For Martin Dougiamas, Founder of Moodle and CEO of Moodle Pty Ltd, a successful LMS implementation, much like a fire, is a matter of a critical mass. Today, with more than 80 thousand registered Moodle sites, he is confident the “Moodle fire” is blazing strong and has even “started a lot of little fires all around the world.” But while the number of sites and users continues to grow, Moodle, as the spearhead of technology to the service of global education, faces tough challenges ahead.
Last July, at MoodleMoot US New Orleans, Dougiamas took the stage to discuss these upcoming challenges, beginning with the most noticeable when looking at the map of where the Moodle sites were registered. The United States, leader and the only country with more than 10 thousand registrations, shows high concentrations, a large one on the west coast and a smaller one on the east coast. Adding the market share leadership in Europe, Latin America, and Oceania, “that leads to a lot of responsibility for this project.”
Dougiamas believes Moodle is worth looking at under the larger frame of the world’s “Big Problems,” some of which Moodle distribution reflect. Case in point, increasing inequality. But while he’d argue that “education is underneath all of them,” it only makes sense to consider them altogether. If economic inequality, heightened by a push for ever-growing profits, leads to automation, and education does not play a role both in either giving people relevant skills for a new economy nor in giving citizens the tools to protect their rights and ensure their prosperity, then what he calls the “Silicon Valley model” is simply unsustainable.
Which is not to say software is part of the problem. In fact, technological openness could be the way to tackle global issues decisively. At the very least, it is the basis for how Moodle is set to evolve in the coming decade. “Moodle is part of that, being open source (…) We are moving to be more involved with this movement,” Dougiamas states. An implication on the universalization of openness is the universal availability of quality, which in education is easy to imagine. “The best school should be the one down the road. You shouldn’t have to send your kids across the country to get a good education.”
But open content, technology, and even open infrastructures are not enough to make great education accessible for everyone. Education works when the resources are put in the hands of competent teachers and “if they have the ability to use decades of experience.” Expertise and support for high-quality educators is not something technology alone can accomplish. At this point, Dougiamas asks the audience how many of them are “ex-teachers” who ended up finding a better opportunity in a different field. Educators with decades of experience are an exception in most countries. In addition to openness, teacher empowerment is another future driver for Moodle.
To turn ideals into outcomes, Dougiamas then discusses Moodle HQ’s initiatives for the coming year:
- A Barcelona-based office.
- A Moodle Foundation, likely based in Brussels.
- A series of innovation, research, and development opportunities including funds, partnerships, and networking with open source advocacy and support groups.
These will help Moodle “institutionalize” a pipeline of product development. It will help Moodle “move closer to the action” and streamline new ideas that will allow Moodle to consolidate its foothold, as well as dive into new territory. In summary, Moodle’s 7 areas of work, old and new, are:
Moodle Core: True to its modularity, “Moodle itself” will ensure a higher compatibility with new services, especially interfaces such as voice and virtual reality.
Moodle Mobile, Desktop, and Branded: A focus on user-centered design will lead to mockups first and functionality second, something to which Moodle HQ is starting to get accustomed. 100% core functionality will come soon, followed by full plugin compatibility.
Moodle Partner services: Rather than increasing the number above 90, Moodle HQ will focus on quality control.
MoodleCloud (and packages): New tiers, product ideas, and custom layouts will allow MoodleCloud to grow from a simple and free testing ground to a robust solution for larger organizations. One-click site upload and download are currently under consideration.
Moodle Training: The “Learn Moodle” MOOC will evolve with a series of certified training programs, from novice to advanced users, and will expand into technological and educational programs. University partnerships are under consideration, even adding Moodle official courses into a graduate education curriculum.
Moodle Academy: A course hosting system where educators can upload, share, and perhaps monetize their instructional design to become Moodle’s take on a MOOC platform. Timeline TBD.
Moodle Community and Marketplace: Moodle Net, which is now “messy,” will evolve along with the Moodle core and become more integrated and foster a community of professional development. The Moodle sites in general will evolve together to turn Moodle into a “Learning Operating System.” In the future, users might be able to carry their digital identity, reputation, and OER resources across Moodle sites.
As for the short-term, Moodle 3.4 and maybe 3.5 will let developers “breathe” and focus on increasing usability of the part that already exist, rather than add new features. This is not to say Moodle will not evolve visibly in 2018. If anything, the opposite is true. Cleaning legacy code, increasing interoperability, and the ambitious simplicity of enabling a “Copy Moodle site” function could be with us shortly.