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.

What if the Moodle UX was like Netflix?

moodle_netflix

Having spent the past few days in London with a colleague trying to figure out the future of “digital learning”, I couldn’t stop thinking about what an LMS (such as Moodle) would look like if it adopted a truly simplistic design and setup.  A design that “encourages”, nay… damn right forces you to love it.

Imagine if the image above was your dashboard.  And your courses were nothing more than “covers”, like movie covers on Netflix or Amazon. And the course you last viewed was bigger than the other tiles and highlighted, and when you clicked on it, it resumed where you left off.

When you click on the course, you get one single, simple page.  The course may be just a single activity, whether an H5P Project, a SCORM package or a video. It doesn’t matter.

“But one single activity isn’t enough, I hear you say”.

Well, why not make lots of single activities?  Like a library, whereby each course is in fact just a placeholder for an amazing resource. So we stop building long topic driven courses that look they are trapped in 2009 and actually build courses that offer personalisation where the user can chose what they want to learn.  Like we chose what we want to watch.

Users could simply “add courses” to their library (think self enrolment), they can keep the course (if they like) or un-enrol when they are done.

“But we need to tell learners what to learn, I hear you scream!”

Netflix don’t explicitly tell me what I should watch, but they certainly sway my hand. It’s all in the presentation, and tagging. Something which Moodle can do really well.

No messy course formats, no ugly Moodle hacks, no specialists blocks, just a clever Moodle Theme and a change of culture (a revolution, if you will). We could turn off all the bloat, hide all the settings and have a front-end more akin with the tech we use daily.

I can hear screams of Moodle admins and teachers crying that “this wouldn’t work in our organisation“, but in the same vain, I can hear cheers from learners who don’t give a damn about the backend, the gradebook, the pedagogical workflow of the course, or how clever an API is.  They want to log in and learn. That’s it!

Sometimes, less is more.

I believe this type of approach (although admittedly not suitable for all organisations) would perfectly suit the casual learner. Those who are time precious, who need to dip in and out of content..and who knows.. if done right…may “binge watch” your course resources like a box set of Game of Thrones.  You never know.

I haven’t built this yet, as I’ve been insanely busy, but the more I think about it, the more I can’t stop thinking about it. It could be crazy enough to work.

Language customisations for Moodle emails

Moodle Language Packs

I’m often asked where a specific language string hides within a Moodle Language Pack.  There’s no way I can remember them all, and I often find myself  repeating the same process trying to find them.  So I thought I’d keep a running document  that shows where they are and what they do. I’ll keep adding to this list as I go. If anyone has any more, please share them with me (@lewiscarr).  Eventually I’d love to turn this into some funky infographic type document.

Welcome Email Confirmation

Component: Core

String: emailconfirmation

Standard Text:
Hi {$a->firstname}, A new account has been requested at ‘{$a->sitename}’ using your email address. To confirm your new account, please go to this web address: {$a->link} In most mail programs, this should appear as a blue link which you can just click on. If that doesn’t work, then cut and paste the address into the address line at the top of your web browser window. If you need help, please contact the site administrator, {$a->admin}

New User Email password generated from CSV Upload

Component: core

String: newusernewpasswordtext

Standard Text:
Hi {$a->firstname}, A new account has been created for you at ‘{$a->sitename}’ and you have been issued with a new temporary password. Your current login information is now: username: {$a->username} password: {$a->newpassword} (you will have to change your password when you login for the first time) To start using ‘{$a->sitename}’, login at {$a->link} In most mail programs, this should appear as a blue link which you can just click on. If that doesn’t work, then cut and paste the address into the address line at the top of your web browser window. Cheers from the ‘{$a->sitename}’ administrator, {$a->signoff}

(Thanks to @peterjonker for the suggestion)

Password Reset Email

Component: core

String: emailpasswordconfirmation

Standard Text:
Hi {$a->firstname}, Someone (probably you) has requested a new password for your account on ‘{$a->sitename}’. To confirm this and have a new password sent to you via email, go to the following web address: {$a->link} In most mail programs, this should appear as a blue link which you can just click on. If that doesn’t work, then cut and paste the address into the address line at the top of your web browser window. If you need help, please contact the site administrator, {$a->admin}

Password Confirmation Email

Component: core

String: emailpasswordsent

Standard Text:
Thank you for confirming the change of password. An email containing your new password has been sent to your address at
{$a->email}.
The new password was automatically generated – you might like to change your password to something easier to remember.

Bounce Back Email

Component: core

String: noreplybouncemessage

Standard Text:
You have replied to a no-reply email address. If you were attempting to reply to a forum post, please instead reply using the {$a} forums. Following is the content of your email:

Change of email message

Component: core

String: emailupdatemessage

Standard Text:
 Dear {$a->fullname}, You have requested a change of your email address for your user account at {$a->site}. Please open the following URL in your browser in order to confirm this change. {$a->url}

Earning a badge Email Subject

Component: core_badges

String: messagesubject

Standard Text:
Congratulations! You just earned a badge!

Earning a badge Email Body

Component: core_badges

String: messagebody

Standard Text:

You have been awarded the badge “%badgename%”! More information about this badge can be found on the %badgelink% badge information page. You can manage and download the badge from your {$a} page.

Why I joined the Moodle Association

Moodle Association

There are many reasons why it’s a good thing to join the Moodle Users Association, MoodleNews posted a pretty good roundup here.  Everyone will have their own reasons for doing so. Some people want to give something back to Moodle, some want to vote on features and impact the development of Moodle.  Now it’s no secret, I make my living using Open Source tools, predominantly around Moodle.  So I’d be crazy not to give something back.

I am not a Moodle Partner (maybe one day), and I realise that my individual contribution of 100 Australian dollars is just a drop in the ocean, but collectively, every contribution adds up.  I contributed not for votes, I joined the Moodle Association because I want to help prove this HQ-backed “crowdsourcing” concept works. Regardless of how much revenue it generates, it will generate ideas and spur innovation. And that has got to be worth every penny.