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How to re-use file assets in your Moodle site

by Gemma Mellings on | Mar 03, 2015 | Blog, Moodle Tips | 0 comments

We have recently been approached by a client to give one of their most popular courses the ability that, when backups of it are restored, all the content can be edited in a single course and those changes are then cascaded to other courses in the site. Initially we did consider using meta-courses, but soon dismissed that idea because of the additional navigation effort required.


The diagram above shows the principle of meta-courses. Learners who are enrolled in a particular course are automatically enrolled in another course – the meta-course – allowing them to access content from both courses. The problem with this is that the learners have to go out of one course and navigate to the other. You could of course include links in the meta-course resources or activities themselves, but users still have to navigate back to their original course which would not be very intuitive.

As most of the resources in the course I was working on were either PDF’s or Word documents, the solution was quite simple: I duplicated the “main” course by creating a backup and restoring it to a new course. I took this opportunity to remove all extraneous content, for example labels and this new course now became the “resources” course, holding all the files required in the main course.

In the main course, I reconfigured each of the File resources and linked each one to the same file in the Resources course. This can be done by;

1 – Going into the settings for the File resource and locating the file picker.


2 – From within the File picker, click on Server files and navigate to the Resources course.


From  Server files you can access all the files on the Moodle site. First you need to navigate to the course that holds the file you want and once in that course, you will be presented with folders for each Resource or Activity. Open the appropriate folder and click the file you want to use in your main course – note it will be called the same as the file you are replacing.

3 – Select and link to your file


Once selected, the Select dialog box appears, which shows some of the properties for the chosen file. You should choose to “Create an alias/shortcut” to the file. The benefits of selecting a shortcut to the file rather than to copy it are two-fold; firstly, you are not storing the same file more than once on the server so less impact on your data storage, and secondly, any changes done to the original file will cascade to the other courses that are linking to this file.

4 – Overwrite the file


Once you have chosen to create a shortcut, you need to confirm that you are replacing the existing file so Moodle needs to be told to overwrite the file.

This is also the action that you must take whenever the file in the Resources course is amended. It should also be said that the file name must not be changed.

5 – Concluding the process


Once the file has been selected and saved, you will notice that the file has an arrow in the lower left corner – this shows the the file used in this resource originates elsewhere. Should you click on the files, the location of the original file will be shown in the dialog box from step 3.

The sharing of files is useful for a lot of “common” files in a site, e.g. you might have a “How to use Moodle” document or SCORM package for your learners that you want to reuse in a number of courses. The fact that changes to your original files are pushed through to each occurrence of that file is great in terms of time saved updating all your content, but also linking to large files, e.g. videos and SCORM packages, can end up saving you money as it may prevent you from exceeding your data storage allowance for your hosting plan.

Finally, as was our client’s requirement, if you do need to create duplicates of your courses from time to time, the linking of your course assets is passed on to any newly restored courses.

So, using this functionality is something definitely worth thinking about as part of your asset management strategy on your Moodle site, particularly if you are using files numerous times.

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