eLearning 101 Category

Monday, December 20th, 2010

How to Keep Your eLearning Development On Time & On Budget

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I have a wonderful client named Kyle.  He works for a company you’ve all heard of.  He is learning Moodle as we go; since he is quite comfortable using many computer applications, he’s a quick study.

What makes Kyle so great to work with?

He has more invested in the success of his Moodle courses than I do.  This may sound like a no-brainer but I often feel as though I’m more aware of our deadlines than my clients are! Yes, I know that clients are busy doing other things, which is precisely why they hired me.  And I know I’m not alone, as this post from The eLearning Coach proves.  But in much the same way as when I hired a brick layer to build paths through my gardens, my eLearning clients must provide feedback and make decisions throughout to ensure their courses meet their expectations.  Otherwise, everything ends up looking and sounding like me!

Here are some tips to help make your foray into eLearning go faster, easier, and end up as great as you had dreamed it would be: 

  1. Create and stick to your multi-generation product plan (MGPP), covered in this post.
  2. Create and stick to a project timeline that fits with the MGPP.  A simple Gantt chart will do.  It is important to remember that the more rushed the work is, the less likely it is to be exactly what you wanted.
  3. Review it frequently.  Don’t wait until the course is finished or the week before it will go live.  The sooner you spot something you don’t like the less time will be wasted on rework.  Everyone involved in the building of a course, from the instructional designer to the graphic artist to the video editor, makes style choices.  These choices may not be your choice. 
  4. Understand it.  Kyle, my client, gave me direction on how he wanted their book translated to Moodle online.  I gave him some options and my opinion; he chose a path to take.  After awhile, he realized he might have preferred some of the other options.  This didn’t happen because Kyle is fickle, but because he’s not a Moodle expert.  We don’t expect you to become experts in authoring tools or LMS, but the more you know, the more you’ll understand your options.  Even if you don’t know combustion engines, you still know to ask about fuel economy when you consider a new car… 
  5. Plan for use, now and next year.  I covered this in My Moodle site is up and running.  Now What?  It’s so easy to be excited about the launch, but as that date approaches, fear sets into nearly every client when he realizes “I don’t know how to monitor a forum, create a user, or get a grade report”.  

Kyle and I have put together a really kick-ass site that met both budget and time requirements of his company. We have managed our project timeline so that we would have plenty of time to play with features, compare options, and obtain feedback from others.  You can have the same success with your project, by following the simple tips above.

Related posts on using eLearning for your business: 

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Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Demystifying Moodle Quiz Settings Part 3

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In the first two parts of this series on Moodle quizzes, we covered appearance and strictness.  This post discusses how much and what type of feedback we can provide to the students, with each question and for the exam as a whole. 

Part 3: Feedback Settings 

Review Options 

  • If you want to provide your students with feedback - both your comments and the right answers - check the first column “Immediately”.  If they can attempt the quiz again, obviously, they can use this feedback to get a better grade.  But if you have just one attempt, this is a great way to provide feedback while the questions - and the concepts - are still fresh in their minds. 
  • If you don’t want anyone to know the right answers until the test is closed for good, check the items in the far right column.  The quiz must have a close date for this to occur.
  • If you don’t ever want anyone to know, ever, uncheck all of the items.  

Overall Feedback 

  • Grade boundaries are the maximum and minimum grade received for each comment.  The highest (100%) and lowest (0%) are the default.  You can break that range into as many smaller categories as you wish.
  • Feedback is the text that will appear to the student when the quiz is submitted (if you have this checked in Review Options), according to his grade.  You can be as serious as you like (Excellent!), or silly (You’re so bright I need sunglasses in your presence).  Don’t be afraid to customize this feedback to match your content, both in topic and tone.  A play on words is another form of reinforcement…

The following are not part of the update quiz mode; these settings can be found in the question edit area.  What is displayed to the student is controlled by the Review Option settings. 

Question Feedback 

  • General feedback can be left blank or include graphics, links, and formatted text, using the HTML editor.  This feedback is on the question as a whole, not dependent on the student’s response. Use it to provide more information on the topic (including links and graphics).
  • Most question types provide the option of feedback for each answer.  If you have designed your questions with plausible wrong answers, this is a great opportunity to provide additional explanation on why that answer is incorrect.  Don’t just say “sorry” or “wrong”.  There’s no value in that type of feedback. 

I encourage you to play around with these settings, doing a preview each time.  Be consistent in your settings for each type of test.  To reinforcement concepts, be “lax”.  For final exams that really matter, be “strict”. 

All you need now are some well-written questions!  For more on testing in a business environment, check out these posts:

Go to Part 1: Appearance settings

Go to Part 2: Strictness settings

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Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Demystifying Moodle Quiz Settings Part 2

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In Part 1, we covered settings that control the appearance of the quiz.  In this post, we’ll discuss the settings that control how much information is provided to the student, and when.  These settings provide us with the opportunity to give “open book” vs. “closed book” exams, “proctor help”, and “instant grading”, all very much like we could do in person.  This gives the Moodle quiz activity tremendous versatility because it can be used as a formal certification exam, an informal pop quiz, or anything in between.

Part 2: Strictness Settings

Timing

  • If you want to force students to take a timed exam, enter the number of minutes in the time limit field.  A really cool countdown clock will appear when the exam is started.  For business training not regulated by professional licensing or other certification rules, you’ll probably want to leave this disabled. Unless you just love the clock…
  • If you allow only one attempt (discussed later), the time between is irrelevant.  If you want to use this quiz to test reliability of your test instrument, you’ll want to put an appropriate delay in here.  

Attempts

  • You can practically give away the answers while still allowing only one attempt, so don’t be disillusioned into thinking that one attempt is the strictest setting.  If you want a measure of question reliability, you’ll need at least two attempts.  If you’re just giving an exam and don’t intend to measure the test itself, keep this at one.
  • Each attempt builds on the last, when checked, shows the student the answer he gave the last time.
  • Adaptive mode, when enabled, tells the student “no, that wasn’t the right answer”, so the student can keep trying until he gets it right.  This mode can also change the question, depending upon what the student submitted as an answer. 
    • In my experience, there is no need for this complexity (and often no one has the skill to do it) in business training.  Do not use this type of quiz unless it makes sense for your content, you can make good use of the information, and you have skilled test question developers to create it.
    • If you use adaptive mode, with no penalties and no change in the question wording, plus useful feedback on each question, you can use this quiz to reinforce concepts.  The grades won’t be of any value, but it can be a good teaching tool. 

Grades

  • With only one attempt, this is irrelevant.  The choices are fairly self-explanatory and I cant think of any “typical” one to advise you to use for business training exams.
  • Applying penalties is to keep people from guessing.  If they leave it blank, they’ll get no credit; if they guess it wrong, they’ll lose points.  I don’t like this choice, ever, because it makes it really hard on me to analyze grades. If you have allowed the adaptive mode (above) you must apply penalties to prevent everyone from getting 100%!
  • The precision of the grades is up to you, but the rule with decimal places is always that one more decimal place than existing in the original data.

You should now be able to create a Moodle quiz activity with the appearance and student difficulty level you desire. To review the basic appearance settings or to learn about feedback:

Go to Part 1: Appearance settings

Go to Part 3: Feedback settings

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Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Demystifying Moodle Quiz Settings Part 1

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One of the beautiful things about the Moodle Quiz activity is that with a few clicks, you can create a “closed book, timed, seriously strict” exam (assuming your questions are good, too); with a few other clicks, you can produce a fun, silly, interactive memory jogger.  You can use the same questions in different quizzes with different “strictness” settings, having to create each question only once.  You can provide the right answers, with serious or funny feedback, or leave the students wondering if they passed or bombed.

I’ll split this discussion into three posts, according to what the settings control:

Part 1: How it appears to the students

Part 2: How “strict” it is on the students

Part 3: How much feedback is given to the students

What you choose for each setting depends on your overall training objectives and the purpose of each Moodle quiz you create.

Part 1: Appearance Settings

General 

  • The name you give it will appear in the course outline, so give it a meaningful name.
  • In the HTML editor you can create whatever you want your students to see.  I try to put a nicely formatted description in all quizzes, like this:  [click here for an example]
  • Timing 
  • If you have an ongoing, self-paced course, disable both the open and close dates this section.  If your course has a start and end date, your quiz available dates should correspond to the timeline of your syllabus.  

Display 

  • Everything I have read about this says “5″ is the best number of questions per page.  This is to reduce the load on the server. 
  • Shuffling is good if you think someone has this in his sleeve: 1.a, 2.b, 3.e, 4.c, 5.f…  It’s also useful if you’re doing a study where you’re trying to randomize the effect of the question order.  For most business applications, shuffling of questions or answers is not necessary.  

Common module settings 

  • The Group mode is the same as with all other Moodle activities.  If you don’t have groups set up in your course or if you want everyone to take the same quiz, regardless of group, leave this at no groups.
  • Visible is obvious.  If you want students to see it, you need to show it.
  • Grade categories are methods of aggregation (average, total, worst, highest) of the individual grades.  Frankly, I never use this.  I dump it all into Excel® and from there I do simple calculations and graphs; if I want more serious analysis (which I often do), I export it to Minitab®
  • If you set the ID number to something, you’ll have that as an extra field in your data file. 

Security 

  • Browser security is an attempt to stop cheating, but as the help file indicates, it isn’t simple.  I never, ever check this.
  • I’ve never quite seen the need for a password in the quiz, since the user has to have logged in to take it. 
  • The last option in this section is used only if you want to restrict where your students can log in from when they take the quiz.  If you want them to be at their desks, not in their living rooms, you’ll want to enter your company IP addresses here.  This is especially useful if there might be classified or sensitive information in the quiz. 

At this point, you have enough information to set up a Moodle quiz, using the defaults on the other settings.  You will, of course, have to upload or enter questions. That is not covered in this post. 

Go to Part 2: Strictness settings

Go to Part 3: Feedback settings

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Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Getting to the moon in manageable phases: Using an MGPP for eLearning development.

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Yes!  You want the greatest eLearning courses ever!  Every feature for every type of learner!  Your clients come first and you want them to be happy! You will launch this fantastic site in three months, maybe six.  But soon.           

OK, come down to Earth            

Realistically, can you afford all that?  Do you know enough about eLearning to work with someone to create the greatest design ever? Do you know enough about your elearning clients’ needs to build something they will think is the greatest ever?  Can you really eat that elephant all at once?            

Probably not.            

Does that mean you should hang it up and forget the idea altogether?           

Of course not!            

One step at a time, with the moon in mind        

Click for PDF

Here’s a handy tool that new product developers use to help them manage successful launches.  It’s the same technique used by NASA to get to the moon and back “by the end of the decade”.   It is called a multi-generation product (or process) plan.   

It will help you to stay focused and within scope.  It allows you to have a lofty goal while still accomplishing important milestones along the way.          

There are many fables emphasizing the wisdom of this approach, but the proverbial phrase haste makes waste says it all.            
    

Creating and using an MGPP           

  1. List all of the areas in which you’ll have to make choices for your project.  This example is for elearning; if it were for building a house the list might include Usage (year round, vacation), Location, Size (if you plan for additions, the final product will look better), outbuildings, landscaping, recreational features.   
  2. For each item above, write down your ultimate dream (to the far right) and the minimum you can do soon to make it worthwhile (to the far left).  You may know only one end of each spectrum; for instance, you may have no idea what technology will be the “ultimate” 10 years from now.   
  3. Critically review your soon and ultimate ideas in each category.  What milestones, upgrades, and external factors would be needed to go from soon to ultimate?  Examples: number of students on your site, annual revenue, number of employees, 10 GB speed on mobile phones, you become a Moodle master…If you try to reach the ultimate now, it will likely take you so long that by the time you achieve it, it won’t be the ultimate any longer. 
  4. Take a good guess at how many of those steps you’ll need; these become the generations.  For NASA, the three generations were Mercury (unmanned space flight), Gemini (manned space flight), and Apollo (manned flight with a layover on the moon).  The greater the difference between what you can accomplish soon and the ultimate goal, the greater the number of generations you’ll have or the bigger the leap from one generation to another.  Warning:  big leaps carry bigger risks.
  5. Fill in what you can in the matrix.  Stick to it for at least one generation at a time.  If you find that it just isn’t working, reevaluate it.  Don’t try to force it, but don’t abandon it, either.  Remember, it’s a guidance document; as the world changes, so will your MGPP. 

The format of the MGPP can be anything you want it to be; anything that works for you. It really does work!

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Sunday, November 21st, 2010

Form or Function: What do people really want in eLearning?

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I’ve long envied those women (mostly fictional) who float effortlessly amongst their dinner guests, all of whom are sipping drinks, laughing, and having the perfect time.  Perhaps it’s just the way these things are displayed on TV and in food magazines, but it seems as though the mix of guests, the quality of the food and the comfort of the seating matter more than the exact shade of the flowers or whether the tea cups match. 

Could it be that what makes a good party also makes a good learning experience? 

As I look back on the best class I ever took, and several others that I really enjoyed (despite being in subjects such as thermodynamics), I can see several analogies between the perfect class and the perfect dinner party: 

  • The host (teacher) really likes her guests (students)
  • The host really likes giving dinner parties (teaching)
  • She trusts her guests to choose their own seating and food (view the content in a manner the student finds conducive to learning)
  • She trusts her guests not to break or steal anything (make the course interesting and students will be more likely to do their assignments than cheat)
  • She cares more about the food (function) than the flower arrangements (form)
  • Her # 1 priority is making sure her guests have a good time (learn something); nice place settings (lots of whiz-bang stuff) is nice if it doesn’t get in the way of having a good time. 

When you’re designing your e-Learning – whether it’s for adults in business training or kids in school – ask yourself what type of host (teacher) you’d rather be.  Do you want to be Ina Garten or the one who serves the salmon mousse?

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Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Jazzing Up Your Moodle Courses with Collaborative Activities

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Many of my clients are new to eLearning.  Some have 200 page books (all text) while others have material that is mostly video or slides.  Hardly anyone starts out with a blended learning syllabus that perfectly balances individual learning with group activities.  The hardest thing to do when converting these materials to eLearning is to keep the students involved and interested. 

Here are some ideas of how you can use Moodle collaborative activities to engage your students and provide opportunity for interaction with other students, without costing you a dime or adding more items to your to-do list: 

  • Instead of creating a glossary of terms for your students, assign them the task!  Give them a list of terms to define; let them choose a few or require them to define every term.  Allow duplicates and allow ratings.
  • Do the same thing with the Moodle wiki.  Assign students a list of topics – tell them to come up with their own – relevant to the course subject matter.  Grade them based on their writing skills, the quality and number of citations, or anything else you think is an important measure.
  • One of the best ways to learn a topic is to explain it to someone else. Instead of answering questions posed in forum posts right away, wait some predetermined time (48 hours?) until students have had a chance to help their classmates.  Or, assign a team of students to respond to forum posts for one week.  (You can always jump in and set the ship right if they get off track).
  • Even better, ask students to start discussions.  Have them monitor the replies and respond to questions.  Suggest that they “ask questions” that will bring out the most common misunderstandings of the topic so that the discussions will further reinforce the right interpretations.  I did this when I wrote my first Moodle courses in statistical analysis.
  • Hold a panel discussion each week (or month) using the Moodle chat.  Set a time and choose a general topic.  Have some things to say to get the ball rolling before anyone asks a question.  Don’t make the mistake of going in unprepared.  This chat should have a purpose, which generically, is to further facilitate learning.
  • Even better, ask students to be responsible for these panel discussions.  Let them choose their own topics or assign them.  Either way, explaining something is a great way to learn it
  • You can do the same thing with web meetings within Moodle.  There are several options that are free to use.  The advantage a web meeting has over a chat is that you can display anything from a histogram to a Rembrandt; from a map to a color wheel.  If a visual is important to your discussion, this would be better than a chat. 

In case you’re new to all of these, some quick descriptions of Moodle activities: 

  • Glossary: Dictionary of terms, with definitions.  Can included pictures, audio, etc., but typically the definitions are relatively short. This is an asynchronous activity.
  • Forum:  Threaded discussions that allow replies and ratings.  This is an asynchronous activity. 
  • Wiki: More like an encyclopedia than a dictionary. Wikipedia is the granddaddy of all wikis. This is an asynchronous activity.
  • Chat:  Online typing of questions, answers, and ideas.  Users are identified on the screen and what they type appears much like a movie script. 
    • Penny: I said this.
    • Pitcher73: I agree
    • Scarymary: I think it’s all very cool
    • Etc.

In Moodle, if at least two people “chat”, a transcript is saved.  This is a synchronous activity.

  • Web Meeting: More than a chat because there is typically audio as well, plus a virtual whiteboard (some or all of the participants can “write” on it and it is displayed on everyone’s monitor), a screen presentation, or video.  This is a synchronous activity. The free versions don’t always offer a recorded transcript, but this isn’t always necessary. (Confesssion: I never listen to or watch recorded transcripts of meetings, especially if I wasn’t there to start with.)  

For more on web meetings and other collaborative features, check out my previous post.  

Let me know if you have any other ideas to get people involved, interested, and talking!

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Sunday, October 24th, 2010

Five Things to Consider When Choosing Online Collaboration Features For eLearning

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Probably by the time I finish this post, there will be another breakthrough in human instant communication.  I can barely keep up!  What I am sure of is that eLearning design needs to evolve to stay in step with what its students feel comfortable using and doing.  Sharing is definitely something people feel comfortable with these days. 

Whether you’re creating eLearning for a business or for a school, collaboration is one of the things that will make your eLearning GREAT.

If you believe, as I do, that learning happens in a lot of ways, and that people learn better when they share information, you’ll agree that some number of collaborative features must be included in all eLearning courses.  How much and what type should you use? Some require code integration and some require paid subscriptions; some are asynchronous and others are synchronous.  Even though most collaborative features require little or no authoring, let’s look at the options in terms of the Five Basic Things

Will collaboration add value to the students’ learning experience? Probably.  Not every course or every group of students can participate in web meetings or chats.  They might be spread across time zones or experience bandwidth issues.  Forums that allow replies and ratings are asynchronous, yet allow users to share their thoughts and ideas extensively.  Moodle.org is an excellent example of this.  Wikipedia, the greatest wiki of them all, is another example of how people can collaborate to build a body of knowledge.  The Moodle activity, wiki, is easy to add to a course and if you require students to add to it as part of their assignments, in no time at all you’ll have a useful reference for everyone.  You could use the Moodle glossary activity in the same manner.

Do I have the skill? Skill is less of an issue with collaborative features than time is.  It takes time to manage and monitor entries in forums, wikis, and glossaries.  Even if you allow students to post without approval (which is how I would do it), you (or the instructor) still needs to read them.  After all, you are part of the course, too. Web meetings can be time consuming because like any good meeting, you need to prepare in advance.  You need an agenda and purpose, and you need to stick to the time limits.  You also have to know how to use the web meeting software.  That isn’t always as easy as it seems!  Chats – at least in Moodle – are pretty simple to use.  Again, if the chat is used for learning, there should be some prearranged topics or questions, not just random conversation.

What are the options?  There are many web meeting applications that are easy to use; some work within Moodle and some do not.  DimDim has a plugin that creates a Moodle activity right in your course.  You can add DimDim meetings as easily as you can add a forum; once scheduled, they will automatically show up on the Moodle calendar and in the Upcoming Events block.  Other popular web meeting applications include Yugma, Elluminate and Wimba, GoToMeeting, WebEx, and of course Skype, which has online meetings as part of its “extras”.  Another Moodle activity plugin is Big Blue Button, an open source web conferencing tool.  I haven’t had a chance to use it; it sounds like there are some bugs to work out but it seems promising!

How much functionality do you need from this tool? Before you choose, you should consider:

  • Do your students have the ability to participate in synchronous activities (web meetings and live chats)? 
  • Do you want to have recorded transcripts for your course archives?  Moodle chats are automatically saved, but most web meetings are not.  That usually costs extra. 
  • Chats can put a huge load on any server.  Many people typing and submitting at one time can slow down a site; even crash it.  This is not a concern with forums, wikis, and glossaries.
  • Is it important to you to integrate these features with your LMS or is it acceptable to use them outside of that application?  Integration is nice for the students because they have only one site to log into.  But integration (for web meetings) usually costs extra.

Will this tool work within my LMS? With the exception of web meetings, all of these tools are part of the standard Moodle installation.  I imagine they are also part of other LMS, but you’ll have to check with your administrator to be sure.  Always make sure you have enough bandwidth and other server capacity before you schedule web meetings and chats.

In my next post I’ll share some tips on how to use these features to create an interactive and collaborative environment, without breaking the bank, without bringing your server to its knees, and without piling on work for yourself (the instructor).

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Thursday, October 14th, 2010

What eLearning is NOT

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You don’t have to do any Moodle content creation. My course is already in Word so you can just upload it“.  These are 21 of my least favorite words when strung together. It makes me sad because it just isn’t what e-Learning should be! So, I take a deep breath and say:

“Great!  You have already written your course text, so all I have to do is convert it to the HTML that is displayed by Moodle, add some links, pictures, and multi-media, along with quizzes, assignments, and other LMS features, right?”

I go on to explain (as I am explaining here), why eLearning – Moodle or otherwise – is not a series of Office® (or Office-like) documents that are to be opened and read online.

  • There are so many versions of Microsoft Office (2003, 2007, 2010, Mac, readers only…), not to mention Open Office and other similar applications built for both PCs and Macs, that no matter how nicely formatted your document is, it is unlikely to look that way when the user opens the file.
  • We all have different fonts installed.  Most computers have Arial and Times New Roman.  But even fonts that were installed at the factory differ from one computer to another, so if I use Corbel in a Word document, my friend who uses a Mac will see something entirely different.  Forget any fonts that I purchased; they will be replaced by something else when that person opens the file.
  • It’s easy to save a copy, edit, pass around, and even claim ownership of such documents.
  • Security and confidentiality go out the window (no pun intended) when information is presented in downloadable documents.
  • Many file types can not be opened at all by mobile devices or on public computers that don’t have those applications installed, which undermines one of the benefits of eLearning – it’s available from any computer.

Using PDF documents will solve most of these issues.  But what a PDF makes up for in security and formatting, it loses in usability.

  • Live links in PDFs are possible, but not often implemented by the creators.  You have to have an add-on application to include links.  Even at that, it can be tedious.
  • While it is possible to create forms out of a PDF document, they can’t be used as templates the way a spreadsheet can.

Regardless of what type of document you link online, if it can be downloaded and saved, you lose control of it.  Even if all you want to do is correct a typo or change your contact information, you have no guarantee that those changes will be universal.  Most of the people who already downloaded the document that you changed will never know you changed it.  At the very least, they’ll keep both versions.

The advantages of eLearning are many: 24/7 worldwide access, always up to date, social interaction, interesting and varied, participation can be tracked…none of these advantages are possible when the content is nothing but linked documents.  Use linked documents that can be edited only when you want to provide your students with templates for their own use. Use linked PDFs only for eBooks, white papers, and other types of documents that you want students to keep for reference.

To learn what makes eLearning GREAT, read this post.

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Monday, September 27th, 2010

Demystifying Applications, Themes, and Content for Moodle, etc.

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Last week I used a hotel as an analogy to explain the concepts of account creation, authentication, enrollments, payments, roles, and permissions in Moodle.  In this post, we’ll stick with the hotel (a really nice place, in a location you love) to talk about applications, themes, and content of a website.  They are the major pieces of any website, overlapping and interacting to create what you see on your browser.  If you are not 100% sure of the definitions of a website, a webpage, and a domain name, read this first.

The Main Structure

The application that runs a website is much the same thing as the hotel building.  This includes the walls, the roof, the frame that holds them together, the plumbing, the wiring…things that are not easily modified and that take some specialized knowledge to maintain.  Examples of Internet software applications include WordPress, Drupal, QuickBooks Online, Zen Cart, and of course, Moodle.  This site is run by the application, WordPress.  Desktop applications include Word, Photoshop, and Quicken. 

Applications govern the functionality of the website: financial, learning, writing, shopping, etc.

Major applications that control the website have their own set of rules, so a plug-in that works in WordPress is not going to work in Moodle.  Plug-ins and modules are similar to electric appliance cords.  What plugs into and outlet in  the UK won’t fit in a Canadian outlet.  Many applications, such as PayPal, MailChimp, and Facebook, are offering new plug-ins every day that will work with various other applications, such as Moodle and WordPress, but each plug-in is specific to website application.

Desktop applications are not displayed through your Internet browser, so the user must have a device (computer, iPad, etc.) that has that application (or its viewer) installed on it. This can be a nightmare because of the different versions and formats that exist.  Also, it prohibits many types of device-users from accessing the document, such as from a public computer.  This is why I don’t build e-Learning where the content resides in linked files.

The Style

The theme of a website, much like that of a hotel, is the presentation…the style…the tone of the site.  It includes the carpets, paint colors, styles of furniture and fixtures. A theme controls the look and feel of every page on the website such as background image, bullet styles and colors, fonts, and much more.  In a hotel, a theme is intended to provide visual continuity and appeal to a targeted group of guests.  In a website, this is also true, but the theme has an additional benefit:  It tells the browser how to present (display) each page on the website, without having to repeat those instructions for each page.  This saves a lot of space and redundant programming.

WordPress has more flexible themes than does Moodle, in that the layout of a page (number and position of columns, footers and headers) is somewhat controlled by the theme.  WordPress is like a building where some walls are movable.  Moodle is more like a building that would require complete renovations to change the floor plan, but where rooms can be closed off to the public.

Back in the Stone Age (early 1990s), or maybe as late as Medieval Times (circa 2000), each page on the Internet had a full set of code:  every color, position, image, and font style for displaying the content plus the content itself was in the code for that page. 

Nowadays, themes are written in CSS.  The theme of this website is Blossom.  The content is separate from the theme.

Modifying the theme requires some knowledge of programming script, some artistic ability, and some courage.  It is very much like revamping the look of your house; it isn’t cheap, but it’s a lot cheaper than building a new one (modifying the application).  More and more themes are being written by developers to include easy ways to modify them.  I expect that in a very short while, this will be the standard and no one will need to modify style sheets.

The Interior Decorations

The words and images displayed in all of the pages and posts are collectively known as the content.  These are the decorations and guests’ personal belongings scattered throughout the hotel.  It is easy to remove these and change them.  In a website application, there are some content items that regardless of what they looked like going in, they are presented by the theme in a particular manner.  The pink hyperlinks and bullets on this site are an example of that.  The theme tells the application what styles to apply for all of the content.

Adding, deleting, and changing content has been generally available to website owners and users for several years.  Every time you add a comment to a blog or a product review, you are adding content.  WYSIWIG editors are better and more prevalent with each passing day and can be highly effective for those who are less than comfortable “using a computer”.

The Final Product:  The Best Combination of Application, Theme, and Content

My words of advice to all small business owners to produce the best final product, especially when it’s a Moodle eLearning site:

  1. Concentrate on your content.  Make it the very best you can, whether it’s a course in table setting, a certification for nurses, or a blog on fun things to do with the kids. 
  2. Find a theme that can be easily modified to represent your business; make it your own.  If needed, spend a little money on a graphic artist.
  3. Choose a course designer, Moodle Partner, and/or a web designer who knows the application inside and out and is able to find the right plug-ins that meet your functional requirements without modification of the application.

 Good luck!  If you would like additional clarification, please contact me.

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