What’s Moodle?

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Moodle is a type of web application known as a learning management system (LMS) or virtual learning environment (VLE). In other words, it’s an online school, academy, college, university, government, or corporate education & training centre. Since it was originally designed as a socially-oriented learning platform, it has many features & functions that are particularly suitable for English language teaching (ELT).

It’s owned & developed by Moodle Pty Ltd, West Perth, Australia, & is free & open source software. This means that there are no licence fees & no restrictions on who can install, use & modify copies of Moodle software. As a result, there’s a large global community of organisations & individuals who use Moodle & who’ve developed more than 1,700 plugins which add to the features & functions that core Moodle already provides. This means that if there’s some useful feature or function for ELT that you’d like which isn’t already included in core Moodle, you can more than likely find it & add it easily.

As of August 2020, Moodle is installed on 162,000 websites, with 28,000,000 courses, 220,000,000 users, across 242 countries on every continent in the world except Antarctica. It makes up more than 50% of all LMS’/VLEs in Europe, Latin America & Oceania. In the EU, it’s particularly popular with Spain having 11,249 registered Moodle sites, the 3rd largest number of sites in the world, after the USA & India. It’s also particularly popular in Germany, France, Italy & the UK.

What does Moodle do?

Moodle’s a fully-featured, online learning environment. It includes a multitude of learning activity types for both individual study & social, communicative & collaborative learning activities.

It organises your ‘live’ classes

It integrates seamlessly with a number of educationally-oriented webinar platforms, e.g. Blackboard Collaborate, Adobe Connect, BigBlueButton, & Cisco WebEx, as well as business-oriented ones like Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Zoom, OpenMeeting, Skype, Jitsi, etc.. Synchronous ‘live’ online classes are easy to integrate into courses with asynchronous collaborative & self-study learning activities.

It saves time

Many of the daily routine tasks in online education, e.g. managing courses & programmes, registering, enrolling, managing & communicating with learners, giving adaptive ‘canned feedback’ on controlled response (self-study/homework) learning activities, grading tests, recording & collating grades, receiving & managing submissions, scheduling & reminding learners about up-coming activities, deadlines, assignments, live classes, etc., which can take up a substantial amount of teachers’ & admins’ time if done manually, are either automated or have a well-organised, coherent, logical workflow. In other words, Moodle frees up teachers’ & admins’ time from mundane, repetitive tasks so that they can do more for their learners.

N.B. Although it’s possible to use Moodle as a student information system (SIS), it’s best not to as this would mean keeping all courses for each year active accumulatively in order to maintain learners’ records, thereby making the Moodle site increasingly large & difficult to manage. It’s better to automatically push the relevant information into a separate, dedicated SIS, which you may be already using, or export them as spreadsheets, to ensure the future maintainability of both learners’ records & the LMS/VLE.

It facilitates learning & teaching

For ELT, Moodle has a rich set of features & functions which enable a multitude of learning & teaching approaches, strategies & techniques (or Approaches, Methods & Procedures).

Core Moodle offers the following learning activity types:

  • Assignments: Enable teachers to grade & give comments on uploaded files & assignments created on & off line.
  • Chat: Allows learners to have a real-time synchronous discussion.
  • Choice (poll): A teacher asks a question & specifies a choice of multiple responses
  • Database: Enables learners to create, maintain & search a bank of record entries.
  • Feedback: Create & conduct surveys to collect feedback from learners. Also encourages learners to reflect on their own studying & learning experiences & strategies.
  • Forum: Allows learners to have asynchronous discussions, share their work, ask for & give each other help & feedback, etc..
  • Glossary: Enables teachers &/or learners to create & maintain a list of keywords, definitions & examples, like a dictionary. Keywords can be automatically linked to throughout a course or whole site.
  • H5P: For creating multimedia interactive learning activities. Over 40 activity types currently available & growing. Particularly useful for ELT.
  • Lesson: For collating & delivering content Moodle learning activity types in flexible ways.
  • (LTI) External tool: Enables learners to interact with LTI compliant learning resources & activities on other web sites.
  • Quiz: Enables the teacher to design & set quiz tests, which may be automatically marked & adaptive feedback &/or correct answers shown. Manual grading & feedback options are also available.
  • Survey: For gathering data from learners to help teachers learn about their class & reflect on their own teaching.
  • Wiki: A collection of web pages that learners can add to or edit, similar to Wikipedia.
  • Workshop: Enables peer assessment of learners’ submissions.

As well as the following resources:

  • Book: Multi-page resources with a book-like format.
  • File: A picture, a PDF document, a spreadsheet, a sound file, a video file.
  • Folder: For helping organise files & one folder may contain other folders.
  • IMS content package: Add static material from other sources in the standard IMS content package format.
  • Label: Can be a few displayed words or an image used to separate resources & activities in a topic section, or can be a lengthy description or instructions.
  • Page: The learner sees a single, scrollable screen that a teacher creates with the robust HTML editor.
  • URL: Teachers can post links for learners to any place they can reach on their web browser, e.g. Wikipedia.

Additionally, there’s the free Moodle app which enables learners to access their courses with their phones/tablets & connect with their classmates any time & anywhere, e.g. when they’re commuting on the train/bus, at an airport or waiting around for some reason. They can even download course resources & activities for offline use, e.g. to save data, when coverage is patchy or if they go overseas. Instead of reaching for social media, why not study or practice English?

Should you use Moodle?

Employment prospects

If you’re a teacher or academic manager, being proficient at using Moodle (& online teaching in general) will certainly make you more attractive to an increasing number of employers. Before the coronavirus pandemic, online ELT was already a fast growing sector & typical teacher education qualifications & CPD don’t provide adequate preparation for online language teaching. If you’re interested in learning to use Moodle, there are lots of free resources, tutorials &, of course, the free LearnMoodle massive open online courses (MOOCs). If you want to delve deeper & explore its features & functions, you can install your own personal Moodle (i.e. not online) on your PC/laptop – another benefit of free & open source software.

Organise & augment your face-to-face courses

If you’re an academy, school, college, etc. then Moodle may be a useful option to have. For example, you can use it minimally to conveniently collect & collate grades, record attendance, send email announcements & reminders to learners, parents, &/or employers, allow parents/employers to view their children’s/employees grades & participation. Or you can go further to include receiving online assignment submissions & giving feedback, assigning additional homework activities, administering progress &/or final tests &/or mock exams.

Organising many of these tasks with Moodle can save time & speed up some processes, e.g. assignment submission, feedback & grading, administering & grading exams, or liaising with parents/employers.

Provide blended & fully online courses

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Apart from being a huge benefit during the 2020-2021 coronavirus pandemic & crisis, blended & fully online courses are especially attractive to learners who may frequently find it difficult or inconvenient to come to face-to-face (f2f) classes. You can reach learners who are further away &/or don’t fit the typical learner profiles that your organisation usually attracts. With less classroom time per learner, it also enables a certain degree of expansion without further investment in additional classroom space.

There’s already an aggressive & growing world-wide online ELT market available to anyone with a laptop or tablet & a broadband internet connection. However, there are strong advantages to being a local, ‘bricks & mortar’ academy. With an established reputation & qualified & experienced classroom teachers, online only companies in far away places cannot compete with the option to attend face-to-face classes or to switch from face-to-face to 100% online when learners’ circumstances change. Local academies offer a greater sense of community & mutual cultural understanding among learners & more possibilities for learners to connect, socialise, & practice with each other outside of classes & courses. After all, learners don’t just come to classes for the lessons!