Simply the Best: Case Study for Moodle at Open University

Nov 16, 2009

The British Open University took upon itself in 2005, together with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the task of bringing online learning into the future. Unusual is that it didn't decide on Moodle for merely financial reasons or that it didn't go for professional support.

The online services of the Open University emanating from the mid-south of England in 2005 were aging, lacking modularity and decentrally organized. Because the Internet was steadily gaining in importance, the institution set itself to evaluating a few online learning platforms. Until 2008 five million British pounds were flowing into the project's virtual learning environment, with 30 full time employees at its peak. Even though proprietary solutions such as Blackboard were considered, the university eventually settled on Moodle. "No other system but Moodle offered the functionality and more importantly, the modularity," says a new Open Source Observatory & Repository Europe (OSOR) case study report on the Moodle rollout at Open University. The study considers the British university one of the biggest worldwide of its kind, with close to 200,000 students and 7,000 faculty members.

After the Moodle decision, things started taking off in serious, according in the study to Niall Sclater Niall Sclater, head of the learning initiative at the Open University (OU). Examples he cites are the Moodle quiz engine, access controls and free accessibility. Even though commercial support was discussed among the university ranks, the team determined that the community would suffice. Says Sclater, "What we've found is that with Moodle, we're part of the world wide community, and that's really the best forum for collaboration and development. [...] In addition to the discussions and conversations that take place on Moodle.org, the OU also benefits from a bug log that lets them know exactly what errors occur with the system, [which] is an essential source of feedback to the developers at the OU." The study also describes the university's contributions to software, documentation and conference participation that flow back into the community. Quite apparent is the Moodle community's sudden influx of support at the launch of the new learning platform.

What part the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation played is a bit less apparent, although it's known that two of the five million British pounds were drawn from the HP founder's wallet. The request for funding came from the OpenLearn project that is currently the supporting organization for the OU and provides them freely available learning material. The Hewlett Foundation, which has provided frequent funding elsewhere (such as for Wikimedia), also supports the OLnet.org initiative that gathers "evidence and methods about how we can research and understand ways to learn in a more open world."

The eleven-page OU case study is available online in ODT and PDF formats on the OSOR website. Its author, Gregor Bierhals, is a researcher at the combined research environment of the University of Maastricht and United Nations University (UNU-MERIT) in Maastricht.

The OSOR information service promotes dissemination of open source software and is a part of the European Community's IDABC program. The Interoperable Delivery of European eGovernment Services to public Administrations, Business and Citizens (IDABC) is tasked until the end of 2009 with informing citizens and enterprises about cross-border public sector services.

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Comments

  • SIMPLY the BEST case study for moodle

    Really and Simply THE best case study.
    Thank you for sharing this.

    Nabil L.
  • Commercial support

    Small correction: When we were starting out with Moodle, we did buy in some consulting form one of the Moodle Partners (http://moodle.com/partners/list/). We also paid for a support contract for a while, but only really as a safety net. We soon found that with the support from the community, and free access to the code, there was no need to pay for commercial support too.
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