What Is Moodle?

Posted by Miro | 3:47 PM | | 0 comments »

Moodle is an open source Course Management System (CMS) that universities, community colleges, K–12 schools, businesses, and even individual instructors use to add web technology to their courses. More than 30,000 educational organizations around the world currently use Moodle to deliver online courses and to supplement traditional face-to-face courses. Moodle is available for free on the Web (http://www.moodle.org), so anyone can download and install it.

The name Moodle has two meanings. First, it’s an acronym (what isn’t these days?) for Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment. Moodle is also a verb that describes the process of lazily meandering through something, doing things as it occurs to you to do them, an enjoyable tinkering that often leads to insight and creativity.

Free and Open Source
The phrase “open source” has become a loaded term in some circles. For those who are outside of the techie culture, it’s hard to understand how powerful this idea has become, and how it has forever changed the world of software development. The idea itself is simple: open source simply means that users have access to the source code of the software. You can look under the hood, see how the software works, tinker with it, share it with others, or use parts of it in your own product.

So why is this important? For one, open source software is aligned with the academic community’s values of freedom, peer review, and knowledge sharing. Just as anyone can download and use Moodle for free, users can write new features, fix bugs, improve performance, or simply learn by seeing how other people solved a programming problem.

Secondly, unlike expensive proprietary CMSs that require license fees and maintenance contracts, Moodle costs nothing to download and you can install it on as many servers as you want. No one can take it away from you, increase the license cost, or make you pay for upgrades. No one can force you to upgrade, adopt features you don’t want, or tell you how many users you can have. They can’t take the source code back from users, and if Martin Dougiamas decides to stop developing Moodle, there is a dedicated community of developers who will keep the project going.

Educational Philosophy
Martin’s background in education led him to adopt social constructionism as a core theory behind Moodle. This is revolutionary, as most CMS systems have been built around tool sets, not pedagogy. Most commercial CMS systems are tool-centered, whereas Moodle is learning-centered.

Social constructionism is based on the idea that people learn best when they are engaged in a social process of constructing knowledge through the act of constructing an artifact for others. That’s a packed sentence, so let’s break it down a bit. The term “social process” indicates that learning is something we do in groups. From this point of view, learning is a process of negotiating meaning in a culture of shared artifacts and symbols. The process of negotiating meaning and utilizing shared artifacts is a process of constructing knowledge. We are not blank slates when we enter the learning process. We need to test new learning against our old beliefs and incorporate it into our existing knowledge structures. Part of the process of testing and negotiating involves creating artifacts and symbols for others to interact with. We create artifacts and in turn negotiate with others to define the meaning of those artifacts in terms of a shared culture of understanding.

So how does that relate to Moodle? The first indication is in the interface. While toolcentric CMSs give you a list of tools as the interface, Moodle builds the tools into an interface that makes the learning task central. You can organize your Moodle course by week, topic, or social arrangement. Additionally, while other CMSs support a content model that encourages instructors to upload a lot of static content, Moodle focuses on tools for discussion and sharing artifacts. The focus isn’t on delivering information; it’s on sharing ideas and engaging in the construction of knowledge.

Moodle’s design philosophy makes this a uniquely teacher-friendly package that represents the first generation of educational tools that are truly useful.

Moodle has a very large, active community of people who are using the system and developing new features and enhancements. You can access this community at http://moodle.org/ and enroll in the Using Moodle course. There you’ll find people who are more than willing to help new users get up and running, troubleshoot, and use Moodle effectively. As of this writing, there are over 300,000 people registered on Moodle.org and over 30,000 Moodle sites in 195 countries. The global community has also translated Moodle into over 70 languages.

The Moodle community has been indispensable to the success of the system. With so many global users, there is always someone who can answer a question or give advice. At the same time, the Moodle developers and users work together to ensure quality, add new modules and features, and suggest new ideas for development. Martin and his core team are responsible for deciding what features are mature enough for official releases and where to go next. Because users are free to experiment, many people use and test new features, acting as a large quality control department.

These three advantages - open source, educational philosophy, and community - make Moodle unique in the CMS space.