Moodle annoying problems


Moodle is the best VLE/LMS, but as with every other system there a few quirks that can be rather annoying. In this post I share quick and easy solutions to 5 annoying Moodle problems. Let me know in the comments if you want more posts like this.



1. The ‘News forum’ won’t go away!

So you have tried a million times to delete the ‘News forum’ at the top of your Moodle course to no avail. The thing is tougher than a cockroach and simply won’t die! Sure you could hide it from students, but that’s cheating.

Problem in context: whenever you create a new Moodle course, you get a ‘News forum’ created at the top – whether you want it or not. I tend to remove it as my colleagues find it confusing (students cannot post to it).

Solution: Delete the ‘News forum’ on your course page, then visit your course settings (Administration > Course settings), set ‘News items to show’ to zero. Go back to your course page, the ‘News forum’ has disappeared. It will reappear if you set the news ‘News items to show’ to 1 or more.


2. Moodle course with multiple groups, all teachers receive the notification emails

Moodle has a great notification system – it is possible for a teacher/student to be notified of new forum posts, assignment uploads, etc. A significant number of schools decide to have multiple groups share one course, in order to limit the amount of course maintenance. This can lead to issues if not dealt with properly.

Problem in context: 1 course, multiple groups and multiple teachers (for the sake of simplicity, 1 teacher per group). If not setup properly, all teachers receive notification emails from students of all groups.

Solution: Make sure teachers are assigned to the correct groups. Go to your course, Settings block > Users > Groups. Once there, select the group you want to add a teacher to (list on the left), highlight it, locate the teacher in the list on the right, click on her/his name and click ‘add to group’. See here to learn more about groups in Moodle.


3. It takes a long time to enrol students in courses

In an ideal World, your Moodle administrator has come up with an authentication method that enrols students automatically in the right courses, nothing for you to do. Most don’t live in an ideal World.

Problem in context: it’s the beginning of a new academic year, you’re crazy busy and you have to enrol your 150+ students into Moodle courses (worse, in groups!).

Solution: create an enrolment key (like a password) for your course and give it to your students, see here for instructions. The first time they try to access the course, they enter the key – boom, they’re enrolled. Better yet, if you share a course, assign a unique key for each group. Students access your course entering their respective keys – boom, they’re enrolled in the course, in the correct groups.


4. Moodle sends too many notification emails

If you rely heavily on forums, chances are that you use the email notification system to keep track of new messages. This can quickly become very annoying, as you may be receiving hundreds of emails a day.

Problem in context: you have a course with a forum and you encourage students to comment on each other’s posts. If you have a class of 25, this can easily generate over 500 messages and as many notification emails. 

Solution: edit your profile (click on your name usually at the top right of your Moodle page) and locate the ‘Edit profile’ option. You then need to scroll down to ‘Email digest type’ and set the option to a more sane ‘Complete’ or ‘Subjects’ daily emails. I personally prefer the ‘Complete’ option as I don’t actually have to visit the forums (if I only need to double-check content).


5. Can’t upload multiple files to Moodle

Even if you decide to not use Moodle just as a file repository, chances are you will need to upload a few files to your courses now and then. Moodle used to be a pain to manage files. Moodle 2.3 onwards allow for multiple drag and drop multiple file uploads.

Problem in context: blank Moodle course page, final exams fast approaching and you have a bunch of PDF examiner reports you want to share with students, fast. You don’t fancy uploading each one by one.

Solution: if it’s not practical for you to upgrade to Moodle 2.3 (or above), you can ask your Moodle administrator to install the fantastic ‘Drag and Drop’ plugin. This will enable multiple file upload in your courses (Firefox only)

Thanks to Jim (comment 1) for suggesting Zipping a folder full of files, uploading it to Moodle and then unzipping it in your course. This is great if you cannot add any plugins to your site.


The best place to get help if you have a problem using Moodle is to go to the forums. If you have a simple solution to an annoying problem, post in the comments and I’ll add it to the list



Differentiation using colour code

[pulledquote]Working in a non selective school is rewarding but brings its fair share of interesting challenges. Catering for the individual learner needs is at the heart of most educational institutions.[/pulledquote] I am lucky enough to have assistants to help me cater for all needs in my classroom, but I see no reason why Moodle should not also receive the differentiation treatment. Luckily there are a few simple strategies that can be used to offer differentiated courses with little effort (and subsequently time). This post presents you with three easy to implement Moodle differentiation strategies.

1. Use a (colour) code

As explained in one of my previous posts, you can use labels and colours to offer differentiated materials/activities. In short, place all of your activities in the same course, and then divide it up using coloured labels, or simply place a prefix before your activities/resources names. You could easily spice things up by using relevant symbols (warning signs, traffic lights, etc.). – Click on the pictures to enlarge.


Differentiation using groups

Differentiation using groups


Differentiation using colour code

Differentiation using colour code

  • Pros

    • This allows students to choose the most suitable task/activities by themselves and can be especially useful for homework activities.
    • Students who decide to go for the easier option can then move on and try the harder tasks.
    • When I used to offer printed differentiated homework, some ‘weaker’ students would feel embarrassed to pick up the ‘easy’ sheet; this problem no longer exists.
  • Cons

    • All students can see all tasks and it could lead to confusion.
    • Some students might decide not to ‘push’ themselves, it might be a good idea to set expectations for each student (can be done informally)

2. Use separate courses

Although this one is easy to achieve, I would recommend you against using this strategy – for most basic uses at least. The idea is to have as many courses as you have abilities in your physical courses. Have students enroll in the courses matching their ability and only place the required resources/activities in the appropriate courses.

  • Pros

    • Students are only presented with the material they should view/take part in.
    • Easy to manage if course content/activities never changes.
  • Cons

    • File management can quickly become a nightmare. 1 change might need to be mirrored to rest of your courses.
    • Students cannot be in charge of their own learning.
    • A student may struggle with some activities, but may feel very comfortable with others – no flexibility.

3. Use groups/groupings

This is my personal favourite. Say you teach a year 7 MFL French class. In that class, you teach students who have studied French at KS2, students who have never learnt French, and students with EAL, or a combination of the above. Overall, you have a group with a wide range of abilities, but limited time to use Moodle. Groups/groupings might well be your savior.

The idea is that you have one course with all of your activities/resources, and then manage access to those on a granular basis. The screenshot below depicts groups in action.

Differentiation using groups

Differentiation using groups

  • Resource A is available to all participants.
  • Resource B is only available to EAL students.
  • Resource C is only available to students who have learnt French before.

Students part of the EAL group won’t be able to even see Resource C, as it won’t show on their screen. As a teacher, you are able to view all activities/resources and the group name (in brackets) lets you know which group can view/engage in the activity.

  • Pros

    • Easy file management.
    • Very granular access management, down to labels.
    • Set it up once, use it every year. All you have to do is to change the participants in your groups at the beginning of each academic year.
    • Students can ‘move up’ a group. It is easy to miscalculate
    • Students can be part of more than one group
    • Course looks less cluttered to students
  • Cons

    • Students are not in charge of their own learning
    • Can be a little confusing to setup

Let me know your thoughts on this issue. Just so you know, I do not differentiate every course (exam groups for example). Do you have any other strategies to share? Please drop a comment if you do.

Example topic with images - IGCSE ICT

[pulledquote]In a survey I conducted in December 2010, it became apparent that students prefer courses which are nicely laid out (no surprises there).[/pulledquote] Many a teacher who uses Moodle will have come across the Scroll Of Death issue (I won’t use the acronym for that one 😉 ). For those unfamiliar with the problem, it is when you have many resources on a Moodle course, and it makes it difficult for users to navigate the course, thus ending up scrolling up and down endlessly. Here is a presentation which I use for my Moodle lunch sessions.

Having scores of resources on a course is a reality of life for many teachers (including myself), and while there are tweaks which can help, there are a few very simple things a teacher can do to have a course which:

  • is more attractive to students
  • is easier to navigate
  • is clearly ‘mapped’ to syllabus/curriculum
  • is differentiated using colour codes
  • has colour codes used for groups/groupings
  • allow departments to have their own ‘identity’ without the need for changes in CSS

In this post, I explore the different simple techniques you can use to beautify your courses, along with their teaching/learning benefits. Please click on the pictures to see the full versions.

1. Use topic boxes

This is the easiest tip of them all. Depending on the theme that you are using, there could be a line around each topic/week inside your course.

Topic Line

Whilst it is obvious what to do with it if your course uses the ‘Weeks’ format, it can also be useful to divide up your course in units/sub-units if you are using the ‘Topics’ format. Remember that you or your students can make only one topic viewable at a time using the toggle button. The benefit of this is obvious, course is clearly laid out, and students can focus on the topic at hand, without unnecessary clutter.

Toggle topic button

2. Use labels

In my opinion, labels should be the first thing you use, after all they are there to help you organise your courses. They are very versatile as you can pretty much add anything to it: text, images, lines, embed media from other sites, etc. Here are a few ideas of what to do with labels

  • Headings/Sub-Headings

A little used function of the HTML editor is the ‘Styles’ selector.

HTML styles in Moodle 2

A simple combination of font-size and colours can really help organise a course. Couple it with another useful feature, the ‘Indent’ button, and you end up with a cleanly divided up course. Using different colours for topics/sub-topics will allow students to see at a glance where they are/should be. Large font attracts the eye and helps students realise what is important, and it what order. I like to ask students to draw a diagram at the beginning of a course so that they can familiarise themselves with the course structure. Usually, they all end up with the same diagram, using the same colours as I did…

Indent HTML editor Moodle 1

  • Lines

Lines are unique to Moodle 1.As far as I know, it is not part of the HTML editor included in Moodle 2 (or I couldn’t find it at least). I do not use the predefined lines a great deal, but you can make your own lines using special characters on your keyboard, and then assign a colour to it. This is great to divide resource types and/or activity types.

Line in HTML editor Moodle 1

**************************************** Star sign

________________________________ Underscore

################################ Hash tag

  • Images/pictures

When scrolling frantically to get to the right topic, students (or yourself) might easily miss text, but it is harder to miss a picture. There are plenty of pictures you can use freely using the Creative Commons search engine. Not only will it make your courses look better, it will certainly help you and your students find your way around. For younger students, you could even add animated images, they’ll love it!

Example topic with images - IGCSE ICT

  • Funky fonts

This one is purely for looks. You could use font generators to make glittery text, text that’s on fire, etc. to make your course look better. Sounds shallow? It might be, but kids love it!

Embedding fonts from other websites

4. Indent your activities

My students know at a glance whether ‘links’ are something they will consume (resource, PDF document, Presentation, etc.), or something they’ll need to take part in (wiki, upload a file, etc.). This is not only due to the icon displayed next to the activity/resource name, but mainly to the fact that I always indent activities the same way. This seems to help create a consistent user experience throughout my courses.

Example of indentation

5. Communicate with other teachers

If you are in charge of Moodle at your school, it might be a good idea to explain to departments that they can have their own ‘identity’ using specific fonts & colour codes. Otherwise, I recommend teachers to communicate – again this could help create a uniform user experience.

6. Use Groups/Groupings to show/hide some of the contents

It is not obvious why this one is under ‘beautifying your course’ but let me explain. When many resources are available on a course, not only is it difficult for your students to navigate, it is also difficult for you. By using a colour code for labels, and then group activities under those labels can help you, while only presenting activities/resources to specific groups. I find this especially useful for differentiation, for example, my gifted & talented students will have access to more material in my courses than students will learning difficulties. However, all resources will be viewable by myself. I might make a post on groups/groupings one day, as I’m aware that this tip might not be obvious to everybody.

Hidden label and groups

7. Use hidden labels

In the same vein as the last tip, using groups and groupings you could make labels that are only viewable by teachers. This can be useful for day-to-day organisation, to document your teaching and warn other teachers of important things to do, but which are useless to students. For example, the Humanities department at my current school run a yearly project, and Moodle is used as a central repository/teaching tool. This Moodle course is used by 6 teachers and students go to each teacher on different days. Using hidden labels allowed us to communicate very important information e.g. ‘Mr X, please update this!’, whilst this can be achieved using web pages, labels are more prominent and harder to miss.

Hidden labels

8. Use a bit of HTML code

This one is not as easy to use, but you can find lots of useful HTML code generators on the net, where you can simply copy/paste snippets of HTML code to place in your courses.

For example, try to insert this code into your HTML editor and see what it does.

HTML toggle on/off Moodle 2

Example of a crossword

In a recent survey I conducted, most of my younger students complained that Moodle is not ‘fun’ enough and that they would like to see more use of educational games. I have already discussed and quickly reviewed the ‘Game’ module but today I’d like to focus on the ‘Crossword’ component of the module.

Example of a crossword

Example of a crossword

Here is a video showing you the crossword in action

I have found the crossword to be versatile and have used it for the following:

  • Vocabulary learning & revision
    • Very useful for exam groups in subjects where a lot of topic specific vocabulary is used, spelling tests etc.
  • As a ‘fill in the gap’ activity
    • A    – – – – – – – cannot change its spots
  • As a ‘synonym’ activity
    • I am a synonym for the word famished: – – – – – – –
  • As an ‘antonym’ activity
    • I am an antonym for the word hungry: – – – – – – – –
  • As a research activity/quiz
    • I am the capital city of Vietnam: – – – – –
  • As a means to test my students’ knowledge on a topic
    • A different take on a test, which appeals to some students, but not all

For the activities in blue, make sure you use a ‘hidden’ glossary so that students cannot see the answers.

I love the fact that the grades can be stored in the gradebook automatically. It provides me with an extra tool to monitor my students’ progress and make sure that the activities are completed.

Students between 11 and 18 years old at my current school really enjoy using the crossword and I have found that it has helped my less able students learn and retain vocabulary. This is probably due to the fact that they can try as many times as they want, until they get ‘100%’, but I have no way to be sure of that.

Please feel free to add your own ideas to this post by commenting. I will add your ideas to the body of the post and link to your blog/Twitter/Facebook if you send a link. You can also have a stab at answering the examples above 😉