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What is Moodle?

Normally, CMS refers to an online Content Management System. But when referring to the foundation for a learning site, CMS becomes Course Management System, and one of the most popular is the Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment, or Moodle.

While Moodle hosting isn't technically a type of hosting, there are some things to take into consideration and some specific features to look for when choosing a host for a Moodle site. And while many hosts do offer those features, there are also some who are dedicated to Moodle site hosting. Either way, knowing what you need from a host in order for your educational site to function properly is paramount in that decision.

The first thing to consider is capacity. How many students will be accessing and using your site simultaneously? Too many, and without a good host, and Moodle can run quite slowly, resulting in a poor user experience for your students. Make sure your host can accommodate multiple users on your site at once, and at peak usage times.

Next, check which version of Moodle you'll be using. All versions of Moodle work best in a standard Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP, or LAMP infrastructure. Check that your host not only offers LAMP, but updates it on a regular basis to keep up with new versions of those components, but of the CMS you'll be using. In addition, select a host that will allow you to customize the PHP and MySQL configurations to accommodate Moodle. Not all hosts will let you do that.

Choose a host that offers a control panel through which you can compress files of 20 megabytes or more. This will make it easier for you to switch hosts in the future, should you ever decide to do so. Also, make sure your Moodledata folder is not stored in the public folder, also for future ease of migration.

If all this seems a little confusing or just a lot to keep track of, look for a host that offers dedicated Moodle hosting. That way, you'll know they've thought of everything, and all you'll have to worry about is creating high-quality educational content for your students.

Moodle is an open source platform for the production and distribution of e-learning material. It's used by colleges and training departments because it can be adapted to many purposes, and it's also secure, so results and coursework stay private.

Moodle stands for Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment. It's one of many virtual learning environments (VLEs) used to deploy courses online. These courses are aimed at people who are already studying in the classroom, rather than people taking their entire course online. It is built for interactivity.

Martin Dougiamas, an Australian programmer and teacher, has built a loyal following for his software since Moodle was first released in 2002. Dougiamas' learning theories and development work underpin thousands of courses all over the globe, and he works full-time on the project.

Why Moodle?

The main focus of the software is online collaboration, helping active learners to take in courseware more easily, and ensuring online course delivery is secure. In addition, Moodle has some other sophisticated features that are vital for e-learning deployment, such as plagiarism detection and a mobile-friendly output. Students are assigned a username and password and can securely enrol on courses, set up their profile and review their results; teachers can be made administrators on their courses.

Moodle can also be used to submit assignments and view pre-recorded content, such as lectures, as well as live interactive lectures and discussions. Additionally, with add-ons like Wimba, students and teachers can record voice commentaries and download audio content. These features are designed to support oral assignments, and better engage learners who prefer auditory learning to reading.

The most recent versions of Moodle support most mobile devices, including Android, iPhone and iPad. In terms of browser compatibility, Google Chrome is recommended; some features do not work in older versions of Internet Explorer.

Moodle Standards

Moodle is designed to comply with SCORM, which stands for the shareable content object reference model. SCORM is a standard used by most major e-learning tools, plus supporting software; it lets these tools exchange data with each other. Find out more about SCORM on the developer's website.

Some tutors train in Moodle and achieve certification that proves their knowledge of the tool. The current version of this certification is called the Moodle Course Creator Certificate (MCCC).

Customising Moodle

Like any modern online system, the basic platform within Moodle can be extended with bolt-ons and upgrades. These packages can be installed alongside the central Moodle software to enhance its functionality.

Customisation options for Moodle come in the forms of themes, plugins and translations:

  • Themes are template packages that change the way the course looks. Themes can also change the look of an entire site, letting companies add their own colours and branding. Some organisations develop their own themes based on bootstrap content, so it's easy to customise the theme for your own use
  • Plugins enhance the functionality of Moodle by adding additional features. Plugins are written in PHP and can be contributed by the user community
  • Language packs help tutors to provide courses in their learners' local langugages.

The open source nature of Moodle makes it very flexible and extensible. Most changes can be made in the administration panel; those that cannot can usually be hacked together using PHP.

Moodle Requirements

If you're looking for a web hosting account for Moodle, you'll need Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP for a smooth installation. Moodle's own documentation states that this is the "safest" way to install it, and there's a huge amount of support for the LAMP stack. Moodle can also be installed on Windows or Mac as a standalone piece of software - ideal if you want to give it a test drive before handing it over to your system admin team.

Moodle needs:

  • A bare minimum of 160MB storage space for core files - but remember that you need space for your multimedia and content uploaded by students
  • 256MB server RAM (again, a bare minimum - Moodle recommends 1GB for every 10-20 concurrent users)
  • MySQL, PostgreSQL, MSSQL or Oracle support (MySQL recommended)
  • Remote backup provision to store copies of your students' work.

While many web hosting companies offer Moodle as a 1-click installer, not all of them will meet these requirements on their cheapest plans. The remote backup provision is rarely offered on any web hosting plan, and will require a more complicated setup than a regular website. We recommend opting for a virtual private server (VPS) or dedicated server, but have a chat with your host before committing.

Moodle Hosting Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is Moodle?

    Moodle is a free, open-source program designed for making online courses. Its name is an acronym. The letters stand for Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment. Moodle is a learning management system, or LMS.

  • What does Moodle do?

    Moodle lets teachers create private online lessons for any learning environment. The software is very customizable, and can be used to assign specific lessons to students, create online courses, or even create training for businesses.

  • How much does Moodle cost?

    Moodle is free. It is licensed under the GNU General Public License.

  • Does Moodle have to be used in a classroom?

    No. Moodle can be used for distance learning too.

  • How do I install Moodle?

    The Moodle LMS is very similar to a CMS. It's installed the same way: either manually, or using a one-click installer, if your host provides that facility.

  • Do I need technical knowledge to use Moodle?

    No. Moodle has a drag-and-drop interface. If you've used a CMS, you should be comfortable with it.

  • Is Moodle secure?

    Moodle is as secure as any other web application. You can harden security by purchasing and SSL certificate for your Moodle server, and encouraging teachers and pupils to create strong passwords. To limit abuse, it's a good idea to regularly audit administrator and teacher logins, removing any that are no longer required.

  • Can I brand Moodle with my school logo?

    Yes. Moodle has a theme system, so you can quickly change the appearance of your e-learning site. Themes can be downloaded from the internet, or created according to your own color and branding needs.

  • What are resources in Moodle?

    Resources are files that can be added to Moodle lessons to provide background information or research material. Moodle supports file attachments (including pictures and PDFs), HTML content, IMS packages, and URLs.

    You can organize resources in folders, and add labels to describe or categorize them.

  • What is an IMS package?

    IMS packages are containers that include a mixture of learning materials. These content packages can be created by teachers, purchased from vendors, or built in an application such as Udutu. These packages can be imported directly into Moodle.

  • What is SCORM?

    SCORM is a standard for packaged learning materials. It can store quiz scores and grades in a format that Moodle can interpret.

  • What are plugins?

    Plugins add extra features to Moodle. There are well over 1,000 plugins available at the official repository, https://moodle.org/plugins/.

  • Are there any drawbacks to Moodle?

    Moodle works best when it's used for one class, or one organization. It may not scale well for large organizations unless you invest in a dedicated server.

  • What are the requirements for Moodle hosting?

    Moodle can run on a Linux shared hosting plan, but this is only really suitable for a few classes or a small online course. It's a good idea to pick a host that offers an easy upgrade route if you find that shared hosting is not adequate.

    If you expect your entire school or college to use Moodle, start with a VPS, and be prepared to move to a dedicated server as site traffic increases.

  • What are the alternatives to Moodle?

    Alternative LMS software applications include Blackboard, Schoology, Edline, Canvas, Edmodo, Lore, and iTunes U.

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