Beyond Content Portability – An Activity Based Elearning Architecture
The International Federation for Learning, Education, and Training Systems Interoperability, LETSI, is a community of people and organizations who see technology’s potential to revolutionize the way we teach and learn online. LETSI prepared a white paper in 2010 describing how an ‘activity-based architecture’ could replace content packaged for delivery on a Learning Management System and thereby accelerate the adoption of innovative learning products and services: Beyond Content Portability: Shifting Gears in Elearning Innovation – June 2010.
As we have all discovered, the Web is the ultimate knowledge resource and two way communications medium. Informally , it is the first place we go to learn to find what we need to know. But the Web has barely touched formal education. In particular, government educational technology initiatives often focus on putting the last generation of infrastructure in place. The result is underutilized technology irrelevant to teachers and learners, and unable to improve efficiency or quality.
Accelerating broad adoption of innovations by removing technical barriers is key to seeing real world results. LETSI’s roadmap starts by creating standard protocol to allow today’s cutting edge elearning projects that use technologies like mobile learning or multi player games to exchange data with the enterprise systems already in places. Eventually LETSI’s architectural modernization will allow the plug-and-play introduction of new apps for teachers, learners, parents, tutors, administrators, and researchers.
LETSI has set out to accelerate the dissemination of elearning innovations by removing barriers to adoption. The solution requires architectural renovation.
Content Portability, Once a Solution, is Now the Problem
There are many barriers to adoption of innovative elearning technology. The key barrier is that in order for learning activities to be used by teachers in schools and corporations todays, they must be packaged in a format that runs on the school’s local learning management system(LMS). In order to package learning content into a standard format, so that it is portable across all the LMSs, some restrictive assumptions must be made about the nature of the experience that will be delivered by each LMS and the data that will be exchanged before, during and after the student’s session.
The Content Portability approach (like SCORM and IMS Common Cartridge) predates the Internet. Nowadays technologies have much more to offer!
Free the Learning Experience and Innovation
As a result of the ability to introduce new ideas and variations quickly, web applications evolve in functionality much more rapidly than can the enterprise LMS. At the same time, the hosted services model (SaaS) reduces initial costs and risks for adopters. Most of the major vendors now offer hosted LMS solutions, and learning activities are being hosted on the web as well. By delivering the learner’s experience on a website controlled by the activity’s creator, restrictions on the nature of the experience are eliminated. We just need to create a few standard protocols to allow data exchange among independent delivery and management systems.
An Activity-Based Elearning Architecture
As the power of a more web like software architecture became apparent, LETSI’s working groups converged on a vision of independent learning activities coupled with web-based tools for teachers, administrators, tutors and parents – all communicating with each other through standard web service calls. The core element of this architecture is the learning activity itself. An activity may involve one or more resources, including content objects, but the activity has a beginning and an end.
By moving from content portability to data exchange among activities, we enable a much cleaner modularization of the elearning architecture. It will allow the introduction of new classes of learning activities and of tools for teachers and others. Each box in the figure below reflects a class of applications that might be created by software vendors, publishers, aggregators, and educational institutions.
Then LETSI initiated a pilot project – “Runtime Web Services”. With the Runtime Web Services spec., LETSI has enabled freestanding learning activities to be launched by an enterprise LMS and report back SCORM data. LETSI’s next project, called Content as a Service (CaaS) still assumed the learner is using an enterprise LMS that manages records and entitlements.
With no doubt LETSI was very visionary to foresee that the web will change the education and training landscape as dramatically as it has changed so many other aspects of our lives. The Activity-Based Architecture did predict the nature of distributed learning we are seeing now. Educators and educational publishers use a vast array of new web-based and mobile technologies. And some emerging new standard like Experience API(xAPI) from ADL provides a solution for the need of learning record data interoperability with or without using a enterprise LMS.