Brand matching Moodle

After a brief chat with a colleague I was inspired to see how easy it is to make Moodle look like a corporate brand.

Turns out it’s pretty easy with some CSS love and an amazing boiler plate to work from. Thanks @stuartlamour

(Disclaimer: Yes I used Nike as an example, Nike are in no way affiliated with this blog.  No I didn’t clear copyright, it was simply proof of concept)

Original Homepage

Original Homepage

Moodle Brand Match proof of concept

Moodle Concept


So yeah, it looks rather good.
Again, please note, the theme was built as proof of concept.

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


Moodle and BTECS

For many years I have supported BTEC courses on Moodle.  And from experience, there doesn’t seem to be a right or wrong way to configure Moodle.  However, I have developed a method that has worked well for me and now I wish to share this with you, the Moodle Community.

The attached document is a BTEC Moodle Guide which you can follow.  Feel free to take whatever bits you need from it.

Please do let me know on Twitter @lewiscarr if you found the document useful.  I’d love to share some ideas on how I can improve it.

You can download the document here moodle_and_BTECS

You can download the support course (zipped) here btec_engineering



Moodle: Shortcut to OpenBadges

The chances are you are busy in your job, too busy to play with Moodle these days.  You have heard of Open Badges but you need to fast track your knowledge of them and how they work in Moodle.  Then this blog post is for you.

What are Open Badges?
Open Badges are like the badges your earned if you were in the Scouts or Guides.But instead of sewing them on your jumper, you store them in a virtual backpack.

How do I get started?

  • Visit:
  • Click “Earn” and take the Badges 101 Test.
  • When you complete the test you can store this badge in your backpack.  Follow the steps required to create your backpack and create your user account.  

Creating your first badge:
Before we can upload a badge to Moodle we need to create one  There are many resources out there, but as this is a fast track blog then head to this website.

If you are too lazy to create a badge then shame on you, but you can download this one I built earlier.


Upload your badge to a Moodle Course:
Before you start, you need to make sure that Badges are enabled on your Moodle site.

  • From within your Moodle, go to: Site Administration > Advance Features
    And Enable Badges
  • Now go to the course where you wish to deploy the badge.
  • Make sure this course has completion tracking enabled (in the course settings).  And make sure you have at least one resource with some completion tracking associated with it.
  • Now from the course administration menu click badges > Add a new badge
  • Give the badge a name and a description (Tip: Enter your badge criteria in here)
  • Upload the badge image you designed and saved earlier
  • Check the issuer details are correct (usually your organization details)
  • Enter a badge expiry if needed or leave if no expires is required.
  • Click “Create Badge”


Now you must chose your badge criteria (in other words, what does the student have to complete in order to earn the badge)

I suggest for this tutorial you choose “Activity Completion” and then select the activity that has completion checking enabled in your course.  If no activities have completion checking enabled then you won’t be able to progress.


  •  Once this is done, you need to “Enable Access”.  This activates the badge on and it is ready for use.


And that’s it.  You have deployed your first Open Badge.

Now, when a user completes the activity they will be redirected to the badge where they can either a) download a copy of it or b) Push the badge to their backpack.

If they choose to push it to the backpack then they will be asked to login to their Open Badge Account.  Test it by logging in as a student and use your own Open Badge ID we created earlier.

There, it’s a simple as that.

Badge Uses:
So now you know how to do it, why should you do it?  Well, to put it simply.  Open Badges are a form of gamification, and take it from me, students love this, I’ve had huge success in this area of e-learning.  Xbox and Playstation have rewarded people in this way for years.  The trick is to make accredited badges that actually have worth.  So don’t create too many, or they will lose their appeal.  Don’t dumb it down by making it too simple, students want to “earn” their badges.
Lastly, try map badges with course accreditation or outcomes.  This way, the students are more likely to show potential employees their badges and use them in conjunction with their CV’s.  This is where the real value of Open Badges comes in.  We can reward students for doing things outside of the classroom environment that continue to live on after our students have moved on.

To summarise, Open Badges are brilliant.  So armed with this tutorial, go build them!

5 Reasons to use Piwik with Moodle

Are you using Google Analytics for compiling useful Moodle data?  Have you considered using Piwik?

Piwik is an Open Source (self-hosted) alternative to Google Analytics, and it’s pretty awesome.  The feature list speaks for itself, but why would we want to go through the hassle of installing it on a server, updating it and looking after it when you may already be using Google?

Here are my top 5 reasons for choosing Piwik over Google Analytics with Moodle:

1) Improved page load times
I have often found that using Google Analytics on any website can sometimes increase the page load time as we are often waiting for the response from the analytics server.  This is more apparent in educational establishments as traffic is pushed through firewalls and student content filters.  Hosting Piwik yourself, ideally on the same Moodle server is considerably faster.

Hosting Piwik yourself, ideally on the same Moodle server is considerably faster.

2)Track downloads
Piwik tracks downloaded files, Google Analytics doesn’t.  And considering Moodle is often “repository” based this is a killer feature.  We get to see the file name and how many downloads it had, and we can search within date ranges.  The naming of the returned file isn’t great but it’s easy to figure out what file was downloaded.

Piwik Moodle File Downloads3) Outbound link tracking
Piwik tracks the number of outbound links (links to external websites).  Especially useful within Moodle as we want to keep users in Moodle where possible and encourage the embedding of resources. When we take students away from Moodle it’s hard to get them back (we’ve all done it, I get lost on IMDB for hours sometimes).  With Piwik we can see where our students go after they leave a course.  And hopefully we can plug these holes so they stay on Moodle (forever!)

4) Funky exports
I love the way that Piwik exports data and the formats which we can export in.  It seems very intuitive and simple and you can put some of this data back into Moodle or any custom tools you have.

Piwik ExportFor example, you can grab the RSS feed for your Moodle Downloads and republish them in a Moodle course RSS Block so tutors can see what is happening without having access to Piwik.  For the more techie amongst us we can export using JSON and XML so we can integrate the data with some custom PHP programming or even mobile apps.

5) Create custom dashboards to track distance learners, out-of-hours learners, weekend learners and more. 
OK, this is a feature of Google Analytics too, but I just prefer the way it’s laid out in Piwik.
We can track what times of the day students access Moodle and then compare this against the course/page list.  At last, we get to see how Moodle is used at weekends, on what device and what the students did on the site.

We can also create custom dashboards.  Why not create custom dashboards for different groups of users in your organisation?  For example, why not create a dashboard for your marketing department that shows how your users found your Moodle site?  And then create a dashboard for enrollments that uses goals to track how many visitors became actual learners and enrolled on a course?  And finally a dashboard for tutors that shows learner devices and access times?

Piwik Mobile Use

Custom dashboards are great, they simplify the user experience and get you the data you need.

Extend the usage of your analytical data in Moodle

Once you have installed Piwik and collected several weeks of data then you are ready to turn this data into something meaningful.
After all, Moodle has some excellent reporting features, but these are focused at course level, whereas Pwik is more site level.

Use Goals
Goals are intended for eCommerce sites, where we can track a user journey on the site and see how much the user spent as a result of  that single visit.  But in Moodle, by tracking self enrollment or PayPal enrollments,  we can use goals in a similar vain.  Either for monetary analysis or good old fashioned plain curiosity.

A simple goal could be user registration.  We can setup a goal that triggers when a user registers on the site.  By selecting the registration page as the given URL we can track guests that convert to actual learners.

We can assign goals to course enrollments so data is captured when a student self-enrolls on a course.  Again this data can be exported and used in your reports.  And can be converted to monetary values if required.

Student Engagement

One of the things many organisations ask me is “How long are students spending on the Moodle site?”  Well although we can’t drill this down on a per user basis we can generate some interesting site wide numbers.  By using the “Page Titles” report we can see an average time that each student spends visiting a course.  Are they logging on, grabbing a document and logging off (see bounce rates) or are they accessing a course and staying there?  This is all useful data that helps you shape a great engaging Moodle course.

Page titles and visit duration

Give Piwik a  go today, it doesn’t take long to install and the insight it gives you is incredible. It’s free, it’s open-source and very clever.