Hans de Zwart has brought a useful topic to our attention—portability of learning content. The subsequent discussion focused on the transfer of content associated with a change in learning systems. Work usually done by tech-savvy systems administrators. Perhaps a more important perspective is instructors—especially the 68% of the early and late majority—who could benefit using content authored by others.
So far e-learning software and content has been developed by those with technical skills, interests, and the opportunity to devote time to developing learning systems and authoring complex content. But today’s teaching faculty face increasing class size, more under-prepared students and diverse learning styles, and, for many, the requirement to continue to publish, preferably in prestigious peer-reviewed journals. Or said differently, faculty have little time to develop or even implement e-learning course content. Here in the U.S. more than half of college and university classes are taught by adjunct faculty not paid for course development or improvement. Similarly many of the majority do not have the same computer programming skills and interests associated with education technologists. For them writing content even in HTML, as Tim Hunt suggested for interoperability, is not an option. Lacking time and skills, these faculty tend to select publisher provided materials.
Currently 86% of the faculty in the U.S. depend upon publishers for course materials—slides to “power” the smart classrooms, test items to support frequent quizzes, and supplementary materials including podcasts, video clips, notes, and references. Many faculty use the publisher’s online homework (30%) and online quizzes (19%). With the availability of open education resources such as Open University’s Open Learn and Rice University’s Connexions, totals of those
using “portable content” would be higher.
Ger Tielemans referred to SCORM from Advanced Distributed Learning. Common cartridge, new from IMS Global Learning Consortium Inc. is another. Some publishers have committed to support Common Cartridge. Blackboard, which continues to have a dominant market share in higher education, has not committed to a date when Common Cartridge will be available; leaving little incentive for publishers to produce materials in a format only a limited market can support. ANGEL Learning, an early supporter of the technology, has ten “content” partners expected to provide materials in Common Cartridge format.
SCORM is heavily used for commercial and government training as well as within colleges and universities.
Last September Kevin Wampler from ANGEL Learning Inc. demonstrated the use of a sample Common Cartridge provided by Pearson Education at an IMS quarterly meeting. Michael Neuman from Georgetown University, asked Kevin to demonstrate as if he were a faculty member downloading the cartridge and installing it on the local ANGEL learning system. Michael was suggesting a totally different perspective on portability. He was interested in the feasibility of downloading and installing a complete course without any technical support. Instead of moving content from one system to another, Michael was suggesting a much broader and different need—the need of a typical faculty member interested in using available content.
During the demonstration Michael Neuman saw a download of the Common Cartridge, content and quizzes loaded to the ANGEL system, a link established to a publisher website, and student lecture notes posted to a website. Though never cited as a benefit, Kevin demonstrated a “one click download and one click install” no more complex that downloading a paper. He also demonstrated changes could be done with a few simple screens. A discussion group could have been set up, but was not included in this cartridge. Kevin had made an important point about portability he may not have envisioned.
Cartridges are not new. Both Blackboard and WebCT had cartridges. But “Common” is important since it means for publishers and content authors, only one format, not one format for each of the 100 learning systems in use in colleges and universities. And it incorporates content not available in earlier cartridges.
Common Cartridge is important because it could satisfy the current needs of a majority of teaching faculty. SCORM could be used similarly for packaged content. Millions of students could benefit. Anticipating this development and its potential use, Open University UK agreed to provide Open Learn materials as Common Cartridge. It is Common Cartridge, not the XML described by Tim, that may prove to be most important. But it required learning systems support the standard.
Tim and Ger are associated with institutions that have used more complex learning materials to achieve high levels of retention and completion. Ger has been a strong supporter of learning design because it has provided effective. The evidence suggests the high “return on investment” from authoring and using these learning materials. But at this point they are ahead of the majority by several years.
Which standard do you follow?
This need, the available standards, and the future was a topic of informal discussion at the January meeting of the Aviation Industry CBT Consortium. But the participants were unusual: Michael Korcuska, Executive Director of the Sakai Foundation and Jason Cole, now CEO of the eLearning Hub, Inc. joined Avron Barr from the Advanced Distributed Learning. The question they were discussing was the use of the current SCORM 2004 and the Common Cartridge from the IMS Global Learning Consortium, and the forthcoming SCORM 2.0 from LETSI (Learning-Education-Training Systems Interoperability). These discussions continue and I hope they share their observations and suggestions with all of us.
In her February 26th article published in Inside Higher Ed, Lisa Petrides wrote:
"Unfortunately, the movement to use open educational resources in higher education hasn’t yet realized the full impact that its founders anticipated. Open content is still in its infancy and faces some technical and cultural challenges that affect its widespread adoption.
"Interoperability—the ability of multiple initiatives on different technology platforms to seamlessly share metadata and resources—is at the root of the technical challenge for open education resources. Like many initiatives in education, there is a tangled web of entry. People in higher education are accessing OER using numerous technologies, software applications, and Web sites. Content can be found in dozens and dozens of different formats."
The same observation applies to publisher materials as well. As an educator, I hope she can provide the leadership needed to make portable content broadly available and supported.