Private Learning Portal With Moodle in your Raspberry PI

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World digitalization is spreading on all life fields. Internet reached each home, so also learning process changed with many web courses rising.

In this article I’ll show you how to creare your personal learning portal with the cheap Raspberry PI single board computer.

What Is Moodle

moodle logo

Moodle is an Open Source learning management system. It enables educators to create their own private website filled with dynamic courses that extend learning, any time, anywhere.

The Moodle web interface can be accessed from any browser and is easy to navigate on both desktop and mobile devices. You can find a customizable Dashboard (both for users and administrators) displaying current, past and future courses, along with tasks due.

Beside other features, most important are:

  • Collaborative tools and activities
  • All-in-one calendar
  • File Management
  • Simple and intuitive text editor
  • Notifications management
  • Progress tracking

Full feature list can be found in Moodle Docs feature page.

What We Need

As usual, I suggest adding from now to your favourite ecommerce shopping chart all needed hardware, so that at the end you will be able to evaluate overall costs and decide if continuing with the project or removing them from shopping chart. So, hardware will be only:

RPI 3 model A+

In this guide I’ll use the cheap Raspberry PI 3 model A+ (please refer to comparing Raspberry PI model for differences between boards).

Step-by-Step Procedure

Install Operating System

We’ll use a light OS without desktop environment, so having more power for services instead of wasting CPU and RAM. For this preparation part, please refer to install Raspberry PI OS Lite.

Make your operating system up-to-date:

sudo apt update -y && sudo apt upgrade -Y

Install Lamp Server

Moodle works on apache web server, but requires also PHP and a database to store its data. We’ll install a simple LAMP (Linux Apache Mysql Php) server, changing Mysql with MariaDB which performs better on Raspberry PI.

From terminal, issue following commands:

sudo apt install apache2 -y
sudo apt install php -y
sudo apt install mariadb-server php-mysql -y

Install Requirements

Moodle requires a number of PHP settings and modules to be prepared to work. From terminal, start editing PHP configuration:

sudo nano /etc/php/7.3/apache2/php.ini

Check these settings in your php.ini. For settings which use ON/OFF as their values, you can substitute 1 for ON and 0 for OFF if you prefer. If you change some configurations, don’t forget to restart the server. Bolded comments idenify default php7.3 configuration. You can also leave all as is.

  • memory_limit needs to be at least 96M (although some functions may not work if this low). Moodle will refuse to install if lower. 128M is recommended. Large systems may need an even higher setting. > 128 BY DEFAULT
  • session.save_handler needs to be set to FILES. > OK BY DEFAULT
  • file_uploads needs to be ON. > OK BY DEFAULT
  • session.auto_start needs to be OFF. > OK BY DEFAULT
  • post_max_size and upload_max_filesize restrict the maximum file size that can be uploaded. > 8M and 2M by defalut

Next list identify php modules and extensions needed or recommended. Bolded comments check if already installed with php7.3. Missing will be installed with the one line apt command at the end of list:

  • The iconv extension is required. > OK BY DEFAULT
  • The mbstring extension is recommended. > ADDED BELOW
  • The curl extension is required. > ADDED BELOW
  • The openssl extension is recommended. > OK BY DEFAULT
  • The tokenizer extension is recommended. > OK BY DEFAULT
  • The xmlrpc extension is recommended. > ADDED BELOW
  • The soap extension is recommended. > ADDED BELOW
  • The ctype extension is required. > OK BY DEFAULT
  • The zip extension is required. > ADDED BELOW
  • The gd extension is recommended. > ADDED BELOW
  • The simplexml extension is required. > ADDED BELOW
  • The spl extension is required. > OK BY DEFAULT
  • The pcre extension is required. > OK BY DEFAULT
  • The dom extension is required. > OK BY DEFAULT
  • The xml extension is required. > ADDED BELOW (same as simplexml)
  • The intl extension is recommended. > ADDED BELOW
  • The json extension is required. > OK BY DEFAULT
  • The appropriate extension for your chosen database is also required. > DONE WITH MARIADB INSTALLATION
  • Other PHP extensions may be required to support optional Moodle functionality, especially external authentication and/or enrolment (e.g. LDAP extension for LDAP authentication and the sockets extension for Chat server). > NOT NEEDED IN THIS PROJECT

From terminal, use following command to install missing packages:

sudo apt install php7.3-mbstring php7.3-curl php7.3-xmlrpc php7.3-soap php7.3-zip php7.3-gd php7.3-xml php7.3-intl

We need also to send mail (like for notifications and user registration). Let’s install Exim:

sudo apt install exim4

Configure exim in sending mail to external domains:

sudo dpkg-reconfigure exim4-config

Change only first screen configuring installation as internet site:

exim4 mail server configuration (1)

You can leave all other parameters as default or change them at your choice.

Test sending a mail. Following command will open an Exim session. Terminal will listen what added from user to add it in mail sent (change myEmail@example.com) with your mail:

exim -v myEmail@example.com

Then type:

From: yourEmailAddress@example.com
Subject: Exim Subject test
Text to be included in message Body

Then press ALT+D and your mail will be sent. Once sending is complete, you can press ENTER to go back in terminal prompt.

Also check it in your recipient Spam box that test email has been delivered.

Install and Configure Moodle

We’ll connect to MariaDB with root user (defult password is empty) to create the new database and grant permissions (remember to use semicolumns at the end of each command row as showed below). Before starting, prepare a user/password combination to use instead default ones (moodleuser / moodlepassword):

sudo mysql -uroot -p

Press ENTER if you have still your MariaDB root password empty or type your password and press ENTER. Run following lines, using your prepared DB moodle user and passwod):

CREATE DATABASE moodle DEFAULT CHARACTER SET utf8mb4 COLLATE utf8mb4_unicode_ci;
GRANT SELECT,INSERT,UPDATE,DELETE,CREATE,CREATE TEMPORARY TABLES,DROP,INDEX,ALTER ON moodle.* TO 'moodleuser'@'localhost' IDENTIFIED BY 'moodlepassword';
flush privileges;
quit

Prepare an empty folder for Moodle files:

sudo mkdir /opt/moodle

And grant to www-data (apache user) ownership on this folder:

sudo chown -R www-data:www-data /opt/moodle/

We’ll get Moodle code from git (it will take a while, there are some hundreds of MB to be downloaded):

sudo apt install git
git clone -b MOODLE_39_STABLE git://git.moodle.org/moodle.git

This downloads a copy of Moodle code inside a new local directory in your working folder. Copy downloaded content under /var/www/html/ folder:

sudo mkdir /var/www/html/moodle/
sudo cp /home/pi/moodle/* /var/www/html/moodle/ -r

Copy configuration template to config.php:

sudo cp /var/www/html/moodle/config-dist.php /var/www/html/moodle/config.php

Edit config.php to use your configuration

sudo nano /var/www/html/moodle/config.php

Edit variables according to your configuration (192.168.1.177 is my Raspberry PI IP address, so use your one or external address). You need at least to identify and modify following ones:

$CFG->dbtype = 'mariadb';
$CFG->dbhost = 'localhost';
$CFG->dbname = 'moodle';
$CFG->dbuser = 'moodleuser';
$CFG->dbpass = 'moodlepassword';
$CFG->dataroot = '/opt/moodle';
$CFG->wwwroot = 'http://192.168.1.177/moodle';

Close and save. Assign www-data ownership on html moodle folder:

sudo chown -R www-data:www-data /var/www/html/moodle/

Setup the cron for scheduled jobs:

sudo crontab -u www-data -e

Select “1. /bin/nano” by typing 1 and press ENTER

Append following string:

* * * * * /usr/bin/php /var/www/html/admin/cli/cron.php >/dev/null

With this setting, our cron will run each minute. Before starting to install moodle, this script needs to run at least 1 time.

From your favourite web browser, use following URL (changing “192.168.1.177” with your one):

http://192.168.1.177/moodle/

From here, installation proceed from web interface.

First screen requires license agreement confirmation:

Moodle web installation license agreement

Read License and Confirm if you want to continue installation.

Next screen shows requirements check:

Moodle web installation requirements check

You will find two final warnins regarding https activation and 64-bits php version. Both checks can be skipped in this moment, this will not intake our test installation. Please click Continue button below this page.

Platform installation and configuration will start now. taking a while (expecially on initial System operations) and will end in a very few minutes, redirecting page to bottom at completion:

Moodle web installation setup complete

Click Continue. Next page will ask you to configure your first admin user. You will be also able to create later other admin users. Required fields are the new password, first name, surname and email address.

Moodle web installation admin user

Fill forms and click “Update Profile” button. Front page preferences will be shown now.

Moodle web installation front page settings

Configure at your choice, taking care in setting correctly the NoReply address (IP address as domain will not be accepted). An example of corret NoReply address will be “noreply@raspberrypi.local”, but change at your choice.

Click “Save Changes”.

Your browser will be finally redirected to admin web dashboard:

Moodle web dashboard

From here you are ready to use your Learning Platform.

Please refer to Moodle Docs page for customizing and using your site.

Enjoy!

Check hardware prices with following links:

Amazon raspberry pi boards box
Amazon Micro SD box