Pandemic Lessons in EdTech from MoodleMoot Global 2022

In late September I attended the MoodleMoot Global conference in Barcelona for market analysis research … and enjoying the first La Mercè Festival in three years. [full-page audio link]

During the event I was interviewed by Abby Fry on the general topic of lessons for EdTech coming out of the pandemic. I have embedded the YouTube video as well as a full transcript below. Some of the key topics:

  • More positive view of online learning after pandemic? [0:50]

  • Adoptive curve [5:15]

  • Top issues for institutional LMS adoption [7:45]

  • Intersection of academic and workplace learning [10:35]


Abby: It’s day two at MoodleMoot Global. And I’m here with Phil Hill, who’s very well known in the EdTech sector. He’s a commentator, consultant, researcher, a strategic thinker with a real focus in the US. So it’s really great to have you here today, Phil. Thanks for joining me.

Phil: Well, thanks. I’ve enjoyed my time here and I always appreciate coming to Barcelona and then being with the community. But thank you for the introduction.

Abby: Yeah, it’s wonderful. It is great. Over 800 people here today.

Phil: I know. That actually, that surprised me to see how many people were here. I mean, I went to the first one three years ago and it was noticeably smaller. And it’s good to see the community and what it’s doing.

Abby: Yeah. Working together vibrantly, I guess you’d say. And I know you’re very close to the market, and I do read your blogs and enjoy them. And I particularly enjoyed your recent blog on the fact that students have developed a more positive view [00:01:00] of online learning since the pandemic. And I was curious, could you just explain that a bit to us. Why?

Phil: Well, before you get to why, I think the bigger point that’s important to understand is it goes against a lot of assumptions. You know, so much of the reaction during the pandemic was for schools to go to emergency remote teaching, and a lot of it was poorly designed courses. So online learning helped save us, get us through the pandemic. But everybody knows that students aren’t happy. So the biggest point of the data and that I was highlighting, is maybe our assumptions aren’t accurate. Maybe there’s some nuance there. Why is it that students are actually have a more positive view of online education than they did before the pandemic? We should think about that and try to figure it out.

Phil: Now, what the answer is is not as easy to answer, because I think there are multiple aspects of it. One is you’re getting past the theoretical – this [00:02:00] is what I think online learning is about. And now teachers and students actually have done it. And I think that a lot of this is just now ‘I get what this is about. Now I understand where the anytime, anywhere aspects can benefit me in my education.’ It could even be little things such as, ‘Hey, now I can watch a video and play it at play at multiple times and I have no shame having to rewatch something to learn.’ So I think a lot of it is just getting to the reality of what’s possible as opposed to just the talk about online learning.

Phil: The other thing I would say is it has shown how the education community is actually quite resilient. I think we need to give ourselves credit for how well the EdTech infrastructure, the schools, and even the students handled this adversity. Switched quickly and even learn to appreciate what they’re dealing [00:03:00] with. So I don’t think there’s one simple answer, but it’s it’s fascinating. And I think it should cause us to be careful about our assumptions about what’s been happening.

Abby: That’s very interesting. I mean, EdTech and LMS, learning management systems, have been around for a long time, of course, in Moodle case, 20 years. But the market perhaps didn’t understand the possibilities. And I think what you’re implying is actually the pandemic has forced institutions and organizations to engage more deeply with their EdTech, and consequently learners to have started to realize that there are some significant benefits, as you say, around differentiation and convenience.

Phil: Yeah, and I’ve written about that. A lot of what’s going on right now is really about technology adoption. So it’s not just about the technology, it’s about the human activity of choosing or being part of an innovation, a change [00:04:00] that’s based on EdTech. So it’s about the group dynamics, It’s about the, ‘hey, I’m trying something new for the first time, or I’ve used this lightly. Now I’m using it much deeper because it’s the core thing I’m doing and the humans are adapting to it.’ So I think a lot of this is about the people involved.

Phil: The other aspect, though, is I’ve said, can you imagine if we had this pandemic ten years ago? Because yes, LMSs have been around for a long time, so have other tools, but not in the same state. Ten years ago, for example, the hosting of so many of the systems were set up at schools not configured to be able to scale or be highly reliable. And what happened in the pandemic? In a matter of weeks, schools around the world went online and just dramatically increase usage. While we’re very fortunate this happened in 2020, [00:05:00] ten years earlier, we would have been hearing a lot more examples of this system of education, this state in the US, this country, or the individual schools, were shut down for 2 to 4 weeks because their systems couldn’t handle the scale. So part of it’s about the technology, particularly the maturity and the scalability, but a lot of it’s about the human adoption.

Abby: Yeah, the adoption curve. Yeah. I think I’ve watched one of your videos where you talked about the early adopters and often those were very technical people, not surprisingly. And now mainstream of the market is catching up. And understanding how to use the tools more effectively.

Phil: Yes. And but then that causes a shift. So, for example, as elements such as Moodle, but any type of EdTech system, but also the people here at the conference, the people who need to support this, they’ve got to support both types of people. These innovators, but they also have to support the people who’re like, ‘just make [00:06:00] it safe, make it work.’ And so it’s not just they’re learning to use the technology, it’s that we need to learn or support. People need to learn how to support them.

Abby: Yeah, different types of people. Absolutely. It’s that.

Phil: Hold on just one second. Been talking too much today.

Abby: Yeah. Yes. Go ahead. Different types of people. I totally understand what you’re saying. And actually, that’s attention, isn’t it? Because people new to technology need very simple and clean platforms to engage with, whereas those who’ve been working for a time need depth of functionality or customizability. Would you agree with that?

Phil: Oh, I definitely agree. It’s one of the biggest challenges. And to be direct about Moodle, I think one of the biggest challenges that Moodle faces is it has not just a long history working with people, the types of people who have been implementing Moodle are very [00:07:00] detailed, in the weeds. I’ve been doing this. They’re early adopter, innovator types that ‘give me the freedom to go develop this new plugin. Let’s make this detailed case work. I want to specialize.’ And one of the challenges is that the New World – and it’s not just the pandemic, I think it was happening ahead of time, but the pandemic accelerated – it is you have this new type of learner who’s becoming much more prominent learner or teacher and you have to support it. So I think providers such as Moodle have to think about, ‘well, how do we how do we support different levels of people adopting the product?’

Abby: Absolutely. And that’s certainly on the agenda. And, you know, we’ve had our recent UX releases, both Moodle LMS and Moodle Workplace. From your perspective, what do you think the market – you talked about scalability, for instance. So I agree that that is something that’s increasingly important. But for, say, large [00:08:00] education institutions, what are they looking for? Scalability would be one, data protection, perhaps.

Phil: Number number one is intuitive design. Gone are the days where people want to have a system that it takes you a long time to train, to learn how to use it. And that gets to all the adoption stuff we’ve already talked about. So number one is intuitive design. ‘I get it. I see how the system works. Leave me. Maybe not leave me alone, but I can use this. I don’t need an extensive training course. I’ll get specialized help if I want, but I get it. This is so natural.’ Scalability and reliability, I guess, would be number two. Unfortunately, data is not number three. I think we’ve talked about it in the community for so long, but that’s taking very long for people to actually learn what to do with data. So I think it’s important, but it’s not what the decision making is based on right now.

Abby: Yeah, it’s interesting and maybe different [00:09:00] markets, different sensibilities to that perhaps in the European market that is increasingly important, but.

Phil: It’s a roadmap issue. So I mean, it is important. I’m just pointing out that if you go back 15 years, you would have thought that the LMS companies were really data analytics companies who happen to sell an LMS on the back end, but it just didn’t work out. There was very light usage of data, and it’s taken a very long time to where schools are more and more actually looking at the data and using it. Now, today it is important. It’s just almost always slower than people expect. So it’s important, but as a roadmap issue, ‘give me a platform and a way to deal with this and I’m going to find out things three years from now on how to use it. It’s not that I know all the features I need today.’

Phil: I guess the one other thing I would add is you need to have variability, the flexibility that if [00:10:00] you’re doing a large institution, you have different academic program types. Some of them might lend themselves to individual instructors doing whatever they want. Other ones might be very coordinated with a specific curriculum, some might be based on competencies. And so you need to have the flexibility to be able to support different program types within one cohesive experience. That’s another key feature that people are looking for. Give me an enterprise solution that can handle the entire enterprise that doesn’t all look alike. They behave differently.

Abby: Yeah, that’s a good point to talk about. Perhaps the collision of workplace learning and education, because obviously the Moodle Workplace platform accommodates that through its multi tenancy, multi tenant structure, which is basically a centralized. Yeah, well you can have different learning platforms within one instance of the LMS.

Phil: Yeah.

Abby: Has that been interesting to you to see those [00:11:00] worlds of formal learning through institutions and perhaps skill development in organizations, whatever type they are, come together?

Phil: Well, they are coming together. So what’s been fascinating is seeing so many attempts to resolve this issue. It’s not going away, it is the new challenge. We don’t want to have these strict walls of ‘here’s academia and here’s workplace.’ Some of the most exciting work in EdTech is that bridge between the two and whether that’s internal training of staff that happen to be also delivering degrees or whether it’s we’re an academic program, but we also are helping with workforce training. Either way, there’s a lot of blurring of the lines between the two, and I think that that’s where you’re going to continue to see a lot of innovation in the industry and solutions that need to happen.

Phil: Sometimes the issues are very [00:12:00] pedantic, such as ‘my registration system doesn’t easily allow non matriculated students, but if I’m doing an academic helping with the workforce training, I need to have that.’ So sometimes it’s just we need to get out of our own way and allow the systems to solve problems. Other times it gets more into, you know, different types of learning, role based learning and different assumptions that go into a workplace environment than in an academic environment. So yes, it’s a very exciting area. Yeah. And I think it will continue to be.

Abby: And there’s a collision, I think, between competencies and or learning paths … actually is what I’m trying to say. Learning paths and differentiation. Yes. So it’s as if workplaces required potentially for certification, but in education, you could use it to differentiate students or that, so you can assign learning based [00:13:00] on different learning preferences or abilities.

Phil: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I think a lot of the competency based education within academia fits in the same mentality, if you will, or the same assumptions about pathways and individualized learning. It’s a lot of the same stuff. So a lot of the … sometimes it’s as simple as /let’s change the name of this and in a workplace context, it should be named this, but in a competency based academic program, it should be named this.’ But underneath it, it’s got very similar assumptions behind it, which is really based on ‘let’s look at the outcomes of what we’re looking for and not just the grades and not just the seat time. And and let’s personalize it to what individual students need instead of assuming everybody has the same needs.’ Very common assumptions between them. One of the biggest differences is just simply terminology, actually.

Abby: Learning design applies in both. Both contexts.

Phil: Yes. Yeah, [00:14:00] exactly. And I think it’s driven by the same needs. It’s just a different language that describes them.

Abby: Totally agree. Well, look, we could talk for a long time, but I know you’ve got a busy agenda. Thank you very much, Phil.

Phil: Thank you.