A field report: Moodle in training
Digital forms of learning are getting more and more popular in European educational institutions receiving increasing recognition and support. This trend is also reflected in the media. Although the way of application is sometimes criticised, the course for this form of learning is being set on growth. This year the process is significantly accelerated by the schools’ prevention programs for Covid-19. Additional effort is put into the search for new ways of sustainable and efficient knowledge transfer. Moodle offers a mature approach to this.
I got to know Moodle during my apprenticeship I completed this year. The dual training as a media designer is already my second apprenticeship. Before that, I already completed a training to be a nurse and health care worker. Back then digital learning platforms were not used. Since I experienced both ways of learning, I was asked in the last editorial meeting of this blog whether I could not share my experiences here.
In my apprenticeship to be a media designer the theory was mainly taught at school while the practical part took place at ICON. Apart from learning specialist knowledge, the training focusses on the practical application of programmes for media production and the use of collaboration tools. Special emphasis was also put on the transfer of knowledge via learning platforms.
For me this was the first time working with systems like IServ or Moodle. My younger colleague looked at me with amazement when I told her that. None of the schools I had previously attended was using digital-supported learning using a networked learning system. Instead, teachers usually distributed photocopies. Sometimes materials were sent via e-mail. A classroom set of notebooks financed by a sponsor was only used for research purposes.
Fortunately, today’s (vocational) students are experiencing better connection to and instructions into the no longer “new media”. They are growing up as digital natives.
The learning platform has a memorable name – it sounds like a pasta in the singular form. However, Moodle does not derive from there but is an acronym that stands for “Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment”. In 1999, the Australian developer Martin Dougiamas wanted to improve the existing learning platforms. He wanted to develop them further from being a mere material storage location. The result was a flexible expandable system that is acknowledged worldwide to this day and is improved in regular update cycles.
Moodle is a browser-based learning platform with a Learning Management System (LMS). It allows educational activities to be digitally designed and organised. Among other things, it offers the possibility to create course rooms, provide working materials and learning content and to communicate with each other.
The learning environment is increasingly used at schools, universities, public and private educational institutions, but also – as I learned during my dual training at ICON – by many large corporations. It aims at systematically providing learners with new knowledge and to regularly assess and refresh their knowledge.
Self-directed learning with a system
In everyday vocational school life, Moodle was mainly used for learning areas that contain large volumes of knowledge and require independent studying beyond the school hours. These were topics such as the fundamentals of physical laws, colour theory, design, the creation of websites, audio technology, history of art, marketing, and project management.
In addition, Moodle is used at my school to promote taking ownership and collaboration as well as to train students for their professional life. Many companies use modern collaboration tools to manage the coordination of projects and processes. As a new starter, it is useful to be familiar with these principles and processes.
The platform offers various possibilities to explore a topic and to add to the classroom training (keyword: “blended learning“). For this purpose, teachers create course rooms for learning groups. In the course rooms they provided us with materials on topics that we covered in a didactically meaningful structure.
The learning areas contain materials of different file types such as images, audio, Word and PDF documents as well as videos or further links. Interactive e-learnings can also be integrated into the course rooms. The variety of media formats takes learners preferences into account and enables them to learn at their own pace. Digital formats also help when it comes to the application into practice. This has helped me, for example, in learning script languages to create websites. I was able to stop and repeat the videos at any time. Sections with embedded code examples provided information about special functions. This way I was able to recreate a complete website self-paced. I had a steeper learning curve than if I had only watched the video or read an instructional article.
To assess the acquired knowledge
One of our teachers’ favourite and frequently used functions was the quiz. This enabled us students to regularly assess our knowledge at the beginning of the lesson and our teacher used the results as a basis for grading. We went to the school’s IT rooms, switched on the school computers, opened a browser, and logged in with our student access data on a Moodle login page. Our teacher had automatically activated the quiz at this point.
To avoid the students copying each other’s replies, a so-called question pool was created with different question types such as single and multiple choice, drag & drop, drop-down menus but also questions with free text answer options. We received randomly selected questions in the test – everyone in a different order.
The time-limited questioning was carried out in the presence of the teacher, as it was also necessary to prevent the students from using an additional browser tab for research purposes and answering questions via copy & paste. I could imagine that this could be ruled out in the future by means of a restricted user profile on school computers.
During the test, a time display and a progress bar showed the individual status. We were free to choose the sequence in which we would reply to the questions. After all questions had been answered, the quiz was assessed. In addition, we also received individual feedback from our teacher to assess our performance. A dashboard also showed detailed evaluations of our own tests as well as intermediate and final grades for several subjects.
A modular structure
Moodle’s basic system, which can be expanded in a modular fashion, allows for adaptation to individual teaching and learning needs. At ICON, I learnt that Moodle offers also interfaces for the use of individual solutions. These of course need to be programmed by developers to meet the needs of the user.
Due to the limited time available, it was not possible for us to get to know all modules in detail during the apprenticeship. For example, we started to build up a collective knowledge database about printing technology in the form of a glossary. This could have been expanded over the years into a comprehensive knowledge pool in the form of a wiki. I would also have been interested in the use of e-learning with certificate acquisition, video calls, forums, chat system, calendar for personal and/or joint planning, voting and surveys.
Moodle underwent a major update during my training. The update introduced an improved dashboard and now offered edited information on results, group work and new learning functions. The entire interface appeared more modern and clearer and was individualised with the school’s colour scheme and the corresponding word mark. I can remember that the loading process was also much faster after the update.
Any time, any place?
Moodle was not only used at our vocational school days. Although the system runs on the school’s own server, we also had access to our area within Moodle from home or at ICON at any time. This was administered by teachers via access management. For the reasons mentioned above, knowledge assessments were only carried out at school.
I liked that we could submit homework or long-term projects work via an upload function and then have it assessed by the teacher. In this way, I was able to keep an overview of upcoming and completed tasks, some of which were subject to a submission deadline. In my everyday work now, these processes are an integral part of project procedures and customer communication, so it helps that I already received training on this.
In April 2020 my written and practical final examination was supposed to take place. But in March the lockdown came. The school was forced to take quick action, suspend classroom activities and postpone all exams. Soon the teaching and exam preparation shifted mainly to zoom calls, which maintained a teacher-pupil exchange. This form of meeting required patient and coordinated communication from all participants. It started to go well after a few practice runs.
While the school was closed, I mainly used books, video instructions and handwritten teaching materials for my personal exam preparation. This is probably due to my learning style. Nevertheless, I also exchanged messages and learning materials via Moodle with teachers and classmates. Finally, the examination took place in May and June.
Vocational school students from subsequent years (also from other schools) told me that curricula were changed, and block lessons were divided into individual vocational school days. As a result, the use of Moodle systems grew and more materials and logistics were added to existing learning areas. Students were able to carry out tasks independent of the schedule. Thus they did not suffer any learning gaps or delays.
What needs to be added?
My apprenticeship convinced me of the versatility of Moodle. At some point, I started using it without thinking about it. Basically, I am of the opinion that the learning system has an intuitive structure, runs stably on maintained school computers with good network connection, and has a great variety of functions and adaptability. According to my observation, it is gladly used by teachers and students.
From my own experience, I think that digital learning from home requires a little more self-discipline and readiness than classroom training. When researching for information using different sources myself, I noticed more than once that I strayed off the topic or took a detour. Therefore, I was grateful when I found well prepared topics on Moodle with clearly arranged learning packages.