Supporting organisations who dropped Moodle, but are now switching back

In January 2018, I wrote a blog post on ‘Strategic considerations if thinking of switching from Moodle to Canvas‘. This post was written before Covid, and one of the comments I made, is if you have a small number of teachers who have used Moodle a lot, and the consequence this would have on them being asked to change ship.

This post was then followed up in September 2020 with ‘Now is not the right time to get rid of your Moodle‘. This was written about 6 months into the Covid pandemic, and at a time where there was a lot of uncertainty (and fear) for the future, as well as major changes in working behaviours, and this references a few points, including lack of investment from organisations in staff development, and again the problem of existing ‘power users’.

I don’t generally have crystal ball gazing powers, but reflecting back on those posts, I do appear to have quite accurately pre-empted the future for a small number of organisations.

Road sign showing a U-Turn

I am currently working with 3 organisations who all dropped Moodle (for other systems) in the last few years but subsequently realised that was a mistake and are now working their way through the process of going back to Moodle. The upheaval and cost of changing platform is huge – but to go through the process and then have to go back again is simply massive – both in terms of cost/effort but also significant is the impact it has in terms of trust; we are regularly asking teachers to trust in the managers/ leaders/ learning tech advisors etc. to use the VLE more, but by switching, and then switching back again is admitting that they made a mistake (so who is to say that switching back isn’t another mistake), and what is to say they won’t change direction again in a few years time.

I obviously cannot go into explicit detail due to client confidentiality, but the snippets I can share are:

Organisation A – had a very specific (and possibly unique) business requirement which through a simple but clever combination of Moodle plugins was no problem for them. When they switched system, they just assumed that all VLE/LMS systems could handle this situation – and didn’t realise until it was too late, that they couldn’t replicate this feature. They tried to find different workarounds, bodges and changing of behaviours, but nothing came close to what they needed, and quite quickly the users lost faith in the system, so are now returning to Moodle.

Organisation B – had a small but significant number of power users, who had invested a lot of their own time and energy into their Moodle areas, and justifiably didn’t want to repeat the process in another system – especially as they had used various activity types in Moodle that simply were not available in the alternative. Some of the key staff left and went elsewhere, others stayed but ran an inferior level of service, and all in all – what had been a very lucrative area of the organisation slipped into losing the organisation money, and after lots of unhappy staff and unpleasant meetings (and various union/legal action in both directions) the organisation agreed to reinstate a Moodle just for those areas. But after running the two systems side by side for a period of time, they realised this didn’t make sense, so are dropping the alternative and going fully back to Moodle.

Organisation C – had never set their Moodle up properly, nor had they invested in any staff development or support, so their Moodle was a complete mess, and not very usable. They were lead to believe that the problem was Moodle itself, and investing in a newer (more expensive) alternative, would solve these problems – but they made exactly the same mistake again, not getting things set up correctly in the first place, and not giving staff any time or space or support to learn how to use it. And so, with painful inevitability, they fell into exactly the same (only significantly more expensive) mess as before. A new Senior Leader Team at the organisation realised this was absurd, and luckily they had used Moodle effectively previously. By ditching the expensive alternative they can pay for the expertise to get the Moodle set up properly, and still have money left at the end to invest in their internal staff.

Although hindsight is a wonderful thing, and very easy to apply – all of the issues above would not have happened – if they had carried out a proper analysis before committing to change, and if they had discussed openly with the relevant stakeholders. It is very easy in education for managers to make decisions on behalf of the teaching staff – and most of the time that is OK, the teachers want to focus on the teaching side of things, and are happy to let the managers do the background running of the organisation – but when it comes to the VLE, this is not an area where the managers should make decisions without proper consultation with those most affected.

I feel very sorry for the personnel at these organisations, who have been through a tough time, and still have a long and challenging few years ahead. Financially, these bad decisions have cost the organisations a lot of money – if they had invested a fraction of this wasted money back into the staff initially, they would have found themselves in a much better position than they are currently in.

But – at least having finally realised the mistake, they have made the very brave decision to reverse the decision (and that is not an easy thing to do). I expect there are many orgs out there, who have switched ship in a similar fashion, but they don’t have the bravery and confidence to reverse such a decision…

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