Students Adore Moodle

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Many great inventions come to life because an inventor somewhere became frustrated. In the late 1990s Martin Dougiamas became frustrated with a learning management system (LMS) he was supporting at a college in Australia. Students and professors at that college kept asking him if the LMS they were using could include certain features they needed. While the LMS could support those features, its developers were slow in bringing them to life. So Dougiamas said: "Well, to meet these learners' needs, I'm going to have to do it myself."

And that was how Moodle was born. Soon after it was invented, Moodle's popularity grew rapidly in schools and colleges around the world. The stories I hear from teachers who are using Moodle are deeply intriguing. Moodle works, and it works very well.

One of the most interesting stories I've heard comes from Sheila Gatling, a now-retired middle school teacher from Brooklyn, New York. With the help of her brother, Gatling set up several Linux computers for her students to use Moodle. Her students took to this LMS so well that they begged for more class time to spend on it. Meanwhile, she observed how Moodle improved their writing and other skills. Here is where the story gets interesting. One of her students moved several hundred miles away from Brooklyn -- to another state. This student continued participating in the Moodle activities in Sheila's classroom, even handing in assignments.

Can you imagine that? A student willingly handing in assignments for a class that they are no longer physically attending. Gatling tells me that Moodle deserves credit for so strongly harnessing her student's interest. I can't help but think that Gatling herself, with her teaching talent, had something to do with it. Regardless, something very magical was happening with the use of Moodle in her classroom--which is why, after retiring from teaching, Gatling co-founded Moodlerooms, a Moodle service provider.

Dougiamas has assured the world that Moodle is free and will always remain free. It's his life work. He intends to change the way children and adults learn. Worldwide. Permanently. And he is encountering an unusual degree of success in his goal.

Listen to what another founder of Moodlerooms, Tom Murdock, has to say about Moodle: "As a high school English teacher I used to dream of starting my own school and doing everything right for students. Now I no longer dream of starting my own school. I dream of bringing Moodle to existing schools."

If Murdock were soley an entrepreneur, I might suspect that he is too wedded to his own product. He is not soley an entrepreneur, though. He is an educator turned entrepreneur. The only product he is wedded to is increased student learning.

I'm impressed with Moodle. I share the same view as the founders of Moodlerooms have. This free software can indeed change the way children and adults learn. Worldwide. Permanently. And we are just beginning to understand how much value Moodle can bring to our schools and our communities. This free software is excellent already -- and it just keeps getting better.

Phil Shapiro

(The blogger is an adjunct professor of education in the Washington DC-area. He can be reached at For a first-person account of Sheila Gatling's Moodle story, scroll down to page 214 of this 2008 book Education and Technology, by David Kritts and Lucien T. Winegar.)

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