For the online learning world

Elearning WorldGeneralThemeUX


The fear of Moodle

Fear, what is ‘fear’? Fear of:

  • Understanding what is on the screen?
  • Not knowing what to do?
  • Panicking when you’re under pressure?
  • Being embarrassed when you don’t know the answer to a Moodle ‘how do I do this’ question from a student?
  • Thinking you can’t find a technical solution to a problem for a client?
  • Change – will I be able to use the next version to do the same things as before?

Everybody using Moodle experiences some sort of ‘fear’ every now and then. It is the same with anything in life that is important to a purpose, be that your job, your education or peer feedback.

So what can we do to address these fears and regain our confidence? Especially as Moodle changes all the time and every situation is different. In my experience the keys to this are:

  • Preparation – ensure you have enough time to practice.
  • Knowing that you don’t and never will know everything, therefore understanding that you need to ask someone for help.
  • Adapting – see patterns in the problem that relate to past solutions.
  • Investigation – look at the problem and investigate what is really going on.
  • Understanding – understanding the problem and working out the elements it relates to.

So how does this really relate to Moodle and how you use its user interface in the first place? Because Moodle’s great advantage is its adaptability and does not enforce a certain workflow it can be complex and overwhelming. This links to the ‘fear’ I have been writing about. You look at the screen with its user interface (and oh so many options!) and have those fears. Therefore here are some possible solutions:

  • Preparation – Install a local copy of Moodle on your own computer and make time to explore. There are lots of ways to do this, Moodle.org provides stand-alone installation packages for Mac (download.moodle.org/macosx/) and Windows (download.moodle.org/windows/). Bitnami provides stand-alone packages for Linux, Mac and Windows (bitnami.com/stack/moodle). There are others too, but I’ve not looked in a while to see what is out there as I run a completely bespoke install that works well for me. Having a local install reduces risk and fear because if it goes wrong you just uninstall and start again. Also being a ‘full’ install you can prepare courses and modules, back them up (as ‘mbz’ files) and restore them to your main Moodle.
  • Knowing – The Moodle.org forums (moodle.org/course/view.php?id=5) are a great place to get help. The key is to ask on the most appropriate forum. So consider what your question is about and explore the forums available. A good place to start is to read ‘Moodle.org forums help‘. Another good thing to do in an organisation is to establish a ‘Moodle support group’ and appoint ‘Moodle champions’ who will be the first port of call for a given department. Don’t worry that it might be taking you ages to learn something that on the face of it looks easy, sometimes it is not, you scratch the surface and find there is more to it.
  • Adapting – Learn about what you have learnt. When following examples ask ‘why’, ‘why does it work this way?’ and at the same time ‘does this relate to a problem I had in the past?’. A list of instructions is just a list, without explanation it is just a sequence of robotic orders. Challenge your Moodle educators to explain and transfer their underlying knowledge to you.
  • Investigation – Find out what the problem is really about and critically ensure that you can write down the steps to replicate the problem. This will not only help you for the future in confirming that the problem has been solved but additionally provide a means for somebody helping you replicate it too – such as on the forums and ‘Moodle tracker‘. It is really important to note down the versions of Moodle and any plug-in(s) involved, as you could be using an older version where the problem has been fixed and it establishes the correct environment state where you are certain that the problem will occur. When it comes to the styles on a page, then the ‘Browser development tools’ (press F12 on your browser) are great at investigating the web page and seeing the effect of changes without actually changing the stored code.
  • Understanding – Gain knowledge to know what you are looking at. Understand what ‘part’ of Moodle it relates to, so the ‘course’, the ‘course format’ or ‘quiz’. From a themes forum moderators on Moodle.org perspective I often find that the problem is not actually the theme but something else like the course format. This is because the theme appears to be the creator of the content on the screen when in fact it just styles and organises it but only to a certain extent. So think, is this style / organisation related or is to do with the actual content? If the former then mostly the theme but can be some other plug-in as they provide styles. So think what specific thing it relates to. If the latter then more than likely, not the theme (unless a slider or for the most part elements on the front-page on custom themes). Don’t think of a Moodle page as just ‘Moodle’ but as a collection of components working together, just like a car has many components that work together to get you from ‘A’ to ‘B’ but the paint is not responsible for or has an effect on the steering (unless it has peeled off so badly and acting as a sail!).

So now will you ‘freeze’ like a ‘rabbit in the headlights’ when you look at a Moodle screen or do you think ‘yes, I can do this’? And what is your greatest ‘Moodle’ fear and how will you overcome it?

Gareth Barnard
Latest posts by Gareth Barnard (see all)

Gareth Barnard

Gareth is a developer of numerous Moodle Themes including Essential (the most popular Moodle Theme ever), Foundation, and other plugins such as course formats, including Collapsed Topics.

4 thoughts on “Fear

  • You are so right Gareth. I love you touched this taboo subject. A lot of Moodle experts feel shame before an unknown answer. But they shouldn’t. From one hand I believe that we’ll never learn Moodle enough, and we simply need to accept this. From the other hand we should approach Moodle challenges as jigsaws, “crosswords” as Stuart said. It’s a fun proccess. The answer is always somewhere out there, in the documentation, the help files, in the forums, in the tracker… and if it’s not in any of these places, then… WOW! You are able to create the answer! Open Source Software Communities are simply a magic place to be.

    • Thank you Anna. I had never thought of this subject as ‘taboo’! Interesting. Perhaps it says a lot about the human condition? In computing if someone says they ‘know everything’ then they are not telling the truth. So as a software engineer I never claim to and don’t loose face if I say I don’t know how to do something, there is no shame rather a position to move forward and seek help for the benefit of solving the problem. Thus why should it be not the same with Moodle experts? Moodle is complex and in the same concept area of being to big to know everything. There is no shame only the realisation to seek help or go away and learn something new and get back to the client / person asking you for help.

  • Fantastic post Gareth ! Personally, in light of my day-to-day work, my fear trigger is the “Thinking I can’t find a technical solution to a problem for a client”. Why? Because, as you touch on, there are so many different ways people use Moodle, and different ways of setting up a site, it can often be a case of ‘learning’ what that site is doing, before you can actually understand a problem! That said, it’s a challenge I love, like a crossword or something, where you have to really think, trawl trough your experiences and knowledge, often testing things as you go, and generating a solution, or sometimes multiple solution options.

    • Thank you Stuart. Software development is a creative problem solving challenge, it is what drives us to challenge ourselves, to think of new and alternative solutions that the client may not have considered. The key is understanding from the perspective of the client and not the developer.

      I’m going to be honest here and say my biggest fear is JavaScript. It’s just the way it is, something about it just confuses me. I once read a book on it and thought ‘why is it doing this?’ and ‘why is the author already explaining “workarounds” to the language to do things?’. I’m much more comfortable with jQuery as it adds a layer of abstraction and appears to me as more Object Orientated and familiar. However as time progresses I am chipping away at that fear.

Add a reply or comment...