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The Importance of Elgg in the Future of Learning

When I survey the landscape of educational tools, I come to the following conclusion: Elgg is the most important tool, currently available, in shaping the future of learning. (Disclaimer: I was on an advisory board for Elgg when it first started, though the board never really did much, but I mention it now so it looks like I might be cool).

Why Elgg? I’ve used Elgg for various projects – for teaching at Red River College, for running a social network at Duke CE (both in 2005), and now with The Landing – an enterprise-level install at Athabascau University (initiated by Terry Anderson and Jon Dron). The tool has its bugs, but has developed substantially in the last few years. It is a central blog/wiki/twitter/flickr/craigslist/you-name-it do-it-all social network that is a) open source and b) not facebook. It is essentially a PLE – though diehards will disagree with me on this. It simplifies a PLE and makes it accessible to a broad audience.

They recently announced a hosted Elgg service. I’m seriously considering switching elearnspace and connectivism sites to elgg. And I’d love to run the next MOOC in Elgg. Any thoughts?


  1. Frances Bell wrote:

    Using elgg for next MOOC sounds like a great idea as participants could have their blogs there (or fed there), create private groups, feed others blogs in , etc.
    What would you do about forums?

    Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Permalink
  2. Ian H. wrote:

    How do you think Elgg compares to WordPress MU with Buddypress? I tried Elgg a couple years ago, pre 1.0, and I had too much trouble getting it up and running…

    Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 3:14 pm | Permalink
  3. David Jakes wrote:

    George: I thought your recent ideas of moving from . to / were brilliant, where a person’s representation of ideas and understanding was through an interface of choice, and aggregated through metadata. Does a focus on a system like Elgg move you in a different direction, or do you see these as complementary ideas.

    Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 3:19 pm | Permalink
  4. gsiemens wrote:

    Hi David – that’s a great point. I do see them as complimentary ideas. For that matter, Elgg allows people to pull in parts of their identity from other spaces (similar to what Moodle 2.0 is supposed to do). Elgg may well end up being a temporary centre that is used as a launching pad to other distributed tools. I’m not aware of research on this currently, but I’m interested in whether a “safe” tool like Elgg results in distributed identity formation (. to /) or results in more clustering around Elgg as a centre…

    Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Permalink
  5. gsiemens wrote:

    Hi Ian – I can’t comment on WP MU in relation to Elgg as I’m not that familiar with it. We used it at U of M and found it to be a great system for people who wanted to experiment with blogging. However, if someone wants to do more with social media, Elgg seems to have more options. But keep in mind, I have more familiarity with Elgg than with WP MU

    Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Permalink
  6. gsiemens wrote:

    Hi Frances – forums are a bit of challenge. Elgg hasn’t developed this well. I understand that a few options are available for forum plugins, but I doubt they work as well as the moodle forums.

    Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 3:30 pm | Permalink
  7. The great thing about Elgg and WPMU/BuddyPress is they are open source. That means we can fork the project or support it by developing modules/add-ons & other code. If you want something, make it happen. For example, we added the calendar function to Elgg in 2005 and gave the code back to the community:

    Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 4:43 pm | Permalink
  8. Choosing software for institucional use involves not only comparing features but also the ecosystem around the software – support, long term viability, (security-) updates, etc. – that’s why we choose open source, it’s much more robust and not dependent on a single point of (corporate) failure.

    With that in mind, I would not choose elgg again. Since 2007 we run one of the largest instances of elgg in the world – 20k users (who signed up voluntarily) and 6-8k uniques visitors per day. The non backward compatible upgrade to version 1.0 in 2008 really left us out in the cold. Until then we were able to merge our changes and adaptions with new versions of elgg, the new version was a complete rewrite, with no upgrade path.

    Since then, I realized the importance of a stable “caretaker” of the software, however open source it may be. In IT and on the Web in particular, software that is not maintained is doomed in a very small timespan.

    We will migrate our system to wordpress / buddypress, a system with a much larger community around it and with a relatively large, stable and apparently financially secure group of core developers. It will be very easy to find wordpress template designer and plugin developers.

    In summary, we were extremely dissapointed by the 0.92 to 1.0 transition and we are not at all sure it could not happen again. I wish you luck with your elgg installation and are completely onboard with the concepts and educational philosophy that it represents or at least enables, but my bet is that the WordPress eco-system has much larger chances to keep up to date with modern Web technology over the next decade (the time scale I think institutions should plan for).

    Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 5:23 pm | Permalink
  9. John Supple wrote:

    We have been using Elgg for nearly two years as a secure institution-wide social networking platform. Have to say that I’m not at all happy with it. I just find that it’s too buggy, doesn’t (and will always be a bit behind) have the features of free web-based apps (and dealing with a very protective IT Dept slows things further).I do like the philosophy and open-source nature, but am considering paying $500 for the institution-wide version of Ning when it comes out.

    Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 6:59 pm | Permalink
  10. @john – and how will you get your data out of Ning if you need to? I’d rather be part of the community that supports itself.

    Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 7:47 pm | Permalink
  11. John Supple wrote:

    I agree with being part of a community that supports itself, but I’m just weighing up the amount of effort needed(with limited local resources for us) and the time frame involved, with getting Elgg to where we want it Vs. an instant solution with everything we need (I think the new Ning version will have user stats available ( I reckon the paid model might be more receptive to user feedback and wishlists.
    Not ruling out returning to Elgg in the future mind…. :-)

    Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 7:54 pm | Permalink
  12. gsiemens wrote:

    @Harold – agree – a big part of open source is being in control…and giving back to the system that enables that personal control without $$.

    @Ewout – Athabasca had the same problem – i.e. migration issues when Elgg dropped backward compatibility. Unfortunately, the developers/leaders of Elgg have been known to take steps that dramatically impact their end users. When they shut down eduspaces, without consulting with their users, they broke trust with their end users. I don’t think they’ve fully established this trust again. The wordpress ecosystem seems to have a better method for interacting with their end users. Glad you raised that point. Openness is about more than open. End users need to trust the leaders of the organization/software.

    @John – we’ve found many concerns with bugs as well. We have several programmers involved in attending to these details. Unlike WP MU – which, once installed, works without a glitch – Elgg requires tweaking/adjusting, etc. Perhaps that’s because it’s a more complex tool…but even something as simple as a plugin dashboard is missing in Elgg.

    Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 7:56 pm | Permalink
  13. Jane Hart wrote:

    Anyone interested in taking a look at Elgg, can find out more/how at my posting about Elgg earlier yesterday

    Friday, May 7, 2010 at 1:40 am | Permalink
  14. Nicola wrote:

    Re MOOC, depends on who is your learning audience I guess – there may be something that could be done with some of the themes to surface the discussions in a better way i.e. we used the Pete Harris Simple Neutral Theme, if you could add a discussion tab at the top, it would be a start. We didn’t host on our own server though, it was a paid install & host and only 50-100 people, using 1.5 I think.
    We didn’t find any bugs at the time, but I’m sure with more use we would have done.
    I’ve found the options for Elgg more flexible and the plugins generally have been ok, have asked @c4lpt when needed, in terms of reaching a wider audience – potentially more flexibility there.

    Friday, May 7, 2010 at 2:46 am | Permalink
  15. Doug Holton wrote:

    I haven’t used elgg, but drupal has served all my needs in my courses and my department. And of course the drupal developer community is massive.

    Friday, May 7, 2010 at 5:58 am | Permalink
  16. Michael Rowe wrote:

    I experimented with both Elgg and WordPress/Buddypress when looking for a platform to explore PLE’s in our physiotherapy department. I eventually went with WP/BP because they seemed to have a stronger developer community and bigger user base (“with many eyes all bugs are shallow”). We’re a few months into the experiment and we have no complaints yet.

    Friday, May 7, 2010 at 11:43 am | Permalink
  17. I love Elgg. It would be optimal if used in the next MOOC

    With my best wishes

    Friday, May 7, 2010 at 7:51 pm | Permalink
  18. Hi George,
    I’ve been keeping an eye on Elgg for a few years now. In 2005/6, I even setup a short-lived professional development site for teachers using it.

    It has developed a lot since then, particularly now that it’s moved on from the eportfolio space (which was great in theory, but never quite worked in practice).

    However, it’s still not yet as easy/intuitive to use as Facebook. And trying to introduce someone new to the various places that they may be able to find stuff is really difficult. Just navigating around the personal blogs, group blogs, wikis (pages) can be a nightmare. I was using it recently as part of a client project and quite often was unable to find content that I knew was in there somewhere, just because of the navigation interface.

    That said, Facebook can also be just as daunting to a beginner. There’s no easy answer, as networks need flexibility and deep structures.

    Saturday, May 8, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Permalink
  19. I forgot to suggest that you take a look at B2evolution. It’s an open-source blogging system, but (unlike WP) has multi-user/multi-blog built in from the ground up.

    I’ve used it for years now. It’s well supported, and easy to tweak.

    It lacks the vast number of plugins that WP has got, and the smart user interface. But it’s got a lot of features that make it easy to manage.

    Saturday, May 8, 2010 at 3:30 pm | Permalink
  20. kennfj wrote:

    Elgg is still dominated by developers and techie types (which is probably a good thing as it needs further work).

    We’ve trialled it for several months as an institutional social networking platform for our University and found that it lacks some basic features that teachers and students have come to expect from using other social network platforms (eg. Facebook, NING). As a result the uptake has been poor.

    We’ve now starting to think that a better path to introduce social networking tools into formal educational environments might be to adopt NING, which has more features, and keep an eye on future developments with Elgg.

    What I’d like to see is more educators using Elgg and discussing it’s pedagogical uses so the idea of using it for MOOC is a good one.

    Sunday, May 9, 2010 at 6:31 pm | Permalink
  21. And how much time and money have educators committed to Elgg? It’s our community, so please help out.

    Sunday, May 9, 2010 at 7:13 pm | Permalink
  22. We are also using WP MU with BuddyPress – very nice and a strong OS community. Is there any comparison between the two? I will have a look at Elgg again… last time 2 years ago it was too nerdy.

    Wednesday, May 12, 2010 at 8:27 am | Permalink
  23. Sandy Hirtz wrote:

    In the Fall of 2008 we set up an ELGG community ( to foster expertise in the use of educational technologies in K-12 education. The original concept for the community was as a place where a core group of distributed learning teacher mentors would help novices learn how to use the new Web 2.0 tools in their online teaching practice. Although this did happen in a limited way, CEET quickly grew in unforeseen directions and became a launch-point for a wide range of professional learning activities for all teachers.

    Based on feedback from new users about difficulties in using Elgg, a new CEET sub-community ( for educational technology neophytes was created using the NING platform and we adopted moodle for Professional Learning Potlucks.

    To our surprise, all three venues gained popularity and attracted new members. It seems that some people are more comfortable with NING while others are more comfortable with ELGG and yet others prefer moodle. All three have grown and developed in directions according to the needs and interests of the members.

    We now have a web page launch pad to our three communities @ We plan to add Second Life and Facebook in the near future.

    *Note: NING requires no tech support. ELGG requires a lot. We have an amazing technician who has helped us to work out all the ELGG bugs and quirks and customize it to meet our needs. The biggest advantage to ELGG is the group feature. Groups are mini communities with all the tools that the parent has.

    As a community developer, which of the three do I prefer? I love them all.

    Wednesday, May 12, 2010 at 10:35 am | Permalink
  24. George, I really don’t understand you.

    After teaching 2 excellent decentralized connectivism courses. When everyone seems to be against LMS/CMS, and write post after post about PLE as substitutes to LMS, you are back to centralized non connectivism courses using a CMS/LMS: Drupal and Elgg.

    These tools are good for groups and not for networks. What will happen after the MOOC ends? The course hasn’t helped participants to develop their network and PLE since all their content is inside a CMS/LMS, useful only during the MOOC

    Saturday, May 29, 2010 at 9:22 pm | Permalink
  25. @Eduardo, these are just tools. There’s nothing about Drupal or Elgg that precludes openness or distributed connectivism. He’s not dropping back to a closed Blackboard course. He’s using open, and open source, tools to help connect people.

    Drupal certainly supports aggregating content from elsewhere, so it would offer a decent community hub. I’m not sure if Elgg does aggregation, but I’d be surprised if it doesn’t.

    Saturday, May 29, 2010 at 10:31 pm | Permalink
  26. Jason Green wrote:

    Let me start with the disclaimer that I haven’t used Elgg in ages. That having been said…..

    ….I think it’s important to consider your audience when picking your toolset.

    I’m planning to facilitate an open seminar (calling it a course is a bit much) later this year and am leaning toward Drupal. My core constituency for this project are used to Blackboard. I could tell them to go forth, create a StatusNet account, and find somewhere to blog, but I worry that this would push them too forcefully out of their comfort zone.

    A solution like Drupal or Elgg, on the other hand, takes them into a more open environment (blogs, posts, and content are world readable) while still putting all the tools together in one place as the proprietary LMS does.

    Saturday, May 29, 2010 at 11:02 pm | Permalink
  27. I would not describe Elgg as an LMS, as I noted a few years back:

    Sunday, May 30, 2010 at 5:48 am | Permalink
  28. Thanks D’Arcy, Jason and Harold. I don’t like the idea of “putting all the tools together in one place” I prefer an open decentralized course

    Luz Pearson and I (both CCK09) are co-facilitating the ICT and Connectivism MOOC in Spanish

    George has posted before about our MOOC

    We started using Ning and we have now moved to MOODLE. We only use their Forums. Other tools are outside Ning/MOODLE, like in CCK09

    We are aware that It’s not about tools. It’s about change.

    Sunday, May 30, 2010 at 10:44 am | Permalink