Making the Move to the Moodle LMS
Contemplating a switch from one Learning Management System (LMS) to another can be daunting enough that it keeps institutions from transitioning, even when cost savings and performance improvements are obvious. Two very different institutions that have smoothly transitioned to a managed open-source, Moodle-based solution at very different paces are Oregon’s Linn-Benton Community College, which is in the midst of a gradual three-year move from Blackboard to Moodlerooms begun in 2008, and Los Angeles College International, which moved from eCollege to Moodlerooms in three short months in 2009.
Moving From Blackboard to Moodlerooms
For Linn-Benton Community College, the move to a new LMS began with a push from Blackboard in 2008 to move to a more feature-rich but costly version of its product—a move that would have boosted the Oregon community college’s licensing fees by six to eight times. “We weren’t really using all of the functions of Blackboard Basic,” explains eLearning Systems Administrator Paul Tannahill. With no real reason for the 10,000-student college to move to an enterprise version of Blackboard, Linn-Benton began looking elsewhere.
Moodlerooms appealed because of its flexible, intuitive interface, Tannahill says, along with its price. He especially liked what he calls the product’s “low threshold to entry” – meaning an interface that he thought new users could learn quickly. In fact, that has proven to be true – instructors are encouraged to take just two hours of training with Moodlerooms before beginning to use it, but some dive right in without the training.
Currently, 212 courses at Linn-Benton involve Moodlerooms to some degree – and 60 percent of current students use the LMS in some way in face-to-face courses. In addition, about 60 online courses and 20 hybrid courses make use of the product. Tannahill is also extending the reach of the LMS beyond the classroom: Human Resources is interested in using Moodlerooms as well. Tannahill says, in fact, that his dream is to build on the product’s potential and eventually have everyone on campus using it.
Tannahill, who had familiarized himself with Moodle and Moodlerooms even before joining Linn-Benton CC, admires the product’s flexibility, though he admits it took some getting used to. As a former instructor himself with many hours in the classroom behind him, he likes that Moodle allows the user to decide initial setup issues as basic as deciding to format course content by topic, by week, or in some other way. “But none of this is set in stone,” he says, and changing something basic later on doesn’t break the course. “I really like that flexibility.”
One of the best decisions the community college made in its move to Moodlerooms, Tannahill says, is to go slowly. The college spent a full 18 months shifting from Blackboard, paying extra licensing fees to run both systems concurrently for three semesters. Despite the cost, the strategy paid off, he says, in far greater buy-in from faculty, who made the move at their leisure without feeling pushed.
Tannahill also found money in the budget to hire a full-time staff member to work exclusively on the move from the start, establishing rapport by helping faculty members to import courses. Since most of the Blackboard use at Linn-Benton had consisted of simply posting files in the system, having someone to help faculty allowed the college build real course content in Moodlerooms, rather than simply importing files.
If Tannahill could offer some advice to fellow LMS administrators, he suggests this: Don’t be afraid to go slowly, since you’ll get faculty rapport and better content in the end that way. Let faculty drive the project, since it’s really theirs anyway. His payoff is clear: Linn-Benton has more than twice as many courses in Moodlerooms already than they ever had using Blackboard – and, Tannahill says, courses are better quality.
From eCollege to Moodlerooms at LA College International
Moving from one LMS to managed open-source Moodle can be done very quickly when necessary. LA College International is just one example. The college moved all 86 of its active courses from eCollege to Moodlerooms in just three months. A principle driver behind the move to a new system was a need to accommodate Web 2.0 technologies—to allow students and faculty to post audio and video files, to discuss courses online, to blog and discuss, and to otherwise share content.
In the quick move, some content was copied automatically, such as a large number of quizzes that the college shifted over using a module written just for them by Moodlerooms. Other content was transferred from Microsoft Word in a hands-on, cut-and-paste operation by four people, including the college’s Moodle Administrator, Phil McAbee, and the school’s curriculum director.
After the move, the team worked closely with instructors for a full year to help them update courses and content, polish, revamp and renew. “It was the perfect time to take a fresh look at some content with the goal of improving it,” McAbee says.
The college maintained both learning management systems concurrently during the three-month move, then immediately discontinued eCollege. To deal with issues with faculty regarding the move, McAbee used patience and diplomacy, telling instructors, “I understand. I’m going to work with you, and here’s my phone number.”
The project began when McAbee launched an extensive LMS selection process, looking, at least briefly, at over 25 potential solutions. To be considered, each vendor needed to respond quickly and have a mature user interface with appropriate functionality for the user audience of instructors. (“Some of these, I couldn’t imagine instructors dealing with,” Phil said of the complexity of some interfaces.) His team also looked for solid technology underpinnings and reasonable cost.
McAbee used Google Docs to collect information from vendors, sending shared documents for them to complete and return. McAbee, who has been working in technology and education for many years, also reached out to colleagues at many other schools, including nearby UCLA. A number of those contacted had already done the footwork for an LMS migration, had documented the process, and were willing to share.
Cost comparisons between the previous system and Moodlerooms “aren’t even close,” McAbee says -- eCollege ran about $32 per student per year in licensing costs, along with a charge every time a new course needed to be set up. Moodlerooms is saving LA College International a considerable amount and there’s no course setup fee because McAbee and staff are handling that themselves. “We can put up a new class very quickly in-house with Moodle,” McAbee explains.
Taking two different approaches, these two institutions both ended up with quality course content in the new LMS. For LA International, the choice was to move all content immediately, discontinue the old system, and then polish content over a year. Linn-Benton took a different approach, moving content slowly and polishing as it went.
Join us tomorrow to hear how these schools transitioned from their legacy LMS to a more open, affordable, sustainable model and what recommendations they have for other schools.