A Review of the “Moodle 2.0 for Business” Book


Moodle 2.0 for Business

Moodle 2.0 for Business

Packt is a new type of publisher. They have found a model that allows them to publish books (likely on demand) in what other publishers might call niche markets. They are usually the first publisher to have a book out about a particular open source product. They leverage the enthusiasm that exists in these communities in how they recruit writers, they stroke people’s egos by asking them to become (technical) reviewers of the books and they do most of the hard work that is necessary to create a book in countries that have lower wages than (Western) Europe and the United States. All of this means that the quality of the books is a bit hit or miss.

Another trick up their sleeves is the way they promote their books. They seem to understand the Internet well and offer bloggers review copies of books. I was offered a free copy of Moodle 2.0 for Business, Implement Moodle in your business to streamline your interview, training and internal communication processes by Jason Cole, Jeanne Cole and Gavin Henrick in return for a review. So here goes!

Most books about Moodle assume an educational setting. As I know a lot about Moodle and am starting to understanding corporate HR more and more every day, I was curious to see what I could learn from this title. The authors of the book have a very deep understanding about Moodle and have all used it for years (as they write “The authors of this book have collectively spent more than 5,000 hours experimenting, building, and messing about with Moodle”). They are active members of the Moodle community and work for a Moodle partner. In many places their hard-earned experience comes through like when they point out a fundamental flaw in Moodle richly complicated roles and permissions system on page 194. The books contains a few suggestions and warnings and I would recommend any reader to heed to them.

The books kick of by trying to to answer the “Why Moodle?” question. It nicely lists five learning ideas that form the core of Moodle’s educational philosophy (I must have mentioned them before many times, but they are worth repeating):

  • All of use are potential teachers as well as learners – in a true collaborative environment we are both
  • We learn particularly well from the act of creating or expressing for others to see
  • We learn a lot by just observing the activity of our peers
  • By understanding the context of others, we can teach in a more transformational way
  • A learning environment needs to be flexible and adaptable, so that it can quickly respond to the needs of the participants within

The authors also mentioned the 2008 eLearning Guild survey about Learning Management Systems: “Moodle’s initial costs to acquire, install and customise was $16.77 per learner. The initial cost per learner for SAP was $274.36, while Saba was $79.20, and Blackboard $39.06”. Even though I think the survey is comparing apples with pears, I still think it says something: Moodle could be a way to get more functionality out of the same budget. Another good reason to choose Moodle is is that it “makes it easy to try things, figure out what works, change what doesn’t and move on”.

The meat of the book is a set of chapters which look at different parts of the HR process finished with a case study of a company or organization which has done something similar (see here for an overview of all the chapters in the book). Through these chapters a lot of the different Moodle functionalities are explained in very concrete terms. Many of the examples make quite creative use of Moodle. One of the first chapters for example deals with the hiring and recruitment process. Moodle is used to capture people’s resumes, rate the resumes, let people choose an interview slot and assess people with a simple online test. The authors have a pleasant tone and are not afraid to share their own failures to make the reader learn (like when they set up quiz questions in the wrong way, page 47).

Some of the case studies give real insight into the path that these organizations have travelled. I particular like the enlightening example from the Gulf Agency Company (GAC) corporate academy starting on page 164:

After a less than successful strategy of purchasing off-the-shelf SCORM content, GAC has now move to developing courses with a combination of internal subject specialists, HRD e-learning consultants, and facilitators. The course content is uploaded into Moodle course page with GAC-specific assignments and discussion forums added. There is a clear strategy to ensure that the learner does not simply click through a series of screens without context or interaction. Interaction and collaboration in courses is now a fundamental part of the learning process, with the courses tightly integrating content, tasks, and collaboration.

Through these chapters we get some good explanations of functionality that gets glossed over in many of the other books on Moodle. There is a good explanation of the database module, outcomes (a Moodle word for competences) are explained, the new way of setting conditions for accessing particular parts of the course and for considering a course complete get good attention and they have found some useful examples for relatively advanced role configurations. On the slightly more technical side they give sensible advice on how to install modules (page 209) and I love the fact that they explain how you create your own language for the interface (something that is usually very hard to do in other systems) on page 285.

The book ends with a few chapters that show you how you can integrate Moodle into application landscape. There are some good explanations about using webconferencing/virtual classrooms, the portfolio and repository APIs are used and they show you the first steps towards integrating authentication and enrollment.

The book has some minor areas that could be improved. It is written by three authors and seems to keep switching perspectives between the author as “we” and the author as “I”. Also, ocassionally the case studies become too much of an advertisement for a Moodle partner: “The uniqueness, and in some ways, complexity of the project meant that A&L were keen to engage with a service partner that had extensive knowledge of Moodle to enable them to bring the project to a succesful completion. Ennovation not only had the Moodle knowledge and experience that A&L were looking for, but also a proven reputation in the legal sector with their long term customer, the Law Society of Ireland.”

There are also a few things missing that I was hoping to read more about:

  • The explanation of the portfolio and repository APIs wasn’t conceptual enough. I am not just sure that the average reader will be able to generalize from the exampls and see what a gamechanger this type of technology can be when it is embedded correctly in the organization.
  • There is small battle going on in corporate Moodle land. Multiple service providers are creating their own more commercial “distributions” of Moodle with extra functionality that is relevant for enterprises: Remote Learner publishes ELIS, Moodlerooms has joule and Kineo and Catalyst have come together to create the aggresively marketed Totara LMS. The book never mentions this (I can think of good reasons why this is the case), but it is highly relevant to know more about these systems if you are considering using Moodle in your organization.
  • Related to the previous point is reporting. Moodle is not known for its strong enterprise reports and this is something that many organizations commission some functionality for. It would have been nice if reporting had gotten a similar treatment as web conferencing. Maybe we can get that in the next updated version?

All in all this is strongly recommended reading for any curious person who uses Moodle professionally in an organization, no matter the level of their expertise.

Get it here if you want to let Packt know that you’ve read the review, they use this link to monitor which blogs give them the highest amount of traffic and might ask me to review another book if this link gets clicked on often. Get it here if you don’t want to pay any shipping costs and don’t mind me getting a 5% percent commission. Get it here if you like Amazon and don’t mind me getting a neglible commission. Get it here if you don’t like be tracked, live near London, love bookstores and are willing to call first to see if they have it in stock. Seriously, Foyles is a treasure.

My Top 10 Tools for Learning 2010

CC-licensed photo by Flickr user yoppy

CC-licensed photo by Flickr user yoppy

For this year’s edition of the Top 100 Tools for Learning (a continuing series started, hosted and curated by JaneDuracell BunnyHart of the Internet Time Alliance) I decided to really reflect on my own Learning Process. I am a knowledge worker and need to learn every single day to be effective in my job. I have agreed with my manager to only do very company-specific formal training. Things like our Leadership development programs or the courses around our project delivery framework are so deeply embedded in our company’s discourse that you miss out if you don’t allow yourself to learn the same vocabulary. All other organised training is unnecessary: I can manage myself and that is the only way in which I can make sure that what I learn is actually relevant for my job.

So what tools do I use to learn?

1. Goodreads in combination with Book Depository
The number one way for me personally to learn is by reading a book. When I started as an Innovation Manager in January I wanted to learn more about innovation as a topic and how you could manage an innovation funnel. I embarked on a mission to find relevant books. Nowadays I usually start at Goodreads, a social network for readers. I like the reviews there more than the ones on Amazon and I love the fact that I can get real recommendations from my friends. Goodreads has an excellent iPhone app making it very easy to keep a tab on your reading habits. I found a bunch of excellent books on innovation (they will get a separate post in a couple of weeks).
My favourite book store to buy these books is Book Depository (please note that this is an affiliate link). They have worldwide free shipping, are about half the price of the book stores in the Netherlands and ship out single books very rapidly.

2. Twitter and its “local” version Yammer
Ever since I got an iPhone I have been a much keener Twitter user (see here and guess when I got the iPhone). I have come to realise that it is a great knowledge management tool. In recent months I have used it to ask direct questions to my followers, I have used it to follow live news events as they unfold, I have searched to get an idea of the Zeitgeist, I have used it to have a dialogue around a book, and I have used it as a note taking tool (e.g. see my notes on the Business-IT fusion book, still available thanks to Twapperkeeper).
Yammer is an enterprise version of Twitter that is slowly taking off in my company. The most compelling thing about it is how it cuts across all organizational boundaries and connects people that can help each other.

3. Google
Google does not need any introduction. It is still my favourite search tool and still many searches start at Google. I have to admit that those searches are often very general (i.e. focused on buying something or on finding a review or a location). If I need structured information I usually default to Wikipedia or Youtube.

4. Google Reader
I have about 300 feeds in Google Reader of which about 50 are in my “first read” category, meaning I follow them religiously. This is the way I keep up with (educational) technology news. What I love about Google Reader is how Google has made a very mature API available allowing people to write their own front-end for it. This means I can access my feeds from a native iPhone app or from the web or from my desktop while keeping the read counts synchronised. Another wonderful thing is that Google indexes and keeps all the feed items once you have added the feeds. This means that you can use it to archive all the tweets with a particular hash tag (Twitter only finds hash tags from the last two weeks or so when you use their search engine). Finally, I have also used Google Reader as a feed aggregator. This Feedburner feed, for example, was created by putting three different feeds in a single Google Reader folder (more about how to do that in a later post).

5. Wikipedia (and Mediawiki)
The scale of Wikipedia is stupefying and the project still does not seem to run out of steam. The Wikimedia organization has just rolled out some enhancements to their Mediawiki software allowing for easier editing. The openness of the project allows for people to build interesting services on top of the project. I love Wikipanion on my iPhone and I have enthusiastically used Pediapress a couple of times to create books from Wikipedia articles. I find Wikipedia very often (not always!) offers a very solid first introduction to a topic and usually has good links to the original articles or official websites.

6. Firefox
Even though I have written earlier that I was a Google Chrome user, I have now switched back and let Mozilla’s Firefox be the “window” through which I access the web. This is mainly due to two reasons. The first being that I am incredibly impressed with the ambitions of Mozilla as an organization. Their strategy for making the web a better place really resonates with me. The other reason is Firefox Sync, allowing me to use my aliased bookmarks and my passwords on multiple computers. I love Sync for its functionality but also for its philosophy: you can also run your own Sync server and do not need to use Mozilla’s and all the sync data is encrypted on the server side, needing a passphrase on the client to get to it.

7. LinkedIn
It took a while before I started to see the true benefits of LinkedIn. A couple of weeks ago I had a couple of questions to ask to people who have experience with implementing SAP Enterprise Learning in large organizations. LinkedIn allowed me to search for and then contact people who have SAP Enterprise Learning in their profile in some way. The very first person that I contacted forwarded me on to a SAP Enterprise Learning discussion group on LinkedIn. I asked a few questions in that forum and had some very good public and private answers to those questions within days. In the past I would only have access to that kind of market information if SAP would have been the broker of this dialogue or if I would buy from analysts like Bersin. LinkedIn creates a lot of transparency in the market place and transparency is a good thing (especially for customers).

8. WordPress (including the WordPress.com network) and FocusWriter
Writing is probably one of the best learning processes out there and writing for other people is even better. WordPress is used to publish this post, while I use a simple cross-platform tool called FocusWriter to give me a completely uncluttered screen with just the words (no menus, window edges or status bars!). WordPress is completely free to use. You can either opt for a free (as in beer) hosted version that you can set up within seconds on http://www.wordpress.com or you can go the free (as in speech) version where you download the application, modify it to your needs and host it where you want. If I was still a teacher now, this would be the one tool that I would let all of my students use as much as possible.

9. Youtube
The quantity of videos posted on Youtube is not comprehensible. It was Rob Hubbard who first showed me how you could use the large amount of great tutorials to great effect. He rightfully thought: Why would I put a lot of effort into developing a course on how to shoot a great video if I can just link to a couple of excellent, well produced, short, free videos that explain all the most important concepts? The most obvious topics to learn about are music (listening to music and learning how to play music) and games (walkthroughs and cheat codes) , but there are already lots of great videos on other topics too.

10. Moodle and the community on Moodle.org
Moodle is slowly slipping to the bottom of my list. In the last few years a lot of my professional development was centred around Moodle and I still owe many of the things I know about educational technology, open source and programming/systems administration to my interactions in the forums at Moodle.org. Two things are the cause for Moodle being less important to my own learning:
1. I now have a job in which I am tasked to try and look ahead and see what is coming in the world of enterprise learning technology. That is a broad field to survey and I have been forced to generalise my knowledge on the topic.
2. I have become increasingly frustrated with the teacher led pedagogical model that all Virtual Learning Environments use. I do believe that VLEs “are dead”: they don’t fully leverage the potential of the net as a connection machine, instead they are usually silos that see themselves as the centre of the learning technology experience and lack capabilities to support a more distributed experience.

Previous versions of my Top 10 list can be found here for 2008 and here for 2009. A big thank you again to Jane for aggregating and freely sharing this hugely valuable resource!