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Terminology for Those New to Moodle LMS

When I was first introduced to Moodle LMS more than a decade ago, the world of LMS was new to me and I found myself confused by some of the terminology. In this article, I will try to demystify some basics related to Moodle LMS that will allow you to not only get a better understanding of what people are talking about but also enable you to find the information and the help you are looking for by asking questions using the correct terminology.

1. Front page vs Site Home vs. Home page vs. Dashboard vs. My Courses

  • Front Page / Site Home: The Site Home page, formerly known as the Front Page, is the first page that users see when they visit a Moodle site. This is also known as the site’s Home page. The page can be customized to display information such as site description, news, upcoming events and more.
  • Home Page: The Home page is the page that the user will see after they log into the site. In Moodle LMS, this is configurable and could be set to the Front page, the Dashboard page or the My Courses page by navigating to Site Administration > Appearance > Navigation and selecting the Start Page for Users.
  • Dashboard: The dashboard page is a personalized page that provides users with an overview of their course, activities and progress. Depending on the configuration of your site, users may be able to customize their dashboard. You can configure the default dashboard for all users by going to Site Administration > Appearance > Default Dashboard Page. Then turn editing on, make the changes you need and finally click the Reset Dashboard for All Users button and your changes will be applied to all users.
  • My Courses: The My Courses page contains the Course Overview block which lists courses in which the user is enrolled. Unlike the other pages mentioned here, you cannot add or remove blocks from this page. If you are using a version of Moodle LMS before 4.0, this block will be found on the Dashboard page.

2. Registration vs. Self-Registration vs. Authentication vs. Sign vs. Log in vs. Enrollment

  • Registration: To register on a Moodle LMS site means creating an account by providing your first name, last name, email address, and setting a password. If you want to enable users to create accounts on their own, this is called Email-Based Self-Registration, or simply Self Registration for short.

    Self-registration works like this:

  1. The user creates an account on the Moodle LMS site.
  2. They receive an email with a special link. This is to ensure that they provided a valid email address.
  3. They click the link and log back into the Moodle site.

Depending on the site, the creation of accounts on the Moodle site may alternatively be: Done for employees by the organization if integrated with an external authentication system; automatically created by logging in using a social media authentication service; manually created inside Moodle LMS; or manually created in bulk by importing using a CSV or Excel file.

  • Authentication/Sign in/Log in: You will find that these three terms are often used interchangeably. Sign in and Login is where you are asked for your login username and password credentials and authentication is when Moodle decides if it should let you in or reject you.

    Besides managing credentials on its own, Moodle LMS can also be configured to let users sign in using the organization’s login system (called Single Sign On or Single Login), or use OAuth2, a way for it to use an external authentication service such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Netcloud, LinkedIn, Clever, MoodleNet or other compatible services. With OAuth2, Moodle LMS asks the service if it knows you. That service will then prompt you for your username and password, if necessary, and then tell Moodle whether it knows you or not. If it does know you, your first name, last name and email address are shared back to the Moodle site – but not your password.

    Note that the authentication systems must be enabled on the site before they can be used. Most of these can be found by navigating to Site Administration > Plugins > Authentication (section) > Manage Authentication. OAuth2 configuration can be found by going to Site Administration > Server > Server (section) > OAuth2 Services.

  • Enrollment: Enrollment is the process of signing up for a course on a Moodle LMS site. There are many different enrollment methods. For example, if you want users to be able to sign up for a course on their own, you would enable the Self-Enrollment method. This can be done by:
    • Navigating to the course.
    • Clicking on Participants.
    • Changing the Enrolled Users dropdown near the top of the page to Enrolment Methods

Here you can enable and disable enrolment methods. Note that the enrolment method must be enabled on the site to use it. Most of these can be found by navigating to Site Administration > Plugins > Authentication (section) > Manage Authentication.

3. Guest vs. Authenticated User vs. Student vs. Course Creator vs. Non-Editing Teacher vs. Teacher vs. Manager vs. Site Administrator

Note that roles in Moodle are not roles in your organization. For example, a manager in your organization should not automatically get to be a Moodle Manager. Roles should be assigned based on a person’s needs and responsibilities on the Moodle LMS website.

  • Guest: Being logged in as a guest is a strange one. Essentially, you are not logged in however, you may be able to access some courses anonymously such as viewing certain courses that have a Guest enrolment method enabled. Things that a guest cannot do include anything that Moodle would need to track. For example, a guest cannot track course progress and therefore completion. They cannot participate in many Moodle activities such as quizzes and workshops.
  • Authenticated User: This is the role of any user who is logged into the Moodle site.
  • Student: This is the role of a user who is enrolled in a course as a learner, but only when they are in the course. Outside the course, they are just an authenticated user.
  • Course Creator: This is an authenticated user who can create courses. It is interesting that, once they create a course, they are automatically enrolled in the course as a teacher, not as a course creator.
  • Non-editing teacher: This type of teacher can view the course, student progress and grade students. They cannot make changes to the course. This can also be used for teachers, if you don’t want them to make changes to the course, or assigned to teaching assistants.
  • Teacher: Sometimes also referred to as an editing teacher in Moodle, a user with this role can edit and make changes to the course in which they are enrolled. They cannot create new courses, copy a course, move courses or delete courses. Outside the course, a user with this role are just an authenticated user.
  • Manager: The Moodle manager can manage users, courses and categories, and run related reports but cannot usually make configuration changes to the Moodle site. This role will have less options in Site Administration and will be much less overwhelming for aspiring site administrators..
  • Site Administrator: This user can do almost anything that other roles can do as well as configure all Moodle LMS settings and appearance. Besides being overwhelming for new Moodle LMS users, for security reasons, it is highly recommended that this type of role be restricted to a very select few resources that know what they are doing and are trusted 100%. Most of the time, the role of site manager will suffice.

Both Course Creator and Manager roles can be assigned system-wide by navigating to Site Administration > Users > Permissions (section) > Assign System Roles.

It is important to note that roles assigned within a given context, such as a course or category, someone could be a teacher in one course and a student in another.

Moodle also gives you the ability to create custom roles for specific purposes and with different permissions. You should normally make use of roles built into Moodle. However, there are times when you may need special roles. For example, for parents to view the progress of their child, or for student testers to perform quality assurance testing on hidden courses before they are published.

4. Course vs. Course Sections vs. Course Activities vs. Course Resources

  • Course: A course is a collection of learning materials and activities that are organized to teach a particular subject. In Moodle, a course is the area where a teacher/instructor/educator adds the learning content for their students. To create a course, you must have been given the role of a course creator, manager or site administrator.
  • Course sections: Inside a course, you will find sections. When you first create a course, you will find that it usually already includes a General section and several additional sections that are usually named Topic 1, Topic 2, etc. You could put your whole course into the General section (the first default section) if it is very short. However, it is often easier for students to find their way if a course is split up into different sections, each covering a high-level concept in the course. A section can contain activities such as lessons, and quizzes, and resources such as books and files. All course sections can be renamed.
  • Course activities: Course activities require the student to get involved and be active in the course by taking a quiz or uploading an assignment for example. Moodle has 15 different types of activities to choose from. Some types of activities such as the Database, Glossary and Lesson can be made into read-only resources for reference instead of interactive activities.
  • Course resources: Course resources are like course activities except that they are static items that a teacher can use to support learning, such as a file or link. Moodle supports 7 different resource types.

Sections, resources and activities are features that you can add to a Moodle course. To make changes to a course, you must be a Teacher, Manager or Site Administrator. Simply navigate to the course and turn editing mode On.

5. Course Categories

Categories: Categories are a way to organize courses on a Moodle site. They can be used to group courses by department, subject, or any other criteria. Assigning users a role in a course category can be done by assigning a Manager at the Category level or by enrolling teacher or student roles category-wide.

6. Quiz vs. Feedback vs. Survey

While all three of these activities make it possible to ask questions to students, they have different intended purposes.

  • Quiz: A quiz is an activity in Moodle that allows teachers to create quizzes with various question types, such as multiple choice, true/false, and short answer.  These can be graded automatically or manually. This is typically used to test student’s understanding and knowledge retention.
  • Feedback: This is an activity for creating custom surveys and compiling the feedback into reports. Note that students are usually limited to completing a given feedback survey only once per course. There are no right or wrong answers.
  • Survey: This is a pre-defined activity for gathering information from students to help teachers learn about their class. Unlike the feedback activity, the survey activity uses a series of standardized questions including ATTLS (20-item version), Critical Incidents, COLLES (Actual), COLLES (Preferred and Actual), and COLLES (Preferred). Most people that I’ve worked with prefer to create their own surveys using the Feedback activity.

6. Label vs. Page vs. Book vs. Lesson vs. Wiki

Here are some differences between Label, Page, Book, Lesson, Wiki, and Workshop activities in Moodle:

  • Label: A label is a simple text box that can be used to add headings, instructions, or other information to the main course page (sometimes called the course outline). Besides text, you can add images and even videos. Try not to put too much content in a label as it makes scrolling the main course page very long.
  • Page: A page is a static HTML page that can be used to display content such as text, images, and videos. It is like a Label but has its own page.
  • Book: A book is a collection of pages that can be used to create an e-book, a course manual or a series of sub-topics in a course. Unlike a page, a book includes navigation for the user to move from one page to the next as well as a table of contents. Books can be exported as a PDF or an EPUB file.
  • Lesson: A lesson is also a series of pages. However, unlike a book, a lesson is an activity that allows you to create a branching scenario, where students are presented with a series of questions or pages based on their previous answers. Some uses for a Lesson include creating an interactive quiz, or simulations. It can also be useful if you have different sets of materials depending on the student’s interest or acquired knowledge. Here is an example of a branching activity. You can alter the course of the lesson depending on which button the learner clicks. This can be done to explore scenarios or test a learner’s understanding of course content. In its simplest form, it can be used like a book, taking you from one page to the next.
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  • Wiki: A wiki is an activity that allows students to create a collaborative document by building pages together, similar to Wikipedia.

Whether you are using Moodle LMS or another LMS, understanding the terminology is essential for navigating the platform with ease. By familiarizing yourself with these terms, you will be able to find the settings and features that you are looking for, communicate effectively with others, and find the support that you need.

Note: The screen shots in this article were taken from the official Moodle demo sites, a great place where teachers, managers and administrators can see what a fully functional Moodle site looks like and get ideas for how to organize courses. They can also use it as a sandbox area to try things out without worrying about breaking something – the sites are reset every hour just in case 🙂.

As we kick off the new year, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all our readers a Happy New Year filled with successful learning experiences on Moodle LMS.

See you next month!

Michael Milette

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.

One thought on “Terminology for Those New to Moodle LMS

  • Anonymous

    Nice post Michael
    One area that constantly causes confusion when dealing with hosting client administrators is Authentication and Enrolment – because often these terms are used interchangeably, at least in their minds.
    Even more confusing is when they talk about “registration” – as it’s always unclear if they mean Authentication, or Enrolment, lol.
    My other pet hate is people talking about a “landing page” – that’s like a little soundbite they heard, but they literally have no real concept of what this means of how to define it.


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