Moodle 4.0 First Thoughts

I’ve been waiting with bated breath for the new version of Moodle to arrive. Version 4.0 was released last week and I couldn’t wait to get it installed and take a look at the new UI and all the features. In this post, I describe the installation process as well as my first experiences.

There has been a lot of hype around the new version of Moodle, with promises that a new user interface will focus on the learning experience. I myself have been waiting a long time for a Moodle refresh. Previous versions of Moodle, out of the box, have felt very dated and clunky compared to other VLE and LMS platforms. That being said, Moodle is still free and open-source, incredibly customisable and a great option for those on a tight budget or those who want a customised package (who have individuals with the right experience to create it).

I should probably include some context here, just in case anyone is reading this who hasn’t read any of my previous Moodle related posts. I’ve had on and off, hands-on experience with Moodle for about 8 years and have my own version of Moodle running at the elearning academy. As the Head of Online Learning at the ICCA, I also oversee VLE projects and updates.

The Installation

This post focuses on my experience of updating the VLE at the elearning academy. It’s a vanilla installation of Moodle with very little customisation and uses the default theme. It contains several courses which consist of assignments, scorm packages and quizzes. I somehow find a new way to streamline the installation process of the VLE each time I do it. For some reason, when I upload the .zip package using FTP, it takes hours. When I upload the package using the browser, it takes minutes! I’ve always completed the installation using FTP, so using the browser this time was a new experience for me.

Once uploaded, the process was the same as usual, I added _old to the installation folder, uploaded and unzipped the new version and renamed it. I then copied over the config.php file as well as the plugins and ran through the database upgrade. I didn’t need to upgrade my version of PHP, as I completed this during the last big upgrade. As my VLE is very small with little customisation, the installation took about 20 minutes to complete. Job’s a goodun!

First Thoughts

So my first thoughts! Wow Moodle looks modern and user friendly. The refresh actually makes you want to interact with the content. The clunkiness has gone and it definitely looks much more modern with a similar feel to some SaaS apps I’ve used, such as Monday.com. The default theme looks great, I love the “edit mode” button, it makes it so much easier to make changes to the course. Navigation has also really improved. I really like the “draw” menu style and the way important course settings, such as course participants, are listed right at the top of the course. Editing the front page and the dashboard is also much easier, the way the different blocks are edited has a very WordPress feel to it.

All of the plugins I installed all seem to work, but again I don’t use many on the elearning academy.

Many areas “under the hood” still have the same look and feel and there are some parts which I feel could have been removed (or at least provide options to hide) which add extra “clicks” to the experience (for example, preview mode for a scorm package, there’s so much information on this screen which a learner doesn’t always need to know about.)

Quizzes have had a bit of a revamp and while I like how they are displayed, I did notice some odd alignment/styling quirks. I didn’t delve into this too much, nor did I really explore how H5P activities look (that is probably going to be my next test/blog post, I have a lot more to say about H5P activities recently!).

Issues and Pain Points

Some issues I’ve experienced have included problems with scorm packages. When I go to edit a scorm activity and then try to save it I receive an error to say that the scorm package is not valid, which isn’t the case as it works (and worked in the previous version) and I’ve previously been able to edit them. I haven’t had much time to troubleshoot this, but my next step is to republish and upload the package.

Other issues are to do with the way activities are displayed. I often use the “hide but make available” feature, by default this was switched off and I think I experienced this problem in a previous version of Moodle. After turning this mode back on (it’s called Stealth mode), I had to go into every activity and enable this which I can see being a massive pain in a large course. The issue with the scorm packages not being valid has also meant that I can’t edit some activities until I’ve reuploaded the scorm package…*sigh* I’m not sure if there was an option to enable this when I upgraded though, so I may have missed it during the install process.

If you decide not to hide an activity, for example a scorm package, it shows up in the course listed as a scorm package. The problem with this is that learners won’t know what a scorm package is, so it would be nice to rename or hide this label.

Screenshot of the elearning academy, showing the course page and scorm package.

As with any upgrade, there are always going to be pain points, so I feel that once I’ve ironed these out they are areas I won’t have to touch again in the future.

I feel that there could be some issues with custom themes – I have no idea how these are going to work with Moodle 4.0 and it’s likely that some themes (such as the custom one we use at the ICCA) are going to need some development work to get them working with the new UI. It’s also likely that if you’re not following a standard way of working with modules it could be problematic. However, upgrading to version 4.0 is probably a good time to also renew your VLE strategy and refresh your course organisation.

Summary

Overall I’m impressed with the new look and feel, Moodle has done a great job and it really gives the platform a refreshed and modern feel. Obviously, I’ve only had a couple of hours hands-on with the new version. I feel that creating a course from scratch and administering it over a long period of time with active students will really highlight what the overall pros and cons are. I look forward to exploring the new version in more depth.

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