A reliable LMS is crucial for the success of your staff training process. And it can be a daunting task trying to determine which learning or course management system (LMS/CMS) you want to use for your organization. There are many products on the market, and you can’t easily take most of them for a test drive. To help ease your selection, here is a comparison of two of the top LMSs on the market – Moodle and Blackboard Learn. While both systems have many more features to offer than what’s presented here, we focused this article on those LMS features that are more important to our clients.
There are many different versions of Moodle, but the most current stable version is Moodle 3.3. Moodle is an open source learning platform designed to allow administrators to customize the LMS for their particular institutions. You can run Moodle on your own web server or pay for a Moodle Partner to host your site for you, and there is a cloud-hosted option for smaller organizations. Moodle has an active open source community that fuels continued growth and customization of the LMS features. It generally has a major new release every 6 months. Moodle works on a variety of operating systems, mobile devices, and browsers.
There are also many different version of Blackboard, and it’s important to differentiate between Blackboard the entity and the Blackboard LMS. The current LMS version that most people think of when they hear “Blackboard” is called Blackboard Learn. The latest version of Blackboard Learn is Ultra, a SaaS (software as a service) cloud-based product. (Blackboard Learn Original, the legacy product, can be deployed as a self- or corporate-hosted product.) Blackboard Learn is licensed directly from Blackboard, and pricing is based on a number of factors, so there is no clear “out of the box” price. To grow and customize the LMS features, Blackboard utilizes advisory boards and user feedback. Like Moodle, Blackboard is a cross-platform LMS, working on a variety of OS, mobile devices, and browsers.
Which LMS is right for you?
The following comparison chart ranks key features of the LMSs with a rating scale from 0 (not available) to 3 (excellent). Keep in mind that both Moodle and Blackboard are highly customizable depending on your institution type and needs, so there’s no “one size fits all” solution.
|Pricing||$0-$15000 per year for a small to mid-size business or school, not including salaries for internal staff. Price can vary greatly depending on your staff needs, and whether you are self or externally hosted.||It is impossible to get pricing from Blackboard without talking extensively with a Blackboard rep, but it is considered to be one of the priciest LMS on the market.|
|Customization||If you have internal staff willing to invest in Moodle development, or you are willing to pay for a high-end Moodle Partner package, Moodle is very customizable. Moodle also has many LTI integrations with other products and services.||
There are lots of settings you can adjust for your school or business, depending on the contract rate you sign with Blackboard. Blackboard integrates with many other products and services, although some key services are currently not available, such as Google integration.
|Mobile||Moodle Mobile is the official app for Moodle and works on Android and Apple products. At the time of publishing, the app had average ratings of 2.5-3.5 in the app stores. The Moodle web interface can also be customized to have responsive web design.||Blackboard Learn has a student app and an instructor app for download to Android and Apple devices. Blackboard Learn Ultra (their newest version) utilizes responsive web design. At the time of publishing, the app had average ratings of 2.5 in the Android and Apple app stores. Blackboard Learn Original has limited responsive web design for now.|
|Online interaction||Discussion forums, journals, databases, lessons, chats, glossaries, wiki, workshop (peer assessment), and choice poll. Using add-in features, there may be additional interactive choices available. Few faculty make use of anything beyond discussion forums and choice polls.||Discussion boards, blogs, journals, chats, and wikis. Few faculty make use of anything beyond discussion boards. (Note: Blackboard may have more interactive features, but these are all the interactive features listed on their best practices website.)|
|Live engagement||Moodle has a built-in chat functionality. There are also add-ins for most of the major synchronous learning tools, including Blackboard Collaborate & Ultra, Big Blue Button, Zoom, and WebEx. (Additional licensing may be required.)||Blackboard Learn has chat functionality, and with additional purchase has integration with their own Blackboard Ultra or Collaborate. There are also integrations available for most of the major synchronous learning tools, including Big Blue Button and Zoom. (Additional licensing may be required.) WebEx can be integrated using CirQLive (requiring yet another license).|
|Assessments||The features in Blackboard and Moodle are so similar, there’s not much point in outlining them all – assessments can be very rich, automated, and customized. Moodle’s instructor quiz interface is a little clunky and can take some time for instructors to learn.||The features in Blackboard and Moodle are so similar, there’s not much point in outlining them all – assessments can be very rich, automated, and customized. Blackboard Learn Ultra’s test feature is a little more visually appealing than Moodle’s and the interface is a little more intuitive for instructors.|
|Content repository||Moodle’s repositories allow users to upload files to a course from a variety of outside file repositories, including Dropbox, Flickr, Google Drive, and traditional computer upload. (You choose to enable/disable outside repositories are enabled/disabled at the site level.) Instructors can also search for files from any of their courses hosted on the same Moodle server. The file repository can be a little tricky to navigate.||Blackboard’s repositories allow users to upload files to a course from a variety of outside file repositories. Blackboard’s default repository stores content in a single course and doesn’t allow instructors to share content across courses. Organizations may upgrade to content collection, which allows instructors to store and access content across courses.|
|Accessibility||Moodle’s goal is to be fully accessible and usable for all users regardless of ability. That being said, some modules are fully accessible (ForumNG) and some are not accessible (Choice). Instructors are individually responsible for ensuring that their content is accessible, such as PDFs and other documents.||Blackboard is committed to delivering products that conform to the highest levels of global accessibility standards. In 2017, they released Blackboard Ally, an accessibility tool that is being rolled into all of Blackboard’s LMSs. This tool checks course design and materials for common accessibility issues.|
|Analytics||Moodle has a wide variety of reports and logs that allow instructors to track student progress and successes. These are generated at the course level, and instructors will need training to use them well.||Blackboard has a variety of course level reports that allow instructors to track student progress and successes. Organizations can adopt an additional Blackboard module (presumably for an additional cost) called Blackboard Analytics, that allows for data collection and comparison across courses.|
|Ease of use for instructors||This varies based on features used. Most instructors find the basics easy to learn, but will need additional training and support to fully use features such as the gradebook and quizzes.||This varies based on features used. Most instructors find the basics easy to learn, but will require extensive training to customize a course and use more advanced features.|
|Tool variety||Moodle has a wide variety of tools available that can be turned on or off at the system level, such as gamification and publisher integration.||Blackboard Learn has a wide variety of tools available that can be turned on or off at the system level, such as advanced analytics and gamification.|
|Communication||Moodle has a wide variety of tools for instructor-student and student-student communication, including Chat, Discussion Forums, Email, Messaging, Calendar & Events, and Announcements. Students receive notifications of course changes in their email and can subscribe to forums.||Blackboard Learn has a wide variety of tools for instructor-student and student-student communication, including Discussion Boards, Email, Messaging, Calendars, and Announcements. Students receive notifications of upcoming assignment due dates on their main Blackboard activity stream.|
|Gradebook||The Moodle gradebook, while comprehensive, is probably one of its biggest pain points for instructors. The gradebook is capable of complex setup and takes training to master.||Blackboard Learn’s Grade Center has been redesigned for the new Ultra experience, but users complain that the responsive design makes the interface too clunky for easy use. Like Moodle, instructors will need training to master the gradebook.|
|Course management (faculty)||Depending on your site level options, instructors can highly customize their course setup and management. Instructors can use Moodle as a simple file repository or create a complex online course with interactive elements. Using Moodle to its full capability requires training, and instructors who are not comfortable customizing their own courses may find the interface confusing.||For organizations using the new Blackboard Learn Ultra interface, course management is easy but fairly constrained in customization. (Ultra is rolling out new features regularly, so this functionality may improve.) Instructors can complete most basic setup with limited training but will need more support to use the system’s full capabilities.|
|Course management (administrator)||You can integrate Moodle with your organization’s SIS (student information system), but it is not turnkey. Because Moodle has a vast amount of customization options, you can choose to self-host and install pre-made customizations and create your own. If you don’t have internal system support, you can pay a Moodle partner to host and support course management.||You can integrate the Blackboard Learn interface seamlessly with your organization’s SIS. You can choose from a variety of building blocks to customize the interface for your organization (depending on which version of Blackboard Learn you select). Organizations that choose Ultra are opting for SaaS cloud hosting, which means a lot of administrative functionality (and costs) will fall on Blackboard personnel.|
|Community||If you value open-source, you’ll appreciate Moodle. There is an international community that supports each other and provide improvements. Moodle has active online forums and annual Moodle Moot conferences.||Blackboard hosts an annual BbWorld conference. Like many large conferences, the agenda is bloated and session quality can vary greatly. It is definitely a good opportunity to make connections and learn from others. Blackboard has started to operate a community structure on their website, but it is not as robust as Moodle’s community.|
|TOTAL||Moodle: 42 points||Blackboard Learn: 37 points|
I recommend Moodle based on my personal experience with both organizations and the LMS features of both products. I worked for a large university that used a previous Blackboard version. Our system administrators had a difficult time working with Blackboard. Blackboard would promise the moon, but when we’d ask for bug fixes or improvements… crickets. New versions would break regular services, and with no visibility into the code, we couldn’t repair issues ourselves. When they announced a major version upgrade, we were going to have to recreate all of our courses from scratch. No thank you!
At that point, we converted to Moodle. Although learning Moodle was rough for some of our instructors, the ability for our system administrators and programmers to dive into the code was invaluable. We could repair bugs ourselves, customize the LMS to fit our needs, and develop new plug-ins and features. Our staff was able to take improvements we built and feed them back into the Moodle community so that other organizations could also benefit. As a public learning institution, we valued being able to give back to a community.
Customization of the LMS features and control over your learning portal are major reasons to choose Moodle over Blackboard. Another is pricing. Don’t misunderstand – although Moodle is open source and “free,” you will need to invest in some way—either in personnel hours, staff salaries, or a Moodle partner to host and support you. However, Blackboard’s lack of transparency with pricing is a major issue for any organization that isn’t sure it wants to fully commit just yet. How do you budget for a completely unknown pricing model? It’s fairly easy to test the Moodle waters before you’re ready to commit – just download a local copy and play to see how you like it.
Overall, both products have benefits and limitations. Blackboard may be the best tool if you are more comfortable with another company running your system, providing system support, and determining future learning technology needs for your organization. If you prefer administrative control over your LMS, giving back to a learning community, and truly customizing your LMS experience, Moodle is the best option.
As a full-cycle learning cervices provider, we offer a flexible Moodle implementation to our customers who are searching for a reliable learning management system that offers flexibility and rich features to help them achieve their staff training and development goals.
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