid solution. You can download it from www.moodle.org and it’s also available with simple one-click or cPanel installation from most major hosting providers (GoDaddy, HostGator, etc.).

It’s popular. It’s used around the world in many languages. There are currently over 70,000 Moodle sites in over 200 countries. The community is large and strong, so if you need help, you should be able to find it—often for free. This is mostly and advantage, but sometimes, because of the size of the Moodle community, you may need to weed through a lot of forum posts before you find what you need, and searches at the moodle.org website can be a little slow sometimes.

It’s powerful. You can create quizzes and exercises. You can include videos, PDFs, or custom web pages to display your information. Social networking and chat forums are built in, so if you need to establish community among your students, you can get this up and going quickly. The typical downside to power is complexity and this is at least a little true for Moodle. If your course is quite simple, mostly text to click through that doesn’t get updated too often, then Moodle may not be worth the effort, especially if you have any experience with the common CMS tools. If on the other hand you have a large variety of types of things to show, and if student interaction is desirable, then Moodle may well be your one-stop-shop.

My experience. My job was to convert a manuscript into a linear, guided course of about 300 screens. Other than quizzes, the format of every page is exactly the same—text and images with Next and Previous buttons. Thus, the HTML and CSS job was not reduced. This meant that the functionality drawn from Moodle rested in the quizzes and in the “chapter” structure, this latter being of minimal value.

Moodle let me get the job done, but at the end of the day, may not have been the best choice for my long but simple course. Even basic CMS tools will do most of the job, and if I had it to do over I would implement it using Joomla, which has video and quiz extensions that would give me everything I need at minimal cost ($50). Still, if you have a more complex set of resources in your course or if the student community interaction is a requirement, you should give Moodle a look.