Moodle offers several course formats to choose depending on the teaching circumstance, each counting with several explanations and examples. In comparison, little attention is paid to the circumstantial and outcome factors upon which the selection of a format depends. Some outcomes are generally desirable, such as engagement, retention or applicability of concepts. But no format is preferable than any other every time. Circumstantial factors, such as age, level of skill, and other more nuanced ones, need much more thought for a format decision. Facing a lack of guidance, most course format choices resort to a default, or retrospectively come up with the reasons why they were chosen, neglecting or even harming precisely those desirable outcomes the choice was supposed to serve. To boot, technology ―in the form of plugins and third-party services― is implemented to try and make up for ailments in engagement, retention and applicability among others, that should not exist in the first place had a good format choice taken place.
The vast majority of Moodle courses apply the weekly format, probably because it is the most similar to a physical classroom experience. This is understandable, and preferable as long as an LMS technology is brought to support modern pedagogical efforts. However, experienced teachers who have given several courses in Moodle and remained with the weekly format, without a vetting or a formal rationale for it, have no excuse and deserve to be challenged. The optimal use of weekly format involves a unique thread of information, where each new subject necessitates the previous one. Otherwise, its sequence is imposing an unnecessary restriction. It also implies that all students must consume the information in the same schedule and pace. Even though this practice is better suited for basic training, it has been the perennial practice in K-12 education, despite its constraints on vocational or career exploration, which is most critical in the last years before starting on higher education. A topics format would give students more freedom if some of them are not mandatory.
In the same vein, each format has a theoretical ‘best case scenario’, followed by practical caveats and trade-offs. Formats that promote repetition and practice necessarily do so at the expense of more open, critical thinking, for example. Finally, a format needs to be followed by the right content and activities. A teacher might want their students to fortify their ability to build an argument, and chooses the social format, sensibly so, but if exerts no moderation on the forum and devises only multiple choice assessments, students’ enhancement of argumentative skills cannot be guaranteed by completing such course.
To end for now, a simple idea: think about learning goals and factors, then choose the course format, then populate it with the right content, activities and assessments. Many of the complaints from students about Moodle, including usability, friendliness and even ugliness are overblown. They do exist but dismiss the potency of Moodle as a tool for teaching. A canvas is not to blame for an uninspired painting. As Martin Dougiamas has mentioned in the past, the fault lies on the implementation.
How did you choose the best course format for your course? Tell us your story in the comments below!