Thursday, June 13, 2013

WordPress LMS versus Moodle

A few weeks back I met Vasumathi Sriganesh, a medical librarian who runs a fascinating non-profit called QMed Knowledge Foundation in Mumbai, India. We shared our experiences with the problem of availability and access to scholarly journals in developing countries. We also spoke about e-learning and how to run online courses. Vasumathi knew about Moodle but she had recently heard that WordPress has its own LMS or LMS-like features. This was news to me and I wanted to find out more.

A quick online search led me to this comparison of some options to make an LMS in WordPress:

The advantages of WordPress seem compelling, but not this one: “[WordPress is good if] your courses are independent learning courses and your users don’t have to interact with each other or an instructor”.

And here’s a pro-Wordpress piece from the makers of one of the plugins:

One of the lines in this piece caught my attention: “…you would author all of your content within one Experience API (Tin Can API) compatible software packages such as Articulate or Captivate.”

Apparently the plugin is compatible with “Experience API”, a recent standard for e-learning content. But it sounds like one would need expensive authoring tools such as Articulate or Captivate to create modules in this standard. I don’t know if there are any free authoring tools for this purpose. Of course, one option is to present simple text and multimedia content, but then it may not be possible to track what learners have done.

Obviously more research is needed, but I've often noticed that people considering e-learning don't know enough about Moodle's constructionist philosophy of education, where students have the ability to share and create knowledge. When one has seen this happen, as I have, it’s hard to look at e-learning as just content.

When I wrote up a report following the recent AuthorAID online courses, I found a statistically significant correlation between a participant’s forum activity and whether they completed the course. For example, all participants who made more than the median number of posts completed the course. Then, two-thirds of the participants said that both the forum posts and course content were equally useful for their learning.

So I’m a firm believer in the value of interaction in an online course and I try to look to the heady Moodle philosophy ( for inspiration.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Ten tips for learners taking MOOCs

This post is related to my series of posts on the INASP blog on MOOCs and educational development. The tips below are especially for learners in developing countries.
  1. Coursera, Udacity, and edX are the major providers of free MOOCs as of mid 2013. Check out their websites to find out which MOOCs could be right for you.
  2. Most MOOCs are video-based. As soon as you enroll in a MOOC, try opening a few videos to see whether they stream properly. If not, see if there are downloading options or text alternatives to the videos. If you can't see or download the videos and if text alternatives are missing or insufficient, the MOOC is probably not going to be a great experience.
  3. If you're going to be given access to a software application during the MOOC, check whether you will be able to use or buy this software after the MOOC ends. If not, the potential to apply what you learn could be affected.
  4. When the MOOC starts, give yourself a couple of weeks to try the content and assignments. You'll then know if the MOOC is right for you. If it's not, feel free to quit the MOOC. Most MOOCs have completion rates around 10% and one of the likely reasons is that a lot of students enroll in MOOCs without knowing if it's right for them. Don't feel bad about quitting a MOOC, but this is best done early. If you quit a MOOC, don't assume that MOOCs in general don't work for you. Maybe you need a different course, more spare time, or something else.
  5. Most MOOCs have weekly schedules. Once you join a MOOC, set aside time every week for going through the content, working on assignments, taking part in discussions, etc. Without a study schedule that you can stick to, it might be hard to keep up.
  6. MOOCs often have tens of thousands of students, so the discussion forums can be daunting if you've never taken a MOOC before. Don't worry about getting on top of the posts at the start of the course. Usually, whatever you need to do in an assignment is covered in the preceding course content. But keep an eye on the discussion forums: students may have pointed out technical problems with the course that may affect you too. Once you settle into the course, you might find it easier to use the discussion forums to make posts.
  7. Some MOOCs have group exercises and peer assessments. Follow instructions closely and be polite and positive as you work with other students.
  8. It can be difficult to keep up your motivation to complete a MOOC especially if other commitments get in the way. One way to motivate yourself is to discuss your MOOC with your family, friends, and colleagues, as well as on social media.
  9. Celebrate once you complete a MOOC! Tell people about it and add it to your CV.
  10. Look into ways to apply your learning soon after you complete a MOOC, otherwise you might forget what you've learned.