David RD Gratton

Moodle and Drupal Communities Working Together Needs a Strategy

May 4, 2007

My company Donat Group is at the Moodle conference moodlemoot in Edmonton Alberta. An excellent conference for both experts and newbies to Moodle. We are here to present with our partner Lambda on our shared Moodle hosting service for BC post secondaries through BCcampus. I learned a ton at the conference and I am totally turned on to Moodle more than ever now, especially the networkming function in 1.8 and the new gradebook coming in 1.9.

On the business side, we have been talking to a many attendees about our Moodle - Drupal - ELGG architecture (we got a glimpse of Mahara and may look at that in place of ELGG). Everyone we talked to was familiar with the three technologies, but I was surprised when most did not know that Drupal could act as the Social Networking Hub for a learning community as well as a standard CMS "publishing" platform. This was a bit worrisome to me, as considerable work is being done for Moodle 2.0 (release: mid 2008) to create a social networking hub. This may make sense and be in fact the best solution, but it seems that no one has taken the time to see what Drupal can do in this area. One university I talked with had been using Drupal for over a year and had no idea there were social networking tools for Drupal. I pointed out just a few of the sites we have worked on (projectopus.com, gimme20.com, opportunityalert.ca), let alone the hundreds of other sites from dozens of other developers. He was literally shocked at what Drupal could do and he wasn't the only one. Conversely, I would suspect that Drupalers would be shocked at what Moodle could do. I know I was, and we have been using it for a few years!

And here lies the problem - there is very little "official" communication and collaboration between these open source software communities, especially around development. If Drupal or any other solution could provide the social networking layer for Moodle wouldn't it be advantageous to work on that integration layer rather than writing what is substantial new code from scratch? And vice versa, people have talked to me about adding mods to Drupal for course management. Maybe that is the best way to go for somethings who knows, but shouldn't they first look to Moodle for answers to course management? I really think these open source projects need to be coordinating their activities, or at the very least having a high level open dialog on where each project is going and what strategies they cold use to leverage one another.

To help facilitate that, I think these communities should "officially" (whatever that really means) get representatives to sit-in with the other communities coordinating and communicating development. There should be a Drupal rep at Moodlemoots and Moodlers at Drupalcon. The reps should be well known within their communities and have influence (or have extensive knowledge) in the overall strategy of development. I would even suggest that the leads of these projects personally meet once a year and become involved in on another's software to a certain extent. I am using Drupal and Moodle as only two examples, naturally others exist. But these two platforms are good examples as they have a great deal of synergy with one another and are better together than alone and poorly replicating features of the other. Maybe this is happening already, I don't know, but if it is the word is not getting down to the general development community and users.

Full agree !!

I don't know a similar expression in English (just because my English is really bad), but in my country we say "Could be said higher, but not cleally". ;-)

I'm working for an educational institution with Moodle and Drupal (if e-magazines or conferences also OJS or OCS) but you put words to my thoughts.

Seams clear to me that if you only know about one of them you tend to do everything with it because both are extremely flexible platforms, but they are very synergistic, very complementary.

Efforts like DrupalEd or MoodleCMS are nice and could be helpful, but when you need them it's time to think that you are crossing the line.

Thanks a lot to share your point of view. I will forward your post to my fellows that are Joomladicts. :-P

A fair amount of what you describe has been done

I wrote about the potential for using Drupal, Moodle, and Elgg together a little over a year ago, and we recently released DrupalEd -- an install profile of Drupal that incorporates social networking, an individual workspace, an informal (ad hoc) group workspace, and a class space. People within the Drupal community are very aware of the potential for Drupal as a social networking platform.

While we are more involved in the Drupal community than the Moodle community at this point, we are doing what we can to bridge the gap. I was invited to speak at the Albuquerque, NM Moodlemoot earlier this year, but couldn't attend due to a scheduling conflict.

If you are interested in working with us to create more of a groundswell behind this type of collaboration, I'd love to talk with you about some ideas.



Absolutely Bill!

Hey Bill,

I took a look at DrupalEd a long while back and hadn't looked back on it in some time. I now see you have been very busy. Congratulations!

We would be very keen to get involved with you and your project. Let's talk on the phone next week?

I would like to see some official collaboration on a high level amongst these communities. Martin Dougiamas is in the next room, I am going to see if I can get some time with him to talk about this idea before the conference ends.

Sounds great!

Hello, David,

That sounds good -- I agree with you that there is a need to coordinate efforts, identify precise areas of overlap, and then develop code that makes it possible.

I look forward to seeing where this leads, and look forward to talking with you about it.



Hi David, "we got a glimpse

Hi David,

"we got a glimpse of Mahara and may look at that in place of ELGG" - this is a little strange as they are completely different software, with different functionality.

I think the thoughts expressed in your post are worthwhile and would make a difference but I don't think it will never happen. You just need to look at the two development communities - both feel their product should dominate and are not interested in creating a true collaborative effort.

The other thing I am battling with is Moodle and Drupal attempting to become social networking platforms - they would both need a complete rewrite. It is a huge mistake to assume that you can 'add' social networking to a CMS. For something to be a true social networking platform it needs that ethos in development from the very beginning - just look at Moodle's attempt to add tagging and blogging?


I agree and disagree

Hi Dave,

I think social networking functionality is becoming or will become a component of most "software as service" products. So it is not surprising that Moodle and Drupal both have and want to expand on that functionality in some capacity. I agree that there are probably zealous elements in each of these communities that believe their product is or should be a silver bullet for every installation. But recent history tells us that will not be the case - one product will not be the only or the best answer. This is the point of my post. These people as well as you and Ben at ELGG need to make the effort on a high level to make this happen. The culture is inherent to do something like this exists in the Open Source community. However it needs leadership from the "founders" of these movements to make it happen. It can start with baby steps by going to and presenting at one another's conferences as featured speakers.

And sorry Dave I just realized how that post may have read for you and others using ELGG. I did not mean to imply that ELGG was an inferior product - quite the contrary in fact. We were looking at using ELGG as the portfolio portion of our architecture. This may not be what you intended for ELGG, but it is how we are planning to use it. So I guess it won't surprise you then that the reason we are now looking at Mahara is the strict focus it has on ePortfolios and the customizable 'Views' inherent in the product.

As for Drupal or Moodle needing a complete rewrite to become social networking platforms. I think I will need to respectfully disagree. Moodle can become a very focused social network tool for a specific learning community. My worry is that it may be too limited for other learning communities and that's where we see Drupal coming in.

I am not a follower of the "MySpace in a box" view of social networking products. I think it is near impossible to generalize social networking in a way to adequately serve the thousands of different and focused communities of interest. The needs of nano-medicine researchers versus music fans is entirely different and the social networks for these groups need to reflect those needs, even though the under lying tools may be the same. Take "Friends" for instance. A friend in a music community versus a friend in a research community may mean entirely different things. The friends may also have entirely different types of privileges once granted the status of friends. We use Drupal as a Social Networking framework, not as a standard CMS as we would with Joomla. Granted this is a bias, but using Drupal in this way has been very successful. Drupal has adapted itself very easily to the varied social networks I pointed out in my post. "MySpace in a box" solutions already have an implied community paradigm which makes them more inflexible.

When it comes to learning there are hundreds of different learning communities. I am not sure Moodle can or should try to address each of these. Nor do I think they should be trying to generalize the social networking functionality to such an extent that it serves non of them.

Update... Sorry I should have pointed out that there are projectes where an ELGG - moodle install would make the most sense. I really did not mean to make this post or comment to imply what tool is best for what.

Good response

Hi David,

That was an excellent response and I certainly take on board your opinion regarding the multi-facet faces of social networking.

"These people as well as you and Ben at ELGG need to make the effort on a high level to make this happen. "

In our experience this just doesn't happen - we have approached Moodle to work together and been turn away, we were also part of a project (which we instigated) to integrate Elgg and Drupal but unfortunately the Drupal component in that arrangement felt Drupal could handle everything and went it alone.

This is where I think the biggest challenge lies - most of these products have a partisan user base who as you rightly put it "believe their product is or should be a silver bullet for every installation" - therefore, I think the answer should lie in adopting open standards and open APIs; this would allow product developers, like us, to build towards an integration layer rather than trying to directing integrate with specific applications. Standards such as OpenID and the new work on OpenID Attribute Exchange (among others) will help this.

Really, building integration directly between one or two apps (that by and large are see to be very similar) will be pretty limiting and I am really not sure if this is the right approach to future proof interoperability and ultimately create a utopia where software platforms work well together.


P.S - "the strict focus it has on ePortfolios and the customizable 'Views' inherent in the product" - give the new Elgg presentation plugin a run, it is pretty cool and is being used here in the UK to build a more structured ePortfolio with Elgg.

Turned away by Moodle?

Hi Dave,

" we have approached Moodle to work together and been turn away"

Can you elaborate on that? I know that NZVLE did a lot of work on Moodle/Elgg integration, it was provided at least in the Moodle side by a block that is still in use. As far as I know it's unmaintained on the Elgg side but Luke Hudson is still helping out people in the Moodle forums trying to get it going although I have since moved on to other things.

Not turned away by Moodle at all

yes like Penny I feel compelled to refute Dave Tosh's assertion that he was "turned away" by the Moodle community. We put a large effort into Elgg and an Elgg/Moodle interface. 'For other reasons we eventually stopped that work and started to build Mahara (still in early stages there).

I would also note that I think the collaboration between communities being touted in this thread isn't really due to community ethos, leadership or otherwise. David Gratton's idea for representation at moots and drupalcons etc. would likely make little difference IMHO. I've long been a Drupal fan and we've been working with Moodle for a few years now.

I'm leading a project right now and I did think that a SSO combo of Moodle and Drupal would meet the projects needs spot on. Easier said than done though. While the architectures of Moodle and Drupal are arguably similar the raison d'etre at the time of inception is vastly different. When trying to meld them together in a seamless suite for the User the usability challenge is really tricky. So tricky in fact that we're not going to pursue it - instead we'll use the Drupal codebase and forget the idea of using Moodle.

Fitness for purpose is obviously a key consideration when selecting and enhancing open sourec applications. Integrations of essentially modular bundles like Moodle and Drupal is inherently hard form an architectural perspective if you have usability as a high priority. I believe it's less to do with the community politics than is made out in this post. "Turned away" - that's just rubbish, we contributed a lot of code, & then we stopped doing so. That's the perogative of any contributors to open source communities. There is nothing inherent to stop Dav and Ben distributing or maintaining Moodle / Elgg integration code, nothing at all...

Richard Wyles

Sorry David for hijacking

Sorry David for hijacking this thread!

Richard - I was not referring to you and the NZ group; I approach the Moodle lead about collaboration, that was what I was referring to so please make sure you have your facts right before jumping to conclusions.


Perhaps just semantics

Dave, I was interpreting your reference to the Moodle Community in its broad sense, because it is a broad-based and large community with Martin Dougiamas as its lead. I stand by my statement that there is nothing to stop anyone creating and maintaining, for example, an Elgg / Moodle interface layer - (& as you know, we did but it hasn't been maintained above 1.6 I think). In that sense no-one gets "turned away" from the Moodle community in the sense that it is an open, participatory community with well over 100,000 registered users on Moodle.org. But I understand what you are saying now - that Dougiamas himself didn't want to progress something that had been suggested.

All the best

That saddens me...

"In our experience this just doesn't happen - we have approached Moodle to work together and been turn away, we were also part of a project (which we instigated) to integrate Elgg and Drupal but unfortunately the Drupal component in that arrangement felt Drupal could handle everything and went it alone."

... sigh

Well at least you are making the effort. That go-alone attitude seems to be the antithesis of the open software movement. It surprises and saddens me.

I wonder if part of the problem is that when we talk "integration" we don't know what that 'means'. I really mean a Suite of Tools that work together to meet the needs of a definable audience - preferably a large audience.

We will definitely check out the Elgg plugin.

Excellent Post.

Very nice post; I blogged about it.

The beauty of open source communities is that ideas such as yours - for encouraging projects to specialize in certain functionality - and then integrating these projects together into something far more powerful - is possible.

Now, someone needs to champion that idea, assemble a group of interested parties, and make it happen! This absolutely makes sense to do.