10 ways to keep your Moodle courses lean

Whilst instructional designers agree that using Moodle as a file repository isn’t a good idea, sharing files using Moodle is still necessary in a lot of scenarios. In this blog post, I explore 10 simple ways to keep your file sizes as small as possible, before uploading them to Moodle.

Why it matters

There are several reasons why you want to ensure your images & resources have as small a footprint as possible on your storage. Here are some of those reasons:

  • Content is served faster to your users
    • Especially useful in parts of the world where connection to the Internet isn’t great
  • Limits the amount of storage needed
    • May allow to remain on cheaper hosting plan a bit longer e.g. Digital Ocean
  • Reduces the size of course backups
    • Automated backups are completed faster
    • Backup files can be transferred more easily (e.g. via email)
    • Reduces amount of storage used for backed up courses
  • Reduces the bandwidth used
    • Cheaper fees if using services such as Amazon Web Services, or RackSpace, which charge by the GB transferred

1. Convert your documents into Moodle webpages

Moodle’s HTML editor has become fairly capable at converting content from a Word document into a Moodle webpage, keeping most of the formatting intact. Not only converting a Word document into a webpage will result in a smaller file size, your users’ experience will be improved (no download necessary),  compatibility will be increased (some students cannot view Microsoft Word documents on their device) and security enhanced (Word documents may contain viruses). Here is a tutorial showing you how it’s done.


2. Save your printable documents as PDF

Sometimes it is impossible, or too time consuming, to convert a document into a webpage due to formatting issues for example. You may also want to share documents that require users to install plugins or software on their own devices. If this is the case, you may benefit from saving the file as a PDF and share it using Moodle. There are several ways to save a document as a PDF. Here are a couple of video tutorials.

Save as PDF on a Mac

Save as PDF on Windows

Save as PDF online 

For all other scenarios, you can use Google Drive to convert your files to PDF. There is also a plethora of online tools that will allow you to convert your files to PDF using your favourite Web browser.

3. Reduce the size of your Microsoft Office documents

There are situations where you may want students to be able to edit your Microsoft Office documents, for example when you share a template with them. There are several ways to reduce the size of a Word, or PowerPoint file. Here are a few tutorials showing you how.

Compress images

Other ways to reduce Word file size.

4. Reduce the size of your PDF files

It is possible to reduce the size of your PDF files, without losing much in quality. A great online tool for this is SmallPDF. You don’t need to surrender your email or to install anything, simply upload, wait for  it to convert and download the converted file(s). 

5. Reduce the size of your images

Here there are 2 main things you can do:

  • Shrink your images i.e. the ‘physical’ size –> 1280×720 pixels to 640 x 360 pixels
  • Compress your images i.e. retain the physical size but remove unnecessary data inside the image

There are plenty of free tools available to perform both tasks. Here are my favourites:

  • To shrink images in batch, the B.I.R.M.E tool works well. It is very easy to use and you don’t need to surrender your email address.
  • To compress images in bulk, Smush.it is a great online tool. When at my Mac workstation, I always use ImageOptim. Both those tools are lossless, meaning the images will look exactly the same to the human eye.

6. Reduce the size of your media files

Your courses may contain MP3 files, or movie files (e.g. MP4, WMV, etc.) and those files often use a lot of storage space.

If you deal with a lot of audio files, you may want to learn how to use software such as fre:ac, a great open-source cross-platform audio resampling tool. If you don’t want to (or cannot) install programs on your computer, you can use AudioFormat to resize your MP3 files. 

When it comes to dealing with video files, I am yet to find an overall better program than handbrake, a cross-platform open-source video transcoder. There are a few online tools, such as video.online-convert.com, and although the ones I have tried work, I don’t have a lot of experience with those tools. 

7. Make use of online repositories

Since Moodle 2.3, it has been possible to link to files in (some) repositories, rather than downloading them to your Moodle installation. Moodle supports popular file storage systems such as Dropbox, or Google Drive. Here is an example of linked files.

8. Link to images

Rather than downloading images to show up in your labels (or elsewhere), why not linking to those images instead? You will save on storage and will speed up your course at the same time. The same thinking can be applied to other types of files externally stored. The main downside of this strategy is that you lose control over the image/file – if it’s deleted on the origin server, then it also gets deleted from your Moodle course. 

9. Make use of streaming services

If you deal with non-sensitive audio/video, you may benefit from using streaming services such as Youtube or Soundcloud. The files are no longer saved on your Moodle server, saving lots of space and bandwidth. It is important to remember that videos saved on Youtube are never totally private (even if some settings make them hard to find).

10. Embed, embed, embed

In the same vein as tip #9, you may want to use services to host your documents that allow for embedding. Embedding allows you to display remotely saved content in your Moodle course, without copying it to your course. For example, you can create a presentation on Prezi, or SlideShare and embed it to your courses. Here is a (very short) list of services from which you can embed.

 Do you have any tips to keep your courses lean? Share them in the comments section below.