What course formats are available in Moodle?

The default format for Moodle courses is the "Topics" format, which gives you the flexibility to organize your course based on the structure that makes the most sense for your course content.  The "Topics" format is one of multiple possibilities available to faculty members; we will discuss those possibilities in more specific detail below.  To demonstrate many of these formats, we will use (with permission) a "Drawing I" course taught in SP2021 as a basis for the comparison.  Please note that when we surveyed students in Spring 2021 to get feedback about Moodle, various students praised the Collapsed Topics Format.  We discuss that format below (option #3), and we also discuss it in slightly more detail here (link opens in new window). 

You choose the course format by clicking on "Edit settings" in the Course administration block on the right-hand side of your Moodle course.  "Course format" is the third group of settings, and the Format drop-down allows you to choose among the group of formats installed on our server:


Here are the course formats currently available on our Moodle server, along with their strengths and weaknesses.


  1. Topics Format (Sample Course):

    Topics Format

    Strengths: As you can see in the highly reduced screen capture above, the Topics format allows you to customize your course as you would like.  You can modify the name of each topic area, based on how you are structuring your course.  You can add topics to your course based on how many you need, and you can have as many items within a topic area as you would like. With Moodle 4.x, the Topics format added a functionality similar to the Collapsed Topic format (discussed below).  You (and students) can collapse all of the topics to simplify the view of your course, and you can selectively expand topics to see all of their contents. 

    Weaknesses: Moodle 4.x drastically improved the Topics format, so the former "scroll of death" problem (long courses with no way to simplify the appearance) doesn't really apply any more. 
  2. Weekly Format

    Moodle Weekly Format

    Strengths: With the Weekly Format, you set the Monday date for the beginning of the semester, and you can tell Moodle the last day of the semester as well.  Moodle will then create topic blocks with all of the dates (Monday through Sunday) for each of the weeks.  For example, in the highly compressed screen capture just above, the first weekly topic block is called "August 23 - August 29," the next is "August 30 - September 5," etc.  If you want to organize your course chronologically by week, then choosing the Weekly Format eases your work somewhat, because Moodle calculates the dates for you automatically.  Moodle also automatically highlights the current week's topic block by adding a light blue background to that topic only.

    Weaknesses:  The Weekly Format does allow you to modify the name of a topic area, but it doesn't allow you to put a new (non-week) area between weeks.  In Moodle's thinking, topic #1 is the first week, topic #2 is the second week, topic #3 is the third week, etc., and so if you reorder your topic blocks, Moodle just changes all the date titles to fit the new order.  The "Weekly Format" does not allow you to reverse the chronological order, and it can still suffer from that "scroll of death" problem, since a 16-week course will have 16 topic blocks. 
  3. Collapsed Topics Format (Sample Course):

    Moodle Collapsed Topics

    Strengths: The Collapsed Topics Format does a great job reducing the visual size of your Moodle course, eliminating the "scroll of death" problem that used to plague the standard Topics format. Our sample "Drawing I" course has six content areas (besides the "zero block" at the very top of the page), and those blocks fit easily on a single screen.  Because those blocks display only the topic title, students can see very easily the overall structure of the course.  The students can then expand the current, relevant topic block to see its content, and the instructor can highlight the current topic.  A highlighted topic block is expanded by default and has a light blue background.

    Weaknesses: If you are indeed using that highlight feature, you'll have to remember to un-highlight a block and then highlight the next block each time that you want to change the focus for students.  Otherwise, you'll need to use some topic-naming strategy (for example, using weeks or specific days for topic block titles) to make it clear to students what the current block should be.  Students need to realize that clicking on the topic block name or on the right-facing triangle expands the block to show its contents.
  4. Tiles Format (Sample Course):

    Moodle Tiles Format

    Strengths: The "Tiles Format" resembles the WordPress "gallery" view.  It represents your course topics as clickable tiles, providing a more visually interesting course structure.  You can upload the images that serve as the background for the tiles, as we have in the course demonstrated in the screen capture just above.  As with the Collapsed Topics Format, the Tiles Format allows you to display all the topics on a single screen, making your overarching course structure clear to students.  You can highlight a particular topic area, which raises it slightly above the others and changes the top border line to red (rather than blue).  When students click on a tile, the content of that particular section displays just below the tiles. 

    Weaknesses: The section titles for the "Tiles" format can be difficult to read, and they tend to cover the underlying picture (if you have added a relevant picture for the background of each tile).  If you don't use the block highlighting feature (and even if you do, since the highlighting is actually very subtle and easy for students to miss), you'll have to figure out a way to let students know which topic block is the current one.  One solution could be to put dates in the topic titles, along with the topic information.  If you have a lot of topic areas, then the Tiles Format is less effective, since there would end up being a lot of tiles displayed across the screen.  If you like the "gallery" view that the "Tiles" format provides, we actually recommend the Grid Format (described below), as a preferred option.

  5. Grid Format (Sample Course):

    Grid Format

    Strengths: The "Grid Format" is very similar to (and is perhaps an improved version of) the "Tiles Format" just above.  It gives a "gallery" view of all of your topics, allowing you to add background images to each topic tile.  The topic title is displayed above the picture, making it easier to read.  With the "Grid Format," you can choose to have the Moodle "zero block" (the first block of the course, often displaying the Announcements forum and other crucial information) always displayed above all the other topics, or you can have the zero block displayed as part of the grid, so students see only a series of tiles that they can click on.  When students click on one of the tiles within the grid, the content displays in a large window in the middle of the screen.  It's very easy to edit a course using the Grid Format, because when editing is turned on, Moodle displays all the content areas below the grid in a way that is similar to the Topics format. 

    Weaknesses: The only "weakness" to the Grid Format is that if you choose to highlight one of the topic blocks, Moodle adds a box around the highlighted tile, which makes it difficult to read the title of the topic area.  The Grid Format remembers the topic area that you last clicked on, and that will be the one displayed with an orange outline.  When you return to the course, Moodle will highlight the first block in the course.  If you want students to know which topic block is the current one, it's probably best to include date information in the block title. 

  6. OneTopic Tabs Format (Sample Course):

    Moodle OneTopic Tabs Format

    Strengths: The "OneTopic Tabs Format" is another compact Moodle structure, using tabbed menus at the top of the screen to display the titles of your topic blocks. It's a very familiar structure for people used to navigating Websites.  The "General" (zero block) is expanded by default, and that content is always displayed when students navigate to the course.  Students click on a tab to display the content within a particular topic block. They can navigate to other topic blocks by using the tabs at the top of the course or the links at the bottom left and right of the course, pointing to the previous and the subsequent topic block.

    Weaknesses: Although you can highlight a particular block using this format, the highlighting only bold-faces the text in the tab, which is easy for students to miss.  With editing turned on, you see only the content from one topic block at a time.  There is a link on the bottom left for "Tabs edition utilities," which allow you to change the order of blocks and to move content from one block to another.  That functionality is not obvious, though, and the actions are much less easy to perform than the typical drag-and-drop method for other course formats that show you the full course in editing mode.

  7. OneTopic Vertical Menu Format (Sample Course):

    OneTopic Vertical Menu

    Strengths: This course format uses the same plugin as the "OneTopic Tabs" format just above, and the course view is admirably compact.  To have the menus listed vertically (rather than horizontally), you go to the Course Settings, Course format section (Course administration block ==> Edit settings ==> Course format) and choose "Vertically" as the "Tabs view":  

    OneTopic Tabs - Vertical Menus
    The titles of the topic blocks are displayed as vertical menus on the left-hand side of the course page, making it very easy for students to see the structure of the course.  When students click on a particular topic area in the menu, Moodle uses a light blue background and a darker blue underline in the course menu to indicate the current topic. 

    Weaknesses: Since this is the same plugin as the OneTopic Tabs format, it shares the same weaknesses.  Highlighting a particular menu isn't really effective, because the only visible difference is bold face in the menu title, which is easy to miss.  With editing turned on, you see only the content from one topic block at a time.  There is a link on the bottom left for "Tabs edition utilities," which allow you to change the order of blocks and to move content from one block to another, but this is even more confusing than the tabs view, because "left/right" no longer makes sense when you are using a vertical arrangement of topics.  If you plan to use this visually appealing format, I recommend building the course as fully as possible under the standard "Topics" format and then editing the course settings to switch to this OneTopic Tabs format with the vertical view. 
  8. Multitopic Format - Topics as Topics (Sample Course):

    Moodle Multitopic Format - All Topics

    Strengths: The Multitopic Format allows you to to keep topics all at the same parent ("topic") level, which makes this format very similar to the Collapsed Topics format.  Students see the top ("zero") block by default, which is marked as "General" information.  The students click on a topic title to see all the content for that particular topic.  Once again, this format reduces the visual size of the course and makes it easy for students to see the full course structure.  

    Weaknesses: The Multitopic Format does not allow you to highlight particular blocks.  You will need to determine a method for indicating to students (perhaps using dates) what the current topic block should be.  With editing turned on, you can change the order of blocks (by dragging and dropping), and you can drag content around within a block, but you can't drag content from one block to another.  You have to enable the "activity clipboard" in order to move content between topic blocks, then you have to click on the content that you want to move and indicate the new location for the content.   Although this format is perhaps cleaner looking than the Collapsed Topics format, the reduced functionality makes this format less preferable than Collapsed Topics. 
  9. Multitopic Format - Topics as Levels (Sample Course):

    Moodle Multitopic Format with Levels

    Strengths: The Multitopic Format also allows you to set topic areas as a first- or second-level page.  If all of your main topic areas are set as a "First-level page," then the Multitopic Format displays your course in a way that is very similar to the OneTopic Tabs format.  Your topic areas are presented as tabbed menus that students can click on to access the contents of each topic.  Once again, your course is visible on a single screen, in a very compact view that shows the full course structure.  This format also gives the possibility of second-level topic that is visible only when you click the main tab for that topic.

    Weaknesses: This version of the Multitopic Format has the same weaknesses as the other version.  You cannot highlight particular blocks, so you would need to come up with a method for indicating to students (perhaps using dates) what the current topic block should be.  If your topic names are long or if you have multiple topics, then the tabs wrap to multiple rows (as seen in the screen capture just above, with two rows of tabs for topic titles).  With editing turned on, you can change the order of blocks and drag content around within a block, but you can't drag content from one block to another.  You have to enable the "activity clipboard" in order to move content between topic blocks, then you have to click on the content that you want to move and indicate the new location for the content.  It is a bit confusing to reorder topics (you tell Moodle to move them left for earlier in the course or right for later in the course), and it is similarly confusing when you want to add a sub-topic.  If you don't create that sub-topic at the same time as you create the parent topic, you have to move that sub-topic "left" until it is a subsidiary of the correct topic. 

The various possible course formats we describe make it easier to modernize (and to simplify) the look of your Moodle course, depending on what format fits your needs best.  Please contact us at dps@bucknell.edu if you have any questions about using any one of these course formats. 


Article ID: 549
Tue 11/16/21 4:48 PM
Tue 9/5/23 10:00 PM