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

Continue reading “UK and Ireland MoodleMoot 2016”

Building a learning analytics platform

As learning analytics continues to rise up the agenda in the corporate learning & development (L&D) sector, one thing is becoming glaringly apparent: we should not expect a one-size-fits-all, off-the-shelf approach to learning analytics.  This is a specialist discipline that cannot be bottled up into a single product. Sure, there are products such as Knewton, a Product as a Service platform used to power other peoples’ tools. There are also LMS bolt-ons like Desire2Learn Insights or Blackboard Analytics but even they are not sold as off-the-shelf products, for example the Blackboard team “tailors each solution to your unique institutional profile”.  There are just far too many organisational factors at play for an L&D practitioner to be able to implement a learning analytics programme using an off-the-shelf tool.

What a learning analytics platform looks like

OUAnalyseAn example of one platform (not a commercially available product but probably the most advanced learning analytics platform I’ve yet seen) is the Open University’s OU Analyse platform. They demonstrated this at MoodleMoot UK and Ireland recently. The product is very geared to the OU’s own Moodle-based VLE and as such is built to answer their own questions. This  predictive analytics platform analyses demographic and course data from their own VLE with a view to predicting which students are likely to fail. Tutors have a login to the system and can use the dashboard tools to determine which learning interventions to recommend to a student in order to get them back on a path to success.

Continue reading “Building a learning analytics platform”

MoodleMoot 2015 Review

This year was my fourth Moot and it was another cracking event. Dublin is a welcoming and accessible location so it was good to be back here. I attended the two conference days on May 12-13, but the conference was topped and tailed by a workshops day on the 11th and a developer hackfest on the 14th.

First ever workplace learning stream

Of particular interest for me was that for the first time the conference featured a workplace learning stream. Despite Moodle topping multiple surveys of the the most widely used workplace LMSes, previous Moots have typically been dominated by the education sector. It’s great to see the focus gradually shift and the conference become more representative of real world Moodle users. It was nice to hear Moodle HQ presenters reinforce that future Moots would be structured along similar lines.

The workplace stream consisted of case studies from:

  • Civil Service Learning
  • University Hospital Southampton
  • Health and Safety Authority
  • An Irish law company
  • A US Healthcare company

There was also a good analysis of the business impact of long term support vs yearly upgrades from the conference organiser, Gavin Henrick. The workplace stream was well attended, and I look forward to more of the same in future years! Continue reading “MoodleMoot 2015 Review”

xAPI Barcamp – a Learning Technologies fringe event

The xAPI Barcamp at the end of the first day of the Learning Technologies conference attracted around fifty people, eager to talk xAPI over a few free drinks at the local pub! I was one of five invited experts alongside Andrew Downes from Rustici (@mrdownes), Mark Berthelemy from Wyver Solutions(@berthelemy), Ben Betts from Learning Locker (@bbetts) and Jonathan Archibald from Tesello (@jonarchibald). Moving around five tables in turn, each expert began by talking for a few minutes about what they were doing with xAPI, then the table held an open discussion.

I found the event fascinating. Having worked on a few xAPI projects for clients I had some solid work to discuss, however I personally still have more questions than answers about xAPI so this event was the perfect forum to pose some of those questions and find out what other practitioners were doing and thinking. Continue reading “xAPI Barcamp – a Learning Technologies fringe event”

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

epic-stand-mootuk14

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.

Epic_Slidepack1
Click the image to open the presentation on Slideshare.

Continue reading “Moodling around in Edinburgh”

Building bridges between Higher Education and Corporate L&D

I came across this nice line from my old boss Donald Clark’s blog recently: “Much as Higher Education would like to think it has a monopoly on learning, it is merely one in many, many layers in the learning cake.”

True words and they got me thinking about some experiences good and bad, past and present, that I have had as a learning and development professional interacting with the Higher Education world from the ‘outside’.

An undercurrent of mistrust towards the corporate world?

One standout memory involves being invited to and attending a regional JISC meeting about mobile learning with some colleagues, to share what we were doing with mobile learning in corporates. While the delegates were perfectly nice, the organisers warned us in no uncertain terms upon arrival that we were “not on a sales pitch now”. We were put on a stern warning and made to feel like naughty pupils before we’d even sat down. It was quite a shocking welcome and not the collaborative, friendly approach we were expecting.

Continue reading “Building bridges between Higher Education and Corporate L&D”

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.

Continue reading “Top ten learning platform trends from 2013”

MoodleBrighton December 2013 – Exploring Moodle 2.6

After a lapse of several months we finally had a MoodleBrighton meetup last week. It was good to see everyone again and to catch up on what’s been going on, and we had a couple of new faces too. It was a good session, loosely based around an exploration of Moodle 2.6 with attendees coming from Sussex Uni, Brighton Uni, Moodlerooms and Epic.

Using the Moodle 2.6 release notes as a guide, we picked out the most interesting looking items and headed over to the Moodle Demo site to check them out. So, what did we learn?

The category and course management interface has been reworked. It looks much tidier now and the rework makes it significantly quicker to perform common tasks.

moodledemo_managecoursesImage: Category and course management

There is a bulk course creation tool now too. We get asked about this from time to time at Epic so it’s a useful new feature, especially when migrating to a new Moodle site if you are unable to automated the migration of courses into the new system.

Standardised plugin installation and management was a hot topic. There is a lot of interest in this feature, drawing the inevitable WordPress comparisons and discussions around just how wise it is to allow site admins to automatically install and update plugins that could be of dubious quality, directly into a live site. This feature has been around a few versions now and continues to improve though in M2.6 with multiple improvements and fixes.

The ability to backup and restore very large courses of over 4GB caused a bit of a stir from the Brighton University attendee where they struggle to perform this task using Blackboard. The cause of this is a PHP limitation which is apparently being fixed in PHP5.6, but in the meantime Moodle 2.6 includes a workaround for the issue.

There are apparently improved course resource and activity edit icons which improve usability on all screens. I say apparently because they actually look pretty poor (see below) in that icons are various different sizes, are not in vertical alignment with each other and move to all sorts of bizarre positions when you resize your browser. It’s so bad, I raised a bug. A work in progress this one, for sure.

moodledemo_editiconsImage: Above showing viewport width of 1030px  – icons of all sizes and alignments

moodledemo_editicons_narrowImage: Above showing viewport width of 820px – weird wrapping behaviour

There are BIG improvements to Tiny MCE, or the HTML Editor, as most of us know it. It looks miles better now, see below. But it still needs a lot of work on mobile devices, especially the file picker, which I am sure a developer would tell me is not part of Tiny MCE. However to an end user it is an integral part of the content editing experience and it remains difficult to use on a mobile. But the editor itself looks a treat now, a huge improvement.

moodledemo_tinymceImage: TinyMCE toolbar improvements

Email notification for new users added manually is very useful for us at Epic, as this is a common requirement in workplace learning Moodles. When a user is created manually, the user can now be sent a welcome email with their login information. Simple, and very useful.

There is a minor improvement to the Open Badges implementation with badges now being awarded more quickly. This is a very minor fix in this release but it prompted quite a long discussion among the group about Open Badges in general, their impact on gamifying courses and how the Open Badges  implementation in Moodle is a bit all over the place, with settings and display pages here there and everywhere. Well, at least four different places that we could see. A really popular feature this one though, and I’m sure Moodle’s Open Badges  implementation will only get better with time.

The next feature we stumbled across caused a bit of a storm: “PDF submissions can now be directly annotated by teachers“.  The Sussex Uni attendee commented that document uploads tend to be in Word format rather than PDF at their institution, but hey, this one still rocks! A great new feature.

So that’s pretty much the stuff we looked at over about 90 minutes. It was really the tip of the iceberg to be honest, as this release is absolutely jam packed full of new features. There were lots of things that we didn’t get round to having a proper look at including:

  • Simplified forgotten username and password reset process
  • New Single Activity Course Format
  • Grade-based conditional availability now updated immediately after grading
  • Ability to change forum digest settings on a per-forum basis
  • Lots of SCORM player and SCORM report improvements
  • Support for Microsoft Skydrive repository

There are also bags of improvements for developers including LOADS of performance improvements and  API/Web Service improvements.

One thing that was very apparent is that a lot of effort is being put into improving usability which was warmly received by all attendees, with a recognition that it’s very much a journey that Moodle is starting out on and with lots still to do. It’s all heading in the right direction and that can only be a good thing.

To finish up we took a look at the Essential theme that has been the talk of the town in recent months. It looks pretty cool too. All that, plus the usual quantities of salacious Moodle gossip and a few pints of beer afterwards, all made for a cracking xmas MoodleBrighton!

See you there in 2014. Updates at MoodleBrighton on Google+

moodledemo_essentialEssential theme demo site at http://2013.imoot.org/

The art of writing LMS requirements

I saw a really well constructed Request for Proposal this week. It was about 10 pages long and listed a set of business requirements and a set of technical requirements for an LMS, without being overly prescriptive about the specifics of how the system should operate. I work on responses to a lot of these and was nice to see one that was so well written.

It got me thinking about how difficult it is to create a good requirements list. Every so often at Epic we see Requests for Proposals that include almightly Excel spreadsheets listing sometimes hundreds of requirements that vendors must meet, usually to be marked as either a) as standard, b) with configuration, c) with development or d) not at all.

These monster spreadsheets are hugely problematic, not just for the agencies that answer them but for the clients who distribute them too. For the agency, it’s a fairly simple calculation as to whether the cost of the effort involved in filling it in is worth the value of the final contract. But for the customer, the problems may be less obvious.
Continue reading “The art of writing LMS requirements”

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.

Continue reading “Drafts, restructures and endless revisions – a book is born!”