Cook for the rest of your life

moodleFinding a balance

Before I talk about where we are going, let me talk a little about the balance that a Course Management System (aka VLE) like Moodle needs to achieve. One thing I found out quickly in a community like ours is that people have a wide range of expectations of online learning.

At the authoritarian extreme there are those who want students to be highly controlled: reading resources that are revealed at set times and later sitting quizzes to prove they read those resources. I call this the rat-in-the-maze approach, or dump-and-pump.

At the techno-hippy end of that spectrum there are those who want to devolve management completely, with every user running their own portfolio site, streaming blogs and files to each other using RSS and trackbacks. It’s an interesting dream that really opens up thinking about education but I think the problems to be solved are many (such as security, accountability, the structure of institutions etc).

The vast majority of people that I meet fall somewhere between these two extremes. Many of them are new to online learning, and are looking for the next step beyond what they were being paid to do offline, while being accepting of gentle guidance to improving their online techniques. These people are on a steep learning curve already without facing the aggregation of 100 different blogs.


Moodle needs to be flexible to cater for a wide variety of needs while remaining simple enough for ordinary teachers to start making good use of the power of the internet for community building and collaborative learning. My hope is that Moodle can be seen as a toolbox where they can start simply and naturally, and then progress to more and more advanced community facilitation over time. Ultimately, we’d like to see teachers being involved with and supported by a community of their peers.

Let’s look at a typical progression that a teacher might go through as they learn to use the Moodle tools:

  1. Putting up the handouts (Resources, SCORM)
  2. Providing a passive Forum (unfacilitated)
  3. Using Quizzes and Assignments (less management)
  4. Using the Wiki, Glossary and Database tools (interactive content)
  5. Facilitate discussions in Forums, asking questions, guiding
  6. Combining activities into sequences, where results feed later activities
  7. Introduce external activities and games (internet resources)
  8. Using the Survey module to study and reflect on course activity
  9. Using peer-review modules like Workshop, giving students more control over grading and even structuring the course in some ways
  10. Conducting active research on oneself, sharing ideas in a community of peers


Repositories and Portfolios

Special-purpose repositories are a growing area, and it means institutions can keep their valuable data where they want to, even if they switch front-end systems like VLEs. Most importantly, this will allow the development of e-Portfolios to explode, and these are something I think a lot of us really want to see as a very positive pedagogical enhancement.

Community Hubs

We want to improve the way teachers and users of Moodle communicate with each other, not only about e-learning and Moodle, but also in their subject areas. For example, imagine a Biology 101 teacher finding a “community search” block in their course, taking them straight to a place where their peers are all discussing best practice for teaching Biology 101, sharing and browsing repositories of course materials and learning designs.

The creation of networking between Moodles allows anyone to turn their Moodle site into a Moodle Community Hub. Login between Moodles is transparent but secure and fully controlled by site administrators. The peer-to-peer nature of the design allows all sorts of interesting scenarios to develop.

Interaction between tools

By piping all the messaging from throughout the system via the Messaging module that we already have, users have a much finer control over exactly what sorts of messages they want to see.


Metadata and outcome statements

Moodle has a mechanism so that:

  1. admins can import a long list of outcome statements (as tags)
  2. teachers can relate a subset of these to their course
  3. teachers can connect each activity to an even smaller subset

Progress Tracking allows these things to be guided by individual learning plans for each student.

Role-playing and scenario simulations

A popular and effective technique in face-to-face teaching is that of role-playing in scenarios, and this can be difficult to do online. You could imagine an Environmental Science course running a role-playing simulation where some students play the government, some as Greenpeace, some as industry for a particular scenario.

The plans for this have been around for a long time, but I hope it can be developed soon. It would be a module where people can be assigned roles within a simulated situation and appear to others anonymously in those roles, interacting in forums, wikis, and all the other tools in Moodle according to the rules of the simulation.