Introduction

If you’re still using Moodle 1.9 you probably know that it looks a bit dated and doesn’t work well with phones but do you really need to think about upgrading? This blog post covers the key reasons why upgrading to a supported Moodle version is essential and covers some of the challenges that a big leap in versions can present, as well as looking at recommendations for making this process as smooth as possible.

Reasons to upgrade

  1. New features and functionality: Over the past ten years developers been busy and Moodle has more features and functionality than ever before with improvements being added all the time. Newer versions of Moodle boast improvements to activities such as new question types, advanced features like annotation for assignment submissions, support for GDPR processes and overall better performance. You can also provide access to your site via the Moodle mobile app.
  2. Access to support: Moodle has an active community which provides free-of-charge support in the forums, and there are a range of options if you need a paid-for support service from a commercial provider. But both of these support channels will be limited in the help they can provide for older versions. Bugs in unsupported versions don’t get fixed, and attention and available knowledge tends to focus on currently supported versions.
  3. System security: One of the challenges of administering IT systems is keeping these secure — it can sometimes feel like the security updates to apply are never ending. Moodle is almost always an Internet-facing system so keeping on top of security updates is a crucial part of safeguarding data for you and your users. Older Moodle versions depend on older software versions so you may have an unsupported version of PHP. A security audit of your systems would flag up unsupported software versions as a serious risk.

Support end-of-life dates for some older Moodle versions (source: https://docs.moodle.org/dev/Releases)

Moodle 1.9July 2012
Moodle 2.2July 2013
Moodle 2.7May 2017

Support end-of-life dates for some older PHP versions (source: https://www.php.net/eol.php)

PHP 4.4August 2008
PHP 5.3August 2014
PHP 5.6December 2018

 

Upgrading an older site

The upgrade from Moodle 1.9 to the latest version (Moodle 3.6 at the time of writing) must be in these incremental steps: 1.9 → 2.2 → 2.7 → 3.1 → 3.6. Each of these versions have specific dependencies such as the PHP and database versions they support. This typically makes it easiest to migrate to a new server as part of the upgrade process.

If you’re using third party plugins you will need to review these to see if these can be upgraded. Some popular plugins get incorporated into Moodle and others are well supported with a documented upgrade path. But some plugins get abandoned and there’s no option but to remove the plugin as part of the upgrade.

Moodle’s look and feel has been extensively updated since 1.9 so any themes in use will no longer work. Instead you could use a theme from the plugins directory and customise it to your requirements. Alternatively you can have a bespoke theme designed to your specific requirements.

You may face training and support issues both from those delivering learning as well as those receiving training. Familiar features and activities may have changed the way they appear and the way they work. In leaping 10+ years of development some user support is inevitable and some users may find these changes more difficult to adapt to than others.

The key to a successful upgrade is the test upgrade. With this you identify the issues you’ll face resolving or mitigating these. Then when you come to upgrade the production site the process is a well-managed change instead of a leap in the dark. A test upgrade starts with taking a copy of your site and upgrading this, looking for any unexpected issues. Once you have an upgraded test site you can assemble a sample of users to perform acceptance testing. By collecting feedback you can resolve these issues or be prepared for support issues that may await you post-upgrade.After the test upgrade, with the technical steps tested and support issues addressed, you can proceed with confidence to the upgrade of the production site.

In a minority of cases it may be simpler to archive the existing site and start with a new Moodle install.

Conclusion

If you’ve got a Moodle 1.9 site or a site that’s out of support you need to plan to upgrade this. Upgrading Moodle from older versions can seem daunting, and planning and testing are essential. We’ve been working with Moodle since version 1.9 and can help you manage this process and minimise the disruption to your users. To bring our extensive experience with Moodle to your upgrade please get in touch!

About This Author

Leon Stringer

Leon had been working in IT for over 25 years starting out with connectivity systems for ICL mainframes. He also worked for an NHS trust in the West Midlands for nine years but doesn’t like to talk about this. He first encountered Moodle in 2011...