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Moodlemoot 2016 Key Themes: Mobile, Ecosystem, Backing and Positioning

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 strengthing its position as a workplace LMS

Mobile native app comes of age

The Moodle HQ mobile app team based in Barcelona was all over this event, proudly demonstrating their achievements. The mobile app is downloadable from Android and Apple app stores and provided your Moodle site administrator has enabled mobile app access, you can login into your Moodle site from the mobile app.

In the Mobile Learning Masterclass on Day 1, Juan Leyva and Daniel Palou gave some great insights into how the mobile app is developing over the coming months including a preview of the offline quiz functionality. They also ran a number of short presentations throughout the conference about app theming and the offline player features.

The latest version of the app (already downloadable) has really good offline functionality (i.e. remaining usable even when no wireless or 3g connection is available) and all resource types can now be downloaded into the app and viewed offline. Video and audio files under a certain size are automatically downloaded to the app’s local storage and, crucially, the app now contains a SCORM offline player too, allowing eLearning packages to be viewed offline and the results synchronised with Moodle when a connection is re-established. Several of my LEO Learning colleagues at the event were straight onto this and loaded in some of our responsive SCORM packages built using the gomo authoring tool and they looked great running in the mobile app. SCORM is the first activity type to run fully offline, but others are coming, notably the quiz. Many others such as forum and polls, remain viewable offline but will always require a connection when posting to them.

A key takeaway from the mobile app demos and from using the app itself throughout the conference are that many interactions are actually much more graceful and usable in the app than in the Moodle website itself. For example, the Choice activity for running quick polls is incredibly easy to use in the mobile app, but is much clunkier when viewed on the Moodle website in the browser, even when using the responsive layouts in a mobile browser. As the mobile app continues to evolve, it will be interesting to see whether it becomes the dominant way of accessing Moodle, several conference delegates I spoke to thought it might. If you haven’t used the mobile app yet, I recommend having a play.

Juan and Dani also showed how to create themes for the mobile app using remote CSS files hosted on the Moodle site itself. This changes colors, icons and fonts only, and is not for template changes or logos.

Strength of the Moodle ecosystem

This was my fifth moot and yet again I came away energised about the product and its possibilities. This is a very social, friendly event where attendees need little excuse to start conversations and there is very little of the colleague huddling that happens at other events. One of my few criticisms would be the overly presentational format of the sessions; gone were the fishbowl sessions and panel discussions of previous years that involved the audience more actively. That said, there were presentations by both familiar and new faces, plus ample breaks during which the interaction with fellow community members was absolutely great.

Of course, it’s all about the community in the open source world, and Moodle has one of the vastest, sustainable and mature communities of any open source project. Research studies have shown time and again how strong, sustainable communities lie at the heart of successful, long term, open source projects. A strong open source community is equivalent to a commercial product being backed by a strong, sustainable, cash positive company. The community is the lifeblood of the open source product and events like the Moot provide the means for that community to come together, swap experiences and knowledge, tighten their bonds and leave stronger. Everyone I spoke to towards the end of the conference was leaving upbeat, enthused and full of ideas, which was a pleasure to see.

One new aspect of the community, introduced in 2015 but up and running for this year, was the Moodle Users Association (MUA). Moodle founder Martin Dougiamas explained its purpose during his keynote, and the MUA held a meeting after the first conference day at which all were invited, whether members or not. The MUA allows paying members to influence the Moodle roadmap and run projects to get key new features included in core. It has over a hundred members already, covering both individuals and organisations, and is hopefully set to continue growing well into the future.

Open University and UCL continue their support for Moodle

The OU had a large contingent at the event. Jenny Gray did the closing keynote for conference day one and walked through ten years of Moodle history at the OU. Their system is highly custom and they use nearly 250 plugins! The session by OU’s LTS team about their back end authoring processes was really interesting. They showed the XML authoring process which uses the Documentum CMS and Oxygen XML authoring tool, and pumps out content in multiple formats including Doc, PDF, epub and, of course, into Moodle via their OU Content activity type, which is a bit like the Book module on steroids.

University College London were also well represented at the event. While they may not customise and contribute as much as the OU, as a global top ten university their involvement in the community and the Moodle ecosystem is just as important due to their reputation and influence. UCL’s Fiona Strawbridge did the opening keynote on conference day two, walking through a retrospective of their Moodle journey and looking forward to the future, reaffirming the institution’s support for Moodle in the process.

It was a proud moment to receive recognition for LEO Learning’s part in building UCL eXtend, their external facing continuing education portal. The site allows commercial courses to be sold online to audiences of working professionals. While LEO Learning does not operate student-facing VLE work, we are very interested in workplace learning, and these outward facing sites are where we do intersect with the education sector and the wider training provision organisations. We went on to partner with UCL in reusing the eXtend engine for the Tech City portal, and are always on the lookout for further opportunities.

Moodle strengthening position as a workplace LMS

This was the second year where the Moot had a workplace learning stream. It was good to see a wide range of corporate Moodle case studies and practical demonstrations including:

  • Global engineering firm Arup showcasing their plugins for managing ‘lunch and learn’ sessions, global teams, and staff appraisals
  • UK Meteorological Office showing a training simulation plugin
  • Floream exploring collaborative social learning examples from a range of their workplace courses and MOOCs
  • GAC Corporate Academy showing personalised learning paths in their corporate courses
  • Catalyst showing work they have done in the marine and NGO sectors
  • Gavin Henrick from Moodle HQ showing how the new competency tools can be applied in different disciplines
  • My own presentation summarising lessons learned from 10 organisations that used open badges for workplace learning

There were many large enterprises in attendance among the audience including all three British defence forces and others from the automotive, air travel and media sectors. It was great to see the corporate Moot audience growing and, hopefully, we will see more doing their own presentations in future years.

A hot topic was also new Moodle features that target the workplace, particularly the SCORM offline player and the upcoming competencies tool in Moodle 3.1, which looks much more powerful and granular than the competency framework tools other Moodle based distributions are offering. There is really not far to go now to close down the gap on the various unofficial workplace distributions that have sprung up in recent years.

The annual Moot is always a great place to go to meet like-minded learning technologists and find out what people are doing with Moodle. As usual, I have come away rejuvenated and thinking about lots of new possibilities. Congratulations to Gavin, Michael and the team for bringing it all together.

LEO Learning build highly customised Moodle platforms which assist in solving the challenges faced by today’s organisations, often as part of a blended programme. Our team has been building, installing, hosting (in partnership with Rackspace) and maintaining Moodle sites for over ten years, in which time we have built and continue to maintain some of the largest workplace Moodle sites in the world – talk to us today about your learning platform objectives.

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