Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Content Tsunami: Rethinking the role of Digital Content

Back in the day of the pre-eLearning, Gutenberg-centric era, college campuses were revered, in essence, as the Royal Library of Alexandria, the first known library of its kind to gather treasured collections of books and artifacts representing communal world knowledge. Through well-funded royal mandates that involved ancient “book fairs” and literally pulling the books off every ship that came into port, the library, as the central port of knowledge, was also home to a host of international scholars. Over time the library filled its stacks with new works in mathematics, astronomy, physics, natural sciences and other subjects.

In the days before eLearning became institutionalized, we enrolled at institutions for the on-campus experience—the ability to access the campus Royal Library of Alexandria and to engage with noted professionals in their field of study. In the online world, we create a unique ability to allow faculty and learners of all walks of life and learning styles to access learning from multiple sources of course-related content at the same time within the same environment. There's a significant role for content resources—and the social tools that revolve around that content—to be fully integrated into the eLearning experience online. In today’s environment of explosive growth in open education resource (OER) repositories, free course content, online packaged curricula and pre-configured published courses that sidebar LMS businesses, there is a growing, yet, confusing array of choice and value. In this environment, more choice can naturally lead to no choice.

Ultimately, this pre-configured, add-water-and-stir, storefront model replicates the outdated model of copyright-driven publishing and it also hijacks curriculum design and compromises the overall impact and learning objective of the course of study. In an article written for Business Insider, Steve Rosenbaum points out that, “content is no longer king; today, the world has changed, curation is king." With the increasing trend toward the disaggregation of content, social tool mash-ups and crowd-sourced original material created in real time, the LMS platform can now be positioned as a critical tool to create personalized, customized, contextualized collections, as opposed to LMS as a transport vehicle for publishers.

When pre-configured courses and added value content are pushed to a captive audience, “content” becomes a blunt object, void of context, personalization and customization to the particular online teaching style of faculty. In a world where virtually everyone is a content creator, the integrity and unique application of content is determined by context. This industry is not well served with a Clayton Christensen-like disruptive path where a new Amazon model for storefronts of pre-configured courses, course materials and added value content is pushed to a captive audience.

The last decade of growth in online, digital content provides a platform for change in the way instructors craft, share, annotate and engage in context sensitive dialog not seen since the Gutenberg era. I would argue that what higher education needs is not more content; they need to solve domain specific problems with better sharing tools, rather than better buying tools.

I would argue that what higher education needs is not more content; they need “genetic material”, DNA if you will, that are uniquely configured to solve domain specific problems in understanding in order to develop mastery in a course, program and eventually practical application in the workforce. When we study open and shared standards, source, and content, we are studying a new DNA. The genetic material of shared content, social tools, and standards creates a new context for measuring interaction with content, thus learning more about student persistence and understanding.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Learning Across the Table

When I was in middle school, I didn’t understand math. My dad would come home late at night from the office to face hours of tutoring at least a few days a week. He used to say,“If you don’t get Pre-Algebra, you won’t get Algebra. If you don’t get Algebra, you won’t get Calculus. Algebra is in just about everything, so if you don't get it…you’re pretty much done for.”
I remember spending many hours talking over the dinner table where we both exchanged real world visual stories of Algebra in everyday life that really put it all in context for me. To this day I wish I had created a video archive of those stories, conversations and interactions to have at my fingertips for instant recall when I tried to explain it to my son or when at times I needed to use Algebra in everyday life. My reality was shaped by those deep social interactions with my Dad.

During the past decade, the education market has experienced unprecedented adoption of eLearning technologies. We are just beginning to experience an extraordinary adventure in discovering new social models in education, i.e., the way we create and organize thoughts and actions relative to our daily course work and learning experiences inside and outside the traditional institutional boundaries.

In his book Cognitive Surplus, author and professor of New Media at NYU, Clay Shirky, stated,“Prior to the internet , the last technology that had any real effect on the way people sat down and talked together was the table.” In reflecting on my adolescent ad hoc algebra tutoring experience, not only did I recall meaningful conversations that gave me a wider perspective, but also a table full of magazines, books and newspaper articles—all useful material that enabled me to put the onerous subject of Algebra into a contemporary and highly personalized context. Imagine, if you will, new social learning tools and technologies that enable an unlimited number of table conversations, each with their own subject specific conversations borne by the collective intellectual contributions from an unlimited number of contributors and reinforced by supplemental primary source information to enrich understanding.

In an internet dominant eLearning environment, most of our unstructured learning experiences in the future will come from engaging in networks where subject specific, like-minded people can collaborate, share knowledge and co-create intellectual capital. These guided learning experiences, while unstructured, cannot be classified as informal learning experiences. To the contrary, they are formal learning forums and exchanges that create context, relevancy, dimension and depth of understanding that form a collective IQ.

With the proliferation of social learning tools, our individual understanding is no longer as important as all that we can access in our learning networks.

Together, we are better.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Learning Impact 2010 and LMS Criticism

Moodlerooms President, Lou Pugliese, wanted to provide some more commentary after participating in the panel discussion entitled, "From Course Management to Digital Support for Learning Platforms," at the IMS Global Learning Consortium's yearly conference, Learning Impact.

The Learning Impact conference panel explored the idea of LMS criticism and whether or not existing learning management systems are really enablers of new models of teaching and learning. As a whole, I believe the LMS should be subject to massive criticism in the interest of influencing positive change. However, I also believe that the LMS is ultimately capable of championing new ways of teaching and learning. In order to provide more detail, I wanted to highlight a few different considerations to take when contemplating the overall question, such as:

• Structure vs. Unstructured Environments
• Factoring in the Consumer

• People Factors
• Access
• Analytics and Information
• The Need for Nimble and Feral systems

Structure vs. Unstructured Environments - Traditional LMSs have been designed as a transaction system. I think we do a disservice to the future of online learning in creating a “transactional system.” The LMS environment should adapt to the art of teaching. Faculty should not be in a position to have to adapt to the technology but rather have technology adapt to their individual teaching styles or course strategies, learning objectives and outcomes. “Overstructuring” (as it is appropriately called by Stephen Downes) online teaching and learning is not conducive to the type of gains in online education we’re seeking. The faculty doesn’t challenge the LMS very much, and, in turn, the LMS doesn't challenge the faculty. Using cooking as a metaphor, it’s like the difference between a cookbook vs. a “chef book” – there are thousands of cookbooks that help you through a step-by-step process of creating a meal, but chefs are chefs because of their inherent knowledge and instinct to make a dish their own – thus, they have no need for a book. Teaching is as much an art as it is a practice and we’ve constructed our LMS environments for “add water and stir.”

Factoring in the Consumer - Although the current LMS has made significant strides in improving the student experience, it should have the capability to harness an expanding list of student-centered applications that give students greater control over academic content and their options for accessing it.

People Factors - Until we see institutions investing more money in people and less money in off-the-shelf software, students and faculty are stuck with LMS/CMS packages. Creating and encouraging the effective use and proliferation of online learning is a social science. We have to spend more time, money and energy on understanding social behaviors and adopting solutions that fit those behaviors.

Access - Online education, supported by enabling tools such as LMSs, is ideally about online teaching and learning, but it’s also about access. Back before the digital revolution, access to information was an issue. The size of the library mattered. One big reason people went to college was to get access to collections of resource and materials that didn’t exist anywhere else. Today, that access is worth a lot less and the information has turned into a commodity, only to be replaced by rich and growing sources of freely available content, digital primary source research, learning object repositories and transportable “course cartridges.” We need to focus on new LMS systems to better adapt to a more open teaching and learning process, but we also have to design for a future of access.

It is also about access to people. One of the really valuable and intangible assets people take away from college are interactions with great people – great minds that are foremost in their field and non-class activities that shape them as people. The LMS needs to make the intangible asset of people tangible. Past systems and designs for asynchronous and synchronous interaction will be replaced by a more dynamic, real-time capturing of discourse within the context of learning objectives and strategies. Online education programs that will thrive in the coming years are those that come up with efficient, dynamic and flexible ways to help their students interpret and apply that content to their lives.

Analytics and Information - There was a lot of discussion at Learning Impact 2010 about post-Spellings outcomes and the LMS being a centrifugal force for all that is data. In concentrating on access to a greater depth of data, supporting architecture, business intelligence tools and enabling technologies, we lose sight of the fact that we haven’t developed systems for interpretation and inference and how that is a natural bridge to intervention. Absent a “workflow” mechanism that enables faculty to create effective intervention, we’re still operating on a one-dimensional plane.

The Need for Nimble and Feral Systems - LMS systems are static by design, not fluid as they should be. That’s why we see significant push back from institutions that are forced by negative option to upgrade to the most recent software release. What does the vendor community need to do to create seamless transitions between improvement release cycles to instill excitement, trust, competency and innovation in continuous design and functionality of LMS systems? Why is it that some software communities salivate and count the days until the next OS upgrade is available in contrast to other communities who will avoid and sometimes loath, at all costs, an OS upgrade?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Learning Impact 2010 and the New LMS

Moodlerooms Board Member, Lou Pugliese, wanted to provide some commentary after participating on a panel at the IMS GLC's recent Learning Impact 2010 Conference:

A few weeks ago, I participated in a panel discussion entitled, "From Course Management to Digital Support for Learning Platforms," at the IMS Global Learning Consortium's yearly conference, Learning Impact.

Panel moderator, Rob Abel, IMS GLC's Chief Executive, prepared the panelists with a series of questions to contemplate in advance of the session. The responses to these questions, in my opinion, illuminate the current state of online learning and supporting learning management systems and an impending forecast how the industry is evolving.

For the next few weeks, I'll be sharing a few observations on the past and future of the LMS, which were stimulated by Abel’s questions.

Online Learning continues to be an immature market: in the approximate 400 year history of higher education, online learning has been one of the fastest-adopted technologies (save perhaps the cell phone and fax machine. Although the traditional LMS may have a 95% adoption rate, its short-life span presumes a number of ways to evolve towards different kinds of learning networks and environments. Casey Green, Campus Computing Project Director, posits that the “campus LMS market is a mature market with immature products.”

To his point, the early LMS was designed with relatively little research base and, as such, defaulted to a didactic, teacher-centric focus…not student-centric participatory tool. Additionally, learning management is still burdened by the fact that it is an administrative and utilitarian-based creation, lacking significant instructional and cognitive design.

It’s clear that “New LMS” will need to rely on a more cogent research base. In 1998, Martin Dougiamas (the author of Moodle) explored a vision of social constructivism in online teaching with his notion that,

“The social world of a learner includes the people that directly affect that person, including teachers, friends, students, administrators, and participants in all forms of activity. This takes into account the social nature of both the local processes in collaborative learning and in the discussion of wider social collaboration in a given subject, such as science.” (A Journey into Constructivism Martin Dougiamas - November, 1998)

His release of Moodle in August 2002, is one of the best examples of designing global educational software with deep collaboration from instructors, and with over 32 million educator adoptions, I think the marketplace is beginning to vote in favor of this approach.

So what will this look like? At this juncture, no one really knows for sure but in speaking with academicians around the country, it’s clear to me that New LMS will need to be designed from the demand side of the supply and demand equation, not vice versa. Designing to the “consumer” will clearly place greater emphasis on student experience and LMS as a student-centered application that gives students greater control over content and learning.

How will we know all of this will have an impact? Movement toward a competency based LMS design for the online teaching and learning I believe will be accretive to the type of gains in online education we’re seeking.

Stay tuned over the next few weeks as more thoughts begin to unfold.