A Few Words About: Getting Help in Moodle

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Last month I asked my Moodle host to upgrade BeeLearn.com to 2.1.  I’m getting antsy to overhaul my curriculum using the new features of Moodle.  It took him about two hours to complete the entire site upgrade, including the back-ups of the old site. Everything works swell, except for a couple of third-party modules that we knew wouldn’t work beyond Moodle 1.9x (not yet, anyway).

A few days earlier, I had set up my new desktop PC, with the latest of every version of software for every application you can imagine.  As of today, I am still trying to get to the same level of functionality I had before the upgrade.  Since I had the same computer, with the same version of the operating system and application software for five years, I had many customized settings.  I had grown accustomed to the location of tools and options.  Now, I can barely delete an email.

The thing is, when I have a question such as “how do I enable conditional activities in Moodle” I have four choices:

  1. Poke around until I figure it out myself
  2. Read through the online documentation (always easy to locate)
  3. Post a question at a forum and wait for a response from another user
  4. Ask a Moodle expert, such as my host (if I have engaged him for a support contract)

All of these options are reasonable, by my standards.  I typically receive helpful answers in a short period of time.  Option # 4 is the only one that costs anything and it is also the most reliable.

In the six years that I’ve been using Moodle, I’ve heard some folks express concern that since it is open source there’s really no one to respond to questions; no one is responsible to provide explanation of a feature or help troubleshoot a problem.  That seemed like a valid concern, if options 1-3 above were not feasible for certain people.  I get it. Not everyone has my curiosity or tenacity; maybe they are more interested in rock climbing than learning Moodle.  That’s cool, too.

Now I’m wondering how those people are coping.  When I clicked on the Help icon in my brand-spanking new desktop software (it doesn’t matter which application; they’re all the same), I was stunned, horrified, mortified (you get my point) to be taken to an online community forum and presented with literally hundreds of posts that were somewhat related to my keyword.

What happened to the help index?  Where is the comprehensive list of how to do whatever?  I’m fine with that process when the software is open source and I didn’t pay to download it.  But when the application costs $1000 and I have to accept legal terms to use it, I do not expect to receive support from some other user who happened to figure something out!

What this tells me is that open source software (such as Moodle) just took one more giant leap toward “the business model of the future”.  That one advantage of proprietary software – paying more for the product to ensure technical support – just went down the drain.

If you had any reservations about Moodle – or any other open source application – because of the “lack of support” – you can rest assured that you will get at least – and probably better – support from the enthusiastic Moodle community than you will from the reluctant and desperate users of those “other products”. Most Moodle Partners offer on-going support contracts (essentially, personal help forums) that are less money than the purchase price of my desktop suite that has no such support.

Note:  When you’re building your business case and determining your budget, be sure to include the costs of training and support for Moodle if you plan to do most of the build yourself. If you don’t have the time or desire to learn Moodle to that extent, include the costs of a course developer in your budget.  Actually, these costs are added on to any project, regardless of whether you use Moodle, other open source, or proprietary software.  None of them come out of the box with your content in them!

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