UK and Ireland MoodleMoot 2016

MoodleMoot UK and Ireland 2016 showed yet again that the Moodle ecosystem is in good health, with lots of new community members attending for the first time, plenty of old timers coming back, major institutions reaffirming their faith and Moodle HQ showing how the product itself is adapting to the future with new features and new sectors in its sights.

There was far too much going on for a detailed write-up, but for me personally there were a few clear themes from the event this year:

  • Moodle Mobile native app is coming of age
  • Moodle ecosystem is as strong as ever
  • Major institutions are reaffirming their support for Moodle
  • Moodle is strengthening its position as a workplace LMS

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Moodling around in Edinburgh

It was great to be at the UK MoodleMoot in Edinburgh this week. It has become an annual highlight for me as a place to meet old and new friends alike, to share some of the things we’ve been working on and to learn from the vast experiences of the Moodle community around the UK and wider afield. The event ran over four days but myself and Andrew Downes went up for the two conference days, along with a whopping 400 delegates from 29 countries.

Epic sponsors the Moot for the first time

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After presenting for the past two years, Epic was a sponsor of the Moot for the first time this year. As a Silver sponsor this meant we paid a fee which went towards the running of the event, in return for a stand in the exhibition area and exposure in the event publicity material and banners. MoodleMoot is an important fixture in the UK learning technologies calendar and we have gained so much in the past from the knowledge sharing and networking, so it was a great opportunity to give something back financially, rather than just limiting our involvement to one or two presentations, important as that is. Andrew and I tried to balance a mix of stand duties during breaks and lunch with attending as many sessions as possible, so if you chanced upon an empty stand at some point then apologies, but judging by the number of business cards taken away we are sure to be speaking to many of you soon!

Talking about mobile learning with Moodle

I submitted two presentations ahead of the event and both were accepted. The Moot Gods were kind to me and scheduled both sessions for the morning of Day 1, which meant I didn’t have to spend valuable Moot time worrying or preparing, or have to present with a thumping hangover on day two (which has been known).

My first presentation was Using mobiles to support active learning with Moodle. Active learning was one of the conference themes, and I focused on using native mobile device features like taking photos, audio and video and submitting or sharing these into Moodle using assignment, forum and database activities.

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Click the image to open the presentation on Slideshare.

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Top ten learning platform trends from 2013

The end of the calendar year is a great opportunity to reflect and take stock of some of the key trends in the learning platforms market that have stood out for me and the team at Epic over the past 12 months. Do these reflect your own views of the market? What was big for you last year? Let me know in the comments, it would be great to share thoughts and notes on what was a fast moving year!

Customers aren’t afraid to switch suppliers

It’s all about the customer, stupid. Everyone knows that, right? Well, I’ve learned a big lesson this year about customer service through the mistakes of others. I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve picked up new customers who said their last supplier a) didn’t care about them, b) had poor quality of service, c) over-promised and could not deliver or d) behaved like lawyers and charged just to pick up a pen. I even had a new customer reveal that they threw one of our competitors out of an LMS procurement on ethical grounds because they were having a go at us! While it’s kind of nice knowing a competitor is so preoccupied with Epic that they focus on us in their sales presentations instead of on themselves, what is genuinely worrying is what appears to be a trend of falling standards in the industry. Of course, we sometimes make mistakes too, but I do think that our relentless focus on our customers keeps us ahead of the competition.

The drive to good user experience

LMS vendors are continuing to improve usability following years of negative feedback from customers and analysts. Customers are increasingly taking the lead on this, insisting on good user experience in their solutions. This is easier with bespoke platforms which we design from the ground up; however when using an off-the-shelf LMS you are always a bit constrained by the product’s capabilities. But there’s no doubt that Open Source gives you extra flexibility here. Moodle HQ have formed a dedicated front-end team and we have seen a renewed focus on usability in M2.5 and 2.6 which is warmly welcomed. Some of my favourite moments this year have been getting involved in design workshops with students and stakeholders. This is basic stuff, but so often forgotten in technology projects.

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Drafts, restructures and endless revisions – a book is born!

So, it’s been nearly six months since my last blog post and it’s no coincidence that this post announces the impending arrival of my book! What little time has been left over from work and family life over much of past year has been spent hunched over a laptop late at night and taking numerous Moodle screenshots on my phone and tablet, all in aid of an upcoming Packt Publishing book, Moodle for Mobile Learning.

It’s a huge relief to get to the point where I can announce the book, not least because now that it is complete, I can finally move on! There is so much stuff I’ve been waiting to start, not to mention ideas for blog posts to write, that has been put on hold for 10 months. Having never done this book malarkey before, I had no idea what to expect of the process. The original schedule went out the window and there were points when I couldn’t even look at the thing, not to mention a soul destroying realisation that a complete restructure of the book was needed as I neared the end of the first draft. But then in June the reviewers’ feedback started to filter through and their positive comments lifted my spirits, which made the chapter revision process much more enjoyable. To top off the endless fun and games, Moodle 2.5 was released with lots of user interface changes which required me to retake hundreds of screenshots! So it’s been quite a journey, but one which has given me a much deeper understanding of Moodle as a whole, especially some features that I was previously less familiar with, and I am already benefiting greatly from that in my work.

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The rise and rise of mobile learning

I have been collecting together examples the past few weeks of when higher education institutions started rolling out these ‘iPads for every student’ programs. While the world read those attention grabbing headlines, a larger number of institutions have been sliently spending vastly more money, but with much less exposure, on supporting Bring Your Own Device strategies and building out wireless networks across their campuses to support this. These huge investments in mobile learning technologies in higher education – for both free devices and BYOD – appears to have really started gaining momentum from 2008 onwards.

By coincidence I did a Google Scholar search on “mobile learning” last night.  Google Scholar indexes scholarly literature including journal and conference papers, theses and dissertations, academic books, pre-prints, abstracts and technical reports. I decided to conduct a year-by-year search from 2000 through to 2012 using the Advanced Search tools, and stuck the data into Excel so that I could chart it. The resulting line chart reveals the rise of mobile learning research from just over a hundred articles published in 2000 to over 6,000 published in 2012. That’s not cumulative, that’s 6,000 in a year! You can clearly see how mobile learning research really takes off in the second half of the decade, coinciding perfectly with the first wave of institutional spending in mobile technology.

4388OS_04_44Image: Google Scholar results for “mobile learning” by year

Now, would anyone like to read 6,000 research papers? That’d be a lifetime’s work for someone…

Most Marvellous Moot

During the two days I spent at MoodleMoot Dublin last week, I had an overwhelming sense of information overload which made it all but impossible to blog during the conference. However it was clear at the time that a number of key themes were emerging from presentations and discussions: responsive design and usability, learning analytics, application performance, and Moodle’s place in the fast changing  world of higher and further education. Now that I’ve had a few days to reflect on things, I have been able to start to make some sense of it all.

Moodle’s place in the changing world of education

This was one of the big questions for the conference and there were three key sessions where this was dealt with: ‘The Future of Online Learning’ panel session on day one, the Martin Dougiamas ‘Future’ keynote on day two and the ‘Education in a Global Context’ panel session also on day two.

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Moodle Mobile Apps

iActiveMoodle has a new official HTML5 app due out in the coming months. it looks like it will do some pretty interesting stuff including:

  • select or capture an image, audio recording or video from your mobile device and upload them into Moodle
  • view their fellow course participants and associated contact information
  • use Moodle messaging if it is enabled
  • access to push notifications

While we wait for that though, here is a roundup of what’s already available in the App Stores.

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