ELGG vs. Moodle – defusing a false dichotomy


I’ve had a few people come up to me at conferences recently and ask me to compare ELGG and Moodle, and choose between them as if they were somehow mutually exclusive. Indeed, even within the Moodle community itself there seems to be a bit of dismissiveness about what ELGG does, and the notion that with just a couple of twists of code Moddle can easily replicate its functionality.

Well maybe, but this is what excited me so much about the paper linked to above by Terry Anderson and the work he describes taking place at Athabasca University. I had the pleasure of seeing Terry present on this recently and wish I could link to those powerpoints as I think the illustrate the point I’m trying to make better than the article does, but what is exciting for me is that Terry and Athabasca are putting together a large, production environment in which Moodle and ELGG will seemingly co-exist quite nicely, thank you very much, and take care of different problems. Hopefully I am not going to mangle this too much, but as I understood it, Moodle was being positioned to handle conventional ‘course management’ problems like the delivery of content, assessments, discussions. In Athabasca’s case (and I’d argue in all of our cases, but that’s another post) they also have to deal with a continuous uptake model, where instead of cohort-based programs they also have very much self-paced programs with differing start times. Thus they are using ELGG as one of the ways to build community “between” the space of courses, community that is formed not because of one’s membership in a pre-ordained group or cohort but out of your interests. Sounds to me like a job for social software!

Can Moodle support similar ad-hoc community formation across course (and even institutional) boundaries? Maybe, and it sounds like we will find out fairly soon through upcoming releases. And bully for them if they can. But what I love about ELGG is that it is built from the groud up around the user and their connections as they key focus, rather than on ‘courses’ or ‘content’ (I’m not trying to levy a criticism at Moodle here as I like it very much as well). Far from being only a ‘blogging’ tool or a ‘eportfolio’ tool, what excites me about ELGG is that it is becoming a social networking ‘framework’ (o.k. you can dispute that term as much as you like) that while it has initially focused on tools to create blog posts and share files, isn’t interested in restricting you to only its blogging tool (and why would it? RSS anyone?) and is looking at a whole set of other interesting apps (Calendaring? Synchronous tools?) that are also of intrinsic value but become even more useful if people can use them with other semantically related users.

Should elearning providers be looking to one single tool to provide all of these aspects and more? Maybe. Right now though, the best bet seems like trying to get the best solution possible through a set of provisional measures. Personally, I’m more interested in making these and others co-exist, and seeing if we can get the integration between them to be more than lame-ass ‘pointing to their URLS’ or simple single sign-on; if instead we see if we can get shared identity happening across a number of these services in a way that takes identity mean more than your username and password. – SWL