By: Catalina Sanchez
AdaptiVLE CEO and Moodle and Blackboard contributor Lewis Carr is a technology geek with over 12 years’ experience in designing virtual platforms. Companies and education establishments turn to him to make their wishes come true through web development.
His passion for technology began when he was a young computer graphic student in 1998. He later moved on into the world of website design and open source technology before gradually moving into the education sector, where he got to know Moodle and Blackboard and his interest in the development of e-learning systems rocketed. He worked for several years as a Blackboard solutions engineer, with responsibility for providing support for the Moodlerooms platform on technical and consultancy matters, helping to open up the market in the United Kingdom, and attracting new customers and users.
Lewis is currently founder and CEO of AdaptiVLE; he also supports education establishments in the mass dissemination of knowledge via virtual learning platforms, and he has a blog aimed at making his work known, with a view to inspiring others to propose innovative approaches. E-Learn Magazine spoke with him, so he could describe his methods, opinions and new projects in detail.
E-Learn Magazine: How have you managed to make Moodle more innovative?
Lewis Carr: Making Moodle more attractive is a question of engagement. The starting point is getting to know the audience, knowing what it is that students want (if it’s modernity, dynamism, fun). If you want them to be connected, they have to enjoy the tool and WANT to use it. The first step is to make the platform look good. It’s like the cover of a book. It catches your attention and makes you want to read it, and if you’re lucky, if the content is good, you get hooked.
E.L.M: Students are different. How can you satisfy everyone’s tastes at the same time?
L.C: I generally study the latest web trends; and I look at what people are already doing to get my inspiration. However, I sometimes think it’s essential to take a risk, to follow a hunch you have, based on your own creativity parameters. That’s when the result is wonderful. Let’s say I believe in being more of a trendsetter than a follower. It’s a combination of seeing how others work but also knowing how I would do it myself, and risking it. You’re never going to know if it works unless you try it. You have to do something different, get out of the rut.
E.L.M: Tell us about your experience designing themes for Moodle
L.C: People often come to me because they want to solve a specific problem. I’m good at solving problems. Many of the designs I produce are inline with what the customer tells me he likes about Moodle, except for the fact that it ‘doesn’t to this or it would be better if it did that’. Then I do a sketch and I find the solution. When you’re doing something for a company it’s different from working for an education establishment. In the latter case, you’re creating a product for students, whereas when you’re doing it for a company you’re really working around the companies view of things. Sometimes you therefore have to put yourself in the owner’s shoes and work on his/her ideas, but you also have to tell them when they’re wrong. Customers come to me because they trust in my 12 years of experience.
E.L.M: What companies have come looking for you?
L.C: I work with various sectors. From farming and pest control, through to the health and hospitality sector. I also have customers who work in animal welfare, skin-care companies, schools and universities.
E.L.M: What has their response been?
L.C: Marvelous! More and more companies are learning using Moodle. Unlike universities, which have been using the platform for many years, most companies are new to this field. And in addition to being surprised at the results, they also take things to another level. They come back to me because they want us to develop other services, such as e-commerce mechanisms and applications. They make the most of it all.
E.L.M: Why is e-learning important nowadays?
L.C: Two things. First: flexibility. The possibility of studying anywhere you want and at any time. All the while we’re choosing when we want to read an article or consume some product or other. It’s part of our on-demand culture, and it’s important that learning is at the same level as other types of content. Second: we have more students but fewer teachers, fewer spaces and resources. Technology lets you build classes without walls. E-learning goes beyond the classroom, which was impossible until now. And on the corporate side, these tools give employees the chance to increase their skills, in addition to the experience they get in their job. They decide, depending on their time, family commitments and work schedules, when to be trained to improve their efficiency and productivity.
E.L.M: How can these e-learning platforms make a bigger impact?
L.C: We need to show that it works. More use cases that prove its effectiveness. They need to see examples in say, YouTube videos, and to talk with these sources, and see the success other companies are having. Every company that has applied the system should spread the word.
People often come to me because they want to solve a specific problem. I’m good at solving problems.
E.L.M: Talking of YouTube videos, you have a blog which actually shows your work. Tell us a bit about this
L.C: It started in 2009. I was working at a further education college and we were doing interesting things with Moodle. We wanted to share everything we were building. It was successful because we did things the students wanted: they earned points for tasks they completed and it was very dynamic, among other things. People at the school and elsewhere in the world began to follow us. It’s good to return knowledge to the community. People think in terms of economic reward, but we also like stories, curiosity, listening to what people have to say. Communicating what worked and what didn’t, with the idea of helping others.
E.L.M: What comes next?
L.C: I’m still working with Moodle, especially around mobile. It’s vital for students to be able to go on learning even offline. We’ve made some nice improvements to the visuals on mobile devices. We’re also working on developing better content, which is what’s most important. You can have an incredible platform but if the content isn’t good, it’s no use. It’s essential to have lots of information, that contribute towards fantastic courses. We’re looking for that balance.
E.L.M: And what about content? Who provides it?
L.C: The customer, because it’s he who specializes in that content. But the customer generally comes to us with full, extensive information. The student needs to learn it all and what we do is create animations, interactions and activities, so that they learn what they have to learn but with much less text. We need to do something that inspires students in their learning process, something that motivates them.
E.L.M: Getting students’ attention on a mobile phone must be even more complicated, with so many distractions
L.C: Yes, and it’s precisely because of that, for developing mobile learning, that my team adopts a different approach. Tasks that are interactive and can be completed more quickly, concise information, summarized. It’s not just a case of designing a space where the content fits on the screen of a mobile phone, you also have to adapt the amount of correct content, so you don’t lose their interest or engagement.
E.L.M: What’s the best thing about your job?
L.C: The most exciting thing about this sector is that every day is different. New technology is always coming out, as well as new e-learning trends, and the good thing about being part of an industry that’s constantly changing is that technology allows all of us to have an impact, have a voice; now you can upload to a blog and let people see and share your experience. You have to spread messages, go out and tell new learners that they can learn in other ways and create an impact. It’s constantly evolving.
*Lewis Carr, AdaptiVLE CEO