The Joys And Sorrows Of Leaving Moodle

Susan Glassett Farrelly

Disponible en Español.

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A story by Sarahi Apaez in California’s Humboldt State University paper gives some insight about the decision and process of the institution to move away from Moodle and switch to Canvas as its LMS (Learning Management System).

Read the full post at

The bottom line: it costs them USD 35,000 a year to run. Canvas’ cloud infrastructure outweighs the benefits of an “11 year long relationship with Moodle“.

The decision to leave Moodle was greenlit by Susan Glassett Farrelly, Director of Academic Technologies at Humboldt State. Farrelly is quoted by Arahi saying “The real difference, is the technical manpower that is necessary to run Moodle“. No information on whether cloud services through a Moodle Partner or MoodleCloud were into consideration for the switch is available at the time.

The news does not share details on technical, educational or privacy considerations. But there are common complaints out there about Moodle, even a bit of advocacy for getting out of the Open Source LMS. One of the longest of which circled around visual design and usability which it seems both the community, Moodle User Association, and HQ have heeded. Recent development has vastly improved the UX of Moodle by default (Boost theme), will improve the usability of both the main dashboard and calendar, and HQ has hired several key roles to drive the user experience and interface.

While some of the grievances may be fair in an ever leveled playing field of Learning Management Systems, there are falsehoods out there regarding Moodle’s limitations. Moodle CEO and Founder, Martin Dougiamas, often warns about the risks of complicated Moodle installations performed by developers without adequate information, knowledge or support. As a result, he claims, oftentimes “Moodle is not implemented well“.

For example, contrast this claim about the lack of scalability of Moodle, with the general recommendations for scalability ―the same developers would follow for any kind of large site―, or the specific considerations at every magnitude, found at Not to mention the support available to everyone at the Moodle forums.

Back at Humboldt State, the IT staff was “stretch[ed] very thin” to provide support for both Moodle and Canvas during the transition. The faculty is expected to stop using Moodle completely by the fall.

Learning how to master Moodle or Canvas takes a very similar learning curve. A Humboldt State IT team member says that, in his experience, “learning [both of] these programs involves a lot of self-teaching and watching video tutorials“.

In many cases, what people think ―and dislike― of Moodle are not exclusive to the platform. Similar to how we tend to call paper tissues “Kleenex”, Moodle is often synonymous with LMS in general. As a consequence, the enthusiasm a community meets following a decision to switch to another LMS soon fades when it realizes most of the same “pain points” remain.

Furthermore, the switch eventually leads to missing flexibility, control, and customization of Moodle which is difficult to notice until it’s gone. Instructors take some time after a new LMS is in place to discover the myriad little differences. Moodle’s maturity and community are certainly a benefit to be acknowledged. For example, as the math department at Humboldt State realized, “when it comes to third-party tools and plug-ins, Canvas is not as diverse as Moodle“.

The observed pattern is that other LMS offer dedicated and more effortless support across a smaller set of features, whereas Moodle’s amplitude means it often takes more work to find the answers.

At the end of the day, the decision to switch away from (and back to) Moodle is determined on a case by case basis. It relies on the organization’s assessment of the perceived level of technical difficulty, versus the perceived value of Moodle’s features and extensibility.

To end on a more casual note, I could not help to notice the paper’s hairline op-ed on either LMS:Lumberjack Moodle Canvas Op-Ed

moodlerooms-logoThis Moodle Practice related post is made possible by: MoodleRooms the open source learning experience by Blackboard. Rediscover Moodle. Click here to learn more.


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  1. This is too bad. Canvas is just warmed over Blackboard. And the implication (in the HSU blog post) that Moodle does not save grades as they’re entered is simply bizarre to read from one of the long-standing Moodle campuses in the CSU. They never turned on ajax??? And the idea that Canvas is “not based on hardware”. Um…

  2. Last year our university made two new plugins for Moodle and foreign language learning. Updated them this year. Does Canvas allow that?


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