IdeaA world first Moodle plugin, being created by the Consortium’s very own Jerrett Fowler, is causing excitement… So what exactly is it? And what does it mean for L&D professionals?

So what is this hotly anticipated new Moodle plugin? What does it do?

Put simply, we’re enabling Moodle to export information about learners’ behaviour into a more readable and portable format, in a Learning Record Store (LRS).  It’s quite surprising isn’t it that Moodle can’t do this already! It’s exciting because it means that learning and development (L&D) professionals will gain a greater understanding of their learners’ behaviour, what motivates them, and ultimately be able to better meet both their wants and needs. Think of it as Google Analytics but focused on Moodle and its users. Cool huh?

What does the new plugin mean for L&D professionals?

The plugin will enable L&D professionals to gain a much greater understanding of their learners’ behaviour online. You’ll be able to see far more detail than ever before, such as what learners click on, what they look at, what they complete. No longer will what your users are doing be a total mystery to you! You’ll know how they participate, what they like or dislike. I think this could help a lot of people.

Equally exciting is the fact that L&D practitioners will also be able to build a picture of their workforce’s offline learning activity. Mobile apps could record offline learning, or even location based data, similar to Foursquare.  This could be useful, for example, when learners attend conferences, with an app sending information to the LRS about what individual delegates are learning.
I think there will be great benefits for L&D practitioners to be able to see such a complete picture of a learner’s online and offline learning activity.

Will learners notice any difference?

Initially learners won’t notice any difference. The plugin itself doesn’t slow the system down at all, and they won’t see any visible change. But ultimately the information that it provides to L&D professionals should mean that what learners are offered is an even better match to what they want. And that’s got to be good for everyone.

How much blood, sweat and tears have gone into creating it? How many hours do you think you personally have put into the process?

Moodle wasn’t ever designed to work in this way – it’s outside of scope – so it took a lot of trial and error to get everything working. The first prototype took about six full weeks of work. The current iteration has been about six months of work. We’ve still got a long way to go to make this feature-rich, but it will definitely be worth it.

What next?

When the plugin is finished we’ll get a volunteer from the Charity Learning Consortium to turn it on in their system (this is completely safe by the way). I can’t wait until we get to that point, but it’s probably a few months off yet.

What’s the ultimate ambition with the plugin?

We’re thinking big, and the ultimate ambition is to be able to provide a near complete image of all user activity on a Moodle site. First we need to lay the groundwork and build the tools necessary to pull this data out and display it in an intelligent way, so that it’s easy to understand and makes sense to L&D professionals.

I hear you’ve been working with Learning Locker – we love collaboration at the Consortium – how has that been working out? Did you have different strengths that complimented one another?

Learning Locker are highly professional. Specifically I was working with software engineer Ryan Smith. Ryan is a very skilled engineer and we wouldn’t be where we are without him. He’s detailed, meticulous, and worked very hard. He didn’t know Moodle going into this, so while I created the initial prototype, we both ended up working on the final product to implement all the data and tests needed to guarantee that everything was working as it should. It’s been a hugely rewarding experience, and as well as creating ground breaking technology, we’ve both developed new skills along the way.

Jerrett Fowler

Jerrett Fowler is an Infrastructure Engineer at the Charity Learning Consortium, where he’s been enjoying the challenge of integrating ‘Big Data’ with Moodle. He has a masters degree in computer science from the University of Bristol and has previously worked in education for almost seven years.



The technical bit…
The plugin is called Logstore xAPI. It’s a Moodle plugin that exploits an events system that sits on the back end of Moodle. This events system tells you if a user has logged in, logged out, viewed something (SCORM, quiz, face to face, etc.) interacted with anything, or even completed something. It’s continually collecting this data for the internal log that’s being constantly added to. This plugin uses this information to format it for the Experience API so that an administrator can export data about their users to a Learning Record Store (LRS). An LRS is basically a system created to store learning data outside of a Learning Management System, it’s an entire system all on its own with its own hardware and infrastructure. This provides the flexibility to start adding mobile apps, multiple learning management systems, human resources systems, or whatever else is compatible – all reporting data to the LRS.