eLearning Perspectives LMS

When SCORM can be problematic.

I recently worked on a project requiring some SCORM-based assessment activities to be updated within a Moodle course (to reflect changes in the law).  The original developer was gone, as were the original files that produced the SCORM export.

In this case the SCORM assessment was not doing anything that could not have been handled in a Moodle quiz. The site owner and administrator had neither the time, inclination or expertise to learn to use an interactive tool but could certainly edit Moodle quiz questions given a simple guide.

This experience got me thinking as to the need (if any) for SCORM objects in Moodle courses.  As a person that works extensively with both Moodle course design and Articulate Storyline development it has made me think carefully about what a client might really need – as opposed to what they might think they need.

Articulate Storyline
Although there are other packages around Storyline seems to be, by consensus, the easiest tool to learn to produce HTML 5 compliant SCORM packages that can easily be inserted into a Moodle course for both Mobile and desktop access.  If you are not designing for mobile by the way (no Flash!) where have you been hiding away recently?

If you have used PowerPoint, Keynote or similar presentation software then you will find Storyline layers on top of that quite nicely.  There are significant things to learn but at least you start with familiar concepts and, in the case of PowerPoint, a similar look and feel. Here’s an example in case you are wondering what a good presentation looks like (and also in case you’re planning to cook a turkey in the near future).

In this open course (log on as a guest) I have considered a range of free and non-free SCORM tools and given examples of what can be produced.

Some pros of SCORM
The graphic nature of the tool and the interactive experience are certainly attractive and advantageous to learners.  Most designers also believe that it is more engaging for learners and that therefore they will retain more of the content.

A carefully designed course can also encourage learner autonomy which we know is important in increasing engagement. In the case of Moodle, which supports the SCORM 1.2 standard, grades from SCORM packages can be transferred to the Moodle gradebook very easily. Finally, SCORM objects follow a standard so that if you do need to change your training or learning platform you should be able to transfer the packages seamlessly.

Some cons of SCORM
First and foremost the cost might well be a consideration.  An authoring package is typically 1400 – 1700 NZD per user.  This is significant for a small business. Secondly, as my client discovered, you may be locked into an authoring tool or even one developer who has the original files. Thirdly, it might just be used to provide superficial glitter or “polish a turd” to use a common phrase. Finally, it will take to time to learn or train designers to get the most out of the tool.

Moodle supports SCORM but, as of the time of writing only SCORM 1.2.  That said the newer SCORM 2004 has not been very widely adopted, and with the advent of the Tin Can API may well never be. Moodle itself has a wide range of core learning activities as well as third-party additions that are available.  Therefore, these other activities should not be ignored when designing courses.

In particular, the quiz activity is very powerful, with drag and drop now supported.  One of the common issues with quiz activities is slavish adherence to multiple choice with very basic feedback.  The use of varied question types, the addition of meaningful and well-designed feedback and features such as Certainty Based Marking can make Moodle quizzes very engaging.

The recently re-vamped Moodle Lesson (for version 3) is also a very flexible tool for scenario-based assessment and learning activities.  It is sadly neglected at present and I have seen it used merely as a linear presentation of text only pages which does it no favours at all.

If you do want just a linear progression of pages, with the ability to insert questions from the question bank see my third-party plugin Simple Lesson.

Caveat: Of course it is difficult to be definitive on (almost any) design issue and there are multiple possibilities depending on what you are trying to achieve. However, I would say, when you are trying to decide whether you need SCORM objects in a Moodle course, look through the other end of the telescope first.

That is, can I achieve my learning objectives with Moodle activities only?  If not, why not and what is it about SCORM that makes it the compelling choice? If you are a client, learn from my opening cautionary tale and make sure you have contractual rights to the original files used to produce SCORM activities.

Additional reading
To SCORM or not to SCORM:

Authoring tools compared:

Moodle: and

LMS Schools

Do you have an LMS problem?

How is the take up of the LMS in your organisation?  Is it:

  • Virtually defunct – the virtual spindleweed rolling through the deserted courses?
  • Used for content storage – just in case someone might want it.
  • Vibrant and healthy – students go there every day and find something new?

Somewhere in between perhaps. Maybe it is time to re-invigorate.  Here is one idea that was implemented at The Southport School using a small grant from the Australian Government Quality Teacher Program, supervised by Independent Schools Queensland.

We held an Elearning Leaders Professional Learning Day at a local resort (total cost less than AUD 1000 plus need for cover): The proposed outcomes of the eLearning Leaders project as funded by ISQ/AGQTP: “Teachers are now capable and confident in the processes involved in making resources available online.  The focus this year on pedagogy will remind them that online content, while useful, is not the full story. The planned activities will lead to wider use of the LMS to promote pedagogical change in the classroom, the development in students and teachers of, what have been labelled, 21st century skills.  By this, we mean the Higher Order Skills (Bloom) of creativity, evaluation and analysis. These are the skills that students need to succeed in both the Queensland Core Skills Test, in tertiary study and the modern workplace. The issue of devices in years 9 and 12 is an important part of this program.”

The purposes of the Big Day Out are:

  • Sharing of classroom activities and practices and some preliminary evaluation
  • Defining the functions and priorities of eLearning leaders in their departments
  • Careful consideration of the implications that the introduction of mobile technology into the classroom brings for the personal and professional development plans of teachers.

Participants Where possible, participants should:

  • Have entered some brief account of what they have researched or tried to the LMS wiki (or Google Doc, whatever).
  • Be prepared to discuss and/or present something about the above.
  • Bring a wireless device of some kind – laptop or iPad – a projector will be provided.
  • Bring a recording device if you have one handy and take plenty of photos and videos to share 

Proposed  activities (sample program)

Time Activity
08:15 – 08:45 Tea and coffee
08:45 – 09:00 Welcome and general announcements
09:00 – 09:15 Ideas in a box – what is an eLearning leader – what do they do?
09:15 – 09:40 Turnitin and Moodle
09:40 – 10:00 Research at TSS
10:00 – 10:15 Morning tea
10:15 – 10:25 A developmental model for PL – the personal development cycle.
10:25 – 12:00 Share key points from Term 1 activities.  Review the “ideas box” – define the purpose of the team.
12:00 – 12:45 Lunch
12:45 – 13:20 Activity: Plan a school visit, what questions will you ask.  Pairs then combined groups until we have 5 essential questions – or so.
13:20 – 14:40 Priority setting activity – Term 2 – might be as for Term 1 – this is for your faculty.  Solo or group-based as appropriate.
14:40 -15:00 Lightning Presentation on priorities.
15:00 – 15:15 Afternoon tea

The opportunity to get teachers out of the school for the day was priceless in some respects.  In this case we were not able to offer money (less than ideal as a motivator anyway) or extra time (the ideal solution) for the leaders but having the chance to think, reflect and share practice was great.

I believe also that the making of a “special” day in a very pleasant location (The Radisson Resort on the Gold Coast was 15 minutes from the school) made all the difference. Some results of our LMS and BYOD program:

eLearning Perspectives LMS

Course Design and Usability

Some thoughts as presented at the Sydney Schools Moodle Moot. These are based on the course that Nina Pollock and I designed in one day at the New Zealand Moodle Moot. A related course is viewable at Open Learning NZ: (logon as a guest).  This automatically enrols participants in two versions of the course: a vanilla example and our completed course.

We chose the topic of City Vegetable gardens as that seemed to be something we could get information on and complete in a few hours. Nina developed a nice, clean graphical interface with plenty of whitespace and added the simple but effective graphics.

We used the forum, quiz, page, book and glossary modules. We included hidden elements such as a small achievement badge and cyber eggs – each one is designed to be harder to find than the previous ones.

The achievement “badge” – we didn’t have time to design a nice graphic – only appears when a couple of things are accessed and both 1 post and 2 replies have been made in the forum.

This was a “Thanks for being an active member of our community” button.

One of the eggs was hidden conditionally until one particular resource was accessed and another was in the glossary so would only appear when one of the random glossary entries was shown.

Due to shortage of time we linked these cyber eggs to existing material in the Book module. With more time we would probably use pop-up “rewards” – links to other garden examples.

The forum was seeded with a number of topics to encourage audience participation. The glossary and garden examples book are deliberately orphaned to reduce clutter. The quiz was used a checklist for participants to determine their readiness.

With more time, the feedback responses to “wrong” or “not ready” responses would have included a link to the relevant resource or resources.

The “false” response to question 1 shows an example – the more information link throws up an existing resource in a pop-up. The pop-up method was chosen as it would allow participants to continue the quiz after closing it.

The quiz has no penalties, multiple tries, a fixed question order and immediate feedback.

eLearning Perspectives LMS Schools

Moodle Course Design

In her book Learner-Centred Teaching [1], Maryellen Weimer discusses five key changes to teacher practice that can lead to improved outcomes for learners. We consider each of these in turn and their possible relationship to the implementation of an LMS such as Moodle or indeed a number of related tools, such as Google Apps.

The Balance of Power

Teacher-centred classrooms are power-based classrooms. This conflicts with the notion of empowering the students, giving then some autonomy, as a means of motivation. Providing resources on Moodle and then requiring students to take the responsibility of studying, commenting, re-working and discussing them with peers will help shift the power base.

Of course, these activities can be carried out in the classroom in the presence of the teacher – as is often pointed out – but this kind of activity has a very different flavour when done autonomously under student control. A specific example might be using a Glossary. In a teacher-centred classroom we might see the teacher give out a list of terms or words for students to study. Another way to handle this is to have the students find definitions for the terms and create their own glossary entries. These can be commented on by other students and the teacher.

Careful intervention and facilitation by the teacher will achieve the original objective but the students will feel more “ownership” of the result. As with many activities this not does absolutely need to be carried out online – it could be done with paper and pencil. However, the ubiquity of web access means that students are free to take a look at a time convenient to them.

The on-demand vs the broadcast tv model at work.

The Function of Content

This is problematic because, in schools, the content to be covered is generally out of our control. It is set by external bodies such as examination boards and national curricula. In today’s narrow view typically this is also controlled by national and international standardized assessments.

The need to cover content and to recall it under examination conditions can work directly against the development of creativity and higher order thinking. Importantly, in his book Teaching for Tomorrow [2], Ted McCain describes methods for delivering content together with problem-solving skills, improved engagement and active learning strategies. All aimed at giving students “real-world” skills.

Adapting this process from an active classroom to a Moodle course is a real challenge – especially if Moodle is used merely as a content repository and later chapters will discuss some strategies that can be used. One simple example of McCain’s method might make use of a Moodle forum.

The teacher takes on the role of an international consultant and sets up a scenario in which the students pose as members of a globally-distributed problem-solving team. Using the forum they discuss strategies for dealing with pollution in a lake, say. Such an activity would ideally require students to research the background issues (using the required curriculum content) as they work together to solve the given problem.

The Role of the Teacher

As well as maintaining the power balance, the teacher also makes many other decisions in the classroom to the point where most students may well accept that the teacher knows everything that the student needs to know (to pass an examination for example) and the learning process is one of simple transmission.

Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown [3] write that the education system “has been built on the assumption that teaching is necessary for learning” and they argue that an “environmental view” is need rather than a mechanistic one. In this view, our Course Management System is a garden where learning is nurtured rather than a factory where learners are processed or battery reared. Students tend not to question the strategies that a teacher may use, even when the teacher’s style doesn’t correspond well to their own preferred learning style.

A course management system can provide for different resource types (readings, videos, interactive games) and different activities (group-based, individual, self-paced, guided), so that the students have more ways of accessing and working with the content. Students who have never been given this freedom may well find the change difficult to grasp even threatening or unnerving and teachers need to be prepared for this. As an example, merely adding a resource such as a forum to a course will not, of itself, produce peer interaction between students. Once again active teacher intervention will be required.

The questions set up by the teacher in the forum are vital – particularly at the start – they must be easily accessible to students, not set initially at a high cognitive level for example. Once students enter and contribute, the teacher’s role is to thread and connect the ideas as they develop – where errors of fact or grammatical errors do occur, these will quite likely be corrected by other contributors avoiding having the teacher take on that traditional role but allowing them to support those who take care to be correct.

The Responsibility for Learning

The responsibility for learning has traditionally been that of the teacher – indeed teachers are often harshly criticised by parents, politicians and news media as being “bad teachers” – one rarely hears of the student’s responsibility to learn.

The use of Moodle to provide resources and activities that may be carried out independently of the teacher can shift the responsibility for learning from the teacher to the student. For teachers, a very important, but perhaps often overlooked, point is that the teachers do indeed retain important responsibilities and providing motivation and engagement is high among them.

A course in which there is reading after reading, a couple of images, a YouTube video and then a quiz is not very exciting either online or in the classroom. A quick Poll (or Moodle Choice) can be used, not only to gauge retention of “facts” taught in the classroom but also as a tool to promote reflection, perhaps by asking questions to which there is no single correct response. Having asked a question such as: Which is the most effective way to secure a house?

  • Locking the door
  • Closing all the windows
  • Leaving a pair of boots on the doorstep
  • Emptying the post box every day

When a new topic is introduced will give students time to think through concepts and ideas associated with a subject before any content is presented.

This also encourages students to make active contributions to an online course and begin to get them involved. In other words it provides the opportunity to develop a “community of practice” where students begin to take ownership through individual and collective contributions.

The Purpose and Processes of Evaluation

Weimer mentions three assumptions that are commonly made about grades: They “measure learning precisely”, “objectively” and they “promote learning”. In the current system, grades are generally awarded by the teachers of a course, there is little in the way of peer assessment or self-assessment – at least in terms of grades that “count”. That is, grades which get students into tertiary education or meaningful employment. Peer and self-assessment promote learning and higher order thinking skills.

Focus on grades which come from external assessment leads to a focus on content, recall of facts, recall of procedures, rote memorization of solutions to problems and other low-order activities. These types of knowledge tend not to be retained long after the examination.

Weimer is far from the only observer to have noted the disparity between the organisation of many schools and the requirements of education for the Information Age. Writing about the “creative workforce”, Erica McWilliam [4] characterises schools as “a top-down hierarchy of command and control” where teachers work as “content authorities” and “students may well be living in a parallel universe”.

One of the dangers pointed out by McWilliam is that the dominant commercial learning management systems (Blackboard and Web CT at that time) were being “repurposed for old ‘transmission’ teaching”. Moodle can be misused in the same way and one of the central ideas of this post is that it should not be. Moodle supplies tools such as the workshop, rubrics, marking schemes which allow for more complex and more meaningful means of evaluation and assessment and which promote the higher order thinking skills that our students will need to succeed in a rapidly changing world.


1: Learner-Centred Teaching, Maryellen Weimer, Jossey-Bass, 2002. ISBN 0-7879-5646-5.

2: Teaching for Tomorrow, Ted McCain, Corwin press, 2005. ISBN 978-1412913843

3: A New Culture of Learning, Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown, 2011, Self-published, ISBN: 976-1456458881

4: Erica McWilliam, The Creative Workforce, UNSW Press, 2008, ISBN 978-1921410222

eLearning Perspectives LMS Schools

Essential Principles of Blended Learning

This article encapsulated out philosophy at The Southport School very nicely: How does it relate to corporate training, if at all?

1. EVERY SCHOOL NEEDS A VISION. Yes, every organisation needs a vision and what was said about schools here, strong leadership, give room to try and fail and empowering learners in the workforce should apply within a corporate environment also. However, it seems to me that in many organisations this vision may be token at best. Even those with a relatively flat structure do seem to see top-down instruction as the way forward. That is leadership, but not the only kind there is. Something to ponder.

2. ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL. With a wide variety of job functions and a wide variety of learning styles this is also true – however there is more to this than technology and software choices. It is vital to find out what the learning goals are for the task at hand. Isn’t this a bit obvious? Yes it is, but is it always done? There’s a lot of dump and pump out there.

3. DON’T LET SOFTWARE DICTATE LEARNING GOALS. We buy an LMS and put it to work. We have standard Office Tools and adapt them to disparate needs. Of course, it does make more sense to try to figure out what the goals are and then locate the appropriate technology – but there is a strong dependence on what we already have, inevitably. So do we end up making training that’s easy to do?

4. SUPPORT TEACHERS AND INCLUDE THEM IN DECISION-MAKING PROCESS. The situation in an organisation is a little different but still the education/training Team do need to have influence as they are the experts in this area. It makes sense to give your education team a strong say in the strategic vision for training within the company.

Analytics LMS Schools

Moodle’s “hidden feature”

Many people seem to think of Google Docs and Apps as a great replacement for an LMS and this may be true in many respects.

However, one place a good LMS scores is in giving access to useful data about student activity.

In my last engagement, I regularly spoke of Course Reports as one of Moodle’s “hidden” features because teachers did not seem to grasp their significance readily.  Perhaps because, in a normal classroom situation you develop a “feel” for the way things are going – although there is research to show that in larger classes, teachers might not be as aware of all the inter-actions as they believe themselves to be.

In a blended or fully online situation, these reports are very useful data for tracking each student’s progress and for evaluating the course as a whole. Those charged with Q&A of courses will also find these resources valuable.

The reports can all be accessed from the Course Administration Menu under the heading Reports.  The different reports are:

  • Logs
  • Activity report
  • Course participation
  • Activity completion
  • Statistics

Some of these depend on the appropriate course settings (eg completion criteria) having been set up in the course settings.

You can select by group and activity or show all the relevant activities on a given day.  This can be used to look at the activities of groups or participants and get a general feel for the level of activity. In the event that something untoward happens in your course, a certain amount of tracking can be done – including the apparent location of the activity via the IP address.

Activity Report
With this report, you get a count of views of each activity or resource in the course giving you an indication of those most heavily used.  This information can be useful in review and for planning feedback.  You might ask students why a particular resource was not seen as useful.

Course participation
This one works for a given course activity and looks back over a specified time period.  For example, the last 4 weeks. Here you can see exactly who has accessed a resource or activity in the course and who has not. This could be useful information when dealing with a student demonstrating a lack of engagement. The report includes checkboxes which, when selected, allow you to send a message via Moodle’s IM system to one or more students.  Perhaps a timely reminder about viewing resources or participating in activities.

Activity completion
You won’t see this unless you have enabled Completion tracking in the Course settings. If you do switch it on, then you can get an activity completion report which shows, for every student on the course, a row of checkboxes indicating which activities have been completed. This can be very useful for tracking student diligence. Some of the boxes can be ticked by students themselves (self-completion) or by the system when grades are given, documents are viewed, quizzes graded and so on).  This can be set by you on an activity by activity basis. This also enables a new section on the course menu called
Completion tracking which allows you to fine tune the process. If course completion is set up correctly the student can also view reports of their own activity.
The course statistics allow you to look at a graph showing for each role, the number of views one or more course activities/resources has received.  As well as the graph a table is provided with links to the corresponding logs. If you set this for all activities and the student role, you can get a good overview of the “rhythm” of the course.

Books LMS Schools

Book Review: Moodle Multimedia Cookbook.

The book:

This is the second edition of the book by Silvina P. Hillar and published by Packt ( The book surveys a wide range of techniques for using images, audio and video in Moodle courses. It also covers the use of cloud storage and cloud apps like Dropbox,, Google Drive and Apps, YouTube and Office 365 among others.

I was impressed by the huge range of mainly free tools and websites that were not only covered in the book but also put to good use in Moodle courses. You won’t be short of ideas for the classroom after dipping into this collection.

The target audience would seem to be mainly Middle and High School, judging from the examples but many could be adapted for both younger and older students. There is an excellent account of file types (eg vectors and bitmaps) and optimising images for web presentation which will be very useful to those who only have a limited understanding of these issues.

It is good to see open source software such as Gimp and Inkscape getting mentions if not, given the size and range of the book, thorough coverage. There is certainly enough to get those unfamiliar with these packages started.

Finally the book is, if not exactly rounded out, concluded with a brief account of enabling the most commonly encountered repositories so that files can be accessed in Moodle directly from the file picker. All in all this is as the title says a recipe book with many useful hints, tips and suggestions for teachers to work with, apply and extend. Teachers who intend to use the book should be familiar with navigation and basic course editing techniques in a Moodle installation.

LMS Schools

When BYOD is a mistake.

At a recent conference I was intrigued by the title of a Panel Discussion which purported to discuss BYOD and its ramifications for schools.

Imagine my disappointment to find a Microsoft representative there and two heads of schools who were running 1 to 1 device programs.

This was described as BYOD – with designated device.  The idea being the the school designates the device and students have to go out and by it. In what sense is this the student “own device”?

The Microsoft representative predictably used his stock phrase BYOD = Bring Your Own Disaster.  Well Microsoft should know about disaster judging by the reception of Windows 8 and associated tablets.  I can only say that at The Southport School BYOD has been an unqualified success.

BYOT (Bring Your Own Tech) is probably then a better term if BYOD is going to be routinely hijacked by vendors and schools running 1 to 1 device programs.  These programs may well move schools along the path towards the use of technology to change the pedagogy in the classroom.  However, only when we lose the focus on a technology or piece of software will we finally direct our attention fully to the processes taking place in the classroom rather than the technology in use there.

In the meantime, as we watch the online web-based tools for creating content get better and better it is only a matter of time before everyone is simply asked to Bring A Browser of their own choice whatever the hardware used to support it.

End of rant.