Moodle LMS 4.0 – Is it time yet?

Moodle LMS 4.0 launched with great fanfare Tuesday, April 19, 2022. It includes many welcome changes, especially to the UI (user interface) and UX (user experience). But is it ready for you to use?

The greatly anticipated Moodle 4.0 LMS has been a long time coming. It has successfully passed a lot of automated and manual quality assurance testing by countless volunteers.

Screen shot of Moodle 4.0 Course View

Some of the more obvious improvements for both Moodle LMS learners, teachers, managers and administrators include:

  • New My Courses page – formerly on the dashboard, this Course Overview block now has a dedicated page called My Courses. Your enrolled courses are now also searchable on this page.
  • Dashboard and Timeline – The dashboard is still there and is still configurable but now features an enhanced timeline. You can still add the Course Overview block to the Dashboard if you prefer.
  • The Custom Menu is now the primary navigation. It is still customizable but now also features several default menu items including Home, Dashboard, My Courses. It will also include a link to Site Administration if you are a site manager or administrator. I love the fact that the custom menu items now show up in the hamburger menu on mobile devices instead of in the footer of the page.
  • Navigation Drawer is now Course Index – It is still located on the left side of the page but is now toggled by clicking on a small half bubble instead of a hamburger menu. When viewed on mobile devices, the half bubble is near the bottom of the screen. This drawer is now dedicated to displaying a course index that updates as you progress through your course. It also provides you with an indicator of which activities have been completed if your course is using completion tracking. Course editors can now even re-order their course from the course index while editing mode is turned on.
  • Blocks in a Drawer – Whether you have a love’em or hate’em relationship brewing when it comes to blocks, Moodle 4.0 has you covered. If you like blocks but wish there was a little more real estate on your page, you will be happy to learn that blocks are now located in their own collapsible drawer on the right side of the page. This is considerably better than having them end up below your content on mobile devices as in previous versions of Moodle. The downside is that information blocks may not be visible by default when you expect them to be. When viewing on a mobile device, the blocks drawer can be opened from the tab on the right near the bottom of the screen.
  • Contextual Secondary menu – Features that you used to have to dig for in gear menus are now front and centre in a secondary menu which appears below the heading of many pages. If the primary or secondary menu is too wide for your screen, instead of wrapping or running off the screen, a More top-level dropdown menu appears containing menu items that do not fit.
  • Edit Mode button is now a toggle switch – The Turn Editing On/Off button has been replaced by a toggle switch and has been moved to the top right corner of the page.
  • Add an Activity or Resource button, visible when Edit mode is turned on, is now the full width of the content area and shaded to make it more noticeable.
  • Improved Editor – The Atto editor has received several accessibility and usability improvements. There are now more HTML5 compliant tags and the accessibility checking tool is now visible in the main toolbar without having to expand it. While there is still room for improvement, these are significant steps in the right direction.
  • Page Footer is not gone – It is but it isn’t. There is no longer a footer at the bottom of the page. Some of the information which used to appear in the footer can now be found in the info popup when you click on the sticky question mark at the bottom of the page.
  • New activity icons – Gone are the iconic Moodle activity and resource icons that have been around for the past decade. They have been redesigned with a fresh modern look.
  • Report Builder – It has arrived! For the first time ever, Moodle now comes bundled with a drag and drop report builder that was previously only available in Moodle’s Workplace premium edition.
  • Collapsed Weeks and Topics – Topic and Week sections of courses are now collapsed by default.

Learn about the many other new features and enhancements in Moodle 4.0.

Should you just go for it?

With all this and more in Moodle 4.0, is it ready for everyone to use?

While there are already over two hundred 3rd party contributed plugins available for Moodle 4.0 on the day of its launch on moodle.org/plugins, there are only two 3rd party themes available for Moodle 4.0 (Foundation and Simple). Neither of them take full advantage of all the 4.0’s UI/UX enhancements yet. While this is fairly typical on the launch of a major UI change, you may need to wait for your favourite theme’s developer/maintainer to catch up if your branding depends on a theme other than Classic or Boost.

Automated and manual QA testing can help ensure that many features work as expected. However, the flexibility and extensive list of Moodle features pretty much ensures the likelihood that some creative types out there (love you guys and gals!) will come up with ways to use Moodle that nobody could predict. If you are in a rush, try Moodle 4.0 out and get familiar with it. If it works for you, great! However, you might want to consider waiting for Moodle 4.0.1 which is scheduled to be released in May 2022 (yes, next month).

Upgrading? Test… Test… Test – on a copy of your Moodle site. Test the functionality, test the upgrade procedure, test your plugins, test your theme, test accessibility, and test support for multi-language if you make use of it. Update your documentation, train your course editors and support staff and test some more before you deploy. While there are a lot of wonderful changes in Moodle 4.0 that can make it worthwhile to upgrade, the changes in Moodle 4.0 are significant enough to affect everyone. Be prepared.

Depending on your organization’s deployment schedule, consider waiting for Moodle 4.1 LTS. LTS releases such as 2.7, 3.1, 3.5, and 3.9 in the past are long-term-supported releases. They continue to receive updates twice as long as other releases, usually for at least 3 years.

Where are you in terms of support?

Naturally, you are free to apply updates and upgrades to Moodle anytime. Many organizations have already started working on upgrading their site based on Moodle 4.0 alpha and beta pre-release code. While every situation is different, if you still have not decided whether to update or upgrade, here are some of my personal views:

  • Using a version of Moodle before 3.9? It is definitely past its prime and very likely contains multiple security-related vulnerabilities. I highly recommend you plan on upgrading your Moodle site to at least Moodle 3.9 or 3.11. The only exception to this might be if your site is strictly available from your organization’s internal network. In this case, your internal security policies may or may not require that you upgrade. From a usability point of view, upgrading to Moodle 4.0 or planning on upgrading to 4.1 may be worthwhile if it results in a more intuitive user experience, fewer frustrated users and reduced support calls.
  • Moodle HQ has kindly extended support for Moodle 3.9 – It will continue to receive security updates until November 2023. If you are happy with your LMS as it is right now, you can simply continue to apply the security updates periodically for another 18 months but might want to plan on updating to Moodle 4.1 in November 2022 to take advantage of new features and get onboard the LTS schedule.
  • Moodle 3.10 will receive its last security update in May 2022!!! If you have not yet started working on your upgrade plan, it is time to upgrade to Moodle 3.11 or 4.0. Upgrading to 3.11 at this point probably offers the path of least resistance and will be easier than upgrading to Moodle 4.0, however, upgrading to 4.0 will give you a lot of advantages and you will be better prepared for 4.1 which is expected to be released in November 2022.
  • Moodle HQ has kindly extended support for Moodle 3.11 – It will continue to receive bug fixes for another six months until November 2022. If you are already on Moodle 3.11 and are happy with it, you can then safely continue to apply security updates until November 2023. Consider getting on board the LTS schedule in November 2022 with Moodle 4.1 (LTS).
  • Moodle 4.0 is a breath of fresh air for Moodle LMS, however, support will end in just 18 months. Early adopters will find that there is an initial lack of tested plugins and themes available for 4.0 which only makes it suitable for simple implementations, but that will change over the next months. If you are planning on implementing this latest release, consider also making the move to Moodle 4.1 (LTS) in November 2022.
  • Considering Moodle 4.1 (LTS) – Expected to be released in November 2022. By that time, most initial 4.0 bugs should hopefully be fixed and the list of your favourite 3rd party contributed compatible themes and plugins will likely once again run aplenty. If you start now, this will also give you time to work out compatibility issues with plugins or themes that you developed internally within your organization.
  • Moodle Workplace is the premium edition of Moodle that includes additional features targeting the needs of businesses. Workplace 4.0 is not available yet but should be coming in the next few months.

As you can see, there are many arguments for and against upgrading to Moodle 4.0. Hopefully, these considerations can help in your decision.

A little last-minute bonus

Here is a small technical tip that you might find useful when implementing Moodle 4.0.

You may have noticed that some of the pages in 4.0 are much narrower than they used to be on many larger display screens? If you prefer having as much space as possible for your course content, navigate to Site Administration > Appearance > Theme > Boost theme, click on the Advanced Settings tab, and add the following CSS to the Raw SCSS setting. This will restore the content area to the full width on all pages:

@media (min-width: 768px) {
    .header-maxwidth,
    .secondary-navigation,
    body.limitedwidth #page.drawers .main-inner {
        max-width: 100%;
    }
} 

For fans of FilterCodes, a release that is compatible with Moodle 4.0 is now available. It also introduces about 30 new plain text tags to personalize the user experience on your site, includes new features and bug fixes. More on this in upcoming articles.

My wife thinks Moodle 4.0 offers some great improvements. What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below and let me know what you like about Moodle 4.0 or why you might choose to wait.

See you next month!

Michael Milette

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Michael Milette

Michael Milette is the owner and an independent consultant with TNG Consulting Inc. in Canada. He works with government, non-profit organizations, businesses and educational institutions on Moodle-related projects. Michael writes about implementing Moodle LMS, developing in Moodle, Moodle administration, using the FilterCodes plugin (his own project), creating multi-language Moodle implementations and courses, and WCAG 2.1 accessibility.

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