1 1 Moodle vs. Blackboard: A Comparative Analysis of Learning Management Systems Cantrell, Robbie Hare, Jill Randle, Kara New Mexico State University
2 2 Abstract This paper compares the learning management systems (LMS s) Blackboard and Moodle. Beyond the capability and functionality components of the LMS s, research based in the virtual educational community has impacted the development of both systems. Specific components related to usability, technical support and cost efficiency are explored and balanced as the necessity of both LMS s to recognize and integrate tools and services is explored. Keywords: LMS, CMS, open source, Blackboard, Moodle
3 3 Blackboard vs. Moodle: A Comparative Analysis of Learning Management Systems Introduction Online educational programs expand opportunities of learning to that of a technological, global community. They have become increasingly popular as institutions at all levels from K-20 struggle to find ways to effectively keep up with these virtual, educational needs. At the foundation of an online educational program is the learning management system (LMS). Today s LMS s must offer a wide variety of tools and course-related activities that promote organization, maintain accountability and provide constructive/collaborative based learning in a secure environment. From 1997 to the present, two LMS s have emerged as forerunners. Blackboard is a company offering a closed source commercially sold course management product. Moodle is an open source collaborative offering free course management software. These LMS sources are at the forefront of an ever growing number of district, university, and community college comparative studies searching for an end result of implementation that satisfies the entire educational community. When conducting a search for a LMS, considerations and evaluations must be multi-level, incorporating the needs of instructors, students, technical support staff and administrators. Beyond budget mandates, issues of organizational design, technical compatibility, customization ability, overall security and the capability to successfully update tools needs to be explored. Ease of use by all involved must effectively interface and sustain functionality with regards to system adaptation and modification. Blackboard: The Basics Blackboard, Inc. is the dominant LMS and e-tool company in the United States. Opened in 1997, Blackboard, Inc. has successfully expanded its foothold in an emerging K-12 market (Trotter, 2008). In 2006, the company purchased its main competitor, WebCT and in May of 2009, it acquired the open
4 4 source LMS, Angel (Nagel, 2009). The Washington, D.C. based company touts a current staff of more than 1000 employees. According to Blackboard, their current client base exceeds 5000 institutions and includes millions of other users. The collaborative mission of the company and its clientele is to increase the impact of education by transforming the experience of education (blackboard, 2010). The latest tools offered by Blackboard include the Blackboard Grade Center that claims to provide ultimate flexibility and offer powerful analysis for teachers that will ultimately save time and map a student s academic progress through Performance Dashboard and the Early Warning System. Blackboard stresses its simple grading process while providing a multi-faceted instructional tool. In addition, a suite of communication and collaboration tolls that promote student engagement social learning opportunities is offered. SafeAssign helps a teacher identify possible plagiarism and promote individualism without leaving the Blackboard site. Assessments can be individually designed by a teacher by using the Assessments and Surveys tool (blackboard, 2010). Perhaps the most attractive selling point of Blackboard is Blackboard Managed Hosting that ensures full 24 hour service environmental management. With a team of technical professionals, the company installs, administers on a daily basis and automatically provides upgrades to a system that includes servers, databases and bandwidths (blackboard). This inclusion of a technical support staff, along with a promise of short installation time, is used to counter the cost effectiveness argument of Moodle.
5 5 Sample Blackboard Course Page nyu.edu Moodle: The Basics Moodle is an acronym for Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment. The open source software offered by Moodle is designed around constructivist pedagogy. Moodle software is free to the user and is copyrighted under the GNU Public License, allowing the user a freedom in copying, modifying and sharing. The software is compatible with both Windows and Mac operating systems and many linux flavors. Moodle is not a company, but rather a collaborative project organization. It is a technological mosaic of activity modules that can be customized as deemed necessary by anyone involved in the learning community (moodle, 2010).
6 6 Sourceforge.net Developers of Moodle include an in-house team in collaboration with a worldwide professional network. This collaborative group continually creates and writes a variety of modules and plug-ins. The developers meet in online forums and rooms. Documentation that includes software specifications, brainstormed ideas, implementation procedures, necessary standards for use and guidelines can be found on Moodle Docs. The site, Moodle Roadmap, provides the latest additional features and update information. Users can find out about both negative and positive development issues on Moodle Tracker (moodle, 2010). The Moodle learning community consists of a collaboration of participants found in wikis, blogs and/or participating in forums and events. The virtual, global community is measured by registered
7 7 users who log onto the various sites. This community communicates by postings in forums within courses that are accessed through free enrollment. Events or Moddlemoots happen in posted rooms where conferencing occurs (moodle, 2010). To ensure the continual operation of this open source LMS, Moodle Partners, a worldwide group of service companies, have committed financial backing and support services to the cooperative effort. This group underwrites and provides technical support to the sites that supply needed information to Moodle users (moodle, 2010). The Escalation of the LMS Market With the Blackboard buyout of WebCT in 2006, educational communities became more rigorously involved in exploring their LMS options. Universities and community colleges continued to increase the incorporation of hybrid and distance learning classes into their course base. With this, the two major LMS players, Moodle and Blackboard, increased their technological capabilities to attract usability. A plethora of surveys, cost efficiency studies, research reports and onsite projects have become prevalent as institutions weigh the comparative pros and cons of both products. From 2006 to the present, debates and initiatives have emerged worldwide as ever growing virtual learning communities seek ways to increase the multi-leveled power of both educational and economic collaboration and sharing. California State University Project: Focus on Functionality An early 2006 student oriented project conducted at California State University Monterey Bay (SCUMB) concluded with mixed results in the area of functionality of the two systems. With regards to course material organization and communication tools, participants gave higher ratings to Moodle. However, in other areas of functionality there were no definitive differences. Overall, Moodle was rated easier to use, but this factor was diminished as a majority of students noted that they had previous LMS experience attributing to the ease of use. Combined with two prior, smaller, studies done within the
8 8 California State University (CSU) system, students found the overall Moodle learning experience more appealing than that of Blackboard (Machado &Tao, 2007). This early study did not factor in technical support, cost effectiveness or staff usability. CSU followed up this initial project with pilot programs and further studies that included teacher usability, technical feasibility and cost effectiveness. CSU adopted Moodle as a statewide option to its 23 campuses in 2008 (Nagel, 2008). UNC Tomorrow Initiative: Exploring the Alternative and Raising the Bar In the spring of 2006 that began with a faculty involved pilot program, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNC Charlotte) launched the UNC Tomorrow initiative. One of the targeted projects was to explore LMS alternatives to the Blackboard Vista system that was currently utilized by many in the state university system. A Learning Management committee was subsequently compiled in the spring of In the committee s executive summary it states that their Role demands a learning management system that is easy to use, reliable, and able to accommodate our changing needs (Croy, et. al., 2008). The report of the initiative noted the continual evolution of and progression of technology, the upcoming end of the UNC Blackboard contract, and the want to have the ability to regularly reevaluate and change systems. Their approach was extremely sophisticated as the committee met on a bi-weekly basis with activities that included: meetings with Blackboard representatives; faculty and student surveys; review and evaluation of the faculty pilot program that included use of multiple LMS s; collaborative meetings with technical staff; and comparisons of cost analysis data (Croy, et. al., 2008). The result of an initial faculty survey resulted in a 65% indication of interest to explore alternatives to Blackboard and a 63% willingness to transition to a new LMS. As Gradebook, Announcements and the Syllabus were rated as the most valuable of Blackboard tools, it was noted that these were not among the most sophisticated of components, but the most reliable. Another important result came from students surveyed with regards to Blackboard as they indicated less than a 50%
9 9 positive impact on ability to interact with faculty and fellow students, time spent in the online learning experience and problem solving skills. Furthermore, 54% reported problems in Blackboard accessibility. With this in mind, cost basis was factored in and the initiative found in favor of Moodle as a possible alternative. The conclusion of the committee was that a pilot program using Moodle should be implemented during the academic year with more detailed evaluation of the two LMS s (Croy, et. al., 2008). An In Depth Comparison In May of 2009, the UNC Learning Management Committee published the findings of the three year study. In a Report to the Provost, the committee concentrated its findings on the switch to Moodle. Every component from disability compliance to total cost effectiveness was scrutinized. Students and a pilot group of ten teachers, the majority of whom had prior experience teaching with Blackboard, were targeted and surveyed during the fall 2008 semester. 66% of Students in both hybrid and fully online classes chose the option of using Moodle. The survey overwhelmingly sighted ease of use and flexibility with lower to marginally higher ratings given in the areas of functionality and capability. All ten faculty members responded positively to the choice of change to Moodle. In all areas surveyed, teachers notably preferred Moodle. Though the faculty stated that more training was needed with Moodle than with Blackboard, they were impressed with instructional flexibility, speed of loading, uncluttered organization, efficiency, usability, communication capabilities and the open source accessibility. Both students and faculty reported that they found the overall learning experience of Moodle superior to Blackboard. The few cons of Moodle were met with possible solutions accomplished by changes in settings. In the spring of 2009, the evaluation project concentrated on an expanded faculty cohort of 39. From training and support to reliability, teachers strongly preferred Moodle. Concerns remained with Gradebook components and importation of data from outside sources. As Moodle is open source, all
10 10 concerns become problems to be rectified by the entire community of users. 80% of spring student respondents preferred the overall Moodle experience (Croy, et. al., 2009). North Carolina Community College Research The same year that the UNC Tomorrow Initiative was established, The North Carolina Moodle Users Group (NCMUG) was organized with Senate bill funding (Open Source Collaborative, 2009). The target of this organization was to transition the state s community colleges to Moodle. The results of their statewide pilot programs and faculty/student surveys resulted in little to no difference found in the two systems. However, a significant observation came to light. A definite correlation was found in the students surveyed between scoring results and the perceived comfort level of teachers using the LMS s. It was further noted that the study revolved around and focused on the academic functionality and capability (Open Source Collaborative, 2009). The recommendation of the group was a transition to Moodle. This action, along with that of the University system, sparked an aggressive move by Blackboard to answer the components of the LMS not addressed in these survey driven projects. Blackboard Responds In response to the statewide Moodle based studies at the community college systems in North Carolina, Blackboard concentrated on the issues not addressed by the NCMUG. The company pointed out that included with its licensing fees were, Technical and staff training, course content development, training materials, Infrastructure, backup and recovery plans (North Carolina Community College System and Blackboard, P. 1). Blackboard answered the cost saving aspects of open source with a financial observation that has been a part of numerous educational communities when comparing its LMS with Moodle. Though Moodle is open source, a transition from Blackboard, or an initial running of the LMS, will include start-up costs including necessary technical staff support. Also, Moodle does not include company based system maintenance or product support as part of its package (North Carolina Community College and Blackboard).
11 11 Contained in the report was emphasis on a K-20 initiative that claimed it was the only LMS company that had succeeded in establishing a system capable of handling the needs of this expanded educational community. The response specifically recognized New Mexico as a state embracing Blackboard at all levels of the educational spectrum and related workforces. In addition, the response noted that the collaboration with New Mexico, allowed Blackboard to successfully establish capability of working in technologically challenged rural areas, and work with a state in which English was not always the first language. Blackboard presented itself as a means to a solution, no matter what the challenge (NCCC and Blackboard). Five risks of an open source LMS were outlined in the document. Blackboard pointed out security risks, focusing on the ability of hackers to breach a system not continually monitored by a company staff. Another important factor was that of an active technical support system dedicated to immediately fixing technical issues. With Moodle, since technical support is not part of the package, additional costs to install and manage a security system and locate, isolate and fix problems would be necessary. The Blackboard Product Roadmap was cited. Importance was placed on the distance learning experience as any disruption to the LMS would result in a disruption to the learning process. Blackboard stressed dedication to the distance learning community as its priority commitment in product development. As a publically held company, it has a commitment to continually grow and develop at a level that guarantees productive, quality results. With open source, there is no product commitment as developmental changes are made by a Moodle community that has little to no financial interest. Moodle had no consistent training interface in place. Blackboard provided onsite training both initially at installation of its product and continually with new updates in software tools. The company provided a clear-cut mission to continually engage in the development of progressive learning tools that affect both teaching and learning in an online environment (NCCC and Blackboard).
12 12 With this response it became evident that Blackboard realized a competitor of importance in the LMS marketplace. At the same time, Moodle was faced with managing the risks outlined in the Blackboard response. Version Updates Meet the Demands of Global Online Learning On January 27 th, 2009, Blackboard launched its 9.0 version of Blackboard Learn. Universally, LMS became synonymous with CMS (course management system) as the company dedicated enhanced functionality and capability of 2.0 social learning tools and complimented it with the use of open face technologies. Blackboard used partnerships of post secondary institutions to develop ways to integrate the open source CMS s of Sakai and Moodle. This new capability became open source Blackboard Building Blocks. The Blackboard learning community became the campus community which, according to Santo Nucifora, Manager of Systems Development and Innovation at Seneca College in Toronto, Ontario, allowed us to think about how education technology should be, not how it used to be (PRNewswire-FirstCall). The new Blackboard included blogs, journals, SafeAssign, Web-based alert and information platforms and a redesigned and customizable Web 2.0 interface. The entire package underwent a three month worldwide Beta program test drive at more than 50 K-20 institutions, districts and professional organizations. (PRNewswire-FirstCall). Not only had Blackboard acknowledged the power of open source, it had embraced and integrated it. On February 20 th, 2009, David Nagel, in his Campus Technology blog reported that Google and Moodle had entered into a partnership to produce Google Apps Education Edition. This suite included Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk, Google Docs, Google Sites, Google Labs and the ability to integrate with existing LMS s. Google funded the new edition and provided developmental technology in collaboration with Moodlerooms. The program entered a pilot program at a group of universities and
13 13 colleges and an adult organization devoted to the teaching of Spanish (Nagel, 2009). The development of Moodle was now connected to a powerful, publically owned company. Learning Goes Mobile In March of this year (2010) both Blackboard and Moodle announced plans to enter a new level of mobile capability and functionality. The Blackboard Learn team and the Moodle Mobile team presented fundamentally different approaches to mobility. Moodle Mobile is web-based, which the team feels is more mobile compatible for offline use and has developed an offline application using third party products. Currently, Moodle Mobile works with WebKit browsers as those found with both the iphone and Android. Blackboard Mobile Learn is based in native applications which they believe will result in an overall more user friendly experience. The company touts applications available for Android, the iphone, Blackberry and by early summer, ipod. (campustechnology.com, March 22, 2010). Blackboard Mobile Learn blackboard.com Moodle Mobile moodlemobile.com
14 14 Presently, what this means is that for the short term, Blackboard has the advantage of a Blackberry app that is not available through Moodle. For the long term, the ability to interpret language of a computer environment as opposed to one that is native to a single platform may have the advantage in mobile usability (Feldstein, March 25 th, 2010). Conclusion The ability for an open source product to viably compete with a publically owned company based product is in itself admirable. When the product is an LMS, and the competition has been based in universal usability, the admirable becomes founded in reliability. Both Blackboard and Moodle have embraced the needs of a virtual educational community and have reacted with products that enhance the learning process. Moodle and Blackboard have listened to praise and criticism supplied by not only their own, but each other s research experience. This has resulted in LMS s that are forever progressing with technology. There is a major difference in the two LMS s with regards to the approach to technical support as no innate management team is included in the Moodle package. As individuals become more and more technically savvy, this factor may decrease in relative importance. It is this technical support issue that enters into the overall cost effectiveness of both products and will continue to drive the choice of use. However, also factored into the cost effectiveness equation is the ability of a publicly held company to hold down prices driven by a number of market-driven components. When comparing the two LMS s, both have met the needs of functionality and capability. Blackboard and Moodle continue to tweak their products to become more user friendly for all involved in the virtual education community. With the support of Google, Moodle has taken steps to ensure a more stable technological application foundation and market sustainability. Blackboard, in becoming open source compatible, has promoted a flexibility that encourages commitment to the individual needs of the client. In the end, the
15 15 once distinct differences of Blackboard and Moodle are slowly dwindling as one becomes dependent on the other to effectively meet the progressive demands of a virtual, global, educational community.
16 16 References Blackboard Launches More Open, Flexible Learning Platform Emphasizing Greater Engagement for Students. (2009). PRNewswire-Firstcall. Retrieved from Croy, Marvin, Smelser, Ron in consultation with McAlpin, Valorie. (2009). Report to the Provost from the learning management system evaluation committee. University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Retrieved from: mseval.uncc.edu/index.php?options=com_domain&task= doc_download&/gid=39 Feldstein, Michael. (2010). Moodle vs. Blackboard Mobile Learn: Web app vs. native. E-Literate Retrieved from Com/moodle-mobile-vs-blackboard-mobile-learn-web-app-vsnative Final Report and Recommendations. (2008). Learning Management systems review. University of Canterbury. Retrieved from Machado, Michael, Tao, Eric. (2007). Blackboard vs. moodle: Comparing user experience of learning management systems. School of Information Technology and Communication Design, California State University, Monterey Bay. Retrieved from: Moodle. (2010). Source forge. Retrieved from: group_id=30935 MoodleDoes Roadmap Docs. (2010). Moodle.org. Retrieved from docs.moodle.org/en/roadmaps Nagel, David. (2008). CSU system adopts moodle adopts lms services. Campus Technology. Retrieved from 2008/11/csu-system-adopts-moodle-lmsservices.aspx Nagel, David. (February ). Google collaborates on Moodle integration. Campus Technology.
17 17 Retrieved from: Nagel, David. (May ). Blackboard to buy out Angel learning. Campus Technology. Retrieved from Angel-Learning.aspx NYU Blackboard.(2010). New York University Information Technology Sources. Retrieved from: Open Source Collaboration: Moodle Assessment Report Executive Summary. (2009). North Carolina Community College System. Retrieved from Trotter, Andrew. (2008). Blackboard vs. Moodle: Competition in course-management market grows. Education Week. Retrieved from: What We Do. (2010). Blackboard, Inc. Retrieved from: -We-Do.aspx