Moodle 2.0 versus Blackboard 9.1 – a Brief Comparison

by Kelly Walsh on November 7, 2010

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Taking a look at some of the similarities and differences between the newest versions of these two popular LMS’s.

Thanks to contributor Olivia Coleman (olivia.coleman33@gmail.com) for collaboratively developing this guest post.

Moodle and Blackboard are both popular online learning platforms with which educators can develop complete online course that can include multimedia content. But how do the two compare to each other and what are the benefits unique to each course delivery system? We will explore some of these benefits in this article, discussing Moodle 2.0 and Blackboard 9.1 respectively.

First let’s talk about what Moodle and Blackboard are.

Moodle is an Open Source Learning Management System that is provided freely and can be run on many operating systems. It’s “free to download, change, share, improve, and customize to whatever you want it to be,” according to the Moodle website. Therefore, any educator can use it to build or supplement a course.

Blackboard on the other hand is a proprietary Learning Management System and its use is typically limited to educators at institutions which pay a fee each year to take on a license agreement for its use. Blackboard Learn 9.1 is only one of many offerings from the software company Blackboard, Inc.

Moodle 2.0
Moodle 2.0 has been touted as Moodle’s “biggest release ever” with tons of upgrades, and its release is scheduled for this month. You can read up-to-date information on all the improvements Moodle 2.0 will have over the previous version here.

New features revolve around increased usability, these include: easier navigation, improved user profiles, community hub publishing and downloading, a new interface for messaging, and a feature that allows teachers to check student work for plagiarism. Text formats will also allow plug-ins for embedded photos and videos in text (Blackboard 9.1 allows for this too).

A major improvement over previous releases is that anyone can set up a community hub, which is a public or private directory of courses. Another notable feature is that Moodle now allows teachers to search all public community hubs and download courses to use as templates for building their own courses. Also, teachers can now see when a student completes a certain activity or task and can also see reports on a student’s progress in a course.

Many small scale open source platforms require that users support them themselves, leveraging the open source community as their primary resource. For Moodle however, it is so popular that a small industry has evolved around it, providing a wide range of support and services. Two of the most popular support and hosting services are  Moodlerooms and Remote-Learner.

Blackboard 9.1
Blackboard Learn 9.1 is Blackboard’s newest and most innovative upgrade to its Blackboard Learn package.

Improvements in its uses for higher education include course wikis (Moodle improved theirs too), blogs and journals that stimulate conversation and reflection on a course, and group tools that make group collaboration and communication easier than the previous version. Its most notable feature is its Web 2.0 interface, which makes it easy for educators to navigate when adding content to an online course and for students to navigate when accessing course content. 

Blackboard Learn 9.1 also incorporates Blackboard Connect (at an additional cost), which alerts students to deadlines, due dates and academic priorities within a course. The new release also allows educators to more easily incorporate videos and photos directly into text for a more complete learning experience.  Finally, 9.1 features Blackboard Mobile Learn (also at an additional cost), which lets students connect to their online courses using various handheld devices, such as the iPhone or iPad.

For more information about Blackboard Learn 9.1, click here.

So, what are the big differentiators?

Features & Functions: Both of these tools have a lot of different functionality available, either natively, or through add-on types of functionality. If different functions are going to be the deciding factor in selecting one of these versus the other, you will really need to drill in and compare and decide for yourselves which features and functions make the difference for your institution.

Cost: This is clearly different. As an open source product, Moodle is simply less expensive. Blackboard is sort of the “Rolls Royce” of today’s LMS, and there are users of the product who would tell you that if you want the best LMS money can buy, you should make the financial commitment to Blackboard. On the other hand, if you want a premier product for a much lower cost, Moodle is really the way to go. Another thing to be aware of is that Blackboard builds substantial annual increases into their pricing model, since they are continually procuring and integration additional products into their offerings, with the intent of adding value for their users.

Product/vendor model: As indicated above, Moodle and Blackboard are very different products with very different vendor models. One is open source, and there are many support and service vendors to choose from, while the other is proprietary and there is just the one company to work with. How that impacts your decision is up to you and your institution to determine.

Guest poster Olivia Coleman writes on the topics of online colleges and universities

Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
Video Blog companion post for the above article
Learning about Lecture Capture Technology
The Schoology LMS provides a lot of functionality for free

About 

Kelly Walsh is Chief Information Officer and a faculty member at The College of Westchester in White Plains, NY and is the founder and author of EmergingEdTech.com. As an education technology advocate, he frequently delivers presentations on a variety of related topics at schools and conferences across the U.S. Walsh is also an author, and online educator, periodically running Flipped Class Workshops online. His latest eBook, the Flipped Classroom Workshop-in-a-Book was published in September, 2013 and is available here. In his spare time Walsh also writes, records, and performs original (and cover) songs (look for "K. Walsh" on iTunes or Amazon.com or check out his original song videos on here on YouTube ).

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Robert Hayes II July 30, 2014 at 4:19 pm

I have to agree with the comments from Nadine. I used Blackboard as a student for my first two years of education at a community college. I quickly learned how TERRIBLE Blackboard is for students. Entering as a Freshman I was completely unaware of all of Blackboards faults. For example when you are “WORKING” in Blackboard the system will time you out if you try to type your paper directly into Blackboard. I was not informed about this from my instructors and had to learn the hard way on my own. After working hard on a paper for hours. I hit submit only to find out that Blackboard timed out and ate my paper! My work was gone! Lost forever! Non-retrievable! Unless you write your work into a word doc then paste over Blackboard will do this every time. When I transferred to a state university that used Moodle. I quickly fell in love with it. Not once did Moodle ever time out on me. Blackboard is clearly geared toward making things easier for the teacher NOT THE STUDENT!

Now I am attending Graduate School at another university that uses Blackboard and I still hate it.

David Parr September 16, 2011 at 6:14 am

@Kevin
You are being disingenuous when you write, “Mobile Learn is available free for Apple devices (iPhone/touch and iPad devices) when using wifi. It is also free for blackberry and android users on the Sprint network. But if you want to support other networks there is a fee”. That last-mentioned is a fee to users (i.e. students). What you — and Blackboard — fail to specify is the institutional cost of providing the service which, like so many Bb ‘features’, are additional annual costs.

Matt Ladwig January 19, 2011 at 1:31 pm

We decided not to upgrade to Moodle 2.0 (from 1.9.5) until after this school year is over.

Has the grading improved? Most teachers that I have worked with find the grading in Moodle to be quite cumbersome. We have tried adding several grading blocks (to be graded, ungraded, grade me) and all have their flaws. Is there anything in Moodle 2.o that makes it easier for teachers (for grading work) than previous versions?

Thanks! :)

Kevin November 27, 2010 at 8:32 am

If you are interested in open source Blackboard development you may want to visit the site Blackboard set up to support developers at http://www.edugarage.com

K. Walsh November 26, 2010 at 8:50 am

Thanks, Kevin, for taking the time to share all this information with readers here! I was especially interested to learn of the open source Blackboard community and of the free use of Blackboard that is available – the Blackboard reps we worked with never mentioned these things.

Kevin November 25, 2010 at 9:11 pm

One more thing. Your article emphasizes that Moodle is free or supported by a choice of many vendors for a fee. However you fail to mention the Blackboard Coursesites.blackboard.com site.

On that site individual instructors can host up to 5 courses with up to 500mb of content each absolutely free. on Dec. 1 2010 it will be updated to use Learn 9.1.

So for individual instructors Blackboard is even more free than Moodle because you don’t even have to pay for a server and spend time maintaining it (or pay someone else to do it).

Kevin November 25, 2010 at 7:41 pm

Some corrections about Blackboard Learn.

You mention the Blackboard notification system which notifies students of events in the course like new announcements. But you incorrectly say that this is an additional cost feature that requires Blackboard Connect. The notification system can send notifications via email within the base product at no extra cost. Bb Connect adds the ability to get these notifications via SMS (plus adds a ton of communication capability outside of the learning system).

You say that Blackboard Mobile Learn is an additional cost. That is only partially correct. Mobile Learn is available free for Apple devices (iPhone/touch and iPad devices) when using wifi. It is also free for blackberry and android users on the Sprint network. But if you want to support other networks there is a fee.

You mention Moodle 2 adds support for detecting plagiarism but failed to mention the Blackboard safeassign service which has been offering this free for years and is integrated in Learn 9.1 along with the Scholar social bookmarking site.

You mention Moodle’s new ability to monitor student progress and identify at-risk students but fail to mention that Blackboard has had a much more capable version of this for years. Instructors can set up their own alert criteria based on grades, overdue assignments, when students last logged in, which materials students have and have not viewed, etc. This can be set to automatically notify instructors AND students when an alert is triggered.

You say moodle is free but as others have said that is free like a free puppy not free like a free beer. You must factor in total cost of ownership not just licensing fees.

You mention the open source Moodle community but ignore the open source Blackboard community. Check out oscelot.org. Blackboard has extensive APIs that allows Open source developers to easily integrate and customize their systems. Commercial vendor code does not mean it cannot be locally enhanced and customized. That’s why most major elearning vendors have building blocks to integrate with Blackboard.

K. Walsh November 25, 2010 at 7:25 am

Yes Steve – Linux is widely used as the Op System on many Moodle servers – our oversight. Thanks for pointing it out! I’ve changed the reference to read “can be run on many operating systems”.

Steve November 24, 2010 at 11:14 pm

“can be run on Windows and Mac operating systems” – eh, isn’t it installed on Linux in 90% of all production servers?

Nadine November 19, 2010 at 8:41 pm

All I have to say as a student is that Blackboard is terrible. The system is so clunky and I thought maybe it was my computer. I ended up failing a quiz because the questions took about a minute each to load but I guess my teacher doesn’t believe that. I had Moodle at community college and never experienced any problems.

Colin Matheson November 18, 2010 at 11:47 am

I am a Moodle user and admin. We contract with a Moodle partner to provide hosting and support. The cost is 1/10 the cost quoted to us by Blackboard (In addition, the cost has not changed in the 3 years we have been under contract). We have 99.9% uptime.
The LMS is a necessary part of our school day for a majority of our teachers and students, ie enterprise level.
I hate when folks say Open Source can’t be enterprise. As was mentioned earlier, the majority of all web servers are running Linux and Apache (which are Open Source), and the internet is certainly an enterprise level deployment :). Wikimedia (wikipedia) and Wordpress are examples of excellent enterprise level open source end user products.
I agree that the general argument open vs proprietary isn’t as useful as looking at the specific company that is offering the proprietary software and support and comparing that with the specific community and company offering support for open source software. In some markets, open source isn’t enterprise ready. Also I would argue many proprietary companies can’t support and develop their product at the level promised or expected by customers.
To me the most telling difference between Blackboard and Moodle is that Blackboard has over half of their staff (hundreds of workers) in sales and marketing, while Moodle and Moodle partners are much more focused on development and support. I also like the fact that if our Moodle support provider raises prices or lowers quality we can decide to hire another support provider or even host it ourselves. With Blackboard you don’t get that option. However, they are both great LMS’s with a bunch of exciting new features.

Bob Calder November 18, 2010 at 10:09 am

I am presently using both BB and Moodle. But this rant has nothing to do with that. The issues are more basic. Commenters reveal some disturbing attitudes.

Problem: Thinking your customers are teachers. “Students” is the correct answer.

Important things to consider when designing a website:
1. Click depth for thousands of students is more important than that for instructors.
2. Support consists of IT services. NOT programming services. Asking a vertical application vendor for programming services is a sure route to having to marry them and share DNA.
3. Most institutions have competent programmers on staff that can join an open source project. If they don’t they should. If they still don’t, they should find staff that can. It’s not rocket science.

Final comment. Two of my former students worked this summer migrating the UF CMS to Sakai. I’m a high school teacher and the least competent programmer in the known universe.

David November 16, 2010 at 10:11 pm

@Andrew:

There is definitely advantages to working with the software provider who not only knows the system but also builds the system. Unfortunately 3rd party support and service providers ultimately can’t work with you as closely and to the same degree as the company that designs the software. Unfortunately with open source that level of input simply doesn’t exist.

These generalised assertions are quite simply wrong as statements of fact. As always it depends on the product and company – not whether the software is FOSS or proprietary.

There are proprietary software companies that are great to work with, know their product and provide fantastic support. The piece of software I manage primarily isn’t like this though – they are incredibly slow at fixing bugs and providing requested enhancements, and they often refuse to fix some of them. Support is notoriously slow and at arm’s length. Being on a usergroup committee recently I got to work through a list of enhancements that customers were going to be voting on and came across quite a few that were actually existing functionality – disproving that they’re necessarily the best ones to know their product (they don’t eat their own dogfood, after all).

In contrast, I recently went to a conference for an open source competitor we’re considering. There were at least eight support companies from around the world (USA, UK, France, Spain, Australia & New Zealand) and all of them are heavily involved in the development of the software.

I know who I want to support me in this case. For other software I’ll (again) consider the options on their merits, rather than any particular dogma.

Tyler C. November 9, 2010 at 7:59 am

Jonathan brings up some good points but I think Apache, MySQL, Linux as a server are very solid enterprise solutions. OSS works very well for me but others I work with would have difficulty with it.
Over the years I have cooled my passions about using open source solutions when my faculty are involved. I get about to 85-90 percent satisfied and then there ends up being one little thing that my faculty would consider a show stopper and the project fizzles out.

We ran a LMS comparison study because our license for Blackboard Vista will end in 2 years. I was really rooting for Moodle until we started trying to setup a mock course for teachers to build in and for us to learn about the system. I kept thinking that my faculty would have so many problems with this feature or that feature and some tools do not translate over from Blackboard to Moodle. It would be a bigger nightmare to transition to Moodle than it would be to Bb 9.1.

The results were pretty typical for me because my faculty don’t use that many of the “whiz-bang” features. I also tried to remove as much bias as possible. They felt the most comfortable migrating to Bb 9.1 and unfortunately they absolutely hated Moodle. We tested on Moodle 1.9.8. “Too many clicks” to get things done was the most common response. There were other things too like the fact that the HTML editor in Moodle sucks and the grading center is horrible. These were the faculty’s words not mine.

As for support I am a strong believer in forming consortiums for support and hosting, that is what my state did but we also receive support from Blackboard when our LMS sysadmins need it. This is were I have seen many OSS projects fail, sometimes community support is just not good enough or non-existent.

Matthew Riches November 9, 2010 at 6:47 am

“If an LMS is a mission-critical application for your institution, then Open Source is not an option.”

Which must be why Blackboard not only uses IIS but also Tomcat/Apache…

Andrew November 7, 2010 at 10:22 pm

I’d have to agree with Jonathan to be honest. And I don’t think he was simplifying things to that degree. There is definitely advantages to working with the software provider who not only knows the system but also builds the system. Unfortunately 3rd party support and service providers ultimately can’t work with you as closely and to the same degree as the company that designs the software. Unfortunately with open source that level of input simply doesn’t exist. And I would definitely agree on the “enterprise level” notion in relation to “mission critical” for this same very reason.
Of course you have other issues too, can the company bring out timely updates? Can they respond to your request by modifying the product to meet your specific needs? Timeliness is of course relative. However hasn’t it also taken almost a year to bring out Moodle 2 since it’s first announcement (and it is still not out)? All issues to ponder…

David November 7, 2010 at 9:30 pm

“If an LMS is a mission-critical application for your institution, then Open Source is not an option.”

I’m sure that such institutions would view a web server as being mission critical too, yet somehow the the majority of the web is powered by the open source Apache. Similarly for many large websites (Amazon etc) that additionally run Linux, MySQL and so forth.

I can’t comment from direct experience of Moodle (apart from as an end-user of my institution’s implementation) but I would imagine that it is quite reliable as a mission critical application – it appears to be here.

As the administrator of another LMS (where L stands for library, not learning) I am constantly frustrated by our proprietary system – we can’t get bugs fixed or new features implemented in a timely fashion, and their support team is fairly dismal. The “one throat” seems extremely resistant to choking!

Free / Open Source Software refers to “freedom” rather than “free beer” or “free puppies”. A TCO evaluation may turn out to be more than a proprietary option (though mostly the opposite) but financials are never the only factor even when comparing proprietary systems. If you can afford to pay the high fees of Blackboard then you can also afford to pay a reputable company to host Moodle for you and pay the same or different (yes – competition!) company to fix bugs or write new features. Or to host and develop it yourself – how many new staff could the licence fee savings pay for?

K. Walsh November 7, 2010 at 3:32 pm

I’m glad to see this post is generating a lot of informed and thoughtful feedback. Jonathan – your point no. 1 is dead-on, I agree completely. As for open source, I agree with your comments when it comes to most smaller scale open source tools, and for years I was very hesitant to consider open source for precisely the reasons you cite. I like the way you differentiate cost from price, and I agree fully – just because open source has no price, it absolutely has a cost, and its not necessarily less expensive that traditional paid products. In fact, in many cases I believe it’s more costly. I would encourage all potential customers to perform a TCO analysis for any impactful purchase decision and come to their own conclusions.

As for support, in the case of Moodle, it is so widely used that a small industry of support and services vendors has spring up around it and it could be argued that this provides a wider array of well qualified vendor choices than a single-source vendor app like Blackboard. Large support and service vendors like Moodlerooms and Remote-Learner are totally invested in supporting their customers, and the specialized add-ons they have provided for the platform. They provide the centralized accountability you mention. I think that eliminating open source from consideration simply because it is open source is an oversimplification and should really be more carefully considered, but I’ll admit that it took me a long time to accept that.

Jonathan November 7, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Whether you love or hate the commercial providers, I think there should be a healthy Reality Check when comparing Commercial and Open source LMS Products.
1. Features are comparable, but the average user does not use the Gee-Whiz cool stuff. Most faculty are not Power Users, so the feature set is less important.
2. There is a difference between COST and PRICE. Open source Pricing (Free) (Free like a Puppy) is very attractive, but the actual Costs to run and support an Open Source system can be equal to or greater than using a commercial system. A solid TCO will revel actual costs.
3. Support: Who do you call when it goes down? Who is responsible if you update the software and it crashes your system? Having “One Throat to Choke” is better than reaching out to a support community in hopes to find an answer fast. Centralized accountability is a better option.

I advise my clients that… If an LMS is a mission-critical application for your institution, then Open Source is not an option. Sure, Open Source is great for may things…… go for Open Office, Gimp, Audacity, etc…. Open Source applications are fine…… but…..

You can call an Open-Source LMS product an “enterprise” system, but that does not make it so.

K. Walsh November 7, 2010 at 8:46 am

Hi Mark – thanks for your input. I won’t try to compare EditMe to these LMS’s (you’ve already shed some light on that). I just wanted to comment on the cost of hosting Moodle, which is a good point. Of course, hosting Blackboard raises the same considerations. This is one reason I would recommend considering external hosting with a proven vendor. It costs less and frees up staff time for other work. Quality Moodle hosting companies provide 99.9+% uptime in their Service Level Agreements. Blackboard also provides hosting services, but they are more costly (in my experience) than comparable Moodle hosting from companies like Moodlerooms and Remote-Leaner (I am sure there must be third party hosts for Blackboard, but have not learned much about that). Moving these types of apps to ‘the cloud’ via a hosted services vendor is a trend that continues to gain momentum for very good reasons (but that’s a whole different post topic!). Also, it is important to be aware that there are various types of integration tools for these applications, to enable an institution to exchange course, student, and instructor data with their Student Information Systems, and it is my understanding that these can generally work just as effectively across the cloud as locally.

K. Walsh November 7, 2010 at 8:31 am

Thanks for the feedback Alan. Desire2Learn is one of many other LMS’s out there that are all good and worth considering. Our intent with this article was not to recommend Moodle or Blackboard over any other application, but rather to compare these two specific premier solutions, that are in some ways fundamentally different, at this critical point in their evolution (as they have released major updates recently). Additionally, while I don’t know the specific numbers, I believe these two may be the most widely used LMS’s on the market today (if they aren’t the top two, they’re pretty close to it). Perhaps some day I should do some sort of overview or intro to the wider body of Learning Management Systems out there. As for the Mobile and Connect tools, my apologies for any confusion on that – many LMS’s provide additional functionality like this at an extra cost (I’ll edit the post to better reflect this).

Mark Barnes November 7, 2010 at 8:25 am

Neither of these has the capabilities of the wiki host, EditMe. This classroom web site, http://www.barnesclass.com, allows the teacher to attach or embed any kind of document or media. Better still, students have their own private web sites, in which they can do anything the teacher can do, all contained in an alphabetical Content Management System. Students have virtually unlimited space. Message boards, blogs, calendars, to-do lists and slide sharing applications are all included modules. Plus, the look of the EditMe hosted site is far superior to Moodle and Blackboard. Since it’s web-based, it’s available any where. The cost is minimal, compared to the returns. Incidentally, research indicates that to run a server-based Moodle in an average sized school district, the maintenance cost is roughly $70,000.

Alan Shapiro November 7, 2010 at 8:09 am

What about Desire2Learn? I think they should be in the mix. When you say Blackboard is the “Rolls Royce” of the market, are you saying there is nothing else out that is better? You also say Blackboard “incorporates” Mobile and Connect when in reality these are extra costs. Desire2Learn will be more expensive than Moodle but it one that desires some attention since the ligation with Blackboard has ended.

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