Opinion: Moodle’s Elephant in the Room

Simply put: Moodle needs to sell itself better.

Every now and again I like to revisit Moodle to see how they are coming along with development. The truth is that Moodle acted as an inspiration for our own open-source learning management system. Deep down I am always hoping for it to do well.

It has been a while since the last time I looked at Moodle so I decided to go check it out again.

Let’s look at the messaging for a moment.

I was pretty hard on Moodle last time with regards to the out-of-box appearance of the software. I was thinking about this from a consumer standpoint. Specifically, I was considering how it would come across to an everyday person who was shopping between different LMS options.

In an effort to be as unbiased as possible I have decided to look past the cosmetics of the software at this stage and look more at the messaging of Moodle as a whole. This means looking at the moodle.org site (where the software is available for download and documentation lives) and moodle.com (the founding company behind the open-source software).

This setup is very similar to WordPress where you have wordpress.org for the software/community and wordpress.com for the commercial side of things.

Right off the bat I can see that if you first came to Moodle through moodle.com then you would be pretty impressed with the offering. The site clearly identifies key stakeholders and has a very clean sales presentation. I also couldn’t help but notice that their site is built on WordPress, so no wonder I like it. 😉

On the flip-side, if your first interaction with Moodle is via moodle.org then you will be left pretty uninspired – confused even. There is a disconnect in the messaging between the two properties.

Seeing as the “.org” version appears first in Google for the search term “Moodle” I imagine that this is the more popular of the two sites, and as such Moodle isn’t doing themselves any favors here. Recently I could have said the same about WordPress, but they have since updated their “.org” version in a way that “sells” WordPress just the same as their commercial “.com” site/service does.

I think this represents a huge opportunity for the Moodle brand. Bringing consistency to the messaging across their web properties will benefit both them and their target audience.

Moodle’s messaging is arguable a latent issue with regards to the offering. They are still the most popular open-source learning management system so let’s look at the software as it exists today.

Here is how Moodle looks in 2018

The above image is the what you see when you go to the Moodle demo for a school. I noticed that they updated the template a bit since the last time, so that’s nice.

My first impression when looking at this was: this looks like Moodle (and not in a good way). It’s all very modular. Left sidebar, right content pane, header. That’s been the structure for Moodle forever.

If you head on over to the course listing it looks like this:

Simple text listing which isn’t very inspiring. Not much to say here so let’s just move onto the course page to see what that looks like.

This is… yeah.

At least there is a simple gamification element to the right in the form of a leaderboard (and apparently “loserboard” with the lowest grades put on blast for everyone to see). 😯

Moodle struggles to impress “out-of-the-box”.

As a friendly reminder I want to reiterate that I like Moodle and how they have pioneered the learning management space. I am and will always be a fan.

I don’t like how dated it looks out of the box and it is not doing Moodle any favors. It’s uninspired and I can safely say that no one would look forward to interacting in that environment. What they are providing is a super bare-bones (dated) framework that needs extensive customizing by developers and designers.

And maybe that’s the point?

There is an ecosystem around Moodle. They have a certified partner program where agencies have to pay for the privileged to be included on that recommended list. The software as-is requires work, and as such they guarantee leads for the partners in their program. I am speculating here, but I can’t think of any other reason why the front-end user experience would be so poor.

How I think Moodle can fix this.

I learned a long time ago that there is no value in pointing out issues if you don’t present recommendations. The entire learning industry benefits if Moodle remains a relevant player, so here is what I would do:

Unify the messaging between all web properties.

The moodle.com site is great. Whoever worked on that site needs to work on an overhaul of moodle.org. Create a consistent messaging and branding. This is expecially important because moodle.org is the more popular of the two sites.

Include case studies that show Moodle in use.

Maybe I am just overlooking it but I cannot find one case-study or testimonial where we actually get to see the software in action. The importance of this cannot be underestimated. It’s one thing to have people talking about Moodle, it’s another to actually show it in action.

Just by way of example we have found that our webinars and case studies showing LearnDash in action across a variety of industries goes a long way in demonstrating the potential of our software.

Improve the standard templates.

I fully recognize that this is no small task.

The core template layouts in Moodle limit the platform. One of the reasons we see increased adoption of LearnDash & WordPress for learning management is down to the flexibility of the templates. Sidebars, no sidebars, UX modifications, progress bar placement, profile displays, and everything between can be modified from both a visual and functionality standpoint.

The way the Moodle templates work today it feels more like your learning program has to adapt to the software rather than the other way around.

Create a more impressive demo.

The demo site is where most people go when shopping for software so it stands to good reason that it should highlight some of the best parts in the product. The Moodle demo is too convoluted and could be streamlined to highlight the core functionality.

There is no need for 15+ courses that are all essentially the same. Limit the courses to just a few and give each course a clear objective in terms of what it is demonstrating to the potential user. Put time into the smaller number of courses so that they really impress and then use the case studies as a way to show the software in a full implementation.

Include a walk-through video.

Yes, you can go to the Moodle demo and tinker around but a guided walk-through is valuable in having someone explain the functionality and why it is important.

Moodle can do this!

I know that change is hard. I also understand that when you are responsible for software as popular as Moodle that these kinds of changes take time.

I believe in the team behind Moodle. They are intelligent and entrenched in the e-learning industry. I am fully confident that if they decided to pursue these improvements that they could do so in a big way. They would benefit, the learners on their platform would benefit, and the e-learning industry as a whole would benefit.

Author

Justin Ferriman is the co-founder and CEO of LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by Fortune 500 companies, major universities, training organizations, and entrepreneurs worldwide for creating (and selling) their online courses. Twitter | LinkedIn

3 Responses

  1. Nice write-up, Justin. I almost implemented Moodle many years ago, but then I found WordPress. A software company I know is implementing Moodle right now (internally) because they love open-source solutions.

  2. Justin,

    I loved this read…..I feel like I could have written it myself based on my experience. I have felt over the years at times like I was flying blind when I had Moodle issues. I learned about WordPress and loved the flexibility over my old Magento site. I soon after learned about learn dash. When I sent an inquiry about registration, you emailed me personally. I am currently setting things up and looking forward to the future, the learn dash way.

    Regards,

    Tony

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