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An Evaluation of Moodle For Secondary Grade 9 to 12 Classrooms in International


Pamela Jones, Melissa Lavoie, Jenny Lee, Chris Quarrie, Stephen Sweet

University of British Columbia

Masters in Educational Technology

Authors Note
All authors are students in the course
ETEC565A - 66B Learning Technologies: Selection, Design and Application
University of British Columbia
Instructor: Tatiana Bourlova

As schools continue the transition to technology-supported learning environments, they

have the challenging task of deciding which technologies to adopt. Primary characteristics that

emphasize the pedagogical aspects of a technology need to be considered. Who are the learners,

and what is the best tool to facilitate learning? From accessibility to feedback and data analysis,

what do teachers need to best help their students? In addition, secondary characteristics like cost,

infrastructure and support need to be factored into the decision (Nel, Dreyer & Carstens, 2010).

The organization we have chosen to investigate is a high school (Grades 9-12) that has a

BYOL (bring your own laptop) policy on campus. Many schools are adopting BYOD initiatives,

as this allows cost savings to schools and families and allows students to use a device that they

are already familiar with. Our chosen school is an international school attended by expatriate

families who have access to technologies at home and can afford to purchase their own device

for the school. Where this is not possible, the school provides laptops that students can sign out

and use. Many students will have more than one device, one being a laptop, the other a

smartphone or tablet.

The school uses a blended learning environment, meaning face-to-face interactions are

supported by technology that can allow for asynchronous communication. We are interested in a

platform that offers students and teachers the ability to collaborate, access resources,

communicate, and journal asynchronously. We need an LMS that offers a suitable and reliable

interface for multiple operating systems and devices, and is straightforward for both teachers and

students to use and troubleshoot. Additionally, with widespread smartphone and tablet use,

having an LMS that is available by way of a mobile app allows for multiple modes of


An examination of Moodles accessibility, usability and ability to work within the

landscape of other Web 2.0 tools will highlight its usefulness as an LMS at an international

secondary school. A short literature review explores what might identify an LMS as being

successful, and a careful exploration of Moodles features, affordances, accessibility and

adaptability as an application will follow.

Literature Review

A learning management system (LMS) is an application built from an integrated suite of

tools that ideally affords participants synchronous and asynchronous opportunities to:

communicate with one another (Coates, James, & Baldwin, 2005)

collaborate in knowledge-building endeavours (Lonn & Teasley, 2009)

curate and access resources (Coates, James, & Baldwin, 2005)

explore relevant analytics to assess learning and course effectiveness and to (Coates,

James, & Baldwin, 2005; Porto, n.d.)

provide a system for academic administration (Coates, James, & Baldwin, 2005; Porto


LMSs can be used in a variety of ways that reflect a continuum of integration with

teaching and learning. LMS usage in K-12 institutions has been shown to improve critical

thinking and writing skills: The process of text-based online discussion in the forum had the

potential to enhance the students writing skills, encourage their critical thinking, and help them

write more systematically (Wichadee, 2014). AKM and Azad (2015) note that at the most basic

level, LMSs can supplement a face-to-face course environment, can support a blended learning

environment or can provide distance education for online courses (p. 109). De Smet,

Bourgonjon, De Wever, Schellens and Valcke (2012) support this continuum further by noting

that the informational use of an LMS is found to be a precursor, or necessary building block, for

the communicational use of an LMS (p.694). As such, an instructor would typically master the

skills necessary to transmit content prior to building opportunities for student discussion and

collaboration. Simply put, a teacher would need to learn incrementally how to access and

implement the affordances of an LMS. Schoonenboom (2014) further investigated why some

LMS tools are targeted by educators for adoption more than others. She generalized four

instructor profiles that demonstrate increasingly complex use of an LMS for instruction.

Although these profiles can be identified (in increasing complexity) as undertaking information

transfer, concept clarification, idea development, and collaboration, (Schoonenboom, 2014,

p.253) these are not the only factors that identify the degree to which an instructor will maximize

the options within an LMS. Schoonenboom also highlights the importance of identifying the

instructional relevance of the various tool, task and interface combinations. Lonn and Teasley

(2009) explore student and instructor use of LMSs for both efficient communication and

innovation in learning. Seemingly, instructors and students value tools and activities for

efficient communication more than interactive tools for innovating existing practices (Lonn &

Teasley, 2009, p. 686.)

LMS systems can be proprietary, open-source, or cloud-based (Wright, Lopes,

Montgomerie, Reju & Schmoller, 2014). Each classification has a variety of advantages and

disadvantages relating to cost, consistency and ease of implementation, adaptability of the

underlying code (and thus the application itself), availability of technical support, security and

privacy settings, licensing agreements, and platform familiarity. (Wright, Lopes, Montgomerie,

Reju & Schmoller, 2014).


Choosing an effective LMS for a particular context is a significant undertaking. The

different tools, affordances, characteristics and constraints can make selecting the best possible

LMS a challenge that requires a team of individuals to work through a lengthy process of

research, debate, and selection. Building on a construct known as the Technology Acceptance

Model (TAM) (Davis, 1989, in De Smet et al, 2012) to predict LMS acceptance, De Smet et al

(2012) identified that perceived ease of use (of the LMS), perceived usefulness (of the LMS),

and subjective norm (the opinions of others) were found to have a strong effect on the

informational use (p.694) of an LMS.

While many criteria in several different frameworks have been created to assess the

efficacy of an LMS, the most prominent indicator of success is continued use. Naveh, Tubin, and

Pliskin (2010) identify student use and student satisfaction with an LMS to be the main

indicators of the success of an LMS and the researchers encourage instructors to post rich

content on course websites to maintain and enhance student engagement (p. 133.)

On the whole, both students and instructors perceptions of perceived ease of use,

perceived usefulness, subjective norm and overall satisfaction seem to dictate whether an LMS

can be considered effective. As always, with all things technology-related, the specific context

for each different LMS implementation will dictate different relevant criteria.



Moodle is our chosen LMS due to its flexibility, and its open-source philosophy: In

contrast to Blackboard, which has licensing payments for its proprietary software, Moodle is an

open source LMS which means that it is free and available for download without license

payments or other proprietary obligations. Ellis defines Moodle as a course management


system (CMS) used by educators rather than as a LMS for training and human resource

management applications (Lawler, 2011). This makes Moodle better suited to educational

environments and course delivery. Lawler found a contributing factor to Moodles success in

schools was in its implementation. Moodle focuses on the needs of the users: teachers and

students. It has teachers, students and educators in mind as its priority, making it ideal in a high

school (grades 9-12) environment (Lawler, 2011).

An online LMS allows flexibility for students. While significant learning happens during

collaborative class activities, in an international setting, families are often transient and can be

absent for a period of time. Using an LMS such as Moodle means that students can keep up to

date with their studies while away and arrive back to class without significant learning gaps.

There are also more variables that affect schools in an international setting. The LMS would

become the primary learning platform in the event of a natural disaster or civil unrest that closes

the school and would mean that students would still be able to learn and continue their education.

In an international school, teacher turnover can be significant. One study puts teacher

turnover rates at approximately 14.4% per year in international schools (Henley, 2006). Many

teachers enjoy the opportunity to see different parts of the world and only stay a few years in any

one location. For these teachers, having the ability to access their resources in a virtual suitcase

is advantageous, and even a necessity. Moodle allows the export of resources and pages for

import into a new school system later, provided the new school also uses Moodle.

The ability to control release dates (stagger the access of particular resources,

assignments, drop-boxes, files, etc) makes pre-organizing a course easier for teachers. Students

can access the materials when they are meant to, which will ease anxiety. Students can also

access course calendars to plan ahead for due dates (assignments, tests, etc). These calendars can

be external, such as Google Calendar, but Moodle also supports a native calendar. When students

open Moodle all assignments are shown for all teachers who post on the calendar. Grouping by

classes is an advantage as well. This can be done at any grade level. This makes it easy to

organize units of study and to link related resources and websites. Events can be added to a

calendar so that all or students in the course can see, or only students in a particular group can

see the event. In that way, students only see homework or upcoming events relevant to them.

Students can write journals online, and will find links to collaborative online documents

such as Google Docs and Google Drawings. There are Dropboxes for assignments, so students

can submit their assignments electronically.

The website is closed and only available to students in the course so privacy is not an

issue. Students are able to give feedback to teachers through the forums, and ask questions on

discussion forums so that others who may share their thoughts/concerns/questions can see the

questions and answers being asked by others in the course. Links to various course documents

(class PowerPoints, Ministry documents, online textbooks, Google documents with vocabulary,

links to online animations that many schools have access to, such as BrainPOP) can be provided

in one centralized location. Students need to only bookmark one site, and can access all course

materials from one place, which supports student organization. Units of study are broken down

into sections on the Moodle site so it is clearly organized. Lab documents for science classes can

be accessed from one page. Having course materials online saves paper and cuts printing costs.

Quizzes can also be created within Moodle, and can utilize both closed- and open-ended

responses, and multiple-choice questions can provide automated marking. The data can be kept

and stored, or deleted at the end of each term if desired.



Long and Siemens (2011) define Learning Analytics (LA) as the use of intelligent data,

learner-produced data, and analysis models to discover information and social connections, and

to predict and advise on learning. This, in theory, will help teachers to deliver differentiated

instruction based on the evaluation of this data. Moodle has developed a Learning Analytics

Enriched Rubric (LAe-R) tool as a plugin, which is available on versions 2.2 and above in order

to help educators evaluate student achievement based on a number of learning competencies,

when learning within a virtual learning environment (VLE). For example, when assessing

students performance with regards to collaboration, the tool analyzes and visualizes data such

as forum posts (new or reply messages), chat messages and number of files attached to forum

post messages. This plugin allows the teacher to assess students based on the criterion he/she

chooses, and provides quantitative, as well as qualitative, data. In usability tests, the LAe-R

scored very well, and despite the fact that it is an advanced assessment tool with a large amount

of customization options, educators adopted it quite readily and happily.


The IMS Accessibility SIG defines accessibility as the ability of the learning

environment to adjust to the needs of all learners (IMS Global Learning Consortium, 2002).

According to Cooper, Colwell and Jelfs (2007), steady progress is being made on making

Moodle more accessible, although there still are accessibility issues. Based on said criticisms,

developers continue to strive for a solution that will work best with Moodle, and provide an

optimal reading experience for students with learning disabilities. Moodle has even started an

online collaboration community to improve the accessibility/usability of its system, which can be

found here: Screen readers, NVDA (NonVisual

Desktop Access (open-source screen reader), and Jaws are both compatible with the Windows 8

operating system, and are supported by both Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers when used

within Moodle.

Moodle also strives to make its system truly accessible to all by offering over 100

language packs to learners. The online discussion forums currently support over 25 languages.

The administrator of the site will be able to install the desired language from Site Administration

for educators courses.

When evaluating Moodle from a financial standpoint and keeping to the constraints of

school budgets, should the schoolboard host Moodle on its own, there would be no costs to

upgrade from one version to the next. If there are more than 500 active users, then the school

board would simply need to upgrade the amount of RAM installed on the server. There is also no

limit as to the number of accounts a school board can hold. If a school board self-hosts, this will

also alleviate concerns about student data security. The overall concern of student data sitting

within a hosted solution always exists as the school board has no control over the host and who

has access to it. If the school board hosts internally, they can control access to student data and


More than 40 million users around the world use Google Apps for Education, and

Moodle has worked in collaboration with Google to leverage this user base and to build in

integration. It now provides the potential for automatic login to Google Apps when a student logs

in to Moodle, and it prompts a single sign-on for learners from Moodle to Google. This is

important for navigation purposes, and increases the efficiency and eases frustration levels of

students having to login multiple times.



Some in the industry predict the continuing evolution and even demise of the current

learning management systems as we know it today. Porto (2014) describes how social media and

other online tools have evolved to offer better communication, productivity, and collaboration

for online learning. No longer are tools contained in the LMS, but,

current trends in the LMS landscape include: expansion to mobile platforms; connection

with existing social networks and information streams; tools for course development;

diagnostics and adaptive learning systems based on learning analytics; and personalized

interfaces and instruction. (Porto, para. 3)

The trend in e-learning is now less about the tools available within traditional LMS

platforms but increasingly about the personalization of learning. As outlined in this report,

Moodle is accessible, customizable and integrates with other online tools useful for learning,

such as course calendars, quizzes, and Google apps. Williams (2015) describes how, by

adjusting the pace of instruction, leveraging student interests, letting learners to choose their own

learning path and adjusting content presentation by choosing text, images or videos, instructors

will be able to deliver their coursework in more efficient ways. As an open-source learning

platform, Moodle maximizes the instructors freedom in creating their course as they choose.

Moodle fits well with our international schools current practice of allowing students to

bring their laptops and goals of integrating technology effectively into classroom instruction. It is

a platform that enables students and teachers alike to collaborate, communicate, and access

resources more effectively. As well, students are able to access resources easily in one location

outside of school. Parents who are interested in their childs progress can also monitor from

home as well as seeing what homework is posted. As smartphones become more sophisticated,

mobile apps are also becoming popular. Moodles mobile application Moodle Mobile is

available for both Android and iOS. Though it does have room to improve, its mobile platform is

being updated continually, and will provide even more flexibility to its users who want to access

the LMS through various means.

The integration of Moodle requires the entire school community to be on board -

administrators, teachers, students, and parents - Moodle has proven it does this well because it

focuses on the needs of the users (Lawler, 2011), flexible for teachers to design it as they see

appropriate, and user-friendly for students.



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