Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Twelve Ways to Add Value to Open Source LMS Systems

I've been too wrapped up thinking about interactivity to pay attention to the pains learning managers must go through for making their Moodle implementations effective. So, when I sat down to talk with Dr Asheesh Choksi, technology consultant and architect, about Moodle, he gave me a 12-point program to add value to Moodle - which was quite an eye opener.

1. User Management
 User management is the starting point in making Moodle successful.  Here we deal with problems such as grade data privacy, activation and deactivation of users for business reasons, and protecting sensitive business information arising from learning systems from prying eyes.

2. Catalog Management
 What does the learner see on logging in? This is the province of content display and catalog management. Examples include news, events, calendar, assignments, course list etc.

Better structuring of information to be shown on landing page to facilitate users to quickly see needed updates and get access to other areas of the system

3. Business Reports
 How do you assess the effectiveness of a course delivered? What questions are learners failing consistently? Moodle captures most  of the data, but getting it out in meaningful reports needs some statistical analysis and design effort.

4. Student Reports
 How cool it will be if a student were to get a special personalized 'recommended for you' list of resources? How about showing a recap of  'your recent learning activity'? A well-customized Moodle can do that.

5. Offline capability
When your learners are always on the go, in far-flung parts of the world, internet connections vary from excellent to un-reliable and even non-existent sometimes. So you need to support offline learning capability. The learner should download the course, go and learn in offline mode, take tests and synchronize the results when net is connected back. This can be done using Google Gears to some extent, or with the Harbinger Offline Player all the way up to SCORM compatible tracking.

6. DRM Support
Worried that someone may copy proprietary content? You need to think about who can access, and what they can do with the courses you deliver. The solution needed is a custom course reader with several lockdown levels (machine access lockdown, copy disable lockdown).

7. Collaborative Annotation System
You want learners to share their annotations on courses. Of course, there could be multiple cohorts learning a course at the same time. Each cohort needs to have his/her own share of annotation space. You don’t want to burden Moodle with the task of managing annotations. The solution is a separate collaborative annotation server, such as TeemingPod.

8. Mobile Support
Learners are flocking to  iPads, iPhones and other tablets and smartphones. These devices are supported using MLE Moodle, an opens ource plugin for iOS and Android. This takes some coding but can be done, and well worth it. So your LMS has a mobile nexus with the learners.

9. Payment Gateway
Need to have learners pay using  PayPal or some other gateway? You can implement your own payment model such as bulk access, pay-as-you-go, pay-per-course etc. using payment gateway integration.

10. Performance Tuning and Scalability
A lot of times, training can be driven by organization-wide events and initiatives. So everyone wants to access the material at the same time. This results in  high user load, and slows down performance. This is when code optimization, caching and other expert solutions from Harbinger - ranging up to  cluster server deployment- come handy.

11. Video streaming
Moodle does not stream video effectively. For better streaming experience third party integration with services like YouTube, Kaltura and so on.

12. Virtual Class Room
Synchronous classrooms have the added advantage of a live instructor available at the time of learning. Open source platforms such as Open Meetings  or Big Blue Button can be integrated with Moodle to bring in this capability.

I know it's quite a handful, says Dr Choksi, but the effort is well worth it - take care of these points and you will end up with a state-of-the-art Moodle implementation that your learners and administrators will love, he adds.

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