Most of us who have been involved in education over the last twenty years or so will be familiar with Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) like Moodle, Blackboard or Canvas. They are well-established platforms for putting lecture notes online, running quizzes, and getting students to submit work.
Since 2017 however, something new has come into the mix: Microsoft Teams.
At first this seemed rather odd. After all, Microsoft Teams was (and is) essentially a business management tool, rather than a ‘learning management system’. And yet Microsoft themselves aggressively pushed Teams as a platform for education. At educational technology conferences, they blitzed us with slick marketing and presentations designed to make us believe that Teams’ communication tools would revolutionise not only our teaching, but our whole lives!
In addition to sheer hyperbole, Teams had another thing going for it: IT departments loved it.
It was something that IT departments actually used themselves, and was essentially free – because it came bundled with the O365 suite of Microsoft applications that we were already paying for. And being Microsoft, Teams was something that had a huge organisation behind it for support and trouble-shooting.
By contrast, Moodle was something that IT departments didn’t use themselves, and because it was an open-source platform they had to sort out any problems themselves.
The idea that Teams could effectively replace Moodle as a virtual learning environment was therefore hugely attractive from a pragmatic and financial perspective.
For many academics and teachers though, these arguments didn’t always persuade: Just because IT departments have found Teams useful in managing their projects, doesn’t mean that I will find it equally useful in teaching a Fine Art degree. I can’t even organise my content properly in Teams!
Ultimately, these two perspectives have led to something of a tussle: On the one hand people passionately arguing for the use of Teams’ more work-orientated platform instead of Moodle, and on the other people arguing with equal passion about the importance of a more dedicated online learning environment.
Those caught in the middle were left merely confused: Should I be using Teams or Moodle? Am I still allowed to use Moodle? What do I do with all the stuff I already have on Moodle?!
In this post we want to suggest that a pedagogical perspective can help bring a little clarity to the confusion…
…Once upon a time, people thought that education was a relatively straightforward process. You got a bunch of children to passively copy stuff onto a slate in order that they remember things the teacher told them.
Of course eventually other ideas about education emerged involving independent learning, experience, interdependence, active learning, personalised learning and lots of lovely things like that. Trouble was, most of these tended to require a high staff/student ratio, which is expensive – and probably explains why even relatively new University buildings retain a design in which 200 students can sit passively taking notes in order to remember what the lecturer tells them.
It was technology that provided the potential for a more engaged learning design to be properly scaleable – and therefore affordable. A Moodle quiz could provide individualised feedback to 200 students just as easily as to 20. Rather then spending hours trying to organise students into groups Moodle could do it for you with just four clicks, and with online audio or video any student could adjust the pace of teaching to suit their own needs.
‘Active’ learning was suddenly possible – at least as long as it was ‘Blended’ with technology.
And so while theories of learning had long ago abandoned the practices of the Edwardian schoolroom, it is only in recent years that Universities have really started to push seriously and pragmatically for a more sophisticated approach to teaching and learning.
One such approach is the ‘conversational framework’, developed by Diana Laurillard (2012). Laurillard’s work has been used as the basis for UCL’s online ‘Learning Designer’ tool – in which learning activities are categorised as:
- Read, watch, listen – where students acquire information to remember
- Collaborate – where students can work in groups towards a joint outcome
- Discuss – where students can share knowledge and engage with alternative points of view
- Investigate – where students can find out things for themselves and evaluate them
- Practice – where students try things out, and improve using feedback
- Produce – where students apply their learning in creating a final product for assessment or evaluation
As you can see, in terms of physical spaces a nice traditional lecture theatre only really lends itself to the first activity: Sit down, be quiet, and listen. The other 5 demand either independent learning or smaller groups and smaller rooms.
With online learning though, there are are no such limitations. For example, videos or documents can be uploaded for watching and reading. Groups can be created for collaboration. Chat rooms or forums can be used for discussion. Online catalogues and libraries for investigation, quizzes for practice and assignment uploads for production.
When we start thinking in these terms, we begin to see that it shouldn’t be a question of whether we use Moodle or Microsoft Teams, but a question of which is the platform best suited to these kinds of activities. Because:
- While Moodle is great at providing a structured learning experience, it is not a platform students are likely to use in work.
- While Teams is a platform that students may well use in work, it is not great at tracking and managing a learning process.
- While Moodle is great for adding all sorts of different content, it is not great for discussions.
- While Teams is great for video meetings, it is not great for assignments.
If we look back again at Laurillard’s categories then, we can start to see the different strengths of the two platforms.
Read, watch, listen – Best for Moodle, because you can embed video, upload documents and audio in a clear sequence.
Collaborate – Can be done either in Moodle (using groups, or peer assessment), or Teams (using channels)
Discuss – Best for Teams, because of its discussion and video meeting tools – while Moodle’s forums and chat features are clunky by comparison
Investigate – Can be done in both Moodle and Teams, but probably best for Moodle, where links to various resources can be posted.
Practice – Can be done in both Moodle and Teams, but is probably best for Teams, where a flow of communication can help students make the most of feedback
Produce – Can be done in both Moodle and Teams, depending on the nature of the product. If, for example, the product is a summative essay then Moodle might be best. If however, it is completion of a project, then Teams would be best.
We can take this even further if we want, but applying it to other models of learning.
If we were to refer to Bloom’s taxonomy for example, we might map these activities onto the different stages of learning.
Mapped against these descriptors we see that ‘Read, watch, listen’ activities will naturally lend themselves to subjects and levels focusing on the more foundational cognitive skills – those where students need to build a foundation of knowledge or understanding within a structured context. ‘Practice’, in contrast, implies some of the higher-order skills – the capacity to apply understanding and evaluate feedback, and is necessarily less highly structured.
Overall therefore, Moodle may be more effective as a focus for structured foundational courses – and Teams more effective for later courses where students have already gained skills in independent learning. This approach is likely to pair well with learning outcomes for modules at each level, since level 3 or 4 modules tend to focus more on the foundation levels of the Bloom’s taxonomy, while level and beyond tend to focus on the higher levels of the taxonomy.
So, Moodle vs. Teams? The question is not about having to choose between one platform or another – but seeing the pedagogical strengths of both, and using each one appropriately for your own learning design.
Laurillard, D. (2012). Teaching as Design Science. Building Pedagogical Patterns for Learning and Technology. London: Routledge.
Bloom, B. S. (Ed.) (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. New York: McKay.
If you want to know more about the kinds of activities available on Moodle, and how they can best be used, please download this guide developed by our Academic Developer Gabriella Buttarazzi:
This blog post is by Jonathan Tulloch, Learning Technology Adviser, Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT), University of East London