Are you unhappy with the Moodle or Blackboard user experience? You’re not alone. They are the two biggest LMS platforms in the world, with almost 100 million users between them as of 2015. In contrast to the popularity of these learning management giants, there seems to be a disconnect with what their users experience. The abundance of negative feedback around these platforms from unhappy users is telling of underlying issues. These users are across schools, universities, business and training organizations.
In this article, we look at common gripes expressed by ‘Moodlers’ and Blackboard users to find out why these platforms are on the nose, and where people are turning in the fast-paced world of learning management systems.
Your LMS is important
A company’s LMS is the single most important aspect of its eLearning training strategy. It is the environment in which all training activities are stored, delivered, tracked, reported, and analyzed. Currently, LMS’s account for 38% of the average learning technology budget.
Organizations often feel like they’re married to their LMS with no easy way out. 44% of companies are currently looking to switch from their existing LMS. The clunky nature of the LMS has become a common joke between eLearning professionals. So why are users so dissatisfied? Let’s go back to the two biggest players in the market, Moodle and Blackboard, and find out...
1. Sterile learning environments disconnect students
Moodle and Blackboard aren’t visually engaging. Both LMSs rely heavily on a text-based, boxed look, with long drop-down menus and a notable lack of visual content. It’s no surprise that Blackboard in particular looks dated—Blackboard Learn was first released nearly 20 years ago. Simply put, Moodle and Blackboard’s layouts are unappealing.
When a student’s learning environment looks sterile, they think the content within that environment is too, and engagement rates and training outcomes drop.
2. Customization or cost creation?
In theory, customizing your LMS sounds like a good way to overcome the sterility of Moodle and Blackboard’s layouts. Moodle in particular strongly advocates the customization of its out-of-the-box layout and themes, with its open-source nature allowing for extensive customization options.
In reality, however, customizing Moodle is hard. It requires expert knowledge of the Moodle software, which means hiring a developer. Themes range in the thousands of dollars to implement, while the process of finding a developer and quote can be costly and time-consuming in itself. Moodle may market itself as a free LMS platform, but the reality is that there are hidden costs, and many users find them off-putting.
eLearning authoring tools are expensive. Firstly, you have to pay for the software itself. Then, you have to pay for content developers who know how to use them. Again, hidden costs.
3. Content development = hidden costs
Neither Moodle nor Blackboard offer options to create your own eLearning content. That means you’ll need a third-party eLearning authoring tool, such as Adobe Captivate 9 or Articulate Storyline 2, in order to make interactive courses. To give you some indication, Articulate Storyline 2 retails for $1,398 USD for a single software license.
Once an expensive software is purchased, someone has to learn how to use it, and instead of investing large amounts of money into developing engaging content, organizations tend to make quick, cheap, and boring content. This leads us to the next problem...
4. Evergreen learning content
Constructivism has been a goal of the eLearning industry for years. Basically, constructivism refers to the process of learning via interaction - when people construct their own knowledge, rather than simply absorb or memorize it, that knowledge is far better remembered. In order to achieve constructivist training, eLearning needs to be interactive, engaging, and appealing. It needs to provide a platform not only for students to engage with their learning content but also with those delivering the content and other students.
Constructivism is something that Blackboard and Moodle struggle with. The founder of Moodle, Martin Dougiamas, has admitted that most organizations use Moodle in a ‘very didactic and locked-down way… focusing on ‘evergreen’ learning designs’. Evergreen learning is the opposite of constructivism. It refers to the didactic training that is most often seen on Moodle and Blackboard. Teachers and trainers dump documents onto their course pages and push out quizzes instead of proper learning content. There’s little to no interaction between the students and the learning content, the students and the teachers, or between the students and each other.
- Blackboard is notorious for its bugs and technical issues. Pages go blank overnight, documents get locked or disappear, and links stop working. While these issues are often quickly fixed, they can be a source of frustration for staff and students alike. Fixing bugs or errors often requires expert knowledge (i.e. hiring a programmer or allocating a staff member's time to help fix the problem).
- Moodle and Blackboard aren’t very good in terms of collaboration. Staff has to update courses and content independently, meaning that they often get in each other’s way by uploading documents and making changes without realizing that someone else is doing the same thing at the same time. Both LMSs have discussion boards and chat rooms set up for students and teachers to interact, but these again face the problem of being outdated and, as such, underused.
- Scalability has also proved a serious issue. Moodle in particular has faced criticisms of its inability to handle concurrent users and requires significant IT infrastructure for high-volume users. This poses a huge problem for companies attempting to roll out short and quick training material, or for organizations looking to disseminate courses to multiple participants at the same time.
5. Costs, costs, and other hidden costs
Blackboard is very expensive up-front. Moodle is open-source and, in the basic sense of the word, free. The real costs of both Blackboard and Moodle are not their up-front costs, but all the other costs we’ve discussed. Hiring developers to change customization options, content creation experts to craft engaging learning material, forking out for third-party authoring software… the list goes on. And these aren’t just one-off costs—Moodle and Blackboard’s technical complexities and issues mean that most organizations have one or more full-time IT staff employed just to keep on top of their LMS platform. That’s a recurring cost in the tens of thousands of dollars a year. The reality is, they're anything but free. It’s starting to look like a wonder that only 44% of companies are looking to change their LMS!
So what should an LMS be?
If there’s anything the eLearning industry has learned, it’s that an uncluttered, visual-based design is the best way to engage staff and students. When a student’s learning environment appears fresh, intuitive, and engaging, the student thinks of their content the same way, and learning and training outcomes improve. LMSs need to look inviting, both out of the box and through easily implemented customization options.
Adding social interactions to your learning environment engages students in active discussion and increases constructivist learning. With fully-fledged chat rooms and other internal social platforms, students log in to their LMS more, enjoy learning more and contribute to each other’s success. Constructivism, anyone?
LMSs that offer built-in authoring tools take away the hassle of outsourcing eLearning content creation to other software. Cloud-based software such as the Coassemble combines easy-to-use, online authoring tools with an intuitive LMS, meaning that staff can begin making their own interactive training material and deliver it within a click.
While it has a way to go, a single dashboard for both eLearning content creation and student management could be the future of online training.
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