The Moodle™ 3.11 core team thought users wouldn’t miss the checkboxes. As it turns out, those little squares that would signal students things that were completed and things left to get done were more beloved than anticipated.
On June, Iowan Rick Jerz posted an issue in the Tracker. This would end up becoming by far the single most voted issue of 2021. It launched a passionate discussion, both on the Tracker and ensuing Moodle™ Forums.
For the 3.11 release, the Moodle™ Users Association members voted a series of user experience enhancements as their project. Customarily, each major release has a MUA project voted by members from their submissions, independently but with proximity to the core development team.
The UI/UX project was authored by veteran Moodler and MUA member Mike Churchward. Early mockups show a transformation of the checkboxes from a line of squares to the right of activity titles, to circles right at the left of the activity icon. In software development in general, it is common for early mockups and final products to diverge.
The 3.11 update brought neither. Instead, a rectangular button with rounded squares and a “Mark as done” text replaced the checkboxes, available since 2013 and by now a very dependable affordance. Better received where small messages next to the button indicating the student what they needed to do to achieve the completion, with the caveat that the tips made courses “text-heavy,” more than they already were in some cases. The layout for both button and text would be different depending on whether the activity could be completed automatically or required manual clicking by the student.
Checklists are commonplace across productivity platforms and apps, LMS included. There’s a reason for it. Evidence on the cognitive advantages of the “ticking” dynamic continues to pile up. Mark-checking adds focus, provides a sense of advancement and lowers mental overload. The Checklist is consistently one of the most widely used plugins year after year.
Curiously, the checkboxes haven’t been replaced in the admin’s Activity completion report for 3.11.
In Rick’s view, this design choice would increase vertical clutter and hide a clean line of course completion. A sequence of checkboxes on which, considering the dozens of comments in support of Rick’s issue, thousands of users were seemingly reliant.
MUA members also indicated that at no point of the project cycle’s sessions, nor in the project itself, there was any mention of checkboxes removal of replacement. Rick, also a MUA member, echoed a general position that Moodle™ should provide both alternatives and let each user decide if they wanted to keep their checkboxes.
Moodlers have uncovered other issues: Some activities, like URLs, do not work with the new button’s logic, so they will always have a “Marked as done” message next to it, which many find unnecessary and it only adds to the clutter. Others pointed out that legacy courses explicitly mentioned the checkboxes in the introductions and throughout, leading to the exhausting realization of all the work this change implies to make some parts of it make sense again. Accessibility stalwart Gavin Henrick also pointed out possible issues this button would cause for screen readers, adding evidence that compliance was not taken into consideration for the change.
Moodle™ Senior Product Designer at the moment is Rafael Lechugo. He was not immediately aware whether there was user research behind the change. He admits the button is an “intermediate step” that will look in place once Moodle 4.0 arrives completely. Earlier, Head of Moodle™ LMS, Sander Bangma, informed that Moodle 4.0 would face another delay. The new release of the open source platform would be available sometime in March 2022. For users who actually prefferred the new buttons, including Chris Kenniburg, this still means waiting until then and see how it looks in its final form, before upgrading from 3.10.
Sander, who would earn his UWA MBA this month, admitted to surprised by the backlash. He shared some of Moodle 4.0’s mockups showing where the buttons might fit in, confirming the vertical progress cue would be gone.
While more philosophical debates weigh on Moodle™’s visual loss of innocence and increasing similarities to commercial LMS layouts, solutions to the erasure of checkboxes include:
- Installing the Collapsed Topics plugin by Gareth Barnard and adding a few CSS tweaks.
- eLearn Community member Josh Manders offers a quick fix that removes buttons and all completion information using CSS alone.
- For the more technically savvy, Ben Haensel suggests updating the course\renderer.php file.
- Nadav Kavalerchik tweaked the mustache template on his custom theme to move the buttons to the place the checkboxes were.