Monday, July 16, 2012

The Learning Polemic [Guest Post]

[Guest Post by Jeff Katzman, Founder and CLO, Xyleme] The views of this post are that of the guest and not my own. However, you can feel free to comment here to engage with the author.

We're seeing a polemic emerge pitting proprietary systems and exclusive content against open systems and open content. Recent developments in standards have the potential to up-end the status quo, and re-draw the competitive landscape of learning technology providers, and learning content providers. It will be interesting to see how the stakeholders in the proprietary camp will react to the changes brought with the adoption of the new standards.
We know what proprietary systems look like. It's what we have now in the current breed of Learning Management Systems. Typically, they are closed systems that offer a limited choice of tools to draw from in designing your learning experiences. If you wanted to include a discussion, or take a quiz, or have students write a blog for an assignment, you had to use the system’s native capabilities. And once you did this, the content became proprietary and could only run on the system on which it was created. While there have been attempts to develop standards, they have largely fallen short. For example, if you create a course in Blackboard that uses native tools, then export that course to Common Cartridge (the standard package format), and re-import it, the course is unrecognizable. The idea behind Common Cartridge was to provide an interchange format where you can run the same course on different systems and have it work the same. Unfortunately, the set of features that is common from LMS to LMS is small, which means the standard can only address the lowest common denominator.
Coming changes in standards will also impose new challenges on the traditional educational publishers. Historically, K12 curriculum choices were made by a committee that decided which one-size-fits-all textbook the teachers should use. Curriculum providers have enjoyed lock-in exclusive deals. This has tied the hands of teachers and stifled innovation in the classroom. 
K12 is in the midst of radical change driven by race-to-the-top initiatives where the focus is on individualized learning.  By aligning education to standards, students take assessments that measure the student’s proficiency toward the standard. The teacher then can use this information to create customized assignments that match the student’s needs and learning style. For this to work in practice, learning content needs to be re-imagined. It needs to be granular, and aligned to the standards. To date, the publishers have had a difficult time disaggregating their content and have continued the “swallow it whole” business model of exclusive lock-in deals. 
Cloud services, enabled by adoption of new standards, have the potential to disrupt this dysfunctional system of proprietary technology and content.
The IMS Global Consortium is defining the next generation of standards that make this market transformation possible. The emerging model will have open content, open ePortfolio, and open tools. 
  • Open Content - Content exists in the cloud where vendors stand should-to-shoulder and compete on a level playing field. Users make choices best suited for their needs and are informed by quality and price. 
  • Open Portfolio - A cloud service that is the single place to store your learning records for your entire life. It’s your portfolio, untethered from your school LMS, or the corporate LMS, allowing you to maintain lifelong learning records that follow you from institution to institution and job to job.
  • Open Tools - Like content, learning designers seek the ability to not be bound to the capabilities of the LMS they are using. IMS has released an update to Learning Tools Interoperability that allows learning designers to connect to remote services, authenticate the user, and return a result.  
The cloud is pushing the market toward openness and this is threatening to powerful interests. It will be interesting to see how the benefactors of proprietary systems will react.