Rethinking One's Approach - Lessons from #Moodle in Business

At a recent conference, I sat at a table with a gifted instructional technologist, Janice (not her real name). Janice shared with me how her husband and her were going to be marketing their business using Moodle. While I forget the exact business--but it involved classes leading to certification in a field I didn't connect with online anything (outside work)--what came across was that they needed an easy way to share what they knew about a business field with the rest of the world...and be able to charge for it! At first, my reaction was a bit of a shock. Using Moodle to make money? To run a business?

It's a use for Moodle I hadn't imagined--which is what makes Moodle usage so intriguing for me, since I'm always running into fresh ideas for using this free, open source course management system--and reminded me of Gary Stager's quote, “The blame lies within the bankruptcy of our imaginations.” 

It's not just educators who sometimes find themselves bankrupt with old approaches that lack imagination they no longer engage us as they once did (whether as facilitators of learning or participants) folks, do as well, as this quote from Penny for Your Thoughts shows in regards to "training:"
I did it the “old fashioned way” for 20 years. I never thought it work online because I made the training!  But, I proved myself wrong.  It is possible to capture the stories, the humor, the personal dynamics – all those things that make great training – in an online format.  I did it and was amazed at how much more time I could dedicate to coaching and follow-up.  Not to mention the reduction in travel time, nights spent in hotels, and bad road food.
That's why using Moodle in business is a fascinating area to explore. Consider this approach, which for me, is a nice way of dealing with education organizations drive for an enterprise level solution:
I have two Moodle sites, one WordPress blog, and one Drupal site with 14 sub-domains (powered by WordPress). To set up all 18 URLs cost a fraction of what custom PHP coding to make Moodle work “seamlessly” with WordPress would’ve cost. My annual costs are minimal and each site can be upgraded without breaking any interfaces. I have the extra flexibility of having vastly different themes and copy on each one, different plug-ins installed, and targeting each one specifically to a market segment rather than having everyone search for what she needs on one “integrated” site.  
(Source: Penny for Your Thoughts)

The blogger at Penny for Your Thoughts makes some great points, especially in regards to how she selects instructional designers. As I look at this list (Choosing a Course Designer blog entry), I realize that I'm not all there yet (how wonderful!):
I was recently asked how I chose which Moodle Partner to use.  I had to think about that for a minute…presumably, they’re all competent.  They all have state of the art server farms and they all know Moodle inside and out.  The real reason that I chose “my guys” is that I like them.  I can work with them.  They have the same perspective that I have, at least when it comes to what e-Learning should be.  It’s the same reason I chose Moodle.  It suits me.  .  .

The skills and expertise needed to pull together GREAT eLearning include: 
  • Instructional design knowledge and experience
  • Performance measurement creation and analysis
  • Graphic arts and graphic design applications
  • Audio and video use and production
  • Familiarity with web technology (things like FTP, cPanel, PHP, HTML, CSS, database) and hosting
  • Familiarity (deep) with the LMS you’ve chosen (Moodle or another)
  • Familiarity with file types, when they should be used, and how
  • Writing and editing skill
  • Ability to target a message to a particular audience
  • Ability to translate content to another language

This isn't a bad list to think about when you are in a school district situation, either. For example, looking at this list from my perspective as an administrator....

  1. Online instructional design experience: How can you engineer experiences that facilitate student learning interests and assess that? You know, this is becoming a critical job skill for future growth, even if it's not yet recognized in schools today. Even though this may focus more on the HOW, it's important that administrators in schools know this stuff. How do you know WHICH tools in Moodle best match instructional purposes as yet undefined by teachers, and more importantly, how do you convey that to others?
  2. Multimedia and Read/Write Web Tools: This is a big set of skills. It involves knowing how to gather, create/edit video and audio, as well as embed content from a variety of web sites. I think about Moodle 1.9 Multimedia book from Packt Publishing (I previously reviewed this book) as the starting point for learning how to do this, whether you use Moodle or not.
  3. Comfortable in Online Environments: Working with new staff over the last few years and introducing them to Moodle, it's amazing how MUCH there is to share. When you consider all the pieces, it's hard to imagine any one person being experienced in the preceding areas, much less all the arcane uses of the web like FTP, PHP/MySQL, CSS and server setup/maintenance.
  4. Authoring: If a leader's job is to create situations that promote authorship, you still need someone who is going to be able to write/create, not only in text but also in various media. It's a challenge. For example, I'm well aware that MY focus is on text. That's what I grew up with and pretty much ignored graphic/media design. I simply don't have those skills, but worse, I have little interest in acquiring them except to know what I need. However, combine my skills with someone who does have graphic design, that's something altogether.
It's easy to imagine a talented team of people that have these skill-sets and are cognizant of the various strategies for integrating them. In practice, you have to grow people based on the strengths they bring to the table. This may be why smaller districts seldom embrace powerful free, open source tools like Moodle so completely...growing a team of developers that can meet these 4 needs within their education environment is tough work. We should probably keep this in mind:
"I never got far until I stopped imagining I had to do everything myself." 
- Frank W. Woolworth
Finally, "gestalt" is missing from my list. When I think of that word, I'm imagining getting a sense of the whole and how all pieces fit together. Yet, I like this definition, too, from Wikipedia:
essence or shape of an entity's complete form.
What is the shape of your Moodle implementation, it's complete form?

And, if you're in business, consider checking out Penny for Your Thoughts. I loved her Using Moodle for Business solutions to common questions/problems.

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


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