Arguments for and against using Drupal

bonobo's picture

Hello, all,

I wanted to get some feedback from the group regarding rolling Drupal within your school/organization, and begin creating a resource page for other people looking to introduce Drupal into their school/organization.

What are the common arguments in favor of using Drupal?

What arguments have people encountered against using Drupal?

What resources/arguments have been helpful overcoming concerns about using Drupal?

In my experience, the rationale for using an open source tool, and Drupal in particular, varies from school to school, from organization. Some places want an open source solution; others are drawn to use open source to escape licensing fees; still others are impressed by the functionality; others have an internal champion/advocate who convinces key stakeholders.

The typical fud that needs to be overcome includes the myth that a proprietary app with a large price tag is somehow easier to use; there's no support for open source; open source is less secure; etc.

What are your stories? In sharing specifics here, I'd like to begin creating a reference page for other people looking to introduce Drupal into their school/organization.

Thanks for any/all input.




Moodle vs. Drupal

ebrittwebb's picture

I'd love to spend a half-day discussing this. It's a hot topic in strategic planning for Newton Public Schools right now. Here's a quick response with a couple of points.

1. A big concern with Drupal (and Moodle, to a lesser degree), is a perceived lack of professional service providers who provide Drupal services. Other products, like Edline and MagicWand come with a well-defined professional services component, even if they are relatively small. With Drupal, the IT staff feels like this is missing.

At least Moodle offers the Moodle Service Network at, which recommends specific partners for hosting, installation, customisation, etc. If we, the Drupal Education group, could cultivate a similar reference list of professional providers with whom we have some experience, I think it would go a long way towards addressing this concern.

2. In various conversations, I've gained the impression that Moodle is perceived as a safer, more accepted way for teachers to dip their toe into the Web 2.0 waters. It's specifically designed for education and learning management, whereas Drupal is much more generalized. Moodle also provides some good documentation on how to create and share courses, which Drupal does not.

I think Drupal would benefit from more productization specifically focused on the education market.

These are my two main points for now.

Erik B-W

Erik Britt-Webb

services, services, services

techczech's picture

I'm a bit late to this thread but I absolutely agree. The lack of education-focused services is a huge problem. I know there's FunnyMonkey and Palantir and a few others but none of them really provide the sort of service a largish institution (upwards of 5,000 students expects). Even Moodle still struggles with this. Microsoft and Blackboard have really brainwashed quite a lot of IT departments in the education world. I submitted a session proposal to that effect for DrupalCon Szeged: Any feedback is welcome.

Dominik Lukes

Dominik Lukes

Don't forget Moodlerooms

matthewboh's picture

We're still starting out, but for Moodle support, there's a great company called Moodlerooms -

Impari Systems, Inc.

Impari Systems, Inc.

For all moodle partners, see

bonobo's picture -- there are three moodle partners in the states, and a slew of very qualified shops who are not moodle partners.

Tools for Teachers

What are the common

cwolly's picture

What are the common arguments in favor of using Drupal?
I think the biggest factors for using Drupal are Cost, Customization, and ease of use on the front end (explanation later). Cost is the big one, being that a single website can cost upwards of 20k here in the united states. Customization being that you can truly customize Drupal to fit almost any front end need. And ease of use could be argued. However I have found that once a Drupal site is set up properly, most users have no problem using a flavor of WYSIWYG editor and creating news and blogs for the site.

What arguments have people encountered against using Drupal?
The BUS factor (thanks to Kirok for the analogy). How many people need to get hit by a bus before no one knows how to administer the back end of your Drupal installation? Here, I cross train one person on how to administer our LAMP stack that handles Drupal and Moodle. Many rural districts do not have this luxury. This brings up the question of documentation and commercial support, which ebrittwebb mentions. I document EVERYTHING that I do to our web servers, so that the next person can follow along. Much of this has to do with your internal policies on documenting your servers, rather then the viability of Drupal as a platform for education.

I really believe that Drupal and Moodle serve two different functions. I think Drupal is king of the front end web site platform. A "launch pad" if you will, for information and additional services. In our scenario, all of our informational and organizational web sites are in drupal, but we do not try to re-invent drupal for Course content. For that, we use Moodle, which is what moodle was built for.

What resources/arguments have been helpful overcoming concerns about using Drupal?
The, "we can save 10's of thousands of dollars by moving our platform over to Drupal" seemed to be the seller where I am:P


Plone vs. Drupal

btopro's picture

I've been asked this since day one because there are two large CMS-like systems at Penn State. The first is called Angel and is proprietary. The second is called weblion and is zope-plone with some customization. The reason that I went against both of these is simple - control. Both Angel and Weblion didn't off the full control that running our own Drupal install do. As Erik said, I could probably spend half the day talking about this (and me and my boss often do as we get into discussions with other administrators / units around campus). As for a listing of justification, I've created a Diigo group called Drupal in Education and anytime I find a usage of Drupal in the edu sector or something good as it pertains to justification I try to tag it in there. Here's some arguments that I like to throw into the mix with all the anecdotal ones against Drupal / Open projects:

  1. Drupal has BETTER support then proprietary solutions - The average life time of an issue for drupal core was about 5-6 days. The averages can be confusing since drupal is getting pretty old now so pay closer attention to the "last month" stats. If there's a security problem out there and someone finds it it will only benefit....EVERYONE if it's fixed. Everyone's incentive to patch issues is a little scary to rely on but it's only because there's no one person to blame if something goes wrong.
  2. This group and your creativity are what make Drupal more educationally focused - I know we've got 3 or 4 projects coming down the pipe that will start to push Drupal in a more education specific direction and I'm sure other people do too (just look at some of the projects floating around this group!). A couple good installation profiles could be clutch in getting people on board. That way when you look at d.o. and say "oh, there's a Web-Course installation profile" it's much less daunting then to say "I've got to install how many modules to get a web-course!?". Instructional Designer is in the works (derivative work of course designer, very syllabus / instructional flow oriented) and all projects we're working on here are going to be generic and openly designed so everyone can use them.
  3. It's an idea a few of us around psu have kicked around but would people be interested in having web / physical meet ups to create some kind of drupal / education consortium? It might do a lot for the community even if it just starts as an IRC only thing to help facilitate discussion as well as create a reputation / entitiy to point to that Drupal in Education is a large movement.

Some less scientific answers: It's what I know how to use, it's a VERY well supported and open project, more people are adding features and modules everyday, It's the perfect compliment to open educational resources (OER), we can integrate it more closely with our own infrastrature, we can theme everything to look visually appealing. My favorites being that Moodle sites always look like Moodle and that you don't want to have to be able to program Python in order to use Zope-Plone. Proprietary solutions are getting easier and easier to talk people out of, just point to Penn State or Amherst or any other universities / schools listed on this group for justification that Drupal is a viable solution.

"Moodle? What's moodle?"

I think an IRC channel is a

cwolly's picture

I think an IRC channel is a great idea. I'm in IRC all day every day, and would be happy to help out with this if anyone else thinks it is a good idea.


good start, i'm thinking more formal

btopro's picture

This is a good start, i'd hang out in IRC all day too. But I'm thinking more of something with a name, a front, an icon, board members. Something that seems somewhat official that can help steer and shape the discussion in the right discussion so that people on the fringes of adoption or fighting for adoption could look and say "well see what drupal for educators is doing" (or whatever it would be called). IRC I'm thinking meet ups that are informal as well as agenda based ones where we field a question relevant to the community that comes up in this forum a lot. Things like "How do YOU handle student assignment submissions". Or just the other day with a question about embedded media, telling people how drupal rock stars like billy-fitz use different modules to accomplish certain things for education ;).

If of course it's something the community's interested in... I know some people at PSU are starting to try and start something like this up internally and would love to extend the discussions to the global community once we get them up and running.

"Moodle? What's moodle?"

If anyone wants to discuss

cel4145's picture

If anyone wants to discuss teaching with Drupal, they are welcome to join the teaching with Drupal listserv. We are a group that's been around for a number of years now who have been using Drupal in a variety of educational contexts.

As for a "name" and a "front" for Drupal in education, could it not be time to develop the domain so that Drupalers in education have a more visible presence?

RE and the listserv

bonobo's picture

That's a huge mea culpa on my part -- this domain has languished, and definitely has a role to play --

I'd love to get it going again -- I'd also love some help in doing this, as this isn't something we have the time to do on our own -- also, as a site that benefits the community, I'd like for it to be a community endeavor.

Also, wrt the listserv, it's a great resource -- the people on it are phenomenal.



Tools for Teachers

Oh, it's definitely not you,

cel4145's picture

Oh, it's definitely not you, Bill. It requires a community of active participants to make something like that work. Maybe the momentum exists now to accomplish something.

DrupalEd Momentum

ebrittwebb's picture

Thanks for pointing out the teaching with Drupal listserv. I had no idea this existed, even though I've been tracking with this group for the last year.

I agree, perhaps there is enough momentum for DrupalEd to make a serious go of a separate domain, like Drupal Dojo has done. I would be happy to help in the redesign effort.

I also encourage people to edit the Resources for Drupal in Education page and help (me) collect links to all these great resources, in preparation for organizing them on DrupalEd.

Erik Britt-Webb

Elteto's picture

Sorry about the rather late comment, but I must enthusiastically attempt to rally all interested Drupalers to seriously consider what btopro is proposing above. There is a lot of buzz, many initiatives, and plenty of excitement surrounding educational implementations of Drupal, but administrators even considering Drupal do not have a strong, influential, united front to turn to for solid information. They may find forums, blog entries, encouraging anecdotes spread all over the Web, but it is easy for them to be overwhelmed by the decentralized nature of it all. And that is in addition to the FUD they may have already heard about Drupal's difficulty of use.

At the risk of being stoned by my open source brethren, we need to come up with a "learn the facts" style campaign for DrupalEd. A web site is a start, and there is (currently forwards to, which really is one of the prime gateways into the world of DrupalEd. However, as it automatically switches to the funnymonkey site, education decision makers may think the whole concept is a commercial endeavor of one firm. That is not to say that funnymonkey is not a great entry point, but the should exist as a separate, non-profit entity, backed by an association, with members including educators as well as Drupalers. Funnymonkey would be to DrupalEd as Acquia is to Drupal.



More on DrupalEd advocacy group

Elteto's picture

Sorry for rapid-posting, I should have tacked this onto the previous post. Here is a quick list of why a DrupalEd advocacy group would be benefitial:

-Central source for educational institutions thinking about using Drupal
-Networking for DrupalEd users, programmers, administrators
-Source of balanced facts for decision makers doing research
-Consolidation of various DrupalEd configuration programming efforts, almost to "brand" DrupalEd, so an institution using DrupalEd is not confused when a module used by a different educational implementation is not compatible with its own
-Guides/resources for DrupalEd advocates for designing presentations, including a repository of frequently encountered questions/concerns from educators
-Central directory of commercial, DrupalEd "approved" solutions
-Place for educational institutions to solicit Drupal pitches for their planned migration
-(Hopefully) Membership of highly credentialed teachers and educational institutions who can lend more credibility to DrupalEd without having to endorse a commercial distribution



Selling Drupal

warfeous's picture

I just gave a talk at Vancouver Drupal Camp 2008 discussing how we sold Drupal to our organization (University of Lethbridge).

My slides were pretty sparse, but you'll see some common scenarios and our responses (support, training, community, legitimacy).

Kairos Praxis Wiki

jtirrell's picture

I have a piece on the Kairos Praxis Wiki about Drupal deployment in the Professional Writing Program at Purdue University. For us the main factor was having a small but motivated core team of people who were able to roll out Drupal departmentally. This provided a critical mass of instructor/users that became its own support network, because new users were all having similar acclimation experiences.

Curiously, the technical side has never been too much of an issue, because new instructor/users have a semester-long mentoring experience, and we have a dedicated Drupal support staff member (me). Gaining institutional approval is a different challenge. Our institution is invested in WebCT, and it seems that other departments and campus IT personnel aren't quite sure what to make of our in-house use of Drupal. In their defense, I can understand from an administrative and technical standpoint the benefits of using a standard CMS across departments, but I'm sure that everyone in this group will agree that WebCT is not a ubiquitous solution. We are a writing field, and WebCT doesn't offer what we need to support student learning effectively. Drupal's flexibility is a large advantage in this area; our task is making the broader university understand that. We were fortunate that the Professional Writing Program head was spearheading our push to use Drupal, because from my limited experience, institutional matters are a bigger headache than getting buy-in from instructors and students.

One area where Drupal kicks

SamRose's picture

One area where Drupal kicks the tail of many others is teaching social media. That is, teaching people how to use web based tools like blogs, wikis, forums, video sharing, etc

I am right now working on this with some educators, and the results will also end up producing some new scoring/teacher tracking interfaces, at least in future iterations, of not the first (probably based on advanced profile, maybe node review). Also, there will be peer review among students as an option. I borrowed some concepts from DrupalEd for some of this (including using the very clean zen_classic theme as a basis).

I'll definitely share more info as we get closer to a real release.

Sam Rose
Social Synergy
Open Source Ecology
P2P Foundation

heather's picture

I am a member of an association here in ireland (who shall not be named, heh) which is in desperate need of a website redesign. Currently there are plain html pages, and a moodle environment. Many of the members are in higher education, so it seemed to make sense to keep the group in 'moodle'- however, they have realized moodle is not capable of being a CMS. So they are looking around for a solution.

The people who have been managing the site from the start looked around, and decided on EZPublish, which they had used before on a University website. I think EZ Publish could probably manage the job alright, but I think Drupal could do it better. I brought up Drupal in a sub-team meeting of 4 people (inc myself) who describe themselves in some manner as "learning technologists"- and the overall response to Drupal was markedly negative. They thought it was difficult to set-up, and customize and manage on the back end. They didn't think it could support community features; they thought it would require installation of two systems- Drupal for the 'front-end about-pages' and another for the Member's area... etc etc...

It turns out, each had installed Drupal - and found it difficult to use. One person compared it to the installation and set up of Wordpress- and said Wordpress was much better. So they worried about the ease of use for the members.

I acknowledged that there is a steep learning curve for the site manager who is setting up Drupal who is familiar with another CMS. (Isn't any new system a challenge? Isn't that the /joy/ of working with new technologies? I didn't ask that!) However, for the end-user, when everything is set up and customized to their needs, it is intuitive and easy... I had my left hand making a sharp curve "up" and my right hand moving up an inclined slope as a visual metaphor...

I wish I had thought of the metaphor of a manual-transmission car... With a manual transmission- yes it is more difficult to drive /if/ you're used to an automatic transmission. Yet, you have more control over the car; they're more fuel efficient; less-costly to maintain.

Anyway.... the group offered to reconsider it, and I have a few days to gather up some evidence to convince the team that Drupal would be the way to go...

I can find plenty on how great Drupal is for SEO, how great it is for workflowing, about all the brilliant social/community modules and features....

But I still need something about the Usability of Drupal; about the learning curves... about the experience for the end user, perhaps in comparison to EZPublish or other random CMS, or even Wordpress-as-CMS.

And since I'm so biased- I need help pointing out the Cons of Drupal. (Cons? Yes I need to show pros /and/ cons of Drupal.)

Any ideas?

Cons: * Developer centric

btopro's picture

* Developer centric first, user centric 2nd (This is becoming less of an issue going into 6 and what is talked about in 7)
* Easy to set up but not idiot-proof
* Requires some server configuration that is beyond many small shops / new web devs
* Lots of versions of things being tossed around while still all supported (PHP 4 up until version 5, old version of jQuery in 5 branch that needs module update)
* 5 Branch still the most popular even though 7 is in the works and 6 onlyt starting to get a big backing of modules (aka CCK / Views / OG only coming out last week)

I'm sure you have lots of pros, these are some of the cons that I throw around at least. They are starting to go away more and more as the project matures and I feel it will crush everything else out there (if it doesn't already) in due time. If you still need more fuel let me know, I'm starting something that I hope will be big that I'm going to announce on here shortly

"Moodle? What's moodle?"

Thanks everyone!

Alex UA's picture

I just wanted to drop a quick line and thank everyone who posted in this thread. My partner and I presented at the Higher Education Web Symposium at UPenn last week, and this thread was invaluable in helping me prepare for the concerns of the audience. If you're interested, I put the slides from the first part of the presentation up on our site:

Alex Urevick-Ackelsberg
ZivTech: Illuminating Technology

Alex Urevick-Ackelsberg
ZivTech: Illuminating Technology

"Moodle and language labs -- which one?"

Frank Ralf's picture

This article from the Moodle Language Teaching Forum might look like very special and non related at first sight, but I think a lot of the rationale and arguments given there also apply for other Open Source solutions like Drupal.

"Moodle and language labs -- which one?"


Newbie to Drupal.

no longer here 1916978's picture

I'm an experienced C++ developer (almost 20 years), experienced designer of software and interfaces, that also has built a few websites using HTML/CSS/PHP/Javascript, picked up C# easily and developed fully fledged applications quickly, so I was expecting to get going with Drupal reasonably quickly.

I can see that it is a powerful framework that will do what I need, so I setup my linux box to host it as a localhost website, so I could learn to configure it and setup it up in a way that is easy for new members to use.

Following the how to install instructions was fairly simple, although I recommend reading it carefully as it's easy to miss a step and fail the install (I rushed it a little the first time and had that problem).

I've now spent days trying to understand how to configure Drupal to provide a site that allows people to join my website, be able to add friends, do some blogging, and setup some discussion forums.

It now seems this is going to take me weeks, if not months of reading before I can get close to having a website using Drupal that will give me what I need.

I've read the terminology guide, and I can safely say I will need to read it a few more times, because I didn't use it for a week and forgot what it all meant.

Here is my problem with the documentation for Drupal, which on the face of things looks sensible until commencing reading.
I start with Drupal Concepts, seems sensible, it fills you with false hope of only needing to invest a small amount of time to get going.

Remember I want to get up and running ideally before I die of old age, so I click on the next link from Concepts, the Overview. This is an entire essay on why Drupal is so wonderful, with very little actual details about the concepts and terminology of what makes up a Drupal site. I'm now a 3rd of the way through waffle before any mention of a node, and of course the usual name dropping of taxonomy without really telling you anything useful about it.

Anyway I get past all the initial waffle, read about the concepts which are not intuitively easy to remember, and have the site installed ready to administer, and that is where I am still today, going nowhere fast but back to reading lots of waffle while trying to sift out the relevant details.

Navigating the documentation on the website is poor, you get to the end of the web page to see peoples comments, but no link to carry on reading onwards. This is simply poor UI design by the document writers, and they could learn a lot by looking at a site like where they know how to keep a Next and Previous article link in plain sight at all times.

I'm now left in the situation after reading some comments from people saying it takes between 6 weeks and 3 months to get to grips with the basics, and thinking I think that sounds about right from what I have seen so far.

Is it quicker to build my own site or use Drupal, or with the software industry now buried in patent law suites these days do I just throw in the towel and become a bus driver (okay I exaggerate but I think you get the point).

Please let me know that after 3 weekends of pain, spending a few hours in the week when time permits trying to get on top of this, there is hope and that I'm not wasting my time.

Thanks in advance.

Read a Book

wfx's picture

To get up and running I read the Drupal 6 version of "Using Drupal". The Drupal 7 version is due out May 1st.

I've also heard good things about Johan Faulks book "Drupal 7 - The Essentials"

Yes you will have to spend a little money to learn Drupal before you grow old. In my experience the online help docs are a good reference but aren't a substitute for the full knowledge you'll find in books out there.

Drupal in Education

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