Moodle is the world’s most popular free open source Learning Management System (LMS). There are currently nearly 200,000 Moodle websites offering 36 million Moodle courses to more than one billion Moodle students. In this course, you will learn a new, easier and dramatically less expensive way to create and manage a Moodle website using the free Hestia Control Panel combined with a secure CanHost Virtual Private Server (VPS).
Why you should use Hestia and CanHost VPS to create your own Moodle Website
Historically, the most difficult obstacle to setting up a fully functioning Moodle website has been the difficulty of installing Moodle on a server. While there are one click installers for Moodle, one click installers are intended for cheap but insecure Shared Hosting websites. Teachers quickly discover that Moodle does not work well on a Shared Hosting account. So what are the other options?
Some teachers try Canvas and/or Google Classroom. But both have huge annual hidden per user fees and both subject your students to data mining. And both have per user fees that mean you pay more as your courses grow.
For example, if you offer six two month courses per year and each course has 20 students, then 120 students with the Google Education Plus fee of $50 per student will cost $6000 per year. The Canvas fee is even higher as Canvas also has a hidden Set Up fee. Both Canvas and Google also limit branding and customization.
The cost of a typical “outsourced” Moodle website is not much lower. The average set up fee for a Moodle Partner is $5,000. Branding and customization fees can be more than $10,000. Finally, annual per user server fees are about $60 per student – times 100 students gets it up to another $6,000 per year. Some Moodle Partners have been known to charge over $25,000 for set up, customization, training and ongoing tech support.
Even then, you still may not have a secure Moodle website. Visit the Moodle.com Partners page and you will see that there are only five official Moodle Partners in the US. Visit each of their websites and right click on the Home page. You will see that one is using Wix, another is using Square Space, another is using an outdated and insecure version of Bootstrap (3.3) and the two remaining official Moodle Partners are using extremely insecure versions of Wordpress! In short, none of the official Moodle Partners know how to build a secure website for themselves. So it is unlikely any of them will know how to build a secure Moodle website for you!
To make matters worse, two of the five openly state that they will host your Moodle website on the Amazon cloud. Please take a few minutes to read this article I wrote summarizing the security problems of using the Amazon cloud: https://createyourownvps.com/final-steps/9-migrate-from-cpanel-to-hestia-vps/9-1-how-to-choose-a-secure-canadian-vps-host
The other three Moodle Providers refuse to say where your website will be hosted. To add insult to injury, four of the five do not even bother to list their prices – falsely claiming that it is too difficult to tell you how they determine prices. In fact, what they are really doing is hiding their massive fees from public view.
The final option recommended by Moodle is using the Moodle Cloud which starts out as only $10 USD per month. But you are limited to only 50 users and 250 MB of storage. Keep in mind that Moodle itself takes up about 200 MB so there will be no room for any real course content. For a real course, you need at least 1 GB of storage which is $32 per month:
Even paying $130 USD per month for the Moodle Cloud will only get you 5 GB of storage. Sadly, the Moodle Cloud will not let you install Moodle Plugins!
Our goal is to offer Moodle users a new, better and dramatically less expensive option. Take the time to learn how to set up your own Hestia VPS and you can set up your own Moodle website and have as many users as you want and up to 30 GB of storage for only $20 USD per month. No hidden set up fees. No hidden branding or customization fees. No annual per user fees. Just $20 per month!
What is different about this course
Moodle has a massive amount of documentation. Here is a link to the official Moodle Table of Contents
In addition, there are three courses you can take at learn.moodle.org. With this much documentation, it is reasonable to ask why we need another course, book and website on learning Moodle?
Here are several reasons I decided to write a more teacher-friendly Moodle course:
The first and most obvious difference is that this course will cover how to use the Hestia Control panel to install a Moodle website on a CanHost VPS. By contrast, the official Moodle documentation has a strong bias to subtly encourage you to use the Moodle Partners and/or Moodle Cloud to host and build your Moodle website. Outsourcing your website to someone else may be the best idea for those who do not have the time or interest to learn HTML, CSS or PHP or Content Management Systems (CMS). However, ignorance comes at a huge price. Over time, you will wind up paying the Moodle Partners and Moodle Cloud many thousands of dollars. You will also have outsourced your Moodle website to someone else – meaning that someone else actually controls your Moodle website. The price of true freedom requires taking the time to learn a new way to install Moodle.
Second, even though the official documentation claims to be for the latest version of Moodle, much of it is outdated or simply wrong.
Third, many important basic skills are missing steps and missing images and thus leave beginners confused as to how to proceed. This massive confusion has forced learners to post literally thousands of questions on the Moodle forum. Sadly, the answers to those questions often cause even more confusion.
Fourth the official Moodle documentation covers many topics that most Moodle Administrators and instructors will never use. We will cover fewer topics – but do a better job of covering those more important topics.
Fifth, we will cover important topics that are completely missing from the official Moodle documentation. For example, we will cover how to install Moodle on a Hestia VPS. We also cover installing and using the Fordson Theme which adds a huge amount of functionality to a Moodle website. Hugely important these days is that the Fordson theme adds support for Jitsi video conferencing which is free and much easier to use than Zoom video conferencing.
Sixth, by creating your own Moodle VPS, you retain complete control of student and instructor data as the information (files and user data) is found on your own VPS account. But if you use either the Amazon Cloud or Google Classroom or Canvas, then all your information is stored on servers controlled by someone else.
How much RAM do you need on your VPS?
Moodle recommends 1GB for every 20 concurrent users. Keep in mind that the server and the control panel also need RAM. Thankfully, a Hestia Debian VPS uses less than 1 GB of RAM. Therefore with a 4 GB VPS, you can have up to 60 students online at the same time. For just a few dollars more, you can switch to an 8 GB RAM VPS which will be enough to have 140 students online at the same time.
Top 15 Moodle Features
1 Personalized Dashboard. Moodle offers students, teachers and administrators their own customized Dashboard page showing their past, current and future courses along with tasks to be done.
2 Collaborative Tools and Activities. These include forums, wikis, glossaries, videos, video conferencing, quizes and a host of other learning activities.
3 Personalized Calendar. Includes course deadlines, group meetings, and many other events.
4. Personal File Manager. That can interact with your Home computer File Manager as well as cloud file managers.
5. Simple Test Editor. Allowing you to create and edit documents from inside of Moodle.
6 Notifications Table. to send and receive alerts on new assignments and deadlines, forum posts and private messages.
7 Track Course Progress Table. Teachers and learners can track progress on towards course completion as well as individual activities and additional learning resources.
8 Customizable Site Design. Easy branding to change the appearance to match your school or business colors and activities. Some themes like the Fordson theme provide additional features.
9 Many enrollment options. Moodle offers over 50 enrollment options to enroll students to your website and courses.
10 Multi-language Capability. Students and teachers can view course content in their own language with over 100 languages to choose from.
11 Easy Course Creation. Moodle helps you organize and present your online courses and is completely flexible in terms of the content.
12 Multi-Media Integration. Easily create and add images, videos, video conferences, forums and group chat.
13 Group Management, with custom User Roles and Permissions. Customizable groups allow you to control who sees what and who can do what.
14 Lots of Free Plugins to expand Moodle. There are over 1000 free plugins in the Moodle Plugin Directory to help you improve your Moodle website to fit your own course needs. These Moodle plugins are divided into more than 30 searchable categories. Here is a link to the Moodle Plugins page: https://moodle.org/plugins/
15 Detailed Reports. Moodle offers a series of reports to help students, parents and teachers better understand the Moodle learning process.
Three Options to learn Moodle
There are three primary user roles you should consider. The first is the role of a Moodle website administrator. That is the primary focus of this course. However, you may also be the course instructor. So we will also review how to manage your Moodle course as a course instructor. Finally, we will also cover how to make your Moodle course structure easier for your students to use.
If you are not yet ready to set up a CanHost VPS account, you can install Moodle on a local Virtual Server using Virtual Machine Manager. We cover this topic at the beginning of one of our previous courses:
Go to the above website and click on First Steps.
The second option is to set up a real VPS on CanHost.ca. We cover this option in detail in the next chapter.
The third option is to use one of the two Moodle Sandbox Demo websites. Click on the Log In link below and then use the username admin and the password sandbox to log in as an administrator. To log in as a manager, use the username manager. To log in as a teacher, use the username teacher. To log in as a student, use the username student. For all four roles, the password is sandbox.
Here is a link to log into the Moodle Demo website with no content:
Here is a link to log into the Moodle Demo site with content:
For the Moodle site with content, choose a Role. Then use the password moodle. Keep in mind that both of the Moodle sandbox demo sites reset every hour, on the hour. So if you wish to use either of them for practice, log in a few minutes past the hour so that you have just under an hour to experiment before the site resets.
Who is this course for?
Create Your Own Online Course is for anyone who wants to create a secure and economical online course using the Moodle Learning Management System. This includes teachers who want to provide additional resources for their students and retired teachers who want to provide their learning materials to the world community. This also includes specialists who want to provide courses on a special skill either for pay or for free.
This course is also for school district, college and university administrators and Information Technology staff interested in providing their students and teachers with a better and less expensive online or hybrid experience. You do not need coding skills – but knowing the basics of HTML and CSS will help.
Finally, this course is for those wanting to set up a Multi-lingual education program – as Moodle is available in more than one hundred languages.
How to get help with your Moodle Questions
If you run into problems managing any Moodle website, the best option to get help is to create an account on the Moodle community website, moodle.org. Then sign up for one of the communities such as the English community. When you have created an account and logged in, scroll down to Community administration (on the right) and click Become a member of this community. You'll then be able to post a question in any suitable forum. If you're not sure, post in the General help forum.
In the next section, we will take a tour of the Moodle Demo website.