Background

Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service (commonly known as HFRS) formed in April 1948 to provide a fire and rescue service for the county of Hampshire.

  • Prior to 2010 the Public Sector organisation had been distributing training DVD’s across their fire stations for their operational staff.
  • In 2010, following a Moodle demonstration, Hampshire’s Learning and Development (L&D) department implemented the platform for the single use of a repository for their Microsoft Powerpoint training material and other media.
  • From this point, HFRS’ Moodle site has grown and developed from the initial repository to a more structured, essential Learning Management System (LMS).

There are now around 3,000 users on the organisation’s Moodle site – the majority of training content is for their 1,200 operational members of staff, along with content for around 300 support staff. HFRS shares its Moodle site with other Fire Services and control centres across the UK who use the Moodle site for their own training. The service is also involved in Animal Rescue training, with HFRS’ animal rescue experts delivering training to partners worldwide.

 

Hampshire Fire and Rescue Website

Project 1: Moving from a repository to an LMS…

In 2013, Hampshire Fire and Rescue identified the need to evolve the Moodle site to take full advantage of the potential benefits the change could bring to the organisation. With HFRS only using their site as a repository, the Learning & Development team needed to structure the site more effectively and impose a new teacher/class structure to ensure the correct people were getting to the right content.

To achieve this, they needed to completely redesign the interface and gain expert help to make this a reality.

After an initial tender process, HFRS appointed HowToMoodle.

HowToMoodle gave a good presentation and the Moodle team were impressed with their offering. HowToMoodle seemed to have loads of experience and knowledge on Moodle, and the Moodle team had heard good things from other people – which all helped them make the right decision to appoint HowToMoodle as the Service’s supplier.

David Broomfield, Moodle Lead at Hampshire Fire and Rescue commenting on the choice of supplier made by the Service’s Moodle team at the time

On reflection of the project at this point, David says;

“This exercise helped galvanise how good Moodle could be across the service. We started to use it with courses and ensuring the right people were getting to the right content – not just as a place to access files.”


Project 2: Using User Centred Design to make significant time savings…

In 2017, HFRS embarked on the next stage of their Moodle site development. The Moodle project team obtained user feedback from operational staff based at fire stations. The feedback concluded that;

  • Many users were happy with the content on the Moodle site, but felt accessing content could be easier and that the interface was too busy.
  • Some of the core station staff only had a few hours allocated for training each week so being able to find their learning materials quickly was paramount.

This need apparent, David and his project team resolved to redevelop the Moodle site to improve the navigation and interface. The organisation embarked on a User Centred Design methodology to transform the look and feel of the site and structure so that it would work how users expected. HowToMoodle worked with the Moodle team at HFRS to create a new Design It theme, together with the continuing managed dedicated hosting solution and support for administrators.

Public Sector Design It Service
Hampshire Fire and Rescue Moodle design concepts from HowToMoodle


With HFRS’ partners also accessing the Moodle platform for their training, HowToMoodle recommended their unique Multi-T feature for Moodle themes. Multi-T gave David’s team the ability to create a multi-tenancy effect for their Moodle site, thus enabling the partners’ users to be presented with partner-specific front page content, styling and navigation. This has resulted in a significant engagement benefit for the partners. Commenting on this feature, David says;

The Multi-T plugin has really helped the other organisations. Before Multi-T, no matter where you were coming from you’d go through Hampshire Fire and Rescue’s front page and would have to navigate through to get to the right content. Now when our partner’s learners log in, it looks like their own site, they click and have their own buttons on homepage. It makes life much easier for them.

Recognising the value of their users’ feedback, David’s project team also made it much easier for its learners to leave feedback on the site. Every page now includes a “Is this page helpful?” feedback form, along with a contact number and “help me” button included in the help section (via the custom menu), which links directly to the organisation’s helpdesk.

Moodle theme development feedback form
Multi tenancy theme design
Multi-T feature for Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service's Moodle theme


The web developers at HowToMoodle incorporated this feature into the bespoke theme, and it’s generated a great deal of valuable feedback. In the first three months of the new theme launch the team received as much feedback as the previous 12 months combined. Feedback has also been much more positive – the team received twice as much positive feedback in those first three months compared to the same period in the previous year. This is all due to the introduction of the helpful function at the bottom of the page. David adds;

“We’ve noticed that since the new changes there has been a distinct drop in people being unable to find what they need, and a lot less negative feedback. There is a real desire to use Moodle. Our first user groups could see the point of it and had a desire to use and they could see the advantage of system, which is really positive feedback from them.”

The project ran for around 10 months and the response was very positive. The new theme provided an easy to use interface that makes getting to the right content a simple and quick process, with clear buttons on the homepage navigating the user to the right section. Users have regularly commented on the nice, clean interface and the enhanced user experience.

The new theme updates brought other benefits too, including:

  • Global search facility is now easier to find. The improvements here have seen a 50% increase in people using the search facility;
  • Users are now spending 20% less time on the homepage and there has been a substantial increase in users finding the content they want within their first three clicks. This demonstrates that the new content structure is clear to users and they can move to the right section on the site much more quickly;
  • Clearer categories for user content has meant that users are not returning to the homepage as frequently.

Feedback from HFRS’ partners was also extremely positive. The partners had moved from a central shared drive to a full Learning Management System, and have seen real benefits of having Moodle in place.

Users are now spending 20% less time on the homepage, demonstrating that the new content structure is clearer to users.

Commenting on working with HowToMoodle over the project, David says;

Our User Centred design approach meant that at every stage of the project we needed to go back to our users to get feedback. HowToMoodle showed a great understanding of our approach, they weren’t pressuring us to come back with feedback. Their technical know-how helped us develop exactly what we designed.

Following the first round of user sessions we came up with prototypes and from that HowToMoodle came up with the concepts which gave 3 different ways of completing the same thing – which was really really useful to have. Nothing seemed to be too much to ask.”

“Also, we’ve always found that HowToMoodle are there to give good support when we need it. I would just ping off an email and usually they’re very quick to respond especially if it’s a simple fix. I’ve got faith that they will come back to me.

Key Moodle features:

With its history of Moodle extending over many years, it is clear that Hampshire Fire and Rescue have recognised the value of the Learning Management System. There are some specific Moodle features and benefits that have particularly stood out for the organisation;

  • The Book module and the Stealth option: The Book module enables administrators to create multi-page resources in a ‘book-like’ format. The flexibility of this resource and the ability to customise the pages has been of huge benefit for HFRS. As a lot of the organisation’s training is traditionally based on Microsoft PowerPoint software, HFRS can convert their PowerPoint resources into a ‘Book’ and create the book as the whole of the learning topic. The ‘Stealth’ option, enables HFRS to further simplify the course pages.
  • The Quiz module: This activity has enabled HFRS to design and build quizzes using a wide variety of question types that meet their assessment needs. The use of quizzes has created a flexible means to automatically facilitate in-depth checking of understanding of knowledge gained in the training.
  • Cohorts. The ability for HFRS to manage bulk enrolments using cohorts is invaluable to efficiently manage 1,500 members of staff. The use of Cohorts has saved HFRS hours in course administration due to only having to enrol one aspect to a course. David explains;“We have hundreds of courses and to plan and create separate bulk upload csv’s for each would take many minutes per course. This coupled with the time to unenrol people from courses, multiplied by the number of courses would again take up hours of someone’s life.Any operational member of staff is enrolled to at least 40 courses as standard. There are 1,200 operational members of staff. This means there are at least 48,000 unique enrolments for just our standard users.Manually enrolling and unenrolling or even using a bulk upload for each of these courses would take a considerable amount of time. Cohorts mean that this can all be done centrally and save hours from our IT team who would undertake this work for me.”

  • Completion Tracking. This feature has proved beneficial for HFRS’ own learners as well as their partners. Completion tracking enables course administrators to specify conditions that define when an activity is
    considered to be complete so that progress can easily be monitored. Learners can also review their own progress too which boosts engagement!
  • Customisable. The ability to customise Moodle has helped HFRS achieve exactly what they needed. As David comments;“With Moodle you can basically find something that works for you. Aside from the core databases, everything else can be changed and tweaked, whether it’s developing something yourself with HTML knowledge or finding a plugin, the customisation really helps.”
  • Open Source. David reflects on the use of an open source platform like Moodle:

With open source you get the Community spirit; forums, support and ideas from a community. This is a huge thing, and something you wouldn’t get from a proprietary product.

Also the fact that Moodle HQ are still actively developing it and have a roadmap for it – they do listen to feedback and change things. So we may come across challenges, but then they bring out a solution. If we’re patient enough usually they will come round. That’s also where the Moodle forums come into their own – we’re not likely to be the only people experiencing this, and a number of times, if asking on forums, they will suggest solutions and workarounds.

The Book module in Moodle
The Book module

The Quiz module Moodle
The Quiz module


Future plans and advice:

David and his project team at Hampshire Fire and Rescue continue to develop their site. Their policy of continuous improvement and actively seeking user feedback will ensure that the site remains highly engaging, efficient and successful.

In conclusion, David offers the following advice for organisations starting out with Moodle;

Make sure you involve your users at every point when introducing Moodle as a system. One of the worst things you can say is; ‘We know what users will need because we know better than them’. As the developer we know too much about Moodle to be thinking like a user.

Constantly keep in touch with the people that need to access the content and you won’t go too far wrong. Make it easy for them to get to the content and you will get better results and people will be more open in talking to you about where their frustrations lie so you can keep improving it.

Talk to us about your LMS project today