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.