No Image Available

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Standard Moodle, Distribution or Flavour – which version is for me?


Moodle is the popular open source Learning Management System (LMS) that has taken the training market by storm in recent years. The Elearning Guild LMS Survey in 2010 showed that of the top 3 LMS applications (Moodle, Blackboard and TotalLMS), Moodle had the highest satisfaction ratings for ease of installation, cost, reporting capabilities, time to implement, living up to vendor promises and assessment capabilities.

However, in evaluating Moodle the newcomer could easily become confused by a proliferation of releases: Moodle 1.9 or Moodle 2,  various distributions such as Totara and Joule,  and packages called Moodle Flavours which comprise standard Moodle with the author's favourite plug-ins.. So where do you start if you’re considering a Moodle implementation?

Official Moodle versions

Moodle 1.9 has been in widespread use since it’s release in 2008, however official support is now being phased out. After June 2012, security patches will cease and Moodle 1.9 will no longer be supported in any way.

Moodle 2.0 was released in November 2010 and introduced a host of new features. There is a major new release every six months (e.g. 2.0 to 2.1) and each receives 12 months of bug fixing support and 18 months of security issues support.

Moodle distributions

  • There are a number of commercial distributions such as Joule and Totara, which extend the standard Moodle with features geared towards specific sectors. There are some risks to be aware of when considering an LMS from these sources.
  • Beware the support red-herring: distribution vendors offer commercial support around a pre-packaged set of extensions, however there are a multitude of LMS suppliers who offer enterprise-level support.
  • Core code changes: If the core Moodle system has been changed, this can make maintenance and upgrades a real headache. The fewer core code amends, the better.
  • Getting stuck with an old version: There is a serious issue with distributions lagging several releases behind the official Moodle version, which means you may lose out on new features, bug fixes and security patches. 
  • The individual components may already be available: Some distributions package up extensions which are already available via the community.
  • Sub-optimal development process: the Moodle development process has not yet evolved to support the effective update of distributions in the same way that some open source projects like Drupal have successfully done.

Moodle-based application suites

While the likes of Joule and Totara are firmly in the distributions camp, there are additional systems like ELIS and 2tor which package up a standard or lightly customised Moodle with a number of additional applications such as User Management/CRM and Business Intelligence applications to create a more fully featured Enterprise-level offering. These are less risky propositions in terms of the Moodle system itself but are much bigger procurement efforts given the additional applications they are packaged with.

Moodle flavours

Moodle Flavours comprise a downloadable package containing plug-ins, site settings and language customisations that can be added to an existing Moodle site. This allows for the creation of Moodle versions targeted at vertical markets like Schools, Universities, Small and Medium Businesses, Enterprise Businesses, Hospitals, etc.

The flavours plug-in is open source, supported by Moodle HQ and does not change core code so you can upgrade your core system with peace of mind and keep up to date with the latest features and security patches, while still getting all the advantages of distributions such as sector focus and commercial support.

So, which is best?

My belief is that Moodle Flavours are the way to go. Moodle distributions do not represent a worthwhile investment given:

  • the slow upgrade times for merging in core Moodle releases suggests a lack of flexibility and responsiveness in the distribution model
  • the huge maintenance task required of distribution vendors is extremely expensive, this in an economic climate in which most companies are trying to reduce overheads, not increase them
  • the lack of evidence around open community involvement and engagement from the current Moodle distributions
  • the availability of existing Moodle extensions that fulfil many similar features
  • standard Moodle innovates rapidly so any features unique to a given distribution are likely to eventually get met.

So I’m putting my feet firmly in the Flavours camp and am really excited about the potential this new development has to offer. I am of course completely open to discussion on any of these areas, so what do you think?

A full-length version of this article was originally posted on

No Image Available

Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.

Thank you!