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Moodle mobile & the future of moodle

Responsive design in moodle

A cross platform vle?

With the increasing predominance of smart phones and tablets it is highly likely that any institution running some form of analytics will have seen the rise in their moodle site being accessed by Blackberry, IPhone & IPad and the ever increasing march of Android.

It’s predicted that by 2013 there will be more of what we call mobile devices accessing your website, than desktop.  As a browser based open source CMS moodle is perfect for being viewed in all these internet ready devices, but needs a bit of tweaking.

Moodle at its core wasn’t built to consider such devices. Pop-up windows, tables, iframes, the forms library, the lack of support for grid layouts, poor usability, an ancient WYSIWYG editor (moodle1.9) and many other odd things dwell in the core moodles framework, and indeed Moodle HQ have noted the fact that it “requires huge core changes to Moodle” to make moodle work in the current browser/mobile landscape.

For us as users and developers such changes would not only improve moodle for mobile users, but for all users. Almost all modern open source browser based CMSs are currently updating, or already have done, to support mobile users and current browsers. Those that don’t i fear will disappear.

So what is the current state of moodle for mobile users?

Moodle News pointed us in the direction of the moodle plans for mobile.

It turned out moodle have some wireframes and a plan for developing a plethra of platform specific apps.

The plan suggested hiring app developers, and using moodle2 web services to deliver content into these applications. Their are no details available on testing these wireframes with actual moodle users.

A moodle iphone app was released. Which causes some problems.

The implications are that anyone with a customised moodle would have to customise and release their own suit of native moodle apps. Individual institutional data you include in your moodle, which a standard moodle does not, would simply not be included in the moodle standard app.

At Sussex we do not currently support or maintain a native moodle app for our Windows, Mac OS or Linux machines. Patches to platform specific apps are something not currently included in our development cycles. We use moodle because its an open source browser based CMS – it crosses these boundaries to unite all our systems.

The app we use for moodle is the browser.

The app stores – one size fits all

Apps can be great – Apple are able to designing a native mobile interface for most of their systems, with fantastic results. But moodle isn’t Apple, Facebook or any of the other one size fits all service providers. As with any open source CMS we expect to able to customise our users experience of moodle, to fit there needs.

Developing the iphone app should not been seen as a waste of time. As with apple themselves the lessons learned from creating a lean user experience can be fed back in and become beneficial to moodle.

In moodle – one size does not fit all

The ecological diversity of moodles out there tells us people use moodle for very different things. People customise moodle. People want different workflows and focus from their moodle. Moodle has never been a one size fits all product which most native apps, by their nature, are. People have already developed their own moodle apps for their diverse requirements from moodle.

Other CMS systems like the Wordpress app allows editors to curate content (a standard workflow), but there is no official app to view the front end of every worpress site in this specific style for a very good reason. Drupal have never released a one size fits all suite of platform specific naive apps because they except their strength lies in the ability of their customers to mould the product to fit the business and user requirements – as moodle needs to.

From our own tests, with a variety of mobile devices, moodle is very close to working well on mobile and tablet already. Patching the issues in moodle isn’t something we can do alone – it needs a encouragement from the community. At Sussex we would prefer to see moodle’s energy put towards updating and developing the open source browser based CMS we love. We’d like moodle and the communities time and energy put towards supporting the future for all users, rather than any one size fits all platform specific native app development.

Best practice on the web

Moodle’s pursuit of apps sits rather uneasily with current web community best practices for mobile. Moodle is lucky enough to be a browser based CMS when there has never been a better time to be one!

The now famous A List Apart article showed us how to technically shape content for small screen.

Moodle2 happily incorporates parts of the community browser best practice code form html5boilerplate. So why not html5boilerplatemobile ?

CSS3 enables us to use media queries  and it would be great to have moodle featured on mediaqueri.es – the gallery which shows some of the best use of this pattern.

The open university has a pattern library/online style guides which utilise these media queries, and we are looking forward to seeing this implemented in their moodle.

The ‘recently acquired by adobe’ phonegap project lets us interface with mobile apis for upload etc..

And while your moodle may not currently be mobile/tablet/modern browser supportive, their are ways around it.

Anyone who read or saw the Jquery UI Mobile presentation by filament goup (highly recommended) will know of the projects objective as a browser based framework for mobiles and tablets.

John Stabinger ‘s  moodle2 mobile based on Jquery Mobile theme gives you a moodle web app.

The future of moodle?

We would love it if moodle accepts and learns to embrace what it is – a browser based open source CMS – and what a great time it is to be one.