Disclaimer: I offer Moodle hosting services through my corporate entity Acorda Design Integration Inc. located in Montreal Canada. I am fairly new to Moodle hosting as a commercial venture but I have been doing Internet hosting since 2000. I have also been helping many organizations get into Moodle over the last 2 years while completing my M.A. in Educational Technology. I am also an instructional designer and human performance technologist.
One of the issues I find with promoting e-learning in general and Moodle specifically is the broad lack of understanding of what resources are needed to support as well as develop an effective e-learning strategy. This is why I came up with the Corporate Jet analogy.
Basically buying into an e-learning solution is a lot like buying a corporate jet. The rationale for buying a jet or an e-learning solution is that you need to get people who cost organizations lots of money to their destinations faster. Efficiency options are similar. If courses, workshops and coaching are a lot like choosing to take the bus, the train or a taxi, then e-learning is a lot like flying. Of course there are options to fly like common carriers, charters right up to ownership of aircraft, with each option shaving valuable time and inconvenience off the equation. Generally there is a sweet spot where buying a corporate jet makes good economic sense when your executives cost thousands of dollars per hour.
However it is not only the acquisition cost of the aircraft, which is fairly easy to assess (one plane costs less than another), but the associated running costs that most organizations do not have the competencies to assess or manage. For example, a ground crew, pilots, hangar space, maintenance costs, landing/take off priority can have incredible variations in cost and have serious impact on performance.
For e-learning this comes down to the cost of servers, Internet connections, maintenance and security expertise and not just the "pilots" who will be "flying" your courses. Most small to mid-size organizations do not have the resources to evaluate and manage these support needs, as their cost and disadvantages negate the productivity and performance gains that e-learning promises.
These costs can vary significantly and low cost support components can end up being very expensive because it is performance that costs money. What is the point of having a corporate jet if it takes a day's notice to prep the plane or if the cheap hangar is at the far end of the airport and 10 planes are parked in front of yours? It kind of negates the purpose of having the jet in the first place. The same can be said for e-learning. If you skimp on server, Internet connection, support and maintenance, the delivery advantages of e-learning are negated. If you are buying these services, how do you assess the performance impact of your choices if you do not have the competencies to ask the right questions?
What has happened in both the corporate jet and e-learning markets is that players are working hard at accessibility. In the corporate jet world, aircraft manufacturers sell fractional ownership and manage as well as guarantee levels of support service that are in line with budgets. This includes ground crew, maintenance, storage, etc.
For e-learning, Moodle is unbeatable, as the acquisition cost has been eliminated. This means incredible gains in ROI, as acquisition cost does not have to be amortized during the time to rollout a major e-learning deployment (which is typically 9-12 months).
I like to consider myself the manager of the support services that are needed for getting the most out of Moodle. For me accessibility does not end with free software, but how services can be scaled depending on the needs AND competencies of my customers. I take time to seek out service providers I trust, and I work hard at developing a strong trust relationship with my own clients.
For this I have a base level of hosting that may not appear to be cheap when compared to commodity providers, but I'm the guy whose hangar is close to the least-used runway and makes sure everything is in place so that you don't waste money with expensive down time.
Comparisons and advocacy
E-learning (and Moodle) like buying a corporate jet
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