So you want to build an educational site. An admirable objective, to be sure. But how you go about creating an interactive, intuitive, and functional e-learning experience can raise a lot of questions.
For instance, how will classes be structured? How will you accept students and process their work? How will teachers and students interact with one another? These are difficult questions to answer if you're approaching the site's design from square one. However, you might find it to be much more efficient to use Moodle.
In this tutorial, I'll discuss some basic definitions involving Moodle, learning management systems, and online education. Next, I'll talk about what sort of things you can accomplish with Moodle, including a rundown of its best features. Then you can expect information on how to launch a site with a closing section on stylish templates you can use to get a site off the ground ASAP.
Before we really dive into the subject, you might be antsy to just get to work. If that's the case, you can launch a site using one of the many Moodle themes we have available. Go ahead and take a moment to browse through the options.
Now let's get started by spending some time working through common definitions.
What Is Moodle, Exactly?
Moodle is a learning management system designed to make creating long-distance education and other online learning programs easier to setup and use. It's built on PHP, distributed under the GNU General Public License, and is totally open-source, meaning the software is free to use and customize for any purpose, including both non-commercial and commercial endeavors.
It can be adopted to support any kind of educational program: from K-12, to universities, to job training, to online courses. Using Moodle as the foundation of your website makes it possible to quickly and easily create a private educational environment that can be customized using plugins developed by other users.
Learning Management Systems: A Definition
Before we go any further, I think it's important to pause for a moment to define this. A learning management system or LMS is a type of software designed to help people create educational programs online. They typically include features that help users control administration, student progress, reporting, and the actual delivery of educational materials.
An LMS can be used for dedicated online courses or as a supplement to traditional in-person courses. They can be used for university classes, job skills training, or supplemental education. The benefit here is an LMS also helps admins manage student registration, coursework, discussion, and grades.
Why Do You Need an LMS?
While it's true you can accomplish the same things an LMS does with a custom-built framework, why would you want to? It's a lot of work to create this kind of system from the ground up, especially when you take into consideration the complexity of the infrastructure required to make an online classroom.
With an LMS, you get a set of features and a system designed to support a myriad of educational models right out of the box. No coding required. This allows you to create a website for your class that includes forums, contact forms, commenting and feedback systems, grading modules, and course delivery programs that you'd spend many, many hours trying to create yourself.
Beyond the classroom environment itself, an LMS can also help you to register students, analyze progress, view trends, and create reports based on your findings. This is helpful in so many ways beyond just creating and instructing a class.
An LMS takes care of every aspect of education, can accommodate any type of educational goal, and allow for a multitude of ways to deliver, engage with, and measure the effectiveness of online courses, job training, self-training, instructor-led training, assessments, discussion-based learning, and so much more. And accomplish all this, while mitigating the costs and resources that would be required to fund a traditional educational environment.
Moodle is just one example of an LMS, but it is one of the most popular, by far.
What Can You Do with Moodle?
Moodle comes jam-packed with features. You might not need all of them when building an online course or educational website but it's reassuring to have so many options. Let's first talk about some basic things you should know about this open-source software before delving into the feature details.
First, Moodle is open-source, which means it can be customized in any way you see fit. The base software is highly versatile, and thanks to a modular design, it can be modified to custom fit any kind of educational site. Members of the Moodle community have developed plugins you can use to add greater functionality. They've also translated Moodle into over 120 languages, so localizing the installation is not a problem.
This software is also scalable, which means it can be used to support small classes composed of just a few students to large-scale organizations in the thousands. This is why Moodle is often the go-to LMS for businesses, non-profits, and government entities, and not just used for traditional educational environments. Moodle is also optimized for security, especially with regard to data and user privacy. Updates are continually made to features and security, so your information and that of your students will always be protected.
Beyond the basics, Moodle also comes with a whole host of features you can toggle on or off depending on your site's unique needs. These features include things like:
If you've worked with any kind of CMS in the past, you'll be familiar with the dashboard. For Moodle, the dashboard is a customizable page that provides users access to everything related to their online education. It includes links to courses, activities, forum posts, assignments, grades, and more. It basically acts as the central hub that is presented first thing after students login.
The calendar is a great because it allows students to view information about multiple courses and users at a glance. You can easily view test and quiz dates, chat times, and any other events related to your courses.
This is where Moodle really shines. Activities are actually a group of modules included in the software that allow you to add features to your dashboard and to the student experience. It is through activities that you foster communication and interaction with students and teachers as well as students with other students.
While you can always add-on more features through plugins, the primary (quite self-explanatory) Activities include: Assignments, Chat, Choice (multiple choice style Q&A), Database, Feedback, Forum, Glossary, Lesson, Quiz, Survey, Wiki, and Workshop. There is also LTI which allows students to interact with LTI-compliant learning resources and SCORM which refers to packages of course content that can be inserted into any course and integrated into any LMS.
Other general features that both users and admins can use include file management, which adds the ability to drag-and-drop files from cloud storage services including Dropbox, Google Drive, and MS OneDrive. Moodle also includes a text editor, notifications, and progress tracking.
Administrators and site developers have even more feature access including the ability to:
- Manage user roles
- Manage plugins
- Integrate external apps
- Access reports and logs
Once the site is launched (which I'll go into how to do that in just a moment), you can create courses. Some of the tools at your disposal to make this happen include:
- Course creation based on different learning paths including self-led, instructor led, blended, etc.
- Collaborative learning environments using the Activities described above.
- External resource embedding.
- Multimedia support.
- Management tools for groups/teams.
- Assignment markers and grade moderation.
- Browser-based in-line PDF feedback.
- Self assessment.
- Peer assessment.
- Badges, outcomes, and rubrics.
That's a lot of information to process, I know. But it's important to have a basic understanding of what you can do with Moodle before you attempt to launch your site with it. Which is precisely what we're going to talk about next.
How to Launch a Site on Moodle
Getting started with Moodle is similar to getting started with any CMS.
It's built on PHP and requires a MySQL database, so you'll need to make sure your web host supports this. With that out of the way, you can begin:
- Download the appropriate files. Go to Moodle.org and download the official version of the Moodle software.
- Using an FTP client, upload all of the contents of the Moodle folder to your web host. Unless you want Moodle to be located within a folder on your site's directory (www.mysite.com/moodle/) then you should copy all of the contents of the folder directly into the main server directory.
- Create a database. You can typically do this when logged into your site's hosting provider. If using MySQL you'll need to note the name of dbhost, dbname, dbuser, and dbpass. You'll need these items for the next steps.
- Make a directory for data. If not on a shared server, the directory path should look something like:
# mkdir /path/to/moodledata
# chmod 0777 /path/to/moodledata
- Run the Moodle installer. Now you'll create database tables to get your Moodle site up and running. You can user either a command line installer or web-based installer for this purpose. If you choose the latter, just follow the series of prompts to complete installation.
- Configure your Moodle installation. Once installed, you'll need to make sure all of the administration screens function the way you want them to. For instance, you'll need to set up the email you want associated with the site. You may also wish to configure system paths, proxy credentials if you're behind a firewall, and your local timezone.
While there is certainly more you can do to setup and configure Moodle, this is a basic rundown of how to get a site published on the LMS.
Best Moodle Themes
Here is a selection of the best Moodle themes we currently have available on ThemeForest:
The modern responsive theme Lambda makes it easy to get an educational site up and running. Not only does it include a stylish design, but also numerous features that make putting together and managing courses simpler like tabs, slideshows, promotion boxes, and more. Other features include unlimited colors, multiple layouts, a customizable frontpage, social media integration, and full documentation and support.
If a simple layout is more your thing, Marble is a good choice. It's ideal for creating straightforward learning environments for a multitude of situations and subjects. Some of its features include a responsive design, Font Awesome Icons, a slideshow, dedicated marketing spots, a grid-based course listing, social media integration, testimonials, pricing tables, custom CSS, and more.
There's something undeniably modern about the TIKLI Moodle theme. The homepage layout is intuitive and immediately engaging. There are multiple layout options for course pages. And there's even a customized view option you can toggle on and off between grid and list views for course listings.
With multiple color options, customizable UI elements, a testimonials section, a facts section, a map, and featured content, you can present the information you want to get out there easily.
The clean and responsive layout on the Roshni Moodle theme makes it a great choice for many different kinds of online courses. It has a detailed settings panel, color options, four page layouts, three different header types, two sliders, unlimited fonts, Google Maps integration, Font Awesome Icons, and so much more. It's also cross-browser compatible and includes full documentation as well as free support and updates.
Last but certainly not least there's Nunforest, a responsive Moodle theme that prioritizes simplicity without skimping on features. It comes with plenty of settings so you can customize without code, a layer frontpage slideshow, marketing spots, grid layouts, social media icons, pricing table styles, testimonial styles, icon boxes, custom CSS, Font Awesome, and more.
Get Started with Moodle Today!
Now that you've spent some time learning all about what Moodle is, what it does, and how to set it up, you can get started on launching your own educational site. Whether you use a custom design or a Moodle theme, the end result is bound to be outstanding.