Moodle is an open source virtual learning environment (VLE) or course management system (CMS). A VLE/CMS is a system designed to support e-learning. I prefer the term VLE because it is less easily confused with the term content management system. At the start of 2010, the latest version is 1.9.7 and is downloadable free of charge from www.moodle.org. Moodle 2.0 is scheduled for release during 2010. It provides a range of facilities for developing and maintaining e-learning courses. It claims to be distinctive because of its basis in sound pedagogical principles, its emphasis on creating effective online learning communities and its scalability from single-educator site to Universities with 200,000 learners. It has been deployed in 75 languages in 193 countries and because of its open source nature has a strong developer community behind it.
How to Install Moodle: Options and Requirements
The easiest way to install Moodle is to pick an internet service provider (ISP) which supports direct installation of Moodle via a system such as Fantastico. With such a provider, the installation process requires you to access your Control Panel, then Fantastico, then select Moodle to install.
A new installation is available by clicking on a hyperlink. The system requires the following information form the user: domain where Moodle is to be installed, the directory in which Moodle is to be installed, a site name, slogan and description, and admin user details, a username, password and email address.
If you do not have such a helpful ISP, and you don’t want to move to one that is, you will need a web server, PHP and a database server. Apache is recommended for the web server. Moodle will work on Apache 1.3 or Apache 2.x hosted on Unix/Linux or Windows. Moodle requires PHP version 4 or higher. Finally, Moodle requires the MySQL database server.
The download and installation process for a Windows user is more user friendly than content management systems such as Drupal. The download is available from the https://www.moodle.org site as a .zip compressed file for Windows users. Select the latest stable build for a new installation.
It is advisable to build a local test installation first. This requires the use of a local server application such as Xampp or Apache 2triad. I tried to install Apache2triad on my Vista PC. This proved problematic, due to issues with Vista, but web research and some trial and error showed that opening a command line window and typing httpd at the C:\ prompt enabled Apache2triad to run successfully. Installation of Moodle from there proved straightforward.
Installation of Moodle to a web server makes fewer demands upon the Internet server than applications such as Drupal. However, some of the error messages that can arise are less than helpful. You will need to set up a new SQL database running on your server of choice. I use a shared server and have only limited control over the environment. My ISP does not facilitate the running of cron.php, which is necessary for the smooth running of Moodle. However, Moodle does not require such frequent running of cron.php as a content management system and this may be achieved manually if by no other means.
Overall for a web developer without experience of PHP and MySQL, the installation process proved relatively straightforward. When issues arise, the application is strongly supported by the open source community and this means that there is much useful information available on the web. The biggest barriers are the limits of your control over your environment imposed by your ISP, but this did not prove insurmountable for me. In extremis and accepting the cost implication, you can always select a chargeable hosted Moodle service. This allows someone else to take the responsibility for running the VLE, and leaves you to focus upon the e-learning. Providers of chargeable services including hosting may be found through the Moodle Service Network at www.moodle.com (as opposed to www.moodle.org where you will find the freely available resources).
Moodle is a powerful open source VLE. If you have an ISP that supports installation via Fantastico or a similar application, installation is very straightforward. Even without this, although installation is not entirely trivial, it is less complicated than some similar applications, well supported by documentation, and also is available as a hosted solution removing the need for the educator to have to install their own Moodle application.
This post is part of the series: E-learning with Moodle
This series is about the Open Source virtual learning environment (VLE), Moodle. A VLE is a system designed to support e-learning. This series reviews the installation and operation of Moodle by an educator who is more interested in learning than technology.