A Design Challenge: Reflowing of Content

Editors note: This post is the latest in a series from Tom Cotton, a Learning Designer at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. Tom has been working on a project to migrate content from the Canvas Learning Management System to Moodle and these posts describe some of the challenges faced and solutions found.

Moodle has the Scroll-of-Death. Canvas has the Click-Next-of-Death. The solution has to lie somewhere in-between.

Ask a learning designer “Is one LMS better than the other?”. The answer will always be: “It depends”. Each has its strengths, weakness and quirks. ‘Better’ hinges on who is using it and for what purpose. The biggest differentiator is how they manage the flow of learning materials at the most basic functional level.

The primary task of Project Bob is to get the content from Canvas into Moodle. That’s like putting a square peg in a round hole:

  • Moodle: uses sections and provides a list of links to resources and activities that the learner navigates and goes into and back out of. In this model, content can easily become a long list and the learner gets lost in vertical scrolling.
  • Canvas: pages & activities arranged in a book like series of pages. The learner navigates using next and previous buttons. In this model, content can easily become too atomised. Therefore the learner gets lost in the constant ‘click next’.

Thinking about the Solution

Q: Can’t you just import the pages directly into Moodle?

A: Technically yes, but then you’ll frustrate the user with the constant click-in-click-out.

Q: Can’t you just drop all pages into a Moodle Book?

A: No – in Canvas, activities weave in and out of content with greater complexity than Moodle.

Q: Can’t you simply create hyperlinks to activities?

A: No – just another way losing the learner and then confusing them with ‘orphaned’ things (yes, I know, you can hide them in Moodle 3.5 -but it doesn’t solve the problem).

Q: Why not use Moodle lessons?

A: We didn’t have to. Simplicity, consistency and maintainability were the key objectives.

When using Moodle Lessons for activities, Lessons add a world of UX and Gradebook pain for anything beyond simple multiple choice type questions. Also, they don’t have a Discussion function, a very common requirement.

Q: So what’s the solution?

A: Balance the reading at the section level with opening content:

  • Learners see the outline of what’s to be learnt at the section level. This includes context setting introduction copy.
  • Moodle resources and activities represent a deeper dive into learning materials/activities.
  • For a module, the learner only navigates between the two levels.
  • All external links or downloadable files open in a new window.

A balanced approach

Given Moodle’s basic section-by-section structure, the Canvas content needs to be reworked, based on the following principles:

  • The Learner works from the top to the bottom of each section.
  • For the main flow of content, there is no hyperlinking between activities.
  • The flow of Content and Activities are to be kept between the two LMS’ – even if that means splitting Moodle Books apart and having single page Moodle Books.
  • Consistency: always use Moodle Books over Moodle Lessons and Moodle Pages.
  • Simplicity: make it easy for subject coordinators to extend and create new materials.
  • All links external to the subject open in a new window

Here the flow is visually obvious to the learner. An enhancement added judicious use of completion tracking.


The solution was accepted by the client was accepted by the course coordinator; and have received positive feedback from subject coordinators as well.

Sasha • Stories Mount Tamalpais, United States

Update (30/1)

In contradiction to the above, there is a new feature in Moodle 3.5 (unavailable when the subject template was developed) that allows for a new alternative approach:

One subject had a lot of content in PDF format. This needed to be converted into Moodle Books. However, the PDF had a Forum discussion activity on every second page.  It will be a poor student experience to have so many Forums interleaved in Moodle Books.  Instead we’re going to do what we said we wouldn’t do – hyperlink between activities:

  • Use a Moodle Book with uninterrupted flow of a topic.
  • On pages with a Discussion activity, a link to a standard Moodle Forum will be provided.
  • The Forum set to
    • Hidden
    • Made available.
  • A link is added to Forum’s description field so the learner can easily get a link back to the page they came from.

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