Using Chamilo for MOOCs

Although the hype around MOOCs has faded a bit already, these Massively Open Online Courses are now part of the daily internet products or services you can invest in to make your professional or personal life better in the short, medium or even long term.

But where some platforms like EdX clearly specialize in MOOCs, some people ask us whether Chamilo is ready for MOOCs.

Before we get into the details of this, let’s mention the “e-mooc” course (of which there is not much left but a description on LinkedIn) was successfully launched in 2014 on the basis of a slightly modified version of Chamilo (mostly design) at the time, with an announced 40,000 users registered in the first 3 months of the course.

A screenshot of one oScreenshot of e-moocf e-mooc's screens

So there are some pretty tangible use cases that demonstrate that Chamilo can be used for MOOCs.

What do you need for a MOOC?

Feature-wise, a MOOC requires at least:

  • the possibility to easily register to the platform and to a course (possibly both at the same time)
  • the possibility to easily share web content in the form of HTML documents and videos
  • the possibility to test learners through online tests
  • a way to see one’s progress while studying
  • a space for learner-to-learner interaction (in massive numbers), with minimal tutor supervision
  • a way to generate certificates of learning automatically (and be able to prove these certificates are legitimate)
  • the possibility to generate and export reports on learners progress and time spent on content, as a whole
  • to be very light on resources consumption
  • a high level of security

Optionally (because not necessary or because it can be handled on the side), a MOOC platform will offer:

  • some kind of gamification mechanism (ranking, scoring, badges, etc)
  • some kind of videoconferencing or streaming system
  • some kind of assignments/homework handling

With all that in mind, let’s see what Chamilo offers.

Does Chamilo offer what is needed for MOOCs?

 

Feature In Chamilo? Comments
Easy registration YES Chamilo by default does not require e-mail verification to start using the platform, and a special feature described in each individual course allows the sharing of a specially crafted link that will register you in a course upon registration to the platform, so a one-step registration to the course that largely improves the user experience.
Easy content creation/sharing YES Chamilo is widely recognized by tutors in Europe and Latin America as the easiest platform in terms of content creation and course management by teachers. It allows for any type of web content (HTML5, vídeos, audios, games, 360° videos, etc) to be shared directly or from inside a learning path.
Tests YES Chamilo has an extensive tests management feature that allows for 1 or 2 questions tests as well as tests with hundreds of questions, of 18 different types. Tests can then be embedded in a learning path to test the understanding of a video before the learner goes further in the course.
Progress view YES At any point, the learner can check his/her own progress through the “My progress” tab. The tab provides info on progress in the course, as well as score and, if enabled, average score of all other students.
Learner-to-learner interaction YES Several interaction tools allow learners to interact. The most obvious one probably being the forum, with the possibility for the tutor to score learners participation, or to enable peer-review to make sure they do that on their own.
Certificates YES Chamilo has integrated automatic certificates generation about 8 years ago, so this is a rather extensive feature now
Global reporting YES Tutors can see course-level reporting. Admins can see platform-level reporting. These reports include time per student on each course, their progress and whether they have generated a certificate or not. The results can be exported in a standard, comma-separated, format (or directly through SQL) to analyse further in another tool.
Light on resourse usage YES Chamilo is one of the lightest, if not *the* lightest LMS platform around. It uses about 55% of the amount of RAM and CPU a similar Moodle installation will use, while PHP, the programming language it uses, is one of the most lightweight languages for web platforms.
High level of security YES Chamilo is the most secure Open Source platform, as confirmed by OpenHub and CVEdetails. It provides many levels of extra security, including full support for TLS/HTTPS and IPv6 and good support for CORS, HSTS and CSP 1.
Gamification YES Chamilo offers certificates, badges and a few configurable features to enable global score, stars, and the likes, with a little bit of customization.
Videoconference YES Although not included directly into the Chamilo software, Chamilo can be installed alongside another Open Source tool, BigBlueButton, that enabled videoconferencing and later re-watch of the recorded videoconference sessions. The integration between those tools allows for planning of conferences inside the context of one course.
Assignments YES Chamilo handles the delivery of online assignments or homework very well. In fact, in one use case BeezNest manages, learners upload around 60,000 homework in a period of 2 days, every month (since 3 years). That’s already more than 1,500,000 homework of several megabytes that have been uploaded into a single Chamilo platform.

To be considered

Although features are there, the main technical issue with MOOCs is generally on the side of infrastructure sizing. It is important to design your infrastructure well in order to ensure that your MOOC will be successful. Try to think ahead: a MOOC is open, so a limitless number of users could connect on the first day. The following tips will help you organize this increase better:

  • Include marketing in the design  process: do not launch a massive online promotion on the first day. Plan your marketing campaign over 15 days for example, with new channels opening one day after another. Launching everything at once, if this is your first MOOC, is a recipe for failure.
  • Think scalable: although your MOOC might be a huge success, it might also fail due to uncontrollable elements (competing MOOC on the same topic, massive meteorological event that brings down your infrastructure or completely eliminates the attention brought to your course by your marketing campaign, etc), so it’s not necessarily worth it investing in a large scale infrastructure from the start. Start small, but think ahead of how you could increase the infrastructure. Using cloud solutions is a must-have for MOOCs, as it will allow you to elegantly increase the amount of resources with little to no service interruption.
  • Use reasonable-size resources: Uploading an image of 3MB when it could be optimized to 60KB (a very common scenario) will have a *massive* impact on your resource usage and the speed perceived by users. This is not so much about scaling as it is about improving your course for everyone.
  • Self-help tools: make sure everything is self-explanatory. If your family goes through your course and asks you a question that doesn’t have an online answer, think about what 100,000 learners will want to ask. Providing support in a MOOC is a revenue-killer: it is impossible to efficiently provide that level of support through humans, and once the course has started, it is already too late.

Conclusions

Although Chamilo is not conceptually designed for MOOCs (as it is a much broader platform), it can easily be used either as an independent MOOC platform (with the advantage upon EdX that it is developed with a more commonplace technologies stack), or as an “additional MOOC element” to an existing established Chamilo portal.

What matters here more than anything is the proper planning and provisioning of the course and the infrastructure. A well-trained team can do that for you with no interaction with the Chamilo community whatsoever. If you need some expert support, though, you can always give BeezNest a call. Check our Contact page.

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