Is Moodle under threat from Microsoft Teams?

There’s been a lot of excitement recently surrounding “next-gen learning” and Microsoft Teams. I know of a few organisations who are making the switch from Moodle to Teams, so I’m on a mission to find out how a communications platform built around chat, meetings and storage has slowly become recognised as a Learning Platform. And whether or not Moodle should be worried.

From my experience, Teams seems to fit well with organisations who have already adopted Microsoft into their ecosystem as opposed to say Google. Many organisations running their email, cloud storage, intranets (SharePoint) and office docs via Microsoft naturally see Teams as another weapon in the arsenal. It often has the buy-in from internal company stakeholders such as the IT team, senior leaders and just about everyone else in the organisation, and it’s cheap, sometimes free.

So what exactly is Microsoft Teams?
According to their website, Teams allows users to create and make decisions by “bringing everything together in a shared workspace where you can chat, meet, share files, and work with business apps“. So it’s a bit like Facebook Workplace then, and certainly nothing like an LMS, so why is it being used as one? Keep reading to find out.

Microsoft Teams is billed as a “Digital Hub that teachers and school leaders have been waiting for. Where teachers and students can experience a personalised, vibrant learning environment, as well as having many of the classroom basics, like assessments, assignments and notebooks“.

Now to most of us, this is just marketing speak. But when you are evaluating your LMS or considering a new one, then this marketing drivel is music to your ears. And Microsoft is a well established and widely known tech giant, and they’re cool, right? Well, er… no. But we’ll come onto that.

Organisations love the way that Teams integrate everything, so switching between a chat, video conference or document sharing is all done in a few clicks, all from within the same platform. Teams has changed the way organisations run a business, but I still fail to see how this can transform online teaching and learning. Where are the custom grading options and plagiarism tools? How can you use a quiz engine that only supports the most basic of question types? How do you structure a course and monitor completion tracking, course start dates and end of year rollovers?

Where are the learning plans, competencies and open badges? Where are the marking workflows, outcomes and rubrics? How can you create enhanced learning interactions from a word doc? It seems to me that most of the course content is derived from cloud services like OneDrive, favouring the creation of office documents to build up a course page as opposed to say lessons, databases, wikis and glossaries. But does the modern organisation actually need any of this old Moodle stuff? Is it still relevant?

In Teams, courses don’t exist in the traditional sense, instead, Teams uses workspaces. It is possible to add “tabs” to a workspace and link to or embed content from a popular cloud-based application, such as Trello, Asana, YouTube, Power BI or SmartSheet. At first, this sounds exciting, until you realise that we haven’t built an LMS, we have built an intranet. Tabs are like topics in Moodle. In each tab (page) you can include links, documents, embeds and tap into the other tools offered by the Microsoft suite.

So, in response to my early question, how does Teams become an LMS? Simple. Organisations are changing their needs and requirements for online learning. Perhaps they don’t need all the “teaching and learning tools” provided by Moodle. Perhaps they were never using them in the first place. Let’s be honest, how many corporate Moodle users use advanced grading, or set up the Workshop activity? How many organisations have gone beyond SCORM, a forum and a certificate? So maybe setting up a course like a modern intranet page is the way forward for them.

If this is the case, and we are no longer building courses in the traditional way, and it’s all now about document collaboration and cloud storage, meetings, chat, video and email then Moodle does feel out of place. But only in the way it’s marketed, positioned and perceived.

Moodle can do all of the above and more, if it’s configured to. Moodle has 365 integration, single sign-on, powerful forums, chat tools and social tools. And with a slick “Microsoft-style” theme, it could be made to look and feel every bit as “cool” as it’s Redmond rival. Unfortunately, Moodle isn’t seen as cool (I’m not sure Microsoft is or ever was, especially if you remember using Windows ME, and Bill Gates on-stage dance at the launch of Windows 95). However, a switch to Microsoft from Moodle can be seen as cool, innovative and “next-gen”. Organisations could be seen as trailblazers and trendsetters, going against the grain and challenging the very essence of the LMS.

Of course, if you are an institution who has used Moodle for a lot of years, then anything new and shiny will quickly become adopted. Out with old and in with the new does create a buzz, and the whole internal L&D culture can be changed overnight. “This is how we are going to build courses from now on” is the tune played by the senior leaders. A move that would be difficult to deploy if still using Moodle. “This is the way we’ve always done it”, would be the call back from disgruntled Moodle users when forced to make Moodle work like Teams.

So, should Moodle be worried about Teams? Well, the answer is yes and no. Moodle has released “Moodle Workplace”, which rivals Totara and other established corporate LMS platforms. But Moodle Workplace, nor Totara is not a direct competitor to Teams, it’s a different product. Microsoft Teams is like Facebook Workplace, I feel that these two platforms are competitors.

Essentially, it’s all down to the culture of the organisation. If an organisation can change the way they teach by using chat, video, office docs and collaboration then they will, and social business platforms will flourish. This culture change is a threat to Moodle, and to Totara and other LMS platforms (although Totara does offer Totora Social).
If an organisation still feels the true value of online teaching relies on the very foundations of what Moodle provides, in terms of pedagogy, teaching tools, course formats and reports then Moodle need not be worried.

If it were me, I’d be pitching to both camps and making sure that Moodle can respond to the culture change that is happening in L&D, the tools are there, it’s just nobody is positioning them to this new uprising. It’s all about positioning and “educating” new and existing Moodlers that there is plenty of life left in the LMS, and with Moodle you can get the best of both worlds. I’m calling it, Moodle Teams.

Refreshing the app based on Moodle

Over the past few years, I’ve been spending a lot of playing with the code that powers the Moodle Mobile App, and although it’s relatively simple to brand (i.e colour changes, images icons etc..) it still could do with a major overhaul. Moodle (out of the box) generally suffers a bit and can sometimes look dated and “clunky”.

So, I’ve begun a new project using the Open Source code provided by the Moodle project. This is what I’ve come up with so far. Once I finalise a design I’ll be rewriting some of the templates and crafting a whole new stylesheet.

Here’s a video of it so you can see how it all comes together.

How to create a true multi-lingual site in Moodle

Moodle has language packs for almost every language you can think of. This means that it will translate most (if not all) core wording on the site. What it won’t do however is translate your course content, unless you follow this clever little blog post.

Recently, I just finished building a multi-lingual Moodle site that toggles the language between English and Welsh, not just for core Moodle stuff, but also for course content, labels, quiz questions and EVERYTHING in between.

Here’s how it works.

The user selects their prefered language from their user profile, or from the language menu selector at the bottom of the page.

If the user selects Welsh (Cymraeg) then all the English text is replaced with Welsh text, and conversely if the user selects English, then all the Welsh text is replaced with English.

So how do we do it?

Simple. We use <span> tags in our labels, quizzes and all activities where we need both languages. See the example below:

<span class"multilang" lang="en">The Law</span>
<span class"multilang" lang="cy">Y gyfraith</span>

By wrapping our text inside the span class above you can define what text is shown if the user selects English and what is shown if the user selects Welsh. And that’s it, there no need for any special CSS or javascript. This is a core Moodle feature. Please note, I don’t speak Welsh, the text was translated for me beforehand.

What else can I apply this to:

Pretty much anything. You can apply it to images, so you can show different images depending on the language. You can apply it to topic sections names, dropdowns, menus, chunks of text, quiz questions, answers and feedback.

Our English banner used on the Dashboard

Once you get your head around it, you can do lots of exciting things with this. It helps if you speak the language of the site you are translating, but I didn’t and it wasn’t too tricky.

Our Welsh banner used on the Dashboard

Happy translating!

Digital Home School Moodle Update 2

Today I made a short video to show the progress I made this week on my Moodle home school.

I simplified the whole login process and the children are  taken directly to their dashboard (or Springboard) as I’m naming it.

Moodle then randomly picks 4 topics from 4 key subject areas (Science, Technology, English and Maths).  And each time the children visit this page the content is randomised. (I plan on making this personalised based on user progression and competence..but that’s later.)

The student clicks the topic they wish to learn and it drops them into a random activity based around that topic.  The student can reload the page and a randomised activity follows.  So it’s different every time.

Oh! We also have the nice little popup menu in the bottom left.  The core navigation bit that takes the student back to the springboard, their achievements and their reports.

That’s all I had time to do this week, but I’ll keep going next week.