Blog Archive

Monday, 26 November 2007

In a Moodle (Moodle Sucks!)

I've been venturing into the world of Moodle which is supposed to be a Virtual Learning Environment for use at academic institutions such as Colleges, Universities etc. I've discovered that 'Virtual Learning Environment' is a very grand name for a pretty poorly designed website.

I can however definitely see the benefits of using it. The idea is that students can upload and download files, and interact online, while the system can also be time-responsive; so things are active at certain dates and activities logged (like submitting assignments / completing tasks etc.). These are all great, but Moodle has one huge problem - it's appalling design & functionality.

For some reason the most basic tasks, like uploading a document, are painful and over complex. It should be a case of clicking one button and selecting the document you want, but no; you are bombarded with additional, non-essential information and even worse, you can only upload one file at a time. (I am told that you can upload many files if you zip them and unzip them on Moodle, but why cant you just select a folder or collection of files? OK so, I can create an interactive test, but why cant I just do basic things quickly?)

This is one among a whole range of poorly thought-out functionality/usability/design issues that Moodle offers and these are, in my opinion, why everyone in the College is talking about Moodle, but no one is actually using it. As this thing was built entirely by teaching staff, it makes you wonder what they taught.

I'm assured that there's an update in the pipeline, but this won't be implemented at the College until next year, which is a pain as I'm supposed to deliver an amazing lesson using it this year. Blaahg...


  1. I've been working with Moodle now for about 4 years (after working with other proprietary VLE's for some years), and I have to say that I really don'tr have the same issues as you have, ben...

    There are - of course - irritating issues...such as the process of file upload (although it is relatively easily addressed by using Zips)- although the file upload process is no more complex than the average FTP interface...
    One thing that has been an irritation is the way in which files uploaded to Moodle cannot be edited and re-saved - they have to be re-uploaded...but in the wider scheme of things, these issues are manageable and will almost certainly be phased out as time goes on...

    In terms of general deesign, the Moodle 'themes' are usable and accessible, and open to modification through the style sheets...

    If you're going to be using Moodle regularly, I would say that the key aspect to utilising Moodle in a successful manner is engagement: Teaching Staff can be VERY loathe to utilise online learning systems like Moodle for many reasons (including a fear that it will replace them, a lack of desire to cengage with new technologiers, a fear of technology, a certain mindset within the establishment, and so on), so it is important to engage them at the outset (so, as I presume you are Teaching Staff, you'll have to engage yourself!)...
    This aspect is the key to Moodle use (or so I have found): once Moodle is populated with relevant and useful materials and exercises, Students overwhelmingly respond in a positive manner to this form of support...

    An example for a 'lesson' might be:
    - A (brief) PowerPoint to relay text-based information...
    - A useful web-link or two (using a Moodle Resource > Label to give the Students some pointers of what to be looking for on the websites)...
    - A Forum acting as an extension activity (perhaps by posing a question which all Students must respond to before the next lesson)...
    - A Quiz recapping the knowledge through 5 to 10 questions...

    Nic B

    1. This is hogwash. I've been teaching online courses using Blackboard (no great platform either) and Moodle is a thousand times worse. Getting "used to it" is code for the user accommodating enormous shortcomings of the software. Moodle sucks, plain and simple.

  2. Hey Nic thanks for your comment:)

    I can see how useful & engaging Moodle could be, and I've been hanging off redesigning the college websites while Moodle was implemented as I was assuming that many of the features I would include would be available in Moodle anyway. I suppose I'm a little dissapointed after actually using it.

    My main gripe is that in my experience you have to make things as easy as possible for staff to use. Otherwise they dont. You'd think after being around for so long, they would have made it more user-friendly. Most sites dont require much thought - they're intuative and build on users previous knowledge and understanding; they use recognisable icons, dont add in unnecessary information and keep it simple, so that anyone from 6 to 60 can use it. Take Facebook as a great example. Moodle is no more complex really, and yet you need training to be able to use it?? It's reduculous - staff can upload galleries of images and add slideshows in facebook, yet have endless sessions on how to use Moodle?

    I'm told the update is much better and uses drag n drop techniques, so maybe we'll have to wait & see if these issues are sorted out.

  3. It's a pig, agreed. But it's not built by teaching staff, it's an "off the shelf" elearning system that done much the same everywhere. Apparently it can be "skinned", but UCE pretty much defaults to basic.

  4. I was told it was developed by teachers in Australia (distance learning and all that).

    Maybe its just a case of spending a lot of time on it. And still it's better than nothing.

    It is right that you can use resources from other centres, ie, if someone has great Photoshop links & docs you can use them on your own site?

  5. I feel that the primary issue is related to engagement, Ben: Staff WANT to use Facebook - it's fun, it's 'theirs', it's essentially not related to work...Because Staff see their friends using it and raving about it (just like they were about Friends Reunited a few years ago), they WANT to get involved...whereas it is ALWAYS harder to enable a WORK related piece of software where the inevitable entrenchment reflex kicks in...
    Staff certainly have the skills to use Moodle from their use of other programs (and I believe that the Moodle icons provide a suitable visual representation which correlates to previous expereince), but it ultimately comes down to engagement and a desire to engage on the part of the Staff...
    which is where the hard work comes in for Elearning Technologists! My strategy has been to constantly emphasise the benefits to Staff, to produce demonstrations to highlight useful elements, to enagge with Staff on other staff development levels (such as the use of interactive whiteboards) to get a relationship developing...and also to make sure that Students get engaged with Moodle to add a degree of 'pressure' (if that is the right word)...

    Inciedentally, Moodle was developed by a VLE administrator in Australia along pedagogical lines (Social Constructionism) rather than 'techy' lines...
    and I would be careful about using opher peoples resources without ensuring copyright status...

    Nic B

  6. Sorry to be negative about Moodle, but for a piece of technology that is so widely used and for so long, it's design & functionality is appalling.

    I've developed software and been involved in multimedia for years. I have an Masters in Visual Communications, in which I developed video mixing software. I teach software workshops 4 days a week and I struggled to get into Moodle. It took me WAY too long to understand what the hell to do even the most basic task ie, "how do I upload my assigment brief".

    Admittedly, I havnt been using Moodle long and I am using it in lessons now frequently, but my main problem is; initally it is not simple, obvious or intuitive to use because it is badly designed, leading to a slow and difficult learning curve. Exactly the sort of thing to put off users.

    Main complaints;

    * it's use of English is bad - eg, it renames recognisable features such as 'indent' to the uncertain 'move right'
    * it uses icons that are ambiguous / not obvious
    * it defaults to putting random rubbish everywhere
    (the most useful items are mixed with little used items, without being highlighted)
    * it confronts you with excessive details, most of which are unnecessary
    * It is ugly and cluttered
    * You can only upload a single file at a time (even if it can be zipped then unzipped - this is too long-winded)
    * Many default features are unnecessary & misleading (ie, The default News Forum cannot be posted into by students)
    * And why do courses need to be 'enrolled' on?
    * It's more geared toward Academic rather than Vocational courses

    Main benefits (above a usual college website);

    * It comes pre-built (great for IT)
    * It does away with paper work (great for all)
    * It inherently logs everything and can be time-responsive; eg logging user, time & date (great for tests and exam type situations)
    * It makes student accounts visible only to them & their relevant involvement
    * It's use is widespread accross many academic institutions
    * The bulk of the Activities are useful ways to collect student data in one form or another
    * The Text composing section at least conforms to usual standards

    Basically it has plenty of uses and potential, but is initally frustrating and confusing.

    We can only hope the update next year is much more intuative. Leading to less training and more practical usage.

  7. hehehe OK, OK ;)
    I would agree with you that the design is perhaps not ideal (I did extended studies in user-based design and protyping)...
    However, I would probably disagree with quite a few of your Complaints...

    The level of language use is designed for 'virgin' users who may be encountering Moodle for the first time (either as new students or Staff members who have an aversion to I.T.): if I am coming to Moodle and online learning almost as a novice, 'indent' means nothing to me whereas 'move right' does...(I've been involved in the study of English language and linguitsics since my first degree 20 years ago)...

    I'm not sure what you mean by 'random rubbish' or 'excessive' and 'unnecessary details'?...

    The upload of files is an irritation, I do agree, but one that will almost certainly be resolved in the future...

    I don't see how the News Forum is either 'unnecessary' or 'misleading'. The News Forum is intended to be used to relay information from the Tutor that doesn't necessarily demand a response (such as 'The new UCAS forms are available') - other forms may be used for interaction between Staff and Student...

    I would suggest that enrolment on courses is useful because:
    (1) when a student enrols, their 'Course Categories' list changes to 'My Courses' thus providing them with a tailored description of the courses they use...
    (2) by enrolling on a course, the Students ID and email is tied to the course, so that the Staff can automate the sending of emails to Students and allow Students to automatically receive email of forum postings - which would not be possible without enrolment...
    (3) enrolment allows Staff to monitor who is actually inside a course which allows Staff to have a degree of 'control' over the course: for example, a course dealing with Child Protection issues may not want anyone inside adding entries to quizzes or forums (and colleges / Staff are liable for post in forums under current law). If you wish to have an 'open' course where anyone can enter without enrolment, this can be set via the Settings menu.
    (4) enrolment allows Staff to group the Students within a course to allow delinaetion between different groups or to facilitate differentiated learning
    (5) enrolment also factors into MLE linkage

    I agree that Moodle is perhaps geared more towards Academic courses, but - then again - it has explicitly stated that its focus is on an academic approach. However, I use Moodle with vocational courses and have found (in 3 different educational instutions) that Vocational Courses tend to be early adopters and keen users...

  8. Well, the problem that I have found with it's use of language and symbols is linked to Jacob Nielsen's (Usability Guru) Law:

    * Jakob's Law of the Internet User Experience: users spend most of their time on other websites.

    In other words, everyone uses Word and recognises the function and look of the indent feature, it's common in lots of other software, including Moodle's text editor! So why call it 'Move right' on the main page?? - change this - and you lose people's understanding.

    "random rubbish' or 'excessive' and 'unnecessary details'?" - What I mean is - for examople, when adding a link to a new webpage - by *default* hide away the Window Parameters and Variables which most people wont use. Dont just plonk every detail up front straight away. As you say, this is designed for 'Virgin users' and those who may not be at home with technology. These options *can* be hidden - but by default they are visible - just to confuse people.

  9. Hmmm.. perhaps I'm getting bogged down by details here. There are worse designed and equally floored sites about. Take MySpace as a prime example. After all... I've tried to develop software myself and I should probably raise my hand in confession here - Usability and clarity of function are certainly not my own speciality! Perhaps it's time to update PHLUMX again... tut tut.

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