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New Microsoft Office 365 Integrations


By Mike Churchward, CIO/President

Along with the OneNote integration, discussed in my last post, the work with Microsoft Open Technologies has also produced two integrations with Office 365. The first is an integration with Outlook calendars and the second is a OneDrive for Business integration. In this post, I will describe and provide brief demos of the Outlook calendar integration.

The Outlook calendar synchronization allows Moodle calendar events to be synchronized back to your Outlook calendar. If you are someone who uses an Outlook calendar as a key tool, I think you will find this very useful.

This particular functionality has been built to use Office 365 for Business, meaning that it expects everyone on the site to have an Office 365 for Business account. Users without these accounts will not be able to synchronize to their Outlook calendars.

The function will allow Moodle users to connect their personal Moodle calendar, and any course calendars they have access to. To set up the calendars to connect, a local plug-in has been created. As well, a user profile field plug-in has been provided that can be added to each user's profile, providing access to the calendar sync configuration page.

Once I have logged into Moodle with my Office 365 AzureAD account, I will be able to access these functions. Looking at my profile, I will see two Office 365 functions: "AzureAD" and "Office365 Connection". The next image shows this screen:

Clicking through the "Manage" function for the "Office365 Connection", I get to the "Outlook Calendar Sync" page. This is where I can select the specific Moodle event types I want to synchronize back to Outlook:

Once I have selected my calendars, any changes to those Moodle event types will be reflected in my Outlook calendar as well. In this case, I will see any personal Moodle events and any Moodle events from the "Moodle Integration Project" course.

In the above image, there are two events in my course Moodle calendar. On the 14th, there is a personal event, and on the 16th a course event. We can see the details of the course event in the image. When I look over at my Outlook calendar, I see the same two events:

In my next post, I will discuss the OneDrive for Business integration. It takes advantage of Sharepoint to allow shared course directories as well.

If you want any more information on how you can benefit from these developments, contact us at

OneNote Moodle Integration Project - Progress

By Mike Churchward, CIO/President

In my last post, I started talking about the work we are doing with Microsoft Open Technologies to create integrations with Moodle and a number of Microsoft technologies and applications. That work has progressed quickly, and we are now testing our first efforts. In this post, I will describe where we are with the OneNote / Moodle integration.

The work so far is focused on providing access to OneNote's notebook pages as repository selections and as assignment plug-ins. The current work has been done for the free, OneNote for Consumer application. In future phases, the commercial OneNote plug-in will also be added.

For the assignment plug-in, the key goal is to allow Moodle assignments to be created in OneNote, using any and all of OneNote's content features. Then, once the student feels their assignment is done, they simply need to click the Moodle assignment's "submit" button, and the student's Moodle assignment submission will be automatically associated with the OneNote page they worked on in OneNote. No downloading and uploading required. No conversion into Moodle compatible content required.

An additional feature developed allows the instructor to provide feedback to the provided submission using OneNote.

To get these features working correctly, a number of problems had to solved:

  • Establish a defined, secure connection between the OneNote application and the Moodle site.

  • Establish a defined, secure connection between each user's Moodle account and their OneNote account.

  • Connect a specific OneNote page in a user's OneNote account with a specific Moodle assignment submission.

  • Connect a specific OneNote page in an instructor's OneNote account with a specific Moodle assignment submission's feedback response.

  • Ensure that a specific submission can be "frozen" at the time of submittal, so that any changes that occur afterward can be prevented or allowed but visible.

    I'll describe the approach taken for each problem.

    A Moodle local plug-in establishes a secure connection between the specific Moodle site's instance of the Microsoft plug-ins and the Microsoft API's for OneNote. The plug-in works with Microsoft's "Live App management site" ( to establish unique identifier and secret codes that ensure communication between the Moodle site and the OneNote API's are for the intended purpose. The connections are managed using OAuth 2.

    This is set up by a Moodle administrator and configured into the plug-in as above.

    A Moodle user can establish a connection to their OneNote account in several ways. In each case, the connection is live for the duration of the Moodle session, but is lost when the Moodle session is complete. Each time a user logs back into the Moodle site, the user will need to login to the OneNote account as well.

    The OneNote account connection can be established by accessing the repository plug-in, by using the OneNote block or by using the sign-in button on the assignment plug-in. Using any of these options logs the user in for all OneNote plug-ins for that Moodle session.


    The assignment submission plug-in allows the specific assignment to connect to a OneNote page for each user's submission. Once a user has logged into their Microsoft account, the assignment will offer a "Work on this" in OneNote button. Clicking this button will open the OneNote web application in a new browser tab, logged into the user's account.


    If the OneNote page has not already been created (if this is the first time the user has opened this assignment), a new page will be created in a section for the Moodle course in a notebook for the Moodle site. Each of these will be created as necessary. Each book/section/page is given a name according to the Moodle site, course name, assignment name, user name and action (submission, feedback). These names are important, but data references are also kept in Moodle to keep the associations.

    A user can then work on their OneNote assignment in any of the OneNote applications - web based, desktop application or mobile. When the user is happy with the assignment, in Moodle, they simply need to click the "Save changes" for their OneNote assignment submission. Doing this, records the submission in Moodle, provides a direct link to the OneNote page for the user and the instructors and uploads a zipped submission of the page in HTML format to the Moodle course assignment. This upload provides a snapshot in time of when the assignment was submitted, helping to control what was submitted with any changes made to the page after submittal.


    On the instructor side of things, the student's submission is available to be reviewed in OneNote, reviewed as submitted zipped HTML pages and for feedback in OneNote. When the instructor opens the students OneNote submission in OneNote, that page is copied into the instructor's course section in their site notebook with a name identifying the assignment and the student. If the instructor elects to offer feedback using OneNote, a new page will be created in the instructor's notebook containing the content of the submission, allowing the instructor to provide feedback inline in the content. That feedback page will likewise be available to the student, by copying it into the student's notebook when the access it.

    We are currently running this work through closed beta-testing, and it will available for more general beta testing in the new year. I think this add-on will be a very useful addition to the Moodle landscape, and look forward to seeing what people can do with it.

    For more information on how you can benefit from these developments, contact Remote-Learner at

New Moodle Integrations with Microsoft


Remote-Learner is working with Microsoft Open Technologies to build and provide integrations between Moodle and Office 365, OneDrive for Business and Consumer, OneNote and Outlook Calendar. These integrations will provide seamless workflows between Microsoft products already used by organizations, and Moodle, one of the most popular Learning Management Systems (LMS) in use today.

The power of these integrations will provide speed and efficiency to developing, launching and running learning programs by all types of organizations. Whether you are an educational institution, a corporate training supplier, a certifying body or any other organization that has training as part of its operation, you can benefit from the integration of Moodle and Office365.

A beta program is starting with various types of organizations. This program will provide test instances of the beta work in Moodle. Beta participants will have an opportunity to test run each of the integrations, provide feedback on their experiences and contribute ideas to future functionality and releases.

The beta program will run through December 2014. The planned first release for the integrations is late January 2015. Look for Remote-Learner's blog posts on functional items over the next several weeks. For more information on how you can benefit from these developments, contact Remote-Learner at

Working With Microsoft Open Technologies


By Mike Churchward, CIO/President

I recently became involved in a partnership project with Microsoft Open Technologies. This project has the ambitious goal of providing tighter integration of a variety of new Microsoft products with Moodle.

The products we are focusing on initially include OneDrive, OneNote, Outlook Calendar and the various pieces these integrations will support, such as the Office 365 applications and Azure Active Directory.

For me, this meant getting myself reacquainted with Microsoft technology and systems. I chose to buy a new Surface Pro 3 running Windows 8.

The Surface is an interesting device. From my perspective, it’s a tablet that tries to be a laptop when you want it to be. But in my experience so far, I like it better as a tablet. And for me, the killer app is OneNote on the Surface.

If you are not familiar with OneNote, it has been around for a lot longer than you think - since at least 2003. If you're familiar with Evernote, its a very similar application. To put it simply, it is your collection of notebooks, available to you on all your devices. You organize each notebook into sections, and add pages to the sections. Pages can include your created notes, media, clipped information from the web and photos you take on the device. Kind of a notebook / scrapbook hybrid.

OneNote is integrated pretty tightly with the Surface. It comes pre-installed as a Surface app, meaning it works well with the tablet interface of Windows 8 and the Surface stylus. The stylus allows you to call up OneNote with a click of the button on the end (like clicking a ballpoint pen), and then write your note using handwriting, on the open page. For myself, I have really gravitated to using the stylus and OneNote to take quick notes, in the same way I used to use a pen and a pad of paper. And if you upgrade to OneNote 2013, you can use the "Ink-to-text" feature to turn your handwriting into a digital text document.

Marking up existing documents in OneNote is a great feature. For example, you can import a PowerPoint slide into a note, and then mark it up with your comments and drawings (if you use the stylus). Likewise with a clipped web page. Add-ons like Office Lens, let you use your device camera as a scanner, capturing notes on paper or whiteboards directly into your OneNote notebook. And you can then mark them up as needed. In fact (I haven't tried this yet), I believe you could even capture audio markup and place it in the page.

You can share your notebooks with other collaborators, via email addresses. People you share with don't even need the OneNote app; they can use OneNote on the web as a web-based application. The OneNote notebooks and their content are all stored in the OneDrive cloud, making them available to any connected device.

Prior to using OneNote with my Surface, I was unsure what an integration of OneNote with Moodle would be good for, or how it would be useful. Now I really want to make this happen.

From a learning system standpoint, consider the markup and collaboration. As a Moodle assignment, OneNote could be submitted for grading. If the OneNote interface was used by all participants, teachers could mark up the submission directly on the pages. And, as a collaborative assignment, multiple users could work on the submission contributing and marking up existing content before submitting.

This is where we have our focus right now. In the works are integrations to allow OneNote to become an assignment type. To be fair, OneNote can be used to create assignment documents to be submitted and uploaded to Moodle right now. OneNote allows the exporting of its notes as PDF's, Word docs or as single web pages. But we want to make it work without that extra step.

We will be working with the Microsoft Open Technologies group to build out the necessary Moodle pieces. As a start, these will include:

  • SSO with Azure Active Directory - necessary to make the account access between Moodle and the cloud seamless for the user.

  • OneNote and OneDrive repository plugins - give easy access to document in OneDrive and specific parts of OneNote.

  • OneNote assignment plugins.

I will post regular updates to our progress along with my thoughts and experiences with the technologies and how they can be further used with Moodle and the learning environment,

Watch our blog for more information on what's coming and how you can be involved.

Moodle 2.7 Now Available On Microsoft Azure Inc. and Nivel Siete, two of the largest Moodle Partners, announce the launch of their fully supported Moodle 2.7 enterprise release, built on Microsoft Azure.

October 28, 2014 Waynesboro, VA:, Inc, Moodle Partner providing Moodle services and support in the US, Canada and UK, today announced the release of a fully-supported, Microsoft Azure Certified Moodle service available through the Azure Marketplace. The service provides  a supported, maintained enterprise level configuration of Moodle 2.7, available in the Azure cloud, pre-configured for optimal use.

“Many organizations have discovered the advantages of running Moodle on cloud services instead of their own technology infrastructure. What has been missing is the maintenance and support piece, on-demand training and configuration to their own needs. With Nivel Siete’s partnership, Remote-Learner has extended our full end-to-end e-learning support and service to include both our own private cloud and Microsoft Azure”, Jason Cole, Remote-Learner CEO explained.

“Azure provides a reliable, global and trusted cloud infrastructure, able to meet the technical and performance demands of Moodle and its related technologies. As a Microsoft Azure Certified application, enterprise customers can easily find, purchase and deploy a supported instance of Moodle from the Azure Marketplace.”

Remote-Learner is partnering with Nivel Siete, the largest Moodle partner in Latin America.  Nivel Siete has provided their technical expertise in external cloud deployment to provide a self-contained virtual machine running all the necessary software for the Moodle LMS.  Nivel Siete will also provide application support and maintenance for Latin American organizations.

The “Fully Supported Moodle 2.7” release will  include:

  • approved, configured and maintained Moodle codebase

  • access to a support portal providing expert support

  • over forty high-value, approved third-party add-ons

  • access to the Learning Spaces® on demand training program

“As more organizations adopt learning management systems to meet their training and learning needs, they need a flexible, extendable and supported platform to deliver learning solutions,” said James Bernard, Director of Partner Programs, Worldwide Education at Microsoft . “Solutions like Remote-Learner help these organizations reach operational expertise quickly.”

The merging of expert Moodle services with the technical capabilities of Azure provides customers with a winning product that allows them to focus on their learning needs rather than the technology that delivers them.

About Remote-Learner

Remote-Learner has been providing educational technology services since 1982 to its business, educational and governmental clients. Today, these services include support for best-of-breed open source programs. Remote-Learner is an official Moodle Partner providing support and hosting services, custom programming, workforce development training, instructional design and strategic consulting services for organizations planning online learning programs.

Remote-Learner maintains corporate offices in Waynesboro VA, Overland Park KS, Fort Collins, CO, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada and Oxfordshire, UK, and serves clients throughout the US, Canada, Mexico. Caribbean and the UK.

For more information,

call (877) 299-1293 toll-free in the US,

email or


About Nivel Siete

Nivel Siete provides enterprise level services, so your organizations get the most out of Moodle in the e-learning and talent management initiatives. An integrated portfolio with Moodle implementation, Moodle SaaS, bespoke content, authoring tools, and training has enabled well designed, and successfully executed projects since 2002 for over 1 Million users. Nivel Siete has corporate offices in Mexico D.F, Bogotá and Lima.

For further information visit or email: or

Call: México: Tel +52.55.417.038.92, Colombia: +57 (1) 743.5685, Lima: +511 705.8529

Mixing Proven Methods With Innovative e-Learning Design


By Page Chen, Chief Learning Officer

When people speak of instructional design, they are usually referring to a systems approach, which involves a process of setting goals and objectives, analyzing resources, and creating a plan of action all followed up with a continuous evaluation/modification of the program. However, traditional systems approach models do not serve all online learning solutions well, especially when less emphasis needs to be placed on the sequence of instruction and more on the design of the learning environment. When properly implemented, the tools within Moodle provide for the right balance between traditional ‘technology-based-instruction’ and modern adaptive and socially learning.    

Most educators would agree that cognitive learning is considered more difficult to teach and test than behaviorist learning, and for many instructional designers the “free range” aspects of constructionist learning is perceived as nearly impossible to implement and evaluate. The challenge is, instructional designers must blend their systems of instruction roots with a theory that revolves around the construction of knowledge by the individual. Designing a purely constructivist learning environment may still be a challenge, but when designing with that intent Moodle can efficiently provide for the implementation of those strategies.   

One challenge faced by instructional designers looking to provide a more constructivist learning environment is how to produce authentic interaction. The challenge of designing interactive online learning experiences comes in devising ways for the actions of learners to be observed. If the learner’s actions cannot be observed,  then feedback can only be offered based on an end product. For this reason, many instructors and even instructional designers simply transfer old, proven evaluation concepts into e-learning scenarios. The good news is, we don’t have to do this! We can use Moodle and ad-ons like the new Adaptive Test Module to effectively mix old, proven evaluation concepts with new interactive constructivist methods to design authentic e-learning environments. 

Remote-Learner Announces ELIS 2.6 Release


Waynesboro, Virginia-- May 2, 2014- Remote-Learner, a founding member of the Moodle partnership program, announces its flagship product ELIS (Enterprise Learning Intelligence System) is now completely plug-able with Moodle 2.6. 

How will the ELIS plug-ins benefit the Moodle community? 

“The enterprise-level curriculum and user management features of ELIS are now available to the entire Moodle community without difficult to maintain core modifications. The full source code is freely downloadable for anyone who wants it. Remote-Learner will continue to provide high quality SaaS and support services to ensure our clients can use it to effectively and efficiently deliver results for their organization,” said Jason Cole, CEO of Remote-Learner.

What does ELIS do?

ELIS provides users with the ability to create learning programs for individuals and groups across the ELIS/Moodle platform. ELIS helps learners track their own learning program success by helping them answer these questions:

Where am I?

What have I completed?

Where do I go from here?

Managers and supervisors can also track individual and group progress with reporting features widely used in industry.   Examples include transcripts and sitewide time summary.  


For more information, please contact Remote-Learner directly at or sign-up for one of our webinars at

What the heck are ePortfolios?


By Paul Taylor, Sr. Product Manager

You probably hear a lot these days, at least in the last few years, about ePortfolios.  Experienced educators probably read about them with a worry smile as we have heard about them for many years and they have never really delivered on their promises.  Most industries, not just education, are awash with technology that claims to be the bright young thing which will change their world.  For me though, the difference with a proper ePortfolio is that it is made by me and for YOU (whoever that might be).  Most LMSs (Learning Management System) are very top down.  My teacher/trainer/manager gives me stuff to do, I do it, and I get something for it.  However, there is little in most instances of the ME in what I do.  I respond to some instructions and give the best material I can, but it might not be the best impression of me.  It will likely never show you, or anyone, what I really am. 

There are a lot of good studies on ePortfolio use and practice which talk about “ineffable skills”.  These are the skills and experiences that are difficult to measure but are essential for life skills.  Many higher education institutes will award degrees to students which say they are a Bachelor in subject X, but it will not say a great deal about how good they are at leading teams and motivating their peers; it will not give a clear and rounded picture about who you are about to employ.  Yes, these may well be garnered at the interview stage, but even here it might be difficult to really gauge who or what this person is or might be.  It is here that an ePortfolio comes into it’s own.  I can incorporate all my formal skills and experiences as part of a resume page.  I can incorporate some of my best material, with peer feedback and critical reflection from me and others as to why it is there and what it shows.  I can have videos of myself winning sporting trophies, not just saying that I have won them.  Using an ePortfolio system that has social networking capabilities, I can incorporate into my ePortfolio on-going discussions with people in various walks of life that act as mentors and guides.  These people may be specialists in their fields, but this would never be shown in a traditional application process.

The other great aspect of a digital portfolio is that it can be truly a lifelong learning experience.  As an elementary school student I start collecting my digital artefacts and organizing them to show my teachers and parents.  I then move on to High School and start collecting more experiences and best work, as well as reflecting on my learning, and use this in order to apply for a job or apply to a higher education institute.  I continue adding to my ePortfolio.  If I am at university, I use it to apply for graduate school.  If I am in employment, I use it to try for promotion or to move to a better career path.  All the while I keep adding and trimming the system and the materials in a way which reflects who, what, where and why I am me.

How would I use ePortfolios?

Here at Remote Learner, we love our ePortfolios and we, to quote one of our senior staff, “eat our own dog food”.

Blog 1

On our internal ePortfolio site we have professional development, but also personal groups to garner team building and support outside of the usual work related areas.  In some instances, the group based discussions and interactions can lead to courses being developed on our internal training system (Moodle and ELIS of course) to plug up some identified skills gaps.

We also do some custom developments for our customers and show them how they can use this system, particularly when linked with Moodle or ELIS.  The ePortfolio can be used as an assignment for example.  The learners can click on t assignment link in Moodle and this will open up their ePortfolio.  They then create and select a page of material for the assignment and this is linked back to Moodle.  The person assessing the assignment clicks on their name and it take to this page in the learner’s ePortfolio.

Blog 2 

In the image above, the employee here has created a page linking to their ePortfolio from ELIS-Moodle, and that page in turn is linking to their Open Badges backpack. The backpack displays the badges they have earned at other organizations, with the criteria for their being awarded.  You can also see that the manager has given some feedback and a formative assessment back in the ELIS-Moodle site.  Both systems are also matched in terms of their responsive theme design.

In order to allow end users to gather and display more in the way of competencies, we also incorporate the Outcomes functionality from Moodle.  Once these outcomes are earned, they are automatically pushed out to the end user’s ePortfolio for them to incorporate into their pages they share with colleagues or others.

Blog 3 

In this view, the end user is a student nurse and has been awarded some Outcomes from the ELIS-Moodle site which equate to nationally recognized Nursing competencies.  The ePortfolio pulls these competencies in from ELIS-Moodle and automatically creates a drop down menu to display them.  In terms a professional portfolio, the nurse can now use these, as well as her formative assessment grades, in order to apply for a job at a hospital or for promotion in her existing place of employment.  This can be used by any professionals such as teachers, lawyers, doctors, early responders etc.

Once all of this material has been collected and organized, the end user can then use it to share with other people.  These could be others in their own organizations, but could also be people outside of the organization.  The ePortfolio is multi-institutional, which means that a local high school could link up with nearby colleges and companies and students could talk directly with people at these organizations in a closed and safe environment.  They could ask the people at colleges to look at their portfolio and give them constructive feedback on what they need in order to get a college place.  Equally, they could ask local employers what they need to concentrate on to get a job in e.g. engineering.

Blog 4 

In this view, a newly qualified trainee teacher is putting together an interactive resume in order to apply for their first teaching position.  The ePortfolio view can be exported as an encrypted link which means the person she sends the link to can see this page, but nothing else.  The difference with a traditional application is that this one is “live”.  The plans she is making and the discussion forums she is linking to with other teachers and her university tutors are all live and evolving, so the potential employers get a full view of their potential.  The Resume on the left side includes goal and skills, and the view also includes video material, as well as links to learning plans and continuing professional development objectives.  All of these were chosen by this person to reflect who they are and who they want to be.

If you are interested in seeing how we can help your learners or employees use this type of technology, please get in touch on our contacts page.

Budgeting for eLearning Course Development


Analyze (25% of budget)

Good instructional analysis is the foundation for all phases of a design project. The steps required during the analysis process will differ depending on your unique needs and any existing content you already have in place.

Before embarking on the design of instruction, it is critical to gather all information that supports decisions about strategies, media, and technology. By gathering input from both instructional designers (IDs) and Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) begin by working to identify learning needs, learning objectives, and learning constraints. These guidelines establish a solid base for all subsequent development activities. Throughout the development process, you will be able to return to these guidelines to evaluate the success of the design. By investing the time on a thorough front-end analysis to support the design and development of your eLearning solution, you will be able to better meet the unique needs of your organization.
  • During the analysis phase, be sure to review the goals and objectives, evaluate any existing content, identify content gaps, and coordinate obtaining additional relevant content.

Design (30% of budget)

Our design philosophy puts a great deal of thought into content presentation as well as the learner's movements through course activities, the goal being to make the navigation intuitive so the content remains the primary focus for learners. In short, content can only be as useful as the learner’s ability to get to it.

A good eLearning solution requires more than good content. Identifying and implementing the right types of media and instructional strategy can make all the difference. A good rule of thumb is to ask this question about every interaction in a course: "Does this teach the learner about the content, or about manipulating the interaction itself?" If the learner is only learning how to manipulate an interaction, and not reinforcing cognitive pathways necessary to learning, then the interaction may not be the best use of the learners' time or bandwidth.

  • The design phase is a systematic process of linking learning objectives and content to detailed storyboards and prototypes. IDs should work collaboratively with SMEs to design assessment instruments, exercises, lesson plans and determine or develop any relevant media selections.
  • Often during this phase a course shell (or template) is created that aligns with a custom design document that can be populated by SMEs to quickly communicate course content and layout to course developers. This is especially useful when multiple courses are being developed as part of a curriculum.

Develop (35% of budget)

The crafting of truly relevant eLearning interactions is a specialized skill, and a talent. It cannot be achieved with eLearning authorware alone. The most relevant eLearning interactions result from a creative collaboration of subject matter experts and instructional designers.

  • In the development phase, IDs working with course developers, create and assemble the content assets, assessment instruments, and interactive learning materials that were blueprinted in the design phase. This is best accomplished as a rapid iterative cycle of development, review and revision.
    1. Develop prototype (course, or module)
    2. Review by SME
    3. Revision of prototype
    4. Revisions approved by SME
    5. Full course developed
    6. Review of full course by SME

Implement (5% of budget)

Taking time to prepare administrators and instructors to support learners throughout their eLearning course/s can make all the difference. It is also important to be sure to capture all relevant data on student performance to support ongoing evaluation and course improvements.

Evaluate (5% of budget)

Implementing and Evaluating should be viewed as ongoing budget items. It is important to revisit to the guidelines established during the Analysis phase and compare that to learner performance.
  • Evaluate - A multi step beta testing process should be implemented to evaluate all aspects of the course, both instructional and functional.
    1. Review of full course
    2. Revision of full course (in required)
    3. Revision of full course approved by SME

As a general rule, every available effort, within the given budget, should be made to keep the eLearner engaged. There are various strategies for maintaining learner engagement so it is worthwhile to take the time to determine learner needs and then define the best strategies and Moodle tools to meet those needs. Research has shown that appropriate use of Moodle tools keeps learners interested and motivated, and this increases learning. It takes time to plan, construct, and test such interactions, but they will hold their value.

Check out the below infographic.

ADDIE Budgeting

Providing Value To Open Source Moodle


By Mike Churchward, CIO/President

At Remote-Learner, we often get challenged by clients and the community alike to explain why we charge for the services and products the way we do. There is often a presumption that our services should be free or “near-free” since the primary application we service is Open Source and therefore free. Primarily these challenges are made of our development services, our expert advice and consultation, our support and our maintenance of other third-party add-ons. To explain this, I will describe who we are and what we do.

Our goal is to be the company that provides the services customers need to run their e-learning programs successfully, using Moodle, an Open Source learning management system (LMS).

Open Source Moodle is freely available to anyone to acquire and use, under the GNU General Public License. One of the key concepts of an Open Source application like Moodle is that it is “free”. The code is free; the application is free; there are no fees in the form of any licenses required for anyone to acquire, install and operate Moodle.

But, operating Moodle is not free. It is often said that Open Source is "free as in a puppy; not free as in beer". It will cost anyone who wants to use it, the time and resources needed to install, operate, manage and maintain the application, and the efforts needed to administer, create and operate the learning programs on Moodle.  This is true whether they do it themselves or whether they contract someone else to do it for them - like us.

As  a company, we have costs - employees, overheads, infrastructure. We need to pay for these, and like any other company, we do this through revenue. Our revenue comes from supported hosting, training, development and other expertise-based services. As a Moodle Partner, we give back a percentage of our revenues to the Moodle foundation to help pay for Moodle’s continued maintenance of itself. We also provide a certain percentage of our workload back to the Moodle efforts.

Primarily, our clients host their sites in our infrastructure, where we can support it best. Our infrastructure has been optimized for performance, security, management and maintenance. We provide a number of pre-approved add-ons from the community, with every installation. We also allow our clients to request other add-ons included in their sites, once they have passed a rigorous approval process. This process looks for potential security and performance issues, and ensures the add-ons meet the minimum development standards defined by the Moodle project.

We support the application layer, administrative functions and teaching functions through our commercial services. If for any reason you need to discontinue our services, you are not locked in. You can take your code and data with you and run it on any suitable infrastructure.

Moodle is a highly configurable, highly pluggable application. It can be changed and configured in infinite ways.. We provide services and systems to allow clients to change Moodle in that way, including helping them install custom plug-ins that they need. Our systems are designed to provide a platform that is maintainable and supportable using these methods.

When we develop code for Moodle, it is either in the form of pluggable add-ons or as a core development project for future releases of Moodle. All of our work is provided as Open Source, available to anyone. We also provide documentation both to the Moodle core and for our own development work.

But because the source code is completely available, many users of Moodle want to change it for their own use on their specific installation. We strive to avoid this with our clients.

One of the greatest strengths of Open Source software is that it can be modified by anyone for their own use. One of the greatest weaknesses of Open Source software is not understanding the responsibility of making those changes. Having custom code means taking on the responsibility of maintaining a "fork" of Moodle. A "fork" is essentially the same as maintaining a custom built LMS.

Maintaining a "fork", means taking on all the responsibility of maintaining it. That means any changes to Moodle (point upgrades, version upgrades) will require extra development work each and every time the application is updated. Extra work means that each Moodle upgrade will incur extra costs and cause delays. There are significant risks in maintaining those changes. If the changes are not part of standard Moodle, the Moodle core code could change in a way that irreparably breaks the modified system.

To that end, we work with our clients to understand their needs and problems, and find ways to solve them with the managed Moodle codebases we provide. We use our Moodle expertise to find the most efficient, low-risk and maintainable way for our clients to do what they need done in Moodle.

There are many organizations out there maintaining their own forks of Moodle. They have their own staff of developers, testers, documenters and support to do so. Our systems allow you to utilize our resources for this, and only bear the cost necessary for your portion.

In closing, Remote-Learner strives to offer freedom and options to clients. Our services and methodologies help to further democratize learning across the world. We promote growth and innovation through open technologies, and we do not shackle clients with expensive locked-in, license-to-use technologies.

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