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NLN Materials

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We recognise that many practitioners use (or wish to use) the NLN Materials within Moodle. In general, the materials have a long history of working well within Moodle systems, but there is also a fair amount of confusion within the community about which of the several possible methods to use, as well a number of past and present pitfalls to avoid. This page - which will be updated regularly - is dedicated to giving up-to-date and complete information on making the NLN Materials available within Moodle. The first section discusses the various methods that can be used (and is suitable for any Moodle-using practitioner). We then discuss various more technical details which are designed for Moodle administrators. Although this discussion focuses solely on Moodle, much of it may apply to users of other VLEs, such as the discussion whether to host the materials locally on a VLE, or link to them on the NLN site.

1. Methods to give Moodle users access to the NLN Materials

Method 1. Using Learner URLs of Collections or individual Leaning Objects

Target platform: none. No need to download.

For many users this will be the simplest way to add NLN Learning Objects to a Moodle installation, since it requires no special set-up by the Moodle administrator. It also allows you to use your NLN collections directly in Moodle. To use this method, either:

  1. Locate a suitable NLN Learning Object from the NLN site. Copy the Learner URL of the Learning Object.
  2. Alternatively, create a collection containing suitable Learning Objects. Visit the collection’s page by clicking on its title in your list of collections, and copy its Learner URL.

Once you have the Learner URL in your clipboard:

  1. Log-in to Moodle and turn on editing in the course you wish to work with.
  2. Choose “Link to a file or web site” from the drop-down list labeled “Add a resource”.
  3. Enter a name.
  4. Right-click the “Location” box and choose paste.
  5. Enter any other information you wish and click “Save and return to course” to save your new resource.

Method 2. Using “Add Scorm” functionality

Target platform: Moodle (add Scorm)

This method is also fairly simple, and does not require any special set-up of your Moodle installation, but may require significant download times. It is more suitable when you wish to add many Learning Objects to a course. Note that when you come to upload the file to Moodle in step 5, most Moodle installations have a limit as to the maximum file size that can be uploaded. The default is 8mb, though this might be changed by your administrator. The file-size of your collection file is given whenever you download it from the NLN site. The exact steps required are given in more detail in the User Guide, but briefly the procedure is as follows:

  1. Within the NLN site, create a collection that contains all the Learning Objects you wish to use.
  2. Download the collection, choosing “Moodle (add Scorm)” as your target platform. (Note the description in the User Guide currently says to use a target platform of “Moodle” - that information will be updated in the next version of the guide.)
  3. Once you have a downloaded zip file, visit your Moodle course and, from the “Add an Activity...” drop-down box, choose “SCORM/AICC”.
  4. Add a name, and then click the “Choose or upload a file…” button.
  5. As described in the User Guide, you can then either upload the collection zip file and use Moodle’s unzip functionality, or unzip the collection zip locally and upload one or more of the package zip files it contains. Either way, one of the package zip files should now be selected by clicking “choose”.
  6. Go to edit a course, and choose “SCORM/AICC” from the “Add an activity” drop-down list.
  7. Select the appropriate zip file for the Learning Object you wish to add.
  8. Enter any other information you wish and click “Save and return to course” to save your new activity.
  9. You can repeat steps 6 to 8 to add the other LOs from the collection if you wish.

Method 3. Using the “IMS Repository” functionality

Target platform: Moodle (repository)

This method requires some initial work by the Moodle administrator. (Details of this are given in the technical section below.) Once this is done, NLN Learning Objects should be available for you to use within Moodle without needing to visit the NLN website, though note that this method may make it more difficult to find appropriate Learning Objects, and you will not have direct access to supplementary information such as the tutor guide, ratings, level indicators etc. You can of course use the NLN site to find and preview appropriate LOs, and then find and add the same LOs in your Moodle’s local repository.

Once the repository is set up by your administrator, the procedure is as follows:

  1. When editing a course in Moodle, choose “Add from IMS Repository” from the “Add a resource” drop-down list.
  2. Add a title.
  3. Click the “Browse Repository” button.
  4. Find an appropriate Learning Object and click its “choose” link. (Note: how the repository browsing functionality appears depends on how it has been set up. You may need to locate the Learning Object within a folder structure.)
  5. Enter any other information you wish and click “Save and return to course” to save your new activity.

Method 4. Using “Noodle” functionality

Target platform: none. No need to download materials.

“Noodle” is a facility developed by Xtensis - the developers of the NLN site. It consists of an extension to Moodle that allows access to the materials without the need for a local repository, but also without the need for users to separately log-in the NLN site. Instead, a cut-down version of the NLN site appears within Moodle, allowing users to:

More information, with updates on the project and a video of it in action, is available on Noodle's dedicated project page.

2. Choosing a method

This section is designed primarily for Moodle administrators. It may prove valuable for an administrator of a Moodle system to consider the various available approaches and define an organisation-wide best-practice policy and communicate that to tutors within the organisation - preferably together with instructions specific to that installation.

Pros and Cons of the various methods

It is beyond the remit of this site to suggest a single ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution, but the following table aims to summarise the pros and cons of the different methods, and includes a range of considerations, both short and long term, and implications for learner, practitioner and administrator. All values are set with a range of 0 to 5, where 0 means “no effort required”, and 5 is the most difficult. Roll-over the underlined values for special notes.

Method 1. Learner URLs 2. “Add a Scorm” 3. “IMS Repository” 4. Noodle
Practitioner ease of use 2 4 3 0
Initial admin set up 0 1 3 2
Updates to materials 0 4 3 0
Access to supplementary info 2 4 4 0
Tracking 4 1 3 4

Creating a local repository

In this section we consider the above implications, and look at why and how to create a local repository within Moodle.

First, a bit of history: Before the current implementation of the NLN site, those using the previous site - the Content Access Tool - experienced significant problems in effectively locating and using the materials; learners required individual accounts, and to log-in whenever they required access; practitioners had no equivalent to the new Collections feature, for storing and managing groups of LOs within the site; and the site sometimes suffered outages. These factors led many to a “grab and store” approach, holding local copies of the entire library, where they could be used most effectively. It was exactly this reason that the “IMS Repository” module was created - originally as an optional add-on designed to store the NLN materials within Moodle - and eventually becoming part of Moodle itself. This proved hugely useful for many practitioners, and such systems are still in popular use in many organisations.

Such systems are still perfectly possible with the new NLN site, but it is certainly worth considering the advantages and disadvantages of using local repositories in the light of the new site’s capabilities and stability. In particular, Method 1 outlined above is only possible using the new site, and relies on its ability to link directly to individual Learning Objects (or collections of them) without requiring the learner to log-in, or even have an account. Linking to the content vs. hosting it locally, has the following implications, among others:

Simplicity of locating the materials

Generally speaking, the need for a practitioners to register themselves and locate the materials in an external site adds a level of complexity. However, this is likely tempered by the ease and power of the search and browse functionality within the NLN site. Since this is specifically tailored to the extensive metadata available with the NLN LOs, such as “qualification framework level” and various kinds of classifications, along with several textual fields, it is likely that the NLN site will always provide a more effective way to search than any locally installed repository system, though of course the latter will often be set up to give access to non-NLN resources too.

Local repositories may be set up in a variety of ways (see below - “Building a local repository”) and note that the MrCute extension builds on the “Browse repository” functionality (which uses only the folder structure and the LO’s name to allow location) to also add text searching of title, description and keywords.

Tracking

Moodle has powerful capabilities for tracking user uptake and grades. The method used to expose the NLN Materials has implications for what can be tracked. How important such data is, of course, is up to the individual practitioner and organisational policy.

Three levels of tracking are possible:

  1. Record when a Learning Object is launched by a learner
  2. Record when a learner view an individual 'page' (known technically as a resource or SCO) within an LO
  3. Retrieve scoring from an individual SCO. (Note that very few NLN LOs support this functionality, even if the delivery method allows it.)

Simplifying a little, methods that link to the NLN site (methods 1 and 4) support only level 1. Methods that use local repositories (3) currently support levels 1 and 2, though level 3 may be supported in future upgrades of Moodle. Only method 3, which uses Moodle’s inbuilt Scorm functionality, currently supports all three levels of tracking “out of the box”.

Bandwidth and speed

Which method makes most sense in terms of speed of access and bandwidth usage is dependant on various factors, such as whether learners and the Moodle install are within the same intranet. When played on the NLN site, the materials are hosted on the Rackspace network, which is highly connected to Janet and all other major networks in the UK. The service has a guaranteed uptime of 99.9%, which it has so far well-exceeded, and has constant monitoring and redundant capacity in place. Learner URLs to Learning Objects will remain valid through the lifetime of the service.

Content updates and supporting information

Naturally, one of the challenges of running a local repository is to keep the materials up-to-date. The following information is designed to help evaluate significant a problem this may be.

The NLN content is updated fairly rarely, but is not an entirely static library. A large update of the first two rounds of materials was commissioned and executed in 2006. Although no large-scale updates have occurred since then, small updates and fixes are made to the materials from time to time, and when a significant issue is found there is a good chance it will be researched and a solution implemented. Besides the content itself, the surrounding information in a Learning Object - its “metadata” - is updated quite regularly, usually comprising additions of new or clarified descriptions, keywords, classifications etc. Of course, the importance of updates to metadata depends on whether a local system actually uses and exposes that information.

As well as the content and metadata of the Learning Object, each LO has a range of information associated with the batch it is part of, which can prove invaluable for the LO’s effective use. This includes the tutor guide, specific FAQ questions, and (soon to be made available) a list of matching SFA Learning Aims, 3rd party copyright information, ratings and reviews, and many others. All of this information would be difficult to access via a local repository, requiring practitioners to manually locate the equivalent LO on the NLN site.

Building a local repository

This section aims to give some recommendations for those who do choose to build a local repository of the NLN Materials.

First, remember that the IMS Repository module - although part of a standard Moodle installation - is disabled by default - and must be enabled and configured using the file \mod\resource\type\ims\repository_config.php.

The default IMS Repository module utilises a single directory (usually called “ims_repository”) with the Learning Objects unpacked into their own directories within that base location. Both allow the Learning Object directories be arranged within a folder structure.

To download the materials, as part of the new version of the site (launched 21st July 2011), we've opened an FTP site, giving easy and efficient access to the entire library. See this FAQ for more info.