Interview with Martin Dougiamas of Moodle
After a bit of a hiatus, we are rebooting the interview series the FSF started ten years ago that highlights work by developers who choose GNU licenses. We are happy to have Martin Dougiamas, CEO of Moodle, join us for the first interview after this long break. For those unfamiliar with this interview series, please see past interviews.
If you have an idea of a project that may be good to feature in an upcoming interview, please consider adding it to the LibrePlanet wiki page for possible interview candidates.
GPL interview: Spotlight on Moodle
We are excited to put a spotlight on Moodle for this interview. Moodle Learning Management System (LMS) is a learning platform designed to provide educators, administrators, and learners with a single robust, secure, and integrated system to create personalized learning environments. Moodle LMS is written in the PHP programming language. Licensed under the GNU GPLv3, Moodle LMS is free software.
What inspired you to create Moodle?
After finishing my Computer Science degree in the late 1990s, I was working at Curtin University in Western Australia trying to help the academics around me take advantage of emerging Internet technology.
I didn't realize it at the time, but my childhood experiences put me in a perfect position to understand the potential of the Internet. Back in the 1970s, I lived with my family in a very remote settlement in Western Australia and attended school by remote education. It was called School of Air, and my learning was delivered through shortwave radio, which was the best available technology at the time. This experience helped me understand the possibilities of remote learning and when I started using the Internet in the 1990s via my university (entirely through text interfaces as this was before the Web), I was very comfortable with the idea of remote work and learning. I explored remote education very deeply during my teens and, by virtue of such exploration, built relationships with people all over the world.
In 2000, I developed some first prototypes of Moodle for my PhD. The early Web-based learning platforms I was trying to use at Curtin, where I was studying at the time, had a number of deep flaws which made them frustrating. I wanted to create a platform that was based on learning science with a social constructionist point of view, where courses are communities of practice and where learners construct and share artifacts of their own knowledge within safe social situations. I also wanted the software to be easy to set up and easy for people to hack on and contribute to.
By 2002, I had released Moodle 1.0, and it wasn't long before it was used all over the world and was being translated into different languages. I knew that the tool I created would be useful to other educators and believed strongly in free software technology and values. However, I didn't foresee the scale of its growth, and I am very proud that there are now hundreds of millions of people relying on Moodle worldwide.
That's the power of free software. We have a global community of educators, trainers, developers, administrators, partners, and learners who have contributed to the evolution of Moodle and consequently to our mission to empower educators to improve the world. It is one of our greatest strengths: over the last twenty years, we have had 130,000 contributions to the Moodle code base, from thousands of developers across fifty-nine countries.
How are people using it?
Moodle is being used as a platform to manage online learning by hundreds of thousands of organizations, in every education sector, across nearly every country globally, and in over 140 languages.
Many prestigious universities in the world use Moodle including The Open University in the UK, The Open University of China in Beijing with 3.5 million students and 100,000 teachers, and National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico with 150,000 students.
It is also widely used in workplace settings by large organizations such as the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK, throughout many UNESCO organizations, and a number of the world's military institutions such as the Royal Navy in the UK and the US Air Force.
Moodle is also used by thousands of K-12 schools. In some countries, like Spain or Austria, Moodle is used in over 80% of K-12 schools and is supported centrally by education departments.
Finally, there are many individuals and small not-for-profits who use Moodle for private teaching directly to the public, and associations who support the certification of their members.
What features do you think really sets Moodle apart from similar software?
Without a learning management system (LMS) that supports good pedagogical practices, educators or trainers can't create effective and engaging online learning experiences. Since its beginnings, Moodle LMS has constantly evolved through a commitment to pedagogy and social constructionist philosophy.
It goes beyond the basic content features of most learning platforms and is rich with activities that require learners to actively engage with the learning content and each other in a range of modalities. Plus, Moodle is accessible and has over 300 plugins in the base distribution and nearly 2,000 more plugins created by the Moodle community.
There is no education platform that compares to Moodle's many useful features.
As a free software platform, Moodle also allows our customers to have complete control over their data to meet legislation requirements, including General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) compliance. They can also own their infrastructure and are not locked into one vendor.
Finally, Moodle connects seamlessly with third-party platforms and services: from HR systems and eCommerce platforms to file repositories like NextCloud.
Why did you choose the GPLv3 as Moodle's license?
I have always been science-minded and have thought about things on a global scale. In particular, I have been interested in the principles of science and what technology can achieve for society. When I was at university, I also loved the academic tradition of sharing your findings, which contributes to the scientific process and community.
Historically, we as a society have shared things through physical objects such as records or CDs. Those things had to be distributed and, of course, there was a significant cost to that. In the digital and software world, replication and duplication costs essentially nothing, and I believe that this means that we have to rethink how we produce and share things. Choosing the GPLv3 license has meant that Moodle can be shared in a very human way, for the benefit of all kinds of learners globally. It means the software is long-lasting, its security is more certain, and customers own their own data. By contrast, proprietary software isn't transparent and doesn't offer these benefits. GPLv3 helps enable us to improve upon how we produce and share educational materials.
In other words, the GPLv3 license has allowed for sharing and collaborating. It recognizes that we all build on top of other people's work, which is what I believe makes for progressive societies.
It also means that Moodle follows the four freedoms of free software. Developers, educators, and organizations worldwide can share knowledge, change and adapt the Moodle software to the way they need it to work, and contribute to improving Moodle for everyone.
Plus, the GPLv3 license means that Moodle is long-lasting: it guarantees that even in the extremely unlikely case that Moodle HQ would ever cease to exist, Moodle LMS software could still be available and continue to be developed by the community.
Moodle has over a thousand developers participating in developing Moodle LMS, coordinated by the core teams at Moodle HQ. Because a large number of people are constantly monitoring the source code, any bugs are detected and fixed quickly through well-established processes, reducing the impact of vulnerabilities and security breaches.
How can users (technical or otherwise) help contribute to Moodle?
Developers, system administrators, educators and learners can join https://moodle.org and become involved in Moodle's active discussion forums, share tips, post code snippets, update documentation, help new users, share resources and debate new ideas. This pushes us to constantly innovate features and to ensure old ones perform properly in a never-ending cycle of ongoing improvement.
Of course, financial contributions are also welcomed and you can donate to our free software project through https://www.moodle.com/donations.
We are always on the lookout for skilled Moodle enthusiasts and we have some really exciting opportunities that we are looking to fill. So, I encourage people who are interested in working at Moodle HQ to review the careers page on our Web site: https://moodle.com/careers/.
I also encourage our community to get involved with Moodle Academy, which is our new learning hub for the global Moodle community, and MoodleNet, our network to share and curate free/libre educational resources. Both of these important platforms are free software and designed to improve equity of access to quality resources, and support our community to develop the skills required to create and facilitate great online learning experiences.
What's the next big thing for Moodle?
Something we have just done is release Moodle 4.0! It is a very exciting release that tackles our community's most desired user experience (UX) enhancements so that we can empower them to do amazing things more intuitively. Our Moodle Workplace 4.0 release will follow in late September, and, of course, our user experience improvements will continue with the release of Moodle 4.0.1 and onward.
In the background, we are working on a next-generation Moodle to be built from the ground up to be part of the developing ecosystem of Open EdTech (https://www.openedtech.global/), which is an exciting new initiative that aims to rebuild EdTech infrastructure using the latest development stacks and "Web 3" concepts.
Editorial note: views expressed in this or any of these interviews do
not necessarily reflect those of the FSF.
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