A large college in the western US (let's call it LCWUS) recently faced a decision to adopt Blackboard, Moodle, or Desire2Learn. They sponsored a sort of competition and allowed faculty to try each one. D2L was the winner, even though there were committed Moodle advocates at LCWUS. But the committed Moodle advocates (CMAs) were not persuasive. Why?
One CMA at LCWUS shared his reasons for favoring Moodle, which I'll transcribe below. Many of these reasons probably resonate with people in the Moodle community, though I'll speculate later on why they were not persuasive. I'd be interested in hearing whether or not people find these reasons compelling, or even accurate. So here is one person's case for Moodle (sorry it's a tad long), under the heading "Why I prefer Moodle":
"Why I prefer Moodle"
"I enjoy the features of Moodle - especially the lesson tool (a scenario-based instructional environment), the many kinds of assignments and activities, and the simple, clean Moodle interface - with embedded "help" balloons. But all of the CMSs have more or less the same features. There are more important reasons to love open-source solutions like Moodle:
* Moodle is open-source, meaning that the underlying code is free,
open, understandable, and accessible to anyone, forever. It's not
like a commercial product where the code is proprietary, secret,
inaccessible, and hidden from everyone, and which we must ask
(beg) to change or improve, and which could disappear anytime the
code's owner decides to go out of business.
works, and there is no vested interest in promoting a commercial
programming framework like .NET or a commercial database like
Oracle (check out what Oracle CEO Larry Ellison is doing with his
* No one makes a profit off Moodle, which is a lot like our college
- also nonprofit! (I have a problem with the college's taxpayers supplying
profits to private stockholders and/or Boards of Directors when a
perfectly adequate open-source solution is available.)
* Moodle fits LCWUS's course development model - often described as
the "faculty craft model," meaning that faculty develop their own
courses as best they can. This means any software needs to be
* Open-source solutions like Moodle can be hosted by an external
hosting service, providing the best of all worlds (no license fee
but reliable, responsive service). When you go with a commercial
host, you are completely at their mercy - as the college has been
with [another commercial CMS for several years]. Hosted open-source solutions divide
responsibility between the originators of the code (at Moodle, for
example) and the hosting service, so they keep each other honest.
* There's a huge worldwide community supporting Moodle and improving
it all the time. You can subscribe to active user forums that
provide free help and support at a moment's notice (no waiting for
a commercial help desk to get back to you - after you've paid your
[the argument continues...]
I've watched LCWUS struggle since 2007 with a commercial CMS that has not supported the needs of the college well and has not supplied a good return on investment (ROI) for the college. I have used Moodle for many years and I've always found it reliable, stable, flexible, and completely adequate to my needs as a professional teacher and developer of online courses. Does Moodle look as "sexy" as some commercial CMSs? No, it doesn't. Some of Moodle's screens look a little primitive (such as the "Continue" screen with nothing but the word "Continue" on it). But research has shown repeatedly that there are no educational gains associated with "slick" interfaces. My bottom line is that Moodle is perfectly adequate and will provide the college with the best ROI. And as Moodle gets set to become even better (with the release of Moodle 2.0 this summer), I think it's time for the college to embrace Moodle - an excellent open-source solution for an open educational institution like LCWUS."
Okay, so that's a pretty persuasive argument to adopt Moodle, right? Well, it didn't carry the day at LCWUS! Why not? Some possible reasons:
1) Many people are actually frightened by the "open" nature of open-source software. They try to understand it and they struggle: "It's owned by whom?" (everyone). "Owned by everyone?! That's not possible!" (Well, it's hard to explain). "Well, when someone builds a plugin for Moodle, how will we know it works? Who will guarantee it?" It occurs to me that much of what excites the open-source community about Moodle - its flexibility, its openness, the fact you can actually get your hands under the hood and mess with it if you want to - is frightening and unsettling for a lot of people. What they are mostly interested in is risk avoidance: Who you gonna call when this thing doesn't work? In many organizations, the decision-makers are only too glad to have a corporation to blame when a CMS doesn't work ("Dear Faculty: We're sorry the [insert widget name] in CommCMS doesn't work, but we have filed a work ticket with CMS Inc and hope to have it resolved soon....").
2) Many people want to be told what to do with their CMS; they have no interest in making it do anything special. In fact, they are only too happy to click button after button, and have no curiosity at all about how it actually works. Perhaps a good analogy is the automobile commuter vs the automobile hobbyist. The commuter just drives the thing to work every day - she doesn't care how it works. The automobile hobbyist knows exactly how the car works and is constantly tuning it for best performance to meet his own needs. The commuter doesn't care if it's a rental car - just as long as it gets her reliably to work and back every day. The hobbyist would say, "Don't want no stinkin' rental car! It doesn't purr like my straight six, doesn't hug the curves like my Perellis do, and it doesn't have a stereo system like the Bose I installed."
3) College faculty are some of the most change-averse creatures the Earth has ever seen. They tend to get really set in their ways of doing things in online courses. Examples:
- Wanting icons on the home page ("I hate that long list on the course home page in Moodle! Why do people have to scroll and scroll?").
- Wanting a "discussion grading dashboard" as in Bb CE6/8 (WebCT 6): "I shouldn't have to click three times in order to see each student's postings, see how many times s/he posted, and see metrics about messages read!" So that's a case of instructors using the discussion boards (forums) mainly for assessment, not the "social negotiation" envisioned by the social constructionists who founded Moodle (yes, instructors could use the assignment tool to have students upload their best forum posting for grading, but they don't want to - it's extra work).
- Wanting to be able to import HTML pages and edit them within the CMS: "I don't even know what HTML is, so there's no way I want to touch the code."
I'm sure there are other reasons, which will become clearer over time. One factor that seems not to have played a very big role in the decision was the FUD factor (fear, uncertainty, doubt), though I'm still not completely sure that was the case. For reasons I still don't completely understand, people said "I don't want to work with Moodle" and had strong opinions in that direction, whether or not they were based on the FUD factor.
I know many of you will probably say, to counter the objections of MNAs (Moodle non-advocates), "The Moodle partners can remove the risks for you! They can host, fix problems, ensure 99.9% up time," etc. But even that was not enough in the case of LCWUS.
The outcome is obviously depressing for CMAs at LCWUS, and they now ask themselves what they might have done differently to assure a different outcome. Maybe there is nothing they could have done, but if you are a CMA at an institution that doesn't use Moodle, or you are hoping to move to Moodle someday, maybe you can learn from this case study how to anticipate and counter objections to Moodle that you are likely to hear. I hope others in the Moodle community will have ideas about how to counter the objections and will share them. - Peter