Martin Dougiamas, best known for being “the guy who started Moodle”, understands better than most the challenges and opportunities associated with distance learning. Growing up in the remote Australian desert meant that Martin was educated via “The School of the Air”, being guided by a teacher 600 miles away. Nowadays, such learning is not unusual and Moodle is one of the latest software platforms that encourages self-learning and online community-learning. Dougiamas will participate in a pre-conference workshop and deliver a keynote speech at OEB 2009. In the following interview, he talks about the expansion and future of Moodle.
OEB: Mr Dougiamas, if you were a student today, do you think you would like Moodle?
Martin Dougiamas: That depends entirely on the teachers. Moodle is just a tool – in the hands of a skilled teacher it can help facilitate amazing, engaged experiences, but in the hands of someone not experienced with online interaction and learning it can be just as confusing and boring as the worst website.
OEB: When you first created the system it was mainly used in educational institutions. When did the expansion into the corporate sector start? What makes Moodle attractive for companies?
Martin Dougiamas: Although Moodle is still used mostly by educational institutions, there has been some expansion into the corporate sector. I think Moodle is attractive to many companies because of the simplicity and customisability of it. It’s easy to get started – being free, with a huge support community and easy to modify into the best tool for the job. From a pedagogical perspective corporate users tend to have rather simple requirements, so they rarely need to use all the features of Moodle. In my experience they generally just want to publish content, set quizzes and produce reports. One other frequently requested feature is to track user progress against competencies, and we are adding that feature in our next version.
OEB: Why do companies use a licensed product instead of Moodle?
Martin Dougiamas: I guess there are many reasons. Sometimes they want to use the same as others are using, sometimes they need some very particular form of reporting or integration, sometimes it’s a fear of open source through lack of understanding, sometimes it’s probably just a very conservative approach to e-learning where choosing a big proprietary product from a big company is seen as the “safe” option requiring less research.
OEB: Does the current economic crisis push the use of Moodle further?
Martin Dougiamas: Of course we can’t know exactly but my feeling is that yes, many more people are looking at how much they are paying for some of their licenses and realising that they could put the same money into other things. Open source means you have options when it comes to the necessary maintenance and support costs – you can shop around and get what you need when you need it. Even the cost of a fully-supported Moodle site (our 45 Moodle Partners provide these services worldwide) is cheaper than the basic license costs of many proprietary systems. And if you have IT staff already, then it’s easy for them to support and customise Moodle internally.
OEB: Can you give us an idea what the pre-conference workshop “The Moodle Experience: Moodle in Practice and New Developments” will be about?
Martin Dougiamas: Anyone interested in finding out more about the directions of Moodle and how it can be applied to various learning environments should come. Many of my Moodle Partners from across Europe will be there to present case studies. From there I hope we can let the attendees modify the agenda with their questions.
OEB: What is the future of Moodle and the vision of its creator?
Martin Dougiamas: Well, basically we are pushing forward on improving usability in all areas, empowering administrators with more tools, enabling a much wider variety of integrations with other systems and creating ways for pedagogical best practice to be discovered and communicated between teachers using Moodle. Technically we’ll do whatever helps these goals.
OEB: Thank you very much for your time, Mr Dougiamas.
The workshop: The Moodle Experience: Moodle in Practice and New Developments takes place on Wednesday, December 2, 2009 from 10:00 – 17:00.
Moodle In a Nutshell
The Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment, or Moodle for short, is a free, open source learning management system developed by Martin Dougiamas and first released in 2002. Since then, it has been continually developing and growing, with more than 735,000 registered users on Moodle.org, and around 1000 new users signing up each day. Used for the purpose of building ‘learning communities’ either by hosting complete online courses or supporting classroom learning, Moodle remains true to its strong pedagogical origins and desire to promote and enhance education. With sites in over 200 countries and the software now available in more than 70 languages, Moodle is a worldwide phenomenon. If you’re new to Moodle and would like to see what it’s all about, why not try out the demo site: http://demo.moodle.org/