Different Models for Moodle Plugin Development: Not everything is free

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Moodle’s open source, free plugin repository at Moodle.org is home to 100s of 3rd party plugins which have been reviewed and released for download to the community to use on their own sites. The database includes loads of additional information to help Moodlers understand the impact of the plugin on their own site including the answers to questions like:

  • is my version of Moodle supported?
  • who is the person(s) who created and supported this?
  • where do I go if there are bugs or issues?
  • what have other people said about the plugin?
  • are other people using it?

pluginIt’s a great way to find supported, trustworthy code that you can employ on your site with less risk. Someone in the community recently asked, “why isn’t there an app store for Moodle like there is for Apple and Android or WordPress?”

The question raises an interesting point: why are there only two supported and authorized models for distribution of Moodle plugins? (either via a contract with a Moodle Partner or by downloaded for free from Moodle.org.) The plugin repository is a major resource to Moodle users and the community for sure, but already it is not the only place on the internet where you can download plugins to use on your Moodle site whether for free or for a couple of bucks or more. Here are a few nascent models of plugin distribution for Moodle which I think we’ll see grow over the next few years. Note that this isn’t an endorsement of these options, or of the plugins available from them, these are just different models that might have an impact on the community in the future.

Paid plugins not available on Moodle.org

There are a few code repositories that are not affiliated with any specific software package but that allow developers to set up shop and sell their custom code or addons similar to how a Cafepress shop can be created for apparel and mugs (Moodle.org’s Cafepress shop is here: http://www.cafepress.com/moodle). The main difference with code here and code available through Moodle.org is the payment gateway (downloads cost money whether a few bucks or more). I’ve seen two linked sites start offering Moodle related code (themes and plugins) they are listed below:

Free plugins which integrate to SaaS

Now even at Moodle.org’s repository, not every plugin that can be downloaded can be used for free. There are a lot of plugins like Turnitin, WizIQ, Kaltura or Adobe Connect which might have a demo account but also offer their software as a service (SaaS). Fees can be a few dollars per user or $1,000s per site depending on what the service is and what their SaaS model is. Some don’t even post the code to Moodle.org so if you’re interested in an educational app that would be great in Moodle be sure to check their website. Here are a few examples mentioned with another one which just came to my attention:

Non Moodle Partner service integration specialists

This category is a bit different, the service provided is usually something very narrowly defined (better payment gateways for Moodle) but not something available from Moodle.org. New School Learning kinda started out like this before being named a Moodle partner focused only on themes. Course Merchant and MDWP are two others that come to mind which both focus on allowing Moodle to sell courses to your customers (which can be done in a limited fashion with Moodle’s Paypal Enrollment plugin. In the case of Course Merchant there are even Moodle Partners that support their integration for clients. These are paid services.

Github

Increasingly I’ve seen more and more plugins get posted first to Github and either later be released at Moodle.org or never at all whether due to the changes that the code makes to Moodle (and thus bars it from passing the checks in place for the Plugin repository) or just simply the desire of the developer. Github offers some great features that allow you to interact with developers (forums and bug tracker) and also put the activity for any specific code up front so you can see what’s happening. That said there’s definitely something to be said for the Moodle.org Plugin Repository’s vetting process that should give you pause for just downloading and installing something from Github without doing any due diligence.

Recently I’ve started to see more and more options outside of Moodle.org for where you can download code for a Moodle site. Each definitely has their own pros and cons and Moodle.org is unrivaled for the number of tools available from it. Know of other places?