Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Moodle on a Cloud (Martin Knott and Tom Murdock – Moodlerooms)

Taking notesImage by hazelowendmc via Flickr
Martin Knott started by giving some background to Moodlerooms. They now have nearly 800,000 users (students0. He feels that Moodle has the capability of changing lives. There are many people who would like to access education, but their life commitments mean that they are unable to do so. Emphasising that children are changing the way they expect to learn, interact with friends and families, and that the future of education is going to look very different.

There has been a large amount of attrition from legacy systems such as Blackboard. Higher education in the US, because of budget cuts, have made the decision to move to open source solutions – in part because of teacher and student pressure for a more learner-centred LMS. Globally, the online learning markets are growing rapidly (approximately 20% per year). The number of content repositories is also increasing, in part because of financial savings whereby large institutions with satellite campuses can share the same information. Some institutions are bringing in a maximum number of pages that can be printed out by lecturers – if they exceed this maximum they have to pay for the printing costs out of their own pockets. Using a managed cloud proposition as a solution lowers the cost per student, which can be handed on to the ‘client’.

It is a worry for me that the focus, certainly at the beginning of this presentation, was pretty much focussed on money. Money is a reality, but education as a business model is always a worry. It is an uneasy model as it sees students as consumers rather than learners; qualifications become commodities to be purchased; and teachers are measured on the quantitative performance of their students. The LMS becomes a “distribution channel”, and as an “upside opportunity” – i.e. a US$2 billion market for Moodlerooms. Yes, developers need paying and education is not an altruistic pursuit, but…when did it become so focussed on income, monopolies, acquisition, profit and market forces? Was it Blackboard (who has bought up a large number of competitors including WebCT and Angel…sound familiar?)? Or is it politics? Has education become devalued by this focus, or am I living in a la-la land of academic cynicism?


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3 comments:

somewords said...

Hi Hazel,

Thanks for your blog. Near the end of your post, you asked whether you have become particularly cynical. I don't think you have, but I do suspect that you are sufficiently wary. More on this below...

Martin was asked to speak about one partner's business experience with Moodle. Thus, lots of talk about who the market is, what people are spending, etc.. As a fellow Moodler, I've been interesting in learning a lot of those statistics insofar as they continue to point out #1) How many educators are looking for LMS solutions (and why). As well as #2) How much traction Moodle has in the educational community. The fact is, even after you wrap end-to-end paid services around Moodle, the price-point is significantly lower than the traditional offerings. Is this significant? We think so. Why? Because it saves schools money.

I was around at Moodle.org before we had partner companies and a revenue stream to the core developers. For a short time, the developers had to write code for clients (which meant making Moodle do odd tricks like make coffee), rather than write code (full-time) for the community roadmap. We looked for all kinds of donations and funding, but very little of that was readily available.

The Moodle Partner program generates a 10% revenue stream from every partner company, that goes back to the core development team. This allows them to give 100% of their time to developing the community roadmap and keeping Martin D's great idea alive and well.

In Martin D's presentation, he had a single slide about "Moodle economics" that he wasn't entirely sure everyone wanted to see. His model showed how the partners support the core team. You can see how he moved on from that slide pretty quickly because his interests (and much of the audience) were elsewhere. But the fact is, Martin D has not only devised a new tool that the world has embraced because of its value, he has also introduced a business model with the partnership which makes his vision sustainable.

I totally get your point about how it was weird to hear a "market" discussion at a moot. And I think one must always be wary about profit-juggernauts who are working in the education space. Still, I've spent the past several years, sitting with money officers of schools -- who have their own budgets and their critical requirements for their teachers and learners -- and describing how spending less on the LMS with Moodle was not a risk in any way. Because of the ecosystem of partners, the core development team can fulfill the vision of teachers in the community.

Anyways, I hope I haven't bored you to death here. I take all of your points about how the language of business in the context of schools can trigger shivers down the spine. I contend, though, that making a solid business model is one of the many keys to making Moodle work for everyone. And I welcome a longer conversation, if you are ever interested in chatting.

Take care. The moot is over and I'm off to explore some of New Zealand!

all best,
Tom

Hazel Owen said...

Hi Tom,

Thanks for your thought-provoking and considered reply. It was really helpful to have more of an insight into the ethos behind Moodle Rooms decisions, especially those around dancing to the tune of the piper when they are the ones paying the bills.

I am working on a couple of projects with the NZ Ministry of Education at the moment where there have been positive results. However, they are still small-scale, prototype versions. The question now is, are they scaleable and sustainable - within the terms of a national roadmap.

There is definitely a danger of losing sight of the original, underpinning philosophies if the focus of a project becomes the requirements of one customer as opposed to a community-shaped set of needs - which, I guess (and this is, I think, what you are saying) is where Martin's business model comes in.

In NZ the schools use a 'clusters model' which enables schools to pool resources (intellectual, budgetary and/or personnel - e.g. http://tinyurl.com/y3dddv5) to fund key initiatives that are of interest and value to them all. There are, for example, ePrincipals who provide ICT enhanced learning and teaching guidance/PD/mentoring to a region's cluster.

Interestingly, when I was talking to other folk at the tea break after the first two sessions, a couple of people did say how refreshing and interesting it was to have a 'market discussion' included :-) It certainly sparked conversation, which is, after all, what conferences are partly about!!

I would very much like to have a further chat. In the meantime, have a wonderful trip around New Zealand, and recharge the batteries.

Have fun - and thanks again.

All the best
Hazel

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