Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Why Moodle?

The recent developments with both ARRA and AEA PD Online have gained many administrators interest.  However, one question that surfaces is why did we choose Moodle over Blackboard, Studywiz or other LMS products?  Both of the initiatives will be standardizing the content into Moodle.

First, there isn't much debate, that we need to standardize and choose one.  AEAs and districts have limited resources, and content and expertise are easily shared when everyone is using the same platform.  So, why Moodle and not a different one?

It is not because of functionality.  In comparison of features, many of the top platforms have very similar features.  You could argue Moodle has a wider range of plugins for installation than commercial products, but that doesn’t mean overall it has more functionality.  So, this is not a deciding characteristic.  Here is what are:

1. Cost – Moodle is open source, meaning there are no annual per pupil costs for the license to use Moodle.  This differs from commercial products, which usually range from $5-10 a student, plus the yearly license fee (and some have support contracts on top of that).  Open source doesn’t mean free, as there are costs involved to have someone maintain the server, but those costs go back to support local employees. And, while there are other open source LMS products out there, Moodle remains the option with the most visibility and support, meaning the cost is lower over them as well.

2. Present Scalability – Because of its open source nature, it allows all types of deployment.  Districts can dabble with a trial server.  An individual teacher can set up their own server.  There can be cheap hosted versions for as little as $7/month.  A district can set up their own Moodle installment, including robust options (the largest self-managed Moodle installments have up to 500,000 users).  And, there are many full-fledged Moodle hosting options a district can use if they would prefer not to host it themselves.

3. Experience & Market Share – The AEAs have each used Moodle, in some cases for over 5 years.  Leading districts in Iowa have used Moodle for just as long.  In fact, the current market share of K-12 educational entities in Iowa for Moodle is overwhelming.  Having a community of users makes for a more valuable statewide effort, allowing content, professional development, and knowledge to be exchanged.

4. Professional Development – The AEAs have developed professional development materials (including modules and courses) for Moodle.  This material can be used flexibly in either online, self-paced, hybrid, or face-to-face options.  Developing professional development for other LMS tools would be a considerable cost for the AEAs.

5. Future Scalability – Moodle’s market share, especially among open source options, means it isn’t going anywhere and will continue to thrive.  Moodle has a vibrant community adding many different plug-ins and options.  The ability to add your own individual themes, plugin tools, templates, and layouts make it a flexible option for the future. 

That's not to say a district could not choose a different platform and be pleased with the results.  But, it will inhibit that district's ability to participate in the statewide effort.

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