Can The Feedback Of A Community Propel Sustainable Innovation? The Case Of Moodle

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This is a common question among the entrepreneurial minds in the Moodleverse. It is critical because its answer determines whether Moodle, including custom development and other investments, are worth the risk in the long run.

The question can be split in three. There are at least three critical elements that together can give us a reasonable answer. They are the level of response, the ability to implement suggestions, and the net result of doing so.

Response

How does one engage a community? This is perhaps one of the questions that challenge me to this day. People are “gimmick-savvy” and whatever “hack” works to arouse sympathies or even passion during the summer will more than likely cool of before the beginning of winter. It is a constant appeal to the rational and passional, making benefits straightforward but not too obvious. Does that even make sense? The last resort is cash, but it is not a sustainable solution for engagement and it is a closer relative of Pavlovian reinforcement than a genuine gathering around ideas.

For reasons I do not fully comprehend yet, Moodle is blessed with a highly active community of contributors, helpers and advocates. Is the mere cause of open source learning so compelling, or is Moodle doing something especially right?

‘Implementability’

When it comes to actionable feedback, the better software should be that which allows to try, test or demo new ideas as seamlessly as possible. It makes sense to think that an open source system has the advantage, but it’s important to consider the difficulties of mastering a programming language in a way that lets you builds reliable “production-level” solutions.

Moodle enjoys an army of contributors, who remain active for a number of reasons. The best Moodle plugins are developed by engineers at Moodle partners, or at Moodle organizations. While most Moodle users do not have the ability to create custom functionality, they can voice their interest in a variety of outlets. Moodle HQ also boasts top-level talent but the requests backlog is gargantuan.

Bottom-line innovation

Say we have the perfect system to bring a vibrant community’s ideas to fruition at enviable rates. It’s not something to boast unless the ideas are actually good. Time and again companies have failed by making their business model rely entirely on feedback. Either the ideas are good but we cannot tell them apart from bad ones, or they are just not good.

To be sure, building a community to further innovation can be done through several approaches, each deserving different tactics.

  • “Wisdom of the crowds” approaches would seek ways to mesh input and feedback throughout the process.
  • “Crowd-infused R&D” seeks to bring the community into limited, specific parts of an otherwise internal R&D operation.
  • “Hidden genius” would ideally give anyone the opportunity to lead their own process as autonomously as possible, hoping for the 1-in-1,000 or 1-in-100,000 mind with an idea that makes everything worthwhile.

At this stage, it is difficult to figure out Moodle’s complete innovation lifecycle, especially at the last stage. We are not sure what the criteria is to define innovation priorities for each upcoming version. But there is one key factor: The Moodle User Association’s Project Development Cycle. It’s imperfect but it is currently the leading source of innovation for Moodle. While increasing the base would be a great benefit and it would likely increase the quality of ideas, managing a large mass of contributors is not a trivial task.


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