Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Learning management counter-revolution

Colin Steele pointed out to me "Learning management: the revolt of the end-user" (Beverley Head, Campus Review, 13 Dec 2010).
This article is a little disappointing as it is mostly about universities using open source software for their learning management systems . But you can use open software and still have very closed course content. What is far more interesting is the issue of opening up the actual course content, as the UK's Open University has done with some courses.

Beverley gives the example of Deakin University considering what end-user devices to allow after the selection of the Desire2Learn LMS. But it is not that hard to create web based content which works on iPads and smart phones, as well as normal web browsers. This will be a standard feature of all LMS (at least of all worth using). This does require the author to put a little thought into designing readable material, which is not a bad thing for education. The tool used can help a little. Essentially the same skills are required as for providing accessible content, which Australian universities are required by law to do.
The issue is not so much getting the tools to support Web 2.0, blogs and wikis (which is not hard), but what is done, educationally, with these tools. Getting teachers to incorporate these into courses in a meaningful way is hard.

My Green ICT course is provided in a format suitable for a tablet computer and smart phone. As soon as the formatting is tidied up in Moodle (with Moodle 2) it should be feasible to do the course on such a device. Reading the notes and taking part in the discussion will work fine on a hand held device. But typing a 2000 word essay on a smart phone, on the bus, will make less sense. There are ways these devices could be used more creatively, for example in real time for collecting data.

Using distributed and cloud based tools will not necessarily dilute the university brand. Fortunately the ANU took my advice and gave its new LMS its own name, not tied to a product. Instead of calling it "Moodle" (the product), ANU gave the learning system its own name (ANU Wattle). So bits of cloud based systems can be used and branded as part of "ANU Wattle". In any case universities have never had complete control of learning technology, for example externally provided education packages were used (called "books").

Universities need not have an intensive debate about supporting mobile devices. This is not a question, it is a given: universities must support smart phones (iPhone and Android) and tablet devices (Apple iPad and Android).

The debate over the non-availability of Flash on iPhones/iPads is a distraction from educational objectives. Flash is not required for e-learning.

It should be remembered that traditional formats for packaging educational materials (books) are still useful, as are their online counterparts (eBooks). Formats such as ePub make it very easy to combine LMS based and eBook based content.

Discussions of formats to use for e-learning are unnecessary. The same formats as used for the web can be used for e-learning. As an example, the ePub ebook format is just web pages packaged up for off-line use.

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