Why Moodle Is Becoming Irrelevant

For many organizations today, Moodle is the cornerstone of their learning program. From Moodle, they launch courses, administer quizzes, manage users, and much more. When it first hit the scene, it was applauded for the flexibility it gave the everyday user to establish a learning management system.

Today, not so much.

Moodle is still very popular, but this is arguably driven because of the brand and the way that they have preferred partners implementing their platform.

In fact, I would argue that popularity is decreasing, and for two primary reasons:

  1. It is ugly.
  2. It is not user friendly.

Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder?

Okay, so I understand that preference in design is (somewhat) subjective. Despite this, I would still venture to guess that the majority of users would find Moodle to be extremely dated. Here is their demo site:

Not exactly what one would consider modern. Keep in mind too that this demo site is designed to get you excited about what Moodle has to offer. If I were looking at this for the first time, I would run the other way. It looks out of touch.

The out-of-box set-up isn’t much to look at – here is an example of what a logged-in student would see when logging-in to take a course:

I will concede that design is often dependent on a variety of factors, but neither of these examples has even the slightest relevant design elements. We have long progressed past the boxed look.

What About Themes?

Since Moodle is open-source, there are themes that are available as well. Before you get too excited though, understand that the themes do little to bolster the appearance as they are still subjective to Moodle’s grid-like structure. They can also pose quite the challenge to implement.

If you’re going to implement Moodle in any effective manner, it is in your best interest to hire a firm to set it up properly from both a configuration and visual standpoint. At the very least this will set you back a few thousand dollars.

It is because of Moodle’s general lack of pleasant visuals, clunky navigation, and overall complexity that I am animate about using WordPress as an LMS – in fact there are many benefits to doing so.

The two pain-points I mention are immediately removed when using WordPress, and with the advent of Tin Can API, you can easily launch Articulate Storyline or Adobe Captivate courses – removing the need for Moodle altogether and opening up a world of possibilities through WordPress’ plugin repository and overall user-friendliness.

If you are still using Moodle, you should strongly consider removing the Moodle handcuffs and exploring the exciting alternatives.

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About the Author:

Justin Ferriman is the co-founder and CEO of LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by the world's leading organizations, such as the University of Michigan, Digital Marketer, WPEngine, and Infusionsoft. Justin has made a career as an elearning consultant where he has implemented large-scale training programs for Fortune 500 companies. Twitter | LinkedIn

31 Comments
  1. Great article, as always. Very reassuring, especially for someone like me who had those “handcuffs” for quite some time and never got going. As I read somewhere, WP+LD+Storyline=Awesome! The TinCan API is still somewhat of a new frontier, and hopefully we could also be guided along the way.

    • Thanks for the comment Celito.

      To add a little more context. Some may feel like lack of effective design doesn’t mean Moodle isn’t useful. However, in a world where elearning is now common place, the only thing that you do have complete control over is design. Design is actually very critical to learning comprehension. There are university programs dedicated to the subject… it’s extremely important.

      Good thing for Moodle is that this is an easy fix. The complexity point may take a little more thinking behind the UX, but it wouldn’t be that hard to bring Moodle into the modern era.

  2. John Poulsen

    Well, for someone bashing other (here, Moodle) for boring design and such, i was thrilled to go and have a look for the Learndash website and demo´s.
    And well, i must say i am not that thrilled anymore.
    Sorry to say, yes, design is something of a personal matter, but nothing new or exceptionally good here.
    How many times did you actually scroll in the demo video ? Waste of screen real estate ?
    And did you just train us in how to log into a website ??
    Where are the engaging design which pushes the learning experience ? What about principles of learning and the quest of making learning interesting and not at least stick for better results….how are they reflected and supported by this WP way of doing things ? What about collaboration during the courses ?
    No, i am not a big fan of the Moodle old-fashioned dos-like design, but there are a lot of possibilities for customization to “hide” the basic noodle-structure if the visual design is important.
    What i find important is the way lectures are delivered or learning achieved, and from my point of view a modern LMS basic structure need to address this and make the work easier on providing learning according to latest discoveries and studies how learning is best possible achieved.. Learning is not just about “to make a book readable online”, combined with a video and a quiz to test memory of the student.
    Do this “new WP way” do anything new and make any breakthrough in this respect ?

    • Hi John-
      Thanks for the comment. First, I wasn’t bashing – although I will concede that when reading a blog post that points out opportunity areas, it can easy to interpret that way. The truth of the matter is that it is better for everyone if Moodle improves in this area. Perhaps by pointing it out, there will be some more initiative.

      While the LearnDash demo site is designed minimally on purpose to highlight functionality that is software driven as opposed to theme driven (something that is common in the WordPress space), I would venture to guess that 10 out of 10 people would choose it over the out-of-the-box Moodle layout. They also know that with two clicks they can change the design to anything they desire. This kind of ease of use is absolutely foreign to Moodle.

      Thanks again for the comment, all the best.

  3. Rob Gibson

    Agreed. Moodle reminds me of WebCT – circa 1999. Clunky, dated, bloated. Every option page/utility looks like it was designed by a different software engineer. Horrible interface/usability. I remember reading about a faculty member who attended a Moodle training. After 90 minutes with the trainer, she still didn’t know how to upload a document. One of the many, many reasons we selected Canvas.

    • Possibly your faculty member was using an old version of Moodle or had a bad trainer … To upload a document into any version of Moodle from the past few years you can drag and drop it from your desktop right into any course page.

  4. Mike

    As a former instructor that used the Moodle LMS for daily instruction, any suggestions on how to migrate content and simplify the learning curve with LearnDash? I have it installed, but have yet to set up a course. Thanks. Looking forward to mastering the program.

  5. We’ve actually done a lot of work in Moodle recently for UX and responsive design, but it’s true that our little demo sites don’t show any of that off very well yet. We’ll fix that.

    In the meantime have a look at http://moodle.org itself as a different example of a Moodle site.

  6. Henry Meyerding

    As with many oen source solutions, there is a pronounced lack of effective marketing and a somewhat tortuous learning curve… some of the learning curve exists (I am convinced) to put off idiots and people without academic understading. I have been trying to get my learning organization to even look at moodle for years and I cannot get the powers that be to even take a glance at it becuase they want a “supporte product.” Moodle does everything they want, relatively eaily and it will scale, which most of the solutions they look at will not do. Ah well…

  7. Steve

    One of the selling points of Moodle is scalability. Can a WordPress based LMS offer that kind of scalability. Could it be used for a university. Could it be used with hundreds of thousands of users. What would be required to make that happen.

    • Hi Steve-

      Thanks for the comments. 1000s of users can be handled no problem by WordPress. Just like Moodle, it depends on the scale-ability of your hosting rather than the software. If you are using a shared hosting account, then the performance of the site will certainly be sluggish with that many users, so you’d probably want a VPS or dedicated server at those levels.

  8. Great dialogue! Curious as it seems following several blogs on this subject, that LearnDash advocates to Moodle when it comes to content quizes or testing – I take it that Moodle’s LCMS offers the ability to create tests, track scores and provide overall better ‘dashboard’ reporting of participant’s results?

  9. ric

    I tried to implement moodle a while back and I abandoned my moodle project within one week because the design and layout was so ugly ….. I then went on to try Chamilo which I must admit has a better layout and feel compared to moodle however, just the other day I turned back to moodle because Chamilo lacked basic plugins to create a dynamic LMS. I would say layout and design are not everything. Sometimes you can compromise in order to get the best and dynamic features as moodle does.

  10. marc7241

    This is a great discussion. I’m now using Moodle seriously for the first time as a content developer and as an experienced Articulate Storyline user, I feel as though it’s a backward step. It’s difficult to learn, not as intuitive as other platforms, training is hard to come by with very few public course options. That said, I’m willing to give it a go because it has lots of potential and is used all over the world, so mastering this platform would he helpful. I believe that it can continue to be good platform but the visuals, look and feel really need an overhaul. Hopefully my client will invest some funds to get me some serious training so I can fully understand its true capability. Some programs are easy to learn on the fly but I don’t think Moodle is one of them. If your really want to create a high quality, user friendly site, you need a though understanding of the package and the scope to create something special.

  11. Interesting discussion.

    From my (Moodle experienced) point ofd view, not Moodle is outdatd, but this discussion is out of date a few months before it began. Moodle has become a fast moving project with a really up to date frontend.

    Since Version 2.6 (and Essential Theme) it looks much better on Smartphones than many other web systems.
    Things have changed. And so the “ugly” and “why cant it loook like CMS” voices have stopped and become a “cool” or “great”.

    I really know what I talk about, I am the head of a Totara Partner Company (Totoara is a commercially orientated distribution of Moodle). I have to show this system every day to professional customers.

    My Company also works with Articulate Storyline/Studio, Camtasia and Captivate.
    Since 2014 – and before Adobe Captivate 8 came out – I reccommended to most customers, better to create content with their Moodles/Totara on board tools, than with not really mobile friendly SCORM Software.

    yours
    Jürgen

  12. Moodle is still very popular, but this is arguably driven because of the brand and the way that they have preferred partners implementing their platform.

  13. University prof

    University administrators often are motivated by two metrics when choosing a LMS for courses: 1) how many instructors will move forward to it (as opposed to using static HTML web sites)? 2) do the students like it? and 3) how much does the LMS cost?

    Moodle satisfies all these criteria very well. Sadly, I think it fails on the criterion 4) does it scale well for deployment and for instructors who use a lot of activities in many of their courses?

    As a university instructor who’s used Moodle for the past few years in an active learning context (lots of reading quizzes, online grading of assignments, etc.) I feel it’s a useful tool for accomplishing an active learning approach. It was great when I first made the switch and only used a small number of quizzes in my courses.

    However, after teaching more than 500 students with Moodle 2.x and scaling up the use of quizzes and activities in a full-blown active learning approach, I feel a lot of pain with Moodle. For example, I’m using 20+ activities in a single course, where the dates of activities (open, close, availability, etc.) depend on the teaching schedule (a reading quiz closes 30 minutes before the class meets). Sometimes I’m deploying these activities in several sections of the same course in a semester (a section meets at different times than the others). This is not such a strange scenario, I feel.

    We have a university set-up of Moodle for 200+ instructors, who don’t have admin privileges (makes sense at this scale). Sadly many features in Moodle, e.g., question banks, categories, expect an instructors to be admin, or can work only if you ask the admin to add new question categories on the system or to your question bank. This doesn’t make sense with 200+ instructors. The sharing feature of the question bank is effectively broken at this scale.

    Other features of Moodle (Metacourses) just don’t work well when when you have lots of quizzes and assignments. They sound good on paper, and many forum users swear by them, but when you try to apply them with 20+ activities in three course sections (with differing dates), they’re lots of trouble. Configuring dates for a quiz in one section requires using Moodle groups. Configuring dates for an ASSIGNMENT requires using Groupings (or so say the experts in the forum). Anyway, the documentation doesn’t explain this use-case. It wasn’t considered for the design.

    Another use case that will throw you for a loop: Granting more time to a student on an activity (a common scenario). For a quiz the process is completely different than for an assignment (quizzes use overrides, whereas assignments have a “Grant extension” function). This inconsistency is a result of the open-source model. My hypothesis is that different teams developed the quiz and assignment modules, but weren’t held to the same design for dealing with the “grant extension” use case (I don’t think there’s even the notion of that function at a high level).

    If you want to use Moodle in an advanced way as an instructor, you’ll at first be impressed by the number of videos for Moodle on youtube. After some time, I realized they exist because 1) the design is not intuitive and 2) the users are instructors, whose passion it is to explain things! My hypothesis is that if Moodle were accounting software, it would have died a long time ago, because accountants aren’t going to make youtube videos to explain how some badly designed software works, even if it’s free.

    Finally, there’s the lack of support for instructors from semester to semester. When I copy a Moodle course for a new semester, because I have more than 20 activities with open/close dates, etc. It’s more than 400 clicks to re-set all the dates for the new semester (just one course, sometimes I have to do it for two or three) . So, if you’re a professor considering Moodle on this scale, better train your secretary to use it, too. His/her time is better spent clicking to configure dates in this non-ergonomic way than yours (especially if you’re also supposed to do research as is the case of many university professors).

    Ironically, Moodle has rigorous quality standards for the committers of the open-source code (coders must write unit tests, and the code itself has to pass quality standards). There is sadly no standard for the usability – that gap will be filled by the instructors who use the software.

  14. Suther

    Moodle is awful! Cannot ditch weekly display, can’t switch to Topics w/o orphaning all of your coursed created so far, massive scrolling of very long pages for simple entries like quizzes, attitude when trying to ask how to change something that doesn’t work for you. As an instructor, I adopted the open source version to help my adult accelerated learning students with certification tests. As a school our programmers we were considering buying the expanded version for a campus use. After working with it, we both have since changed our mind.

  15. OK, the writer posits that Moodle is ugly and not user-friendly. Here’s the World Wildlife Fund’s Moodle: https://learn.unitedforwildlife.org/ I’ll let you decide for yourselves.

    BTW, while layout design is an important aspect of LMS’, there’s far more to it than that. Moodle has a massive user-base ranging from Universities to vocational colleges to K-12 schools to freelance tutors to small and large businesses, all with their particular needs and requirements. Moodle’s development and features have been honed according to those needs and requirements. That’s a lot of details to take care of.

    You can now try out Moodle 3.0 with BigBlueButton web conferencing platform included for free at MoodleCloud: https://moodlecloud.com/en/ and see for yourselves.

    • OK, the writer posits that Moodle is ugly and not user-friendly. Here’s the World Wildlife Fund’s Moodle: https://learn.unitedforwildlife.org/ I’ll let you decide for yourselves.

      Out of the box, Moodle isn’t much to look at (even with the recent update) but that of course doesn’t mean it never can look good with enough investment into custom development. Not everyone has that kind of budget. Hats off to United For Wildlife for making the necessary financial investment.

  16. avs

    If anybody thinks Moodle is a useful tool for submitting assignments I can advise them to eat crapples. And who takes Moodle and Turnitin seriously now in 2015 once people realized it took teachers 6 years to realize that assignment submissions are only sometimes allowed and sometimes not and the student can´t change anything and has to send things to the teacher so the teacher can change it? It drove everyone mad. Particularly Turnitin. Students would spend whole nights trying to figure out how to submit assignments until they slowly realized that nobody is using Moodle anymore. And we still have teachers in 2015 using Moodle. 2015? Hello. ´And you can now try out Moodle 3.0 Big Blue Button web conferencing platform included for free at MoodleCloud´. No thanks. Moodle is over and so is Turnitin. And stop bringing this stupid nonsense to public classrooms with the intent to lower grades. You are either going to accept the submission of the students´assignment or not and if not then just tell the student assignments are not part of your course. Do the easy thing. Walk the easy road. Suther is right. Give up Moodle Moodle lovers and enter 2016!

  17. Very good article Justin,

    As someone that helps to train faculty and staff to use Moodle, I have mixed opinions on it’s usefulness as a LMS. I agree that it’s clunky, and it isn’t always the prettiest thing to look at. But I was wondering two specific things:

    1. Has your opinion changed at all since publishing this post? Many improvements have been made to Moodle, and I was curious if any of them have helped to win you over.
    2. Do you take into account the fact that Moodle is different depending on the team that is hosting it? Sine it is open source, there is no consistent or generic Moodle experience, meaning some schools are equipped with the right staff of experts to run it in an effective and efficient manner, while other schools are not.

    Thanks for the post, and sorry I’m so late to the game.

    Randy

      • Catherine

        Hi Justin,

        There are great free and cheap themes that can be used to make Moodle look good without any specialist knowledge.

        Essential theme is free to download and very easy to customise.
        Here’s one using the Lambda theme which costs about €50 and is also very easy to customise: http://www.fvs-lernen.de/

        I’m not sure why people don’t take the time to make their sites look good, and I agree that the moodle demo site doesn’t sell it from that point of view, it’s more of a blank slate – it focuses more on basic demos of some of the features – but with above themes, and others, it’ not hard to improve the look of a Moodle site at all.

        Then if you’ve basic HTML and CSS you can do even more.

        The same goes for course pages – it all really depends on who is administering it. It can be ugly if it’s disorganised and everything is just thrown up there. A little effort and/or creativity and it can look great.

        Catherine

  18. Greg

    I would argue that moodle popularity is decreasing, and for 1 primary reason: Moodle Pty Ltd demonstrates no loyalty to their customer base.

    1. Consider a school-company that invested the money in an employee to take the time to create a theme-template only to discover that the latest major update (ver. 3.0) has thrown out the entire theme system-framework – replacing it with something totally new and incompatible – and providing NO support, no transition period, for any theme already written, requiring the immediate expense of doing it all over again: “all custom themes will immediately require a complete rewrite” … rewrite or stay put on your old version.

    2. 3rd party plugins, modules and side-blocks, are a big selling point for schools considering moodle and many schools-companies have found those 3rd party plugins imperative to their continued use of moodle. The fact that Mr. Dougiamas and his entire paid development team, Moodle Pty Ltd, feel totally free to trash any code, api’s, etc., at anytime, providing no transition period, forcing many plugins to be re-written again and again, (example: several times throughout several sub-versions of moodle 2.x and again with 3.0) meaning many schools are repeatedly, if not permanently, stuck on old moodle versions till a plugin gets re-written, if ever. Evaluation: Loyalty to their user base is non-existent. Imagine the catastrophe if Microsoft forced everyone to get new copies of all Windows software when buying a new version of windows.

    Attitude: “If an out-of-date plugin causes your upgrade to fail, you can usually delete the plugin code” -docs.moodle.org/30/en/Upgrading
    A moodle 2.2 example: “Any contributed plugins (including themes) that you have previously installed on your site will also need to be replaced with a version suitable for Moodle 2.2 before upgrading your Moodle installation.” -docs.moodle.org/22/en/Upgrading_to_Moodle_2.2

    3. Moodle brags about the improvments to their code, but for example, the core lesson module is so convoluted that … they will not even attempt to fix it. They “just keep it running”, bugs and all. The have even put out a request for a school-institution to offer to pay to fix it. No one has offered.

  19. Monica

    I think that you make some solid points regarding the usability of Moodle. Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t really offer options for instructors to link learning objects to a gradebook, which is really where Moodle excels.

    Full disclosure:

    I work at one of those firms. We provide setups for Moodle, Blackboard, Canvas, and Xyleme SCORM packages.

  20. Alfred

    It seems you do a great job in selling learndash. Moodle is a great tool — it does not look great — but you can do everything in it. Fine with me.

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