Let's see where this goes.
Mahara has the drag and drop blocks (to insert images, resume, journal, etc). Frog has nice and shiny icons and buttons, PLUS social networking notification updates and features. Non-techie teachers are talking about how easy it is to use the cloud-based FrogOS to create webpages and to add content with minimal training. Wordpress has really great themes.
Where I'm coming from: Malaysia's chosen Frog VLE for its nationwide 4G-driven world's first education-initiative that involves 10,000 national schools. Mostly secondary-level schools. I'm kinda thinking that although Frog comes at a cost (subscription-based VLE), it's making inroads in terms of usability among Malaysia and UK educators.
What's Moodle's response to the "Frog invasion", besides being free (in terms of licensing) and highly customisable?
What's Moodle's GUI and future plans like, especially in the area of GUI?
A barbed comment on Quora on Moodle goes like this: "Personally I think it shows a blatant disregard for users and an over-respect for the techs and developers. Moodle's dominance ... ultimately will loose (sic) it the users it depends on. Get with this century Moodle!"
I guess my real question is this: how do I win over my management to Moodle 2.x in the face of other competiting GUI-and-more-Web 2.0-and-Facebook-like-and-Google-Apps-like-based LMSes? It seems to me that Moodle being free (except for server rental costs and IT staffing) is great, but it seems that GenX digital natives and technologically-challenged-oldie-mouldies are preferring the LMSes with pizzazz and graphical interfaces. We're talking about a measure of success of a LMS is in the number of teachers who end up adopting it and using it regularly.
I am torn on this. On the one hand I have personal experience of how people will chose beauty and convenience over security and functionality. I was selling software during the phase from DOS to Windows and people wanted a proper MS Windows(TM) version even if the DOS version was better software. The division of HQ development into Frontend and Backend does promise a better user experience in the long term.
Moodle has made significant strides in terms of usability for example the drag and drop file capability and many other tweaks. The ability to install plugins from within the browser offers the possibility of greater experimentation and uptake of contributed code. If quizzing is important to an organisation then Moodle simply wins period, nothing else available paid for or free is even in the same league.
Well, as Martin said in that quora thread - we are striving to improve the interface and we don't there to be a choice of 'beauty and convenience over security and functionality', we want both.
We've made small steps in that direction over the last year:
And even more resources are being put in this direction, so you should see the evolution continue.
Its not just about beauty either. That helps, but in the end, it is about PERCEPTION of the user. Does the user PERCEIVE that one software or hardware is better than another?
This battle is fought constantly between tech giants (Apple, Microsoft, Adobe, etc.) I have personally been stung by choosing the technologically superior software over the less capable one, only to see public opinion squeeze out the technologically superior one.
We might remember the old battle over Betamax and VHS. In my opinion, Betamax was the superior one in features, but VHS won. Or, you may remember the BlyRay battle. In so many ways, Bluray wasn't the better format, but it won. Why?
Current market share of moodle will not win in the long run just because it has a lot of users. Only if moodle begins an aggressive marketing strategy will it win. So far, moodle hasn't faced much competition. I think Blackboard is the main competitor. But slowly, blackboard has been the predominant player against moodle on college campuses simply because it has a professional marketing staff who actively go to the purchasing people at campuses and promote their platform. The typical decider on campus might not be a LMS expert, and will choose Blackboard simply because moodle wasn't presented well by a "techie" person who is better able to show the "how" than the "why". The end result is that moodle loses because it doesn't have the promotional backing. Again, its all about PERCEPTION.
So, we can lose this race if we don't do something as a community to change people's perception of moodle. The most important issues to deal with, in my opinion, are the following:
- Moodle is hard to use. Not true, but still, many perceive it that way
- Moodle's interface is "old". I think that is true, and as Frankie puts it, the "beauty" isn't there. That's a technical issue, and if the moodle developers concentrate on this, that will be great, but it still won't win the day because as a community, we moodle users don't promote what moodle can do. Unfortunately, moodle has a negative history in the minds of some influential people. Simply fixing the interface is not enough. After it is fixed, there has to be a promotional campaign.
- Moodle is hard to install and support. If you have a great techie staff, this doesn't matter. But if you make moodle support a part time job for a teacher or staff person, users will get frustrated, and frustrated users become enemies. The only solution here is to offer professional top notch support 24/7. Companies like Blackboard can afford to do this because they make money selling their product. Part time people on campus cannot.
- An upgrade path. This means that once moodle is installed, the system deciders (high level administrators) want to know that their investment will be continually "modernized". Things always change in education, and educational institutions must be on the cutting edge. Moodle falls down on this point. As Frankie pointed out, where are things like HTML5 support. Is phone and tablet support a high priority? How hard is it to upgrade moodle to include those items? If LMS competitors have such things, guess what? They are going to stress how well they can support a cell phone screen or tablet, and to a busy administrator (decision maker), when they see how easy it is for a student to do work on a cell phone, then all the other technical superior features moodle has won't matter. Again, its about perception, not reality. If its so simple, even a caveman can do it, then it will win in the court of public opinion.
Well, these are the things that someone who promotes moodle ought to consider. The thing we have going against us is that we don't have marketing specialists. The free, user supported model that is moodle's biggest strength can also be what kills moodle.
I don't have any easy answers, but if some company wanted a great business opportunity, it could create a method whereby those who wanted professional support could hire them and they could charge for that. Of course, there are companies that already do that. But what they lack is the right to SELL moodle. The current moodle license prohibits that, but I think that in order for moodle to survive, it will have to branch out and have a two-tiered business model. The free model will need to continue, but a paid-for version will need to be allowed also. Perhaps a version of moodle that has all the bells and whistles could be allowed by the general moodle license. I envision something like the Linux model. There are free versions of Linux, but there are also professional versions that have "value-added" to them. Moodle needs to have this model also if it is to survive.
I hope it does. I love Moodle, but I am a techie. From the user and administrator point of view, moodle DOES seem to be "old". Only a company that has skin in the game can rescue this by letting the free market decide based on the public's perception. And, that perceptin won't change based on technical features. It will only change if it is actively marketed, and that can only happen if money can be made.
I agree that perception is everything! I have exactly the same issue to face over the next 6-12 months here: Two universities merged, one using Moodle one using Bb. I am the Moodle support, advocate, manager, evangelist, ninja - but Bb have already had marketing people in talking to those higher up the decision making tree than I am, sponsoring events and so on, ever since the merger was first talked about (and before) even though all the users I've spoken to on the ground who have experience of both systems want Moodle.
And your comments about 'being on the cutting edge' - Moodle is already using HTML5, it has responsive themes (even more coming now bootstrap is included - although other responsive flavours have been available for a while) It also has device detection which allowed separate Mobile themes to be used, it has a mobile app, and mobile/responsive seems to be the main priority for the frontend team at HQ - so I think Moodle is already there (as in pushing things forward on the cutting edge, not as in being at the end of the race!) and these things seem to happen much faster in Moodle than in commercial equivalents. The difference, which does tie in to your point, is that as you say, the commercial marketing departments create one heck of a song and dance about it - quietly covering up the bits that their products DONT do, until they launch them with an even bigger song and dance when they do. Is Moodle behind its competitors - I don't think so in general, although I'm sure we can all pick on specifics of Moodle that a particular other product does in a really nice way that we'd love to see in Moodle: But the 'this works in facebook' and 'that works in Wordpress' and 'such and such works in XYZ' is not always easy (or appropriate) to apply to a.n.other piece of software - Would the Wordpress back end work well for Twitter? Yes, there are definitely things Moodle can learn from all of them, but perhaps we also need to start shouting back about some of the things they could learn from Moodle . If someone like yourself or Frankie or myself, all active in the community, find it difficult to highlight these things, how much harder is it for a decsion-maker faced with a keen teacher advocating Moodle on one hand and a slick marketing rep drilled in all the strong points of their product (and how to cover the rest) on the other.
However, I don't think you are correct that moodle needs to change in order to offer the two-tiered business model: Its already in place isn't it? The work done by many moodle partners, and products like Totara being built on top of 'free moodle' would suggest that this already happens, within the existing structure. This is exactly what happens in the Linux world - its not Linux (the kernel) that comes as paid-for commercial versions, but the bells and whistles of the distribution and the support packages. Those commercial companies do not sell 'Linux' - they can't its open source (or at least without being an open-source/copyright lawyer I'll just say there's no point as Linux itself is freely available), just like Moodle - what they sell is the extras and the services, which as I understand it is the same model that the likes of MoodleRooms et al already use.
Its often easy to look at moodle and the community and say how much better the 'product' could be, because as so many of the community are developers, we are always trying to push Moodle further and further forward, so it always seems like we are addressing weaknesses, while other companies develop (or buy up!!) in the background, shouting about what their existing product can already do, almost hiding the weaknesses until they have something new to offer. And also because we are constantly striving to address the edge cases (or not so edge, but institution specific) that people come to the forums for help to address, with the usual response, of 'OK lets see what can be done to get it working like that for you' - while my own experience of dealing with those sorts of issues in a closed source product is that the response is generally 'Sorry, XYZ doesn't work like that', issue closed, no further comment, no ongoing discussion, just 'sorry' (or not in most cases!!!)
All that said, your basic point about MARKETING MOODLE, and the perceptions of Moodle (but also of open-source software in general) is, as you rightly say, where the battle needs to be fought. So maybe a large part of the issue should be whether Moodle HQ needs a (bigger) marketing budget - but as a community member, please don't ask me where that budget would come from!!! ;) Maybe just putting out some professional quality presentations/videos and printables that those of us in the position of being the institutional moodle evangelist can use/tweak to balance up against some of the commercial offerings.
Moodle is an incredibly strong product NOW - but it needs (we need) help shouting about it against the marketing/pr blitz from 'the dark side'. We shout a lot about the way forward, the work going on to make Moodle better (all necessary, all good), we don't do enough shouting about how great Moodle is already! I'm not advocating sitting there with what we have and not continuing to push the boundaries, just advocating 'selling' Moodle as the great tool it already is (while continuing to push it forward)!
All of which is a very long-winded way of saying you are right that PERCEPTION is the key!
A Moodle site like University of New England in Australia reminds me that with the right CSS and website coding magic, you can actually have a pretty nice LMS interface. Seeing a site like that always brings this thought to my mind: "Wow, how did they do that?". I mean, how much effort does it take to spruce up a Moodle site so that it looks so deliciously different from out of the box?
and here again..
and the familiar login screen..
Hi Frankie, couldn't agree more. Out of the box it looks terrible but with a bit of CSS you can make Moodle look awesome!
If its the 'out-of-the-box' look and feel that's a large part of the issue, perhaps we should be paying more attention to getting some of the most popular and best looking themes (Essential/Aardvark - in one of its variations)/Rocket/etc) into core and freshen up the list of core themes?
It would be nice to see some of these institutional themes made available to the community too - even as a gallery if the themes themselves can't be made available due to image copyright etc - just to prove what Moodle CAN look like. There are some good looking themes out there - and Moodle doesn't HAVE to look like Moodle.
Both the images attached are Moodle front pages (I have blurred various bits because I didn't want to fall foul of any advertising rules on the forum ), and if you take a look at some of the work Mary Evans does to create Moodle Themes from other web-templates too!!
Like a lot of heavily theme-able software, I believe that how an organisations Moodle looks should be down to the brand and marketing department working with the learning technologists etc. Some changes to core themes can help, however those who are willing to spend enough to make it look and function how they want get something excellent.
I have worked with some clients who wanted nice front pages, and some nice extra features and so forth and spend significant effort and budget to achieve the "look" they want - up to 2 weeks + effort in some cases on their theme.
I have also had some clients who wont spend more than 1 days development budget as they are happy with that.
However pretty much all clients I work with want something different, mostly "it must look a lot like our website".
If an organisation is willing to spend 5000 on the design of their web portal, and only 500 on the LMS, marketing need to be brought into the equation imo.