By Phil Hill
The Moodle Users Association (MUA), a crowd-funding group for additional Moodle core development, announced today that it is open for members to join. Technically the site was internally announced on its web site last Friday, but the press release came out today. As of this writing (Thurs evening PST), 44 members have signed up: 37 at the individual level, 1 at the bronze level, 3 at the silver level, 2 not sharing details, and Moodle Pty as the trademark holder. This equates to $8,680 – $22,580 of annual dues, depending on what level the two anonymous members chose.
Update (1/25): As of Monday morning, the numbers are 51 members: 44 at the individual level, 1 bronze, 3 silver, 2 not sharing details, and Moodle Pty as trademark holder; leading to $8,960 – $22,860 of annual dues.
Moodle News was the first outlet to describe the new organization (originally called Moodle Association but changed to Moodle Users Association when the organization was formalized), and in early December they summarized the motivation:
As mentioned recently in an article on e-Literate, it’s possible that a majority of all funding to Moodle.org originates from Blackboard. While this may be ironic, knowing the history of Blackboard, it is appropriate since the LMS company has quietly become the largest Moodle Partner by number of clients through acquisitions and growth over the last few years.
The Moodle Partner network is the lifeblood of Moodle HQ/Moodle.com and funds all of the full-time staff at Moodle HQ. Ten percent of all profit from Moodle partners is contributed back to fund the HQ’s staff, who then in turn organize developers around the world, coordinate QA cycles, keep releases on schedule, provide training and a free trial option for individual Moodle users.
In early 2015, Martin Dougiamas unveiled a plan to diversify Moodle funding by garnering support from non-Moodle Partners: organizations, users, and schools who were interested in contributing to Moodle.org, but were not providing Moodle related services, and perhaps wanted to get a little more out of contributions than a strict donation might give. The MUA is scheduled to kick off this December with it’s inaugural committee and funding which will be used to drive, in part, the development of the Moodle project through a democratic mechanism.
At e-Literate we have covered the inflection point faced by what is likely the the world’s most-used LMS since this past June. The inflection point comes from a variety of triggers:
- Blackboard acquisition of several Moodle Partners causing Moodle HQ, other Moodle Partners, and some subset of users’ concerns about commercialization;
- Creation of the Moodle Users Association as well as Moodle Cloud services as alternate paths to Moodle Partners for revenue and hosting; and
- Several Moodle-derivative efforts in 2015 such as Remote-Learner leaving the Moodle Partner program, Totara forking its Moodle code, and creation of the POET working group hosted by Apereo.
To be fair, Martin does not agree with my characterization of such an inflection point as described in this interview from September 2015:
Martin: Sorry, I don’t really agree with your characterization. Unlike nearly all other LMS companies, Moodle is not profit-focussed (all our revenue goes into salaries). We are an organisation that is completely focussed on supplying a true open source alternative for the world without resorting to venture capital and the profit-driven thinking that comes with that. [snip]
Phil: My note on “inflection point” is not based on a profit-driven assumption. The idea is that significant changes are underway that could change the future direction of Moodle. A lot depends on Blackboard’s acquisition strategy (assuming it goes beyond Remote-Learner UK and Nivel Siete), whether other Moodle Partners follow Remote-Learner’s decision, and whether Moodle Association shows signs of producing similar or larger revenues than the Moodle Partner program. What I don’t see happening is extension of the status quo.
Martin: Moodle’s mission is not changing at all, we are just expanding and improving how we do things in response to a shifting edtech world. We are starting the Moodle Association to fill a gap that our users have often expressed to us – they wanted a way to have some more direct input over major changes in core Moodle. There is no overlap between this and the Moodle Partners – in fact we are also doing a great deal to improve and grow the Moodle Partner program and as well as the user experience for those who need Moodle services from them.
I maintain my belief that there are big changes afoot in the Moodle community. The two primary drivers of how these changes might impact product development of Moodle core are whether and how Blackboard and Moodle HQ “mend fences” in their business relationship and whether the Moodle Users Association shows signs of producing significant revenue and significant influence on product development within the next 1 – 2 years. With the formal announcement today, let’s look at more details on MUA and its prospects.
There are four levels of MUA membership, ranging from 100AUD to 10,000AUD annual dues (roughly $70 to $7,000 in US dollars).
When Moodle News surveyed their readers about plans for membership (results in early December post), they found 70% planning to join at individual level, 23 % at bronze, 4% at silver, and 2% at gold. Thus far the actuals from the public members (excluding Moodle Pty and the two anonymous members) are 90% individual, 2% bronze, 7% silver, and 0% gold. It is quite possible, however, that organizations choosing bronze, silver, and gold levels will take longer to decide than individuals. Nevertheless, it initially appears that the majority of members will be at the individual level. Given the disparity in dues, however, the actual public revenue commitments are 30% individual, 7% bronze, 63% silver, and 0% gold. If either or both of the two anonymous members are organizations, this would tilt the numbers even further.
What would it take to generate “significant revenue”? As of a year ago, Moodle HQ had 34 employees which would require $3 – $5m of revenue to continue support For MUA to have significant impact, I would say that it needs minimum revenues of $500k – $1m within a couple of years. Without this level, the revenue itself is just in the noise and revenue has not been diversified. This minimum level would require 200+ organizational memberships in rough numbers.
Moving forward, it will be important to track organizational memberships primarily, seeing if there is a clear path for MUA to reach at least 200 in a year or two.
What would it take to generate “significant influence on product development”? Well first it is worth understanding how this works. Twice a year the MUA will “work through a cycle of project proposal development and project voting in three phases”.
The number of votes in the process are determined by membership levels. The pot of money to allocate to the specific development projects is based on the revenue. What this means is that MUA is not voting, per current rules, on overall Moodle Core development – they are voting on how to allocate MUA funds within Moodle Core development. Again, if there is not some reasonable level of revenue ($500k +), then the impact of this development will be minor.
I’m not suggesting that $500k is a hard delimiter of significant or not; it is just a rough number to help us understand MUA’s future importance.
We should not forget the introduction of MoodleCloud:
MoodleCloud is our own hosting platform, designed and run by us, the people who make Moodle.
The revenue to cover the costs of this services are provided by ads or by 5AUD / month payment to avoid ads. The service is limited to sites with 50 users or less. As currently designed, MoodleCloud would primarily pay for itself – scale does not necessarily create funds to pay for product development. But this service does provide a potential pathway for additional revenue with just a policy change
A strategic inflection point is a time in the life of business when its fundamentals are about to change. That change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end.
– Andy Grove, Only the Paranoid Survive
More broadly, the issue is whether MUA and even MoodleCloud will change the dynamics to allow Moodle to modernize and compete more effectively against within the overall LMS market. The fundamentals are changing for Moodle."Launch Of Moodle Users Association: 44 members sign up, mostly as individuals",
- Note: I do not have actual numbers on revenue amounts and am just using rough industry metrics of $90k – $150k per employee, fully loaded with office and equipment. [↩]
- I am not aware if Moodle Partners have any limitations on MoodleCloud terms in their contracts. [↩]