Open Education

Moodle Community Platform to Offer Closer Ties to OER, Crowdfunding Mechanism

Martin Dougiamas, the founder and CEO of the Australian company that drives development of the open source learning platform Moodle, does not mince words about the conflict he sees between open and proprietary developments in educational technology and in society at large. 

"There is a bit of a war going on around the planet right now," Dougiamas said in his opening comments to a recent Future Trends Forum video chat hosted by futurist Bryan Alexander. "We find ourselves at the vanguard of people who believe in openness, who believe in social good and social justice. On the other side of the fence, as you have in your country right now, there is a corporate takeover of the government. There is an increasing effect of very large, wealthy organizations focused on profits and increasing the inequality gap and focused on commercializing public services."

Speaking from his home in Perth, Australia, Dougiamas said he has started to refocus Moodle's activities to do a more effective job of spreading openness — particularly in education. "Education affects every other thing that human beings do on this planet, so it is important work."

Alexander asked Dougiamas if he sees Moodle aligned with the open educational resources (OER) movement and open access to scholarly publications.

Dougiamas said that philosophically they are very in tune. "Practically and technically we are becoming more aligned," he said, adding that he is making an effort to work on projects with other groups working on OER. "Currently institutions join these groups together, whereas the actual projects don't always work together as much as they should," he said.

A new Moodle community platform under development aims to foster more collaboration. "It is a service that connects all the Moodlers together and connects them with open education resources," Dougiamas explained. "It also allows a lot of new types of community activities, which I think will bring a new age to OER. We have a model for creating OER sustainably so that people are being paid to do it. We want to get people together teaching the same course in the same language and enable them to create content together and fund each other, like in a mini-kickstarter project."

For example, he said, if someone wants to create a Creative Commons Moodle course to teach French to native Portuguese speakers, he or she would come up with a rough plan of how much it would cost and how many weeks it would take to develop. Money would be raised through a crowd-funding mechanism; when the courseware is delivered, it would become part of the Moodle community system — only a couple of clicks away for any future educator who wants to teach that topic.

"What you are describing sounds like a global open source development project," Alexander said. "That is tremendous."

Dougiamas said the community platform would leverage the sheer number of people using Moodle and give them a reason for joining. He envisions the community having a social media presence to allow people to build trust. For instance, if someone says she is going to build a course, you could see from her recommendations if she has the ability to do that. "And we will be joining with all the other OER projects that we can," he added. "I would like to see all those things be just a few clicks away from a Moodle page."

Dougiamas was asked about the Next-Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE) Framework developed by the Educause Learning Initiative. "When I went through that, I was surprised by how not 'next-gen' it was," he said. "Almost everything in there you could do with Moodle and plug-ins or configuring it in a different way. Others are things that are on our roadmap. We develop Moodle by following the trends of what people are asking for."

What about learning analytics in Moodle? Dougiamas spoke about a plug-in called Inspire that uses machine learning to provide predictions of learner success, and ultimately diagnoses and prescriptions to learners and teachers. "It can give you personalized messaging to inspire you," he said. For instance, it could suggest interventions to an instructor such as, "Now would be a perfect time to jump into a discussion" or "This student is struggling a bit. Give him a call."

"The whole subject of personalization is weird," Dougiamas said, "because people have different ideas about it. I object to personalization as spoon-feeding. 'You know this, and now we are going to give you this, then that.' It doesn't replicate anything in the real world. It is learning in an unrealistic way."

Finally, Alexander asked Dougiamas about reports showing Moodle's growth curve slowing down and speculation about whether it is hitting a plateau. "Not from what I am seeing," he said, adding that Moodle is very strong globally but does face increasing competition in the United States. In the U.S., there are a lot of LMS vendors and venture capitalists putting hundreds of millions of dollars into this field, he added, but outside the U.S., less so. But because it is open source, Moodle is not focused on its growth rate. While its software is free, Moodle has 87 Moodle Partners who provide consulting and implementation services. They give 10 percent of their revenue to Moodle HQ to fund its team of developers to maintain all the community resources and to develop and improve Moodle itself. He said Moodle is not driven by investors expecting it to meet targets in two years, nor does it sell customer data. "We are driven by the needs of users."

About the Author

David Raths is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer focused on information technology. He writes regularly for several IT publications, including Healthcare Informatics and Government Technology.

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