Responsive design and the Moodle course page

There has been a lot of talk recently about responsive design and Moodle. Everyone has a view about it whether it is something to use or not use.

Before I bring up some points, I wanted to set down one definition of what responsive can be “to adapt the layout to the viewing environment”. It is a good idea to have a website look the best it can on any device, that is something I agree with – however Moodle is not just a website, it is a course and learning management system. So the remit goes well beyond a normal website.

A website reorganising the blocks, content areas, navigation, images on it depending on browser window size, or device can work, but what about when this is not a desired outcome? Are there cases where a block moving below the course page is a bad thing from a learning point of view?

I am approaching this not from a design point of view at all, but from a training point of view when I have trained teachers and course admins to use the blocks in Moodle to help support their learning delivery and administration.

Consider a Moodle course

There are a number of blocks that are used in a Moodle course that can be considered a key part of the course. What about the random glossary block? This can be a key part of the course content /layout providing a flashcard type experience on page loads to help introduce some content or trigger reminders, or offer supplementary information from one of the glossaries in the course.

Is the effectiveness of this block in the course reduced if the block is dropped under the course content sections ?

What about some other blocks which teachers use on their courses?

  • The calendar block with deadlines marked on it
  • The upcoming used to remind about key deadlines coming up.
  • Or the latest news block – showing the most recent headlines from the news forum
  • Logged in users – to help promote the inter-student communication

So from a teaching and admin point of view, is having the blocks dance around in a responsive way a good thing in a Moodle course if they have been placed there for a specific reason?

Should responsive design with a Moodle course try to take these kind of issues into account?

What blocks would you not want to “move around” in a responsive layout?

Should this be an issue? If a site admin went with a responsive theme, does this then limit the teacher in choice of blocks? Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Just some random thoughts on the topic…

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3 Responses to Responsive design and the Moodle course page

  1. Miriam says:

    A Moodle site or course is unusable on a mobile phone if only the full three-column theme is available, and don’t get me started on the mobile theme… At least with a responsive theme, the course remains easily viewable, no matter what device, the blocks do actually stay on the page (unlike the mobile theme where they’re hidden behind a blocks button), and you don’t have to constantly zoom in and out and hope you’re aiming your finger at the exact right spot to hit that tiny link.

  2. ghenrick says:

    HI Miriam,

    Totally understand your viewpoint regarding mobile, and agreed on the mobile theme – it could be better as responsive although if it was just for a mobile phone – one question I have is what features should be accessible on a phone?

    Should every bit of functionality be available via a phone UI? Personally, I don’t think so. I think it is unrealistic to have a full platform features usable in such a small viewing window.

    I recall seeing results from some research on how students use their mobile phones (one was from OU if i recall correctly), and one was from a mobile research company.

    Generally people use mobiles for specific tasks, so therefore I think it is reasonable to cater for them and not the extra stuff.

    I do like the solution that Martin demoed of the new app, it is strong.

    But for me responsive goes beyond a mobile screen into ipad and other small screen devices.

  3. Richard says:

    Personally, I don’t think small screens such as mobiles are suitable for accessing the full features of a moodle course at all – and in many ways don’t need to be. Maybe a student needs urgent access to some materials, but then how many can download and read or interact with a multipage Word document (for example) on their phones anyway?
    The biggest issue I think comes with tablets (android or iPad – I’m thinking screen size rather than OS) where the screen resolution begins to approach that of some desktop monitors – but on a smaller screen in actual physical measurements. How much content and functionality is needed for people accessing materials on such devices? Do ‘fat fingers’constitute an accessibility requirement?
    I guess the bottom line is it comes down to how the course is designed – for who and through what kind of devices. The aim for moodle would be to make it possible for a tutor to use the features they need in any given instance.
    Is the course taught mainly online or is the moodle presence a support for a mainly classroom based course? Am I going to expect a significant number of my students to access materials from mobile devices (what sort?) Do I cater for the 1 in 100 who will, while all the others will access it on desktops in the computer lab during my sessions. If significant numbers will be, what do I need to do to cater for those needs? Is the myMobile theme suitable using the device detection, do I need a single responsive theme (such as Zebra/Krystle – and will it cope with the older browsers some of my users will have on their desktops as well?), do I need specific blocks to appear at the top above the main content (as per Gavin’s suggestions), do I need to design my resources differently – my students may be able to access pdfs on mobile devices but not Word documents. Is it practical to expect my students to access a quiz on their 4.5inch mobile device, or should my instructions state that they should do it on a desktop device?
    Many of these are content driven decisions and will vary from one course to another, let alone one institution to another – and may even vary from week to week within one course depending on the activities being used.
    There is (in my opinion) no right or wrong answer – other than that Moodle should be able to provide the options for the many different scenarios that a tutor/students may experience. While educating those who actually create the course materials (and their users) may be of even greater significance – and influencing expectations: If users expect the full features on their 4inch screen, tutors will be pressured to give it to them – if users are educated that certain tools are appropriate for certain tasks, then expectations are guided (not lowered!) so that the user experience is actually enhanced by them being able to use the appropriate tools at appropriate times.

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