Moodle v Sakai

“That old chestnut again”  about whether to continue to invest in a centralized service or whether to look at a more SOA approach for the OU’s Virtual learning Environment (VLE) has risen its head again. Ross MacKenzie has blogged about the fact that with the imminent release of Moodle 2 the OU is conducting a landscape review of competitors including Sakai, Desire2Learn and BlackBoard, exploring the features of each.

In my opinion moving to Blackboard or D2L, which are both commercial VLE products, would be quite a significant shift in cultural and strategic direction – moving the OU into a position where it would be using a commoditised approach to delivery, customising an off the shelf product for delivery and in direct competition to other sites offering similar services through the same toolkit.  This may be a step too far for the OU but it doesn’t mean that it wont happen. If the OU accepts that it’s the content and quality of teaching and the tutorial support model that makes it unique rather than the technological infrastructure that provides ‘supported open learning’ then this might be the way forward, especially to achieve saving whilst delivering to very large scale.

Setting aside those two products and looking at the Open Source VLEs which is more in line with the OU’s current philosophical approach there is Sakai and Moodle. Back in 2004 Martin Weller and I had a discussion when he was exploring VLE’s for the OU. Martin suggested that what was really important for a VLE/MLE was integration. A system that is flexible and extensible and interoperable and standards-based. He was thinking then that Sakai was the way forward for the OU. In the end the OU went for Moodle and since then has been quite successful with it and both the OU and the Moodle community have benefitted from the relationship. However the marriage has not been without its tensions and the OU has a lot of customised code within the OUVLE that is not part of Moodle core. Another tension is that even with ‘modules’ Moodle remains quite a monolithic product with over 1m lines of code. This is not as flexible an architecture as Sakai which is more truly modular and component based. In 2004 Sakai was far to green to really be considered for the OU but things have changed and it is now in use in over 200 Universities and colleges worldwide.

By the way there is a good blog post provided by Mark Smithers providing some public comparisons of LMS’s.

The review that the OU is conducting is going to be purely comparing features of Moodle 2 against the direct competitors but I hope that it can also be used to move the ideas of shared services, distributed and hybrid cloud architectures for creating a more personal, student centred environment. I hope that thinking around commoditisation of service doesn’t close down but rather open up the range of features and services available.

I hope that the OU considers itself to be more than simply pushing out (good quality) content through standard channels but rather creating, innovating and delivering new channels and ways for people to find learning through a variety of online social engagement and formal and informal methods – with intelligent services scaffolding that learning process. That’s where I hope we’re going.

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About willwoods
I'm Head of Learning and Teaching Technologies in the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University.

One Response to Moodle v Sakai

  1. Pingback: Fond Farewell | Weblog of Will Woods

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