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E-learning team presentation at Moodle Moot Dublin 2013

In case our Moodlemoot Dublin abstract has left you salivating but you have found that our presentation wasn’t recorded, we thought we’d give a quick overview.

Sussex University is a research-led Higher Education institution using a customised Moodle install called Study Direct. We have 1,500 editing tutors, 15,000 students, 2,099 2012/13 Moodle courses  and 13,500 unique hits per day.

The e-learning team is a team of five including two developers, one front line support officer, one teaching support officer and one manager. We don’t have any departmental learning technologists like many institutions.

What does that mean?

One, we cannot train all our tutors to make beautiful sites

Two, before we made changes to our interface, many of our hard working, conscientious tutors made Moodle courses which were long lists of links (#listofdeath, c.f. #scrollofdeath). The courses our tutors created gave our students a poor experience and left tutors, who had tried their best, unsatisfied and demotivated.

What if our tutors made BBC web pages?

Would BBC pages stop looking like this?

And start looking like this?

We decided we couldn’t rely on training to ensure that our tutors would create rich learning resources for our students. We needed something cleverer.

Implicit and explicit calls to action

We started to look at other content creation tools.

People using word processor applications would struggle to create a learning resource that looked like a Moodle course.

People using spreadsheet applications would struggle to create anything that wasn’t a spreadsheet.

Presentation software has explicit calls to action such as “Click to add a title” which help people create understandable presentations.

Blog editors have explicit and implicit calls to action such as title input boxes and text editors which make it obvious how to create understandable web pages with text and images.

We concluded that an interface has the power to explicitly influence the shape, design and type of content the user creates.

Moodle calls to action

So what does the Moodle interface look like and what are the calls to action on the busy academic tutor when he or she come to build a Moodle course?

Well, if they work out to “Turn editing on” this is what they get:

Hey! The primary call to action is to add a resource or activity. Yes, they could choose to add a label but what is a label anyway? Or they could add a summary to their section but how do you do that? Can you guess?

Should we be surprised that our tutors created lists of resources and activities without context?

Adding calls to action to Moodle

What would happen then if we added the calls to action that helped our tutors to create engaging learning courses. What might that look like?

Well, this is what our Moodle install looks like:

What are the primary calls to action on this page? If I were a tutor what would I do first to create a learning course for my students?

I see that there is an implicit call to add a section title and section content. I think I’d start with that. What about you?

And guess what. When I am adding the title and content I am adding contextual online learning material and not simply adding to the “list of death”. Nice start!

What then?

The bright green colours give me a clear steer.

It is asking me to add a site image. That sounds nice. I can add a visual representation of my course much like the cover of a book.

I can also see how I can add another section.

The “add activities” and “add resources” are large green calls to action at the bottom. They boldly indicate how I can add interactive content and detailed materials that I would like my students to drill down into.

Ah and then there is a dashboard. That is where I do the administrative gubbins for my course.

So what has this meant for our users?

We have found that, in many cases, these prominent calls to action have changed the habits of our tutors. The courses they create are more similar to the first image of the BBC than the second – more similar to content people are used to seeing on the internet.

We are seeing an increasing number of tutors create engaging online learning sites with content and context.

We think our changes have substantially improved the tutors’ workflow and our students’ online learning experience.

We have made other changes, briefly covered in our presentation, such as ‘pages’ opening in an ‘accordion style’ so this content always has context, but I’ll leave these for another post.


We know we haven’t got it right yet and we have a long way to go, but we have great ideas.

For example, should the resources and activities go directly into the web editor?

We are not sure, but if they should it might work like this:

Or even like this:

Despite having loads of good ideas we are faced with the same dilemma as all developers using Moodle – whether to improve the tutors’ and students’ experience of our VLE/LMS or stick with the Moodle core. We are walking a tight line, but we want Moodle to become something like our Moodle install – in fact something better.

We know if Moodle is to continue to be successful it will do this – it is just a question of time.

As a small development team we can’t contribute much code ourselves, but these blog posts hope to generate ideas and help steer its direction.

Finally, I’d like to extend a big thank you to the organisers of MoodleMoot Dublin #mootie13.


  1. Posted February 28, 2013 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Hi Paolo,

    Brilliant, truly brilliant.  Thank you for sharing.  This is exactly what is needed.  Your thoughts are spot on about our poor tutors and limited developers to support them all.  It’s very late here in Oz and I have spent many hours building course sites for tutors,  This has re-inspired me.
    Now, to get this happening at UniSA..
    Kind regards

  2. Paolo Oprandi
    Posted February 28, 2013 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Tracey! Glad you enjoyed it. Hopefully some of these ideas will get fed back into Moodle core.

  3. Posted March 1, 2013 at 1:03 am | Permalink

    Now how do I make my Moodle 2.4.1 install look like yours with all those delicious looking green call to action buttons?

  4. Posted March 1, 2013 at 1:06 am | Permalink

    In a sense you’ve created your own “authoring tool” for tutors to create more engaging content, right? Assuming I can’t make my website more like yours (with the nice green call to action buttons), then what “user-friendly authoring tool” can a Moodle administrator or tutor use to create engaging content? eXe, Xerte? Moodle’s own Lesson activity?

  5. Posted March 1, 2013 at 1:07 am | Permalink

    Hope you can post a image of what your Dashboard looks like (what happens after your tutor clicks on the green dashboard button?).

  6. Paolo Oprandi
    Posted March 4, 2013 at 11:02 am | Permalink


    Thanks for your comments.

    For more information on the dashboard see this blog post:


    The main method to encourage tutors to create engaging content with a standard Moodle install is training – encouraging tutors to add section titles, labels which add content and context, resource and activity descriptions displayed from the front page, images and videos. And to remember – sometimes less is more!

    Tutors feel nervous about removing things they have started with because they think someone must be using it – most of the time they are not. Eye tracking studies have indicated that people generally ignore Moodle blocks and they become noise. 

    When a tutor comes to an empty course I’d suggest they have only one section & one navigation block (settings block if you have to) – reducing clutter. If using Moodle 2.2 or later make sure “Link course sections” is set to “yes” – by default it is set to “no”.

    Perhaps getting a custom navigation block would be good too – with just the section names of the current course.

    A custom course format which only displays one section at a time would also be good.

    Use a nice theme which uses responsive design, a good font for web, line spacing and general white space.

    Hope this helps,


  7. Posted March 13, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    I saw your talk at the Moot, but thanks for posting again. Keep up the good work!

  8. Jeremy
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    Rather than trying to change the behaviour of core Moodle it would make more sense (to me) if the plugin architecture were extended to allow different editing interfaces, a default could be set at site level and overridden in a users profile.

    That way you would not need to re-apply changes to core files at every upgrade and users could choose their interface.

  9. Posted April 28, 2013 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Hold on a second…

    The BBC page example has ‘instant appeal’, but surely learning about something need not be like watching the news or surfing videos on the web.

    The enquiring, researching, objective student is more than a passive receptable for headlines and video.

  10. Stuart Lamour
    Posted August 10, 2013 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    Hi Moodler,

    i understand your concern, and spoon feeding isn’t something we encourage, but if you think about none-digital resources like  journals or books the these have – as you call it – ‘instant appeal’ – as does participation in a seminar, going to a lecture etc.

    There is no reason why a website should not be as good as the best textbook for your course. 

    Adding more clicks and waiting time does not, as far as any data i can find, add to any growth in students research, analysis or enquiry skills. Learning to click on a document to download and open it isn’t something anyone would classify as a useful academic skill is it?

    Content is content, and all you really want is for students to be able to access that content and engage in learning.

    You’d never through choice design for your students a badly constructed difficult to use offline resource, so why deliberately do that online?

    Very interested to read your response.

    Stuart Lamour

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