Moodle Best Practice Course Templates (SMART)

Last month I read a blog post that introduced the idea of SMART Moodle Templates (Sustainable Models for Adaptive and Responsive Teaching)

(Original post can be found here:

The idea of a SMART Moodle template is that it addresses issues of quality, consistency and best practice. Across a Moodle site there are many examples of good and bad practice.
Not all tutors work the same and many still fall into bad habits. Some courses are too resource heavy, some suffer from the infamous “scroll of death”. Some contain student handbooks and course information, others are just dumping grounds for PowerPoints.

It is very difficult to change cultures of working, and training sessions don’t always prove to be effective, not when we are shoehorning tutors into minimum standards and critiquing their courses.

With SMART templates, Tutors are given a choice of say 3 ways to organize or setup their course, based upon minimum standards and expectations enforced by the college.  The course contains “inbuilt” pointers, tips and placeholders and acts as a how-to guide for the tutor.  The idea is that the tutor adapts these place holders and turns the dummy content into actual teaching and learning activities.

I have taken a close look at this concept and decided to further develop it into a concept that would work here in the UK.

Recently we are seeing more organizations auditing their courses. Some are applying “Gold, Silver, Bronze” awards to courses and others are starting to monitor the effectiveness of courses via learner analytics (I have some great ideas around this that I will blog about later).
The problem with defining and adopting a “minimum course standards” requirement is that tutors often lack the time, or motivation, to build the necessary components the course requires. And even if you do apply them, it would be difficult to build any consistency with regards to level of detail, position of resources, and constant use of say the first topic on the course.
But if we use a Moodle Template, with placeholders and dummy content. We can import these into existing courses or indeed use them as a base template for whenever we build a new course.
Mary Cooch wrote a fantastic blog post on Moodle Course Templates which can be found here:

Let’s start by building a SMART Template for Further Education.

There are many key documents that FE Organsiations would like to see on every Moodle course. The student handbook seems to be the most common. But there is also vital information the students may wish to see also, such as links to college web applications, tutor contact information and learning outcomes.

The logical place for this content to live is in course topic 0. (the one without the number).
We can then start to build other place holders for other content we want tutors to populate on the course.

So for the student handbook, let’s upload a dummy PDF called “Replace with Student Handbook.pdf”.
This will show the tutor that we expect them to replace this file and logically rename the title (omitting the word ‘replace’ when this is done).

Next we shall create a web page titled “Meet your tutors”. In here, we shall create dummy content with a fictional team of tutors. Again, we anticipate the tutor editing this content with their own details.

The screenshot below shows my course with my essential course information.

Important Course Information

We repeat this process for all other content that is a requirement on our course. Such as learning outcomes, useful web links, news, plagiarism warnings, acceptable usage policies etc..  I used the choice activity as an agreement acceptance tool.  You could then set up conditional release that unlocks assignments after the user has marked that they understand and accept the agreement.

The screenshot below shows how we use some more advanced Moodle tools in our template:

Additional Content

Topic Headings

Defining topic headings and sections maybe to formal, and may not suit all courses. So most of our requirements need to live in topic 0. However, for tutors that need that extra push why not begin to label other sections within the course, adding a description too which outlines your requirements.

A section for assignments, a section for assessment and quizzes. Again, make sure to prefix things you want the tutor to edit with the word “replace”.

Resources Section


A structured template configured in this way will set your expectations from the start. You are sending out the message that each course must contain x number of quizzes, or information on outcomes or online assignments.



There is nothing to stop tutors from deleting the dummy content. (well, unless you wanted to use role overrides to lock it that is – but I feel this may be a little too harsh).

By using course labels and topic summaries we can explain to tutors that we expect them to use contextualization to support their resources. And that we expect them to list the outcomes of the activities and add thought to what they put on the page.  By using placeholder text we can give them instructions, and it serves as a how-to guide.  We can link to training documents or indeed Moodle docs to further assist them.


So now we have minimum standards course template it becomes easier to grade courses (Gold, Silver, Bronze). You have set the college’s expectation from the start.
You can have multiple templates so you don’t have to stick with one. You could for example have a template for each department or faculty, so that it offers more flexibility to the subject.

And don’t forget, templates can be applied retrospectively too, using the course restore tool, so it doesn’t only have to apply to new courses you have created.

Final Template Design

Here is a link to the final course backup which you can restore on your own Moodle.


Please feel free to modify, share, hack and maybe give back to the community.

It would be great to build up a bank of brilliant SMART templates for the whole UK sector to use.

Let me know how you get on via my social channels @lewiscarr


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