HowToMoodle's Ray Lawrence talks to Toby Wilson from VSO about how the charity has made their Moodle site more intuitive for their users.
VSO is a global NGO which focusses on International Development in areas inflicted with poverty around the world. VSO volunteers work with local organisations in countries, establishing sustainable programmes to serve the local population in various areas. VSO programmes include projects aimed at education, health care, livelihoods and sustainable improvement. Volunteers focus on essential steps to do whatever needs to be done to break down the barriers that trap people in poverty.
VSO recently (New Year 2014/15) re-launched their Moodle, known as the “Learning hub” with a new theme that incorporates the Multi-T capability developed by HowToMoodle.
Ray: Hi Toby, can you tell us a little bit about the context of the site and the purpose of it?
Toby: Our Moodle site is branded at VSO as the Learning Hub. A few years ago, the first iteration of the Learning Hub was on an older version of Moodle. It was a site aimed solely at volunteers, that is, VSO employees did not use the site during its first iteration. Volunteers used it predominately to complete their pre-departure induction. This included training and information to prepare them for life and work in their placement country. Courses have always included things like a security briefings, finance briefings and courses in international development.
Since the first iteration of the Learning Hub, the Learning and Development team at VSO, who monitor and create learning content for VSO employees, took an interest in the site. About a year ago, my predecessor worked with the Learning and Development Team to create a dedicated employee section on the Learning Hub. Employees were able to access the site for similar needs to that of volunteers, including specific employee induction courses.
Soon after this update, feedback from employee and volunteer users indicated that the structure of the site was becoming confusing. Volunteers were getting lost in employee-focussed courses and employees were getting lost in volunteer-focussed courses. So a business requirement for the site became apparent that we wanted a level of separation between the two user bases. Having said that, we still wanted to be able to share content between both globally to all users where appropriate!
Ray: OK, so you needed to have separation but still have a setup that was flexible for the sharing of content between the two groups of users…
Toby: Having looked at what the organisation wanted, we set up a project to re-evaluate the structure of the site and work on ways to make navigation and user experience on the site as simple and intuitive as possible. We also took the opportunity to upgrade our server and upgrade to the latest version of Moodle. To kick things off we conducted a full audit of our content and used this as an opportunity to tidy things up a little bit. Then we started thinking about ways that we could personalize the experience, depending on whether you're a VSO employee or a volunteer – that’s when we found out about the HowToMoodle Multi-T theme; giving us the ability to create custom front pages for different types of users.
To us that seemed like an ideal way of achieving what we wanted.
On the back end (of Moodle) we now have a pretty simple category structure for employee learning alongside one for volunteer learning. We basically point users to various courses within those categories using the custom front page navigation provided to us by our version of the Multi-T theme.
We've also set up quite a number of what are course pages (in Moodle terms) that don't require enrolment and are purely for navigation. Our intention being that our users don't ever see our category pages and its structure in the background, instead they are directed to content through custom top-level pages which are contextual to the theme or type of learning in that section. Wherever we've got a category, we've got a top page to represent that, which is essentially a course page where all authenticated users can view it without participation. Each top-level page contains a set of URLs, directing users to the other courses within that category. Our intention is to stop people from finding themselves in a category and then being able to use the breadcrumb trail at the top to go back and end up in the wrong place. So it's all about steering users to content that is relevant to them. We've also set up custom HTML navigation blocks and links throughout the site for each of our courses so users can go back up through the levels as well. We're not allowing them to go into categories.
Ray: Can you compare the employee and volunteer groups of users and tell us how you varied them?
Toby: We re-launched just before the New Year with two main user bases. These included VSO employees and VSO volunteers. If you're an employee and you sign in, we've configured it in such a way that in the top menu on the front page (and throughout the site) you’ll see links to other VSO systems that only employees have access to. Things like our internal intranet, our web-mail service and our performance management service. Volunteers wouldn’t see these links as they don’t use the systems.
We've got separate banners for volunteers and employees and we use them to promote different courses to different groups of users.
Employee Banner Example:
Volunteer Banner Example:
When our Learning and Development team produces a new course specifically for employee users, like Line Managers for example, our brand team comes up with a lovely banner which is supported in this theme - employees see it and volunteers don't. Likewise, when a new volunteer course is rolled out we use similar promotion on the dedicated volunteer front page of the site.
We also personalise the four main navigation buttons on the front page. What that looks like to employees is "My Home" which takes them to a generic Moodle "My Home" page. They've got a link to employee specific induction. In addition, there is another button which we've labelled "Explore the curriculum."
These are courses that are geared towards employees but are not a mandatory part of their induction when they first start. We also have a generic help and support page which is visible for both volunteers and employees - this takes them to a course that we've set up on the site for generic help with Moodle.
Employee Navigation Buttons:
For volunteers the front page is different. So again in the top menu, there are a couple of links that aren't visible to employees. Again, we use the banners to promote new courses and content for volunteers. Volunteers tend to use the site predominately for their induction whereas employees use it in a more flexible and theme specific way. So if there's an update made to the way volunteer induction works we promote it with a banner, and the brand team work on that for us. Again the buttons for volunteers are: "My home" (same as employees), and then they've got their equivalent of the induction, so “Global Volunteer Induction”. We also have a button for Return Volunteers, who have a dedicated portion of the site geared towards continued engagement with VSO after placement.
Example Volunteer Buttons:
We're considering whether or not to use a Multi-T theme for alumni or Returned Volunteers, but currently they've got a button on the main volunteer page labelled "Return Volunteers".
Ray: Is that the group you mentioned recently, the ones that weren't using it before? Or was that another group?
Toby: No, there is another group that we're actually piloting in the background. So employees and volunteers are the two groups that are live and actively using the site at the moment. Behind the scenes we've been working with ICS (International Citizen Service), which is another volunteering entity partnered with VSO specifically focussed on youth volunteering. So shorter term placements for people under the age of 25. They have their own training needs, their own induction and a slightly different way of doing things that is not the same as our long term volunteers. Historically they used Google Docs for all of their training, but with the launch of our new Learning Hub and having this additional functionality for personalisation they have decided that Moodle looks like the way to go. It’s great that they want to share the platform.
Toby: Behind the scenes we’ve built a third Multi-T theme that is specifically for youth volunteers. They've got a completely different set of buttons to a different set of courses. They have been kind of isolated on the site as they work quite differently. ICS training is being piloted with some groups (teams) of volunteers, so they're sending out about six teams to three different countries, at the end of this month. They'll all be doing their induction through Moodle.
Ray: Okay. Excellent, and all of this differentiation is on a single Moodle site. So to wrap up then ... what would you say the top benefits are that you've gained from adding the Multi-T capability to the theme?
Toby: Essentially, it meets the user requirement that we've always had to have a degree of separation for our different user bases while at the same time still being able to share content. Because with the Multi-T theme there's nothing stopping someone, say, building an employee course and simply creating a hyperlink to something that actually exists in the volunteer section. That's absolutely fine and people can do it the other way around. So there's a lot of content sharing going on.
The important thing for volunteers, particularly, is that they come in and they do their induction and it's effective and then they go out on their placement. By having a Multi-T theme in place with clear navigation to those courses, they can do that as soon as they sign in to the site. They click “Global Volunteer Induction” and then the rest is pretty self-explanatory.
Ray: So it's much more focused?
Toby: It's much more focused, there's less distraction while completing courses that are immediately important. We’ve also made it a lot easier to browse other areas of the site, away from induction that both groups of users can do at their leisure, moving back and forth between “employee” content and “volunteer content.” There's a longer term plan leaning towards the idea of scrapping the whole “employee” and “volunteer” learning category structure. What we might end up with is an employee induction and a volunteer induction and then any course that doesn't fit into those categories just goes into a larger pool which is open to everyone. That's something we're debating at the moment just to make it a little bit more open. That's the one major benefit.
I guess as well, I don't know if these are exclusive to the multi-theme but certainly things like the banners, we're finding have a huge impact on engagement. One of the things we tried to do when re-launched the Learning Hub was really think about how we're communicating what learning opportunities are available at VSO. Historically course design has been just uploading things to the Learning Hub and they weren't necessarily getting very much promotion, whereas now we've got a good brand and communications expert on our Learning Hub team.
Ray: Yes, the user group specific banner is exclusive to Multi-T.
Toby: So now whenever a volunteer or an employee course designer comes up with something we feel like is going to have a lot of value; they go off, they come up with a brand for their course, and it’s all promoted well on the site. I think that just by having that kind of nice look and feel when people sign in, they’re more inclined to click the banner link and enrol. It’s looking like its already having a positive impact and we're seeing that overall site and course engagement is going up.
Ray: Yeah excellent stuff. The banner is part of the theme rather than Multi-T itself. But of course what Multi-T does is enable you to differentiate the banners for different types of users.
Toby: Which is massive because it would be impossible for someone in our learning and development team to put a banner up promoting a course for line managers if volunteers were going to see it. It would just cause too much confusion. So yeah, definitely a benefit.
Ray: That’s great Toby, thanks for updating us on where you’re at with the Learning Hub and how you’re using Multi-T.