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20 May 2004 / erikduval

WWW2004 panel

We did a panel on “Standardized Uniqueness: Standards as the Key to Personalized Learning” at the WWW2004 conference this morning.

Some 35 people attended the session and there were a lot of questions from the audience, which made it definitely “serious fun”. Some of the questions are often asked and it may make sense to briefly list the responses here:

How can standards lead to personalization? I basically pointed out that we are not trying to standardize learning, but learning technology. Just like the standardized set of sizes for clothes enable all of us to wear the clothes we personally prefer, at the size we prefer them, so do standardized learning technologies enable a global open infrastructure for learning that will allow each one of us to obtain his personal learning stream.

Aren’t these standards based on an American military approach to learning? Tyde Richards from IBM explained that the CMI part of SCORM is based on the early work by the AICC, a French-American collaboration between Airbus and Boeing. I added that LOM is heavily based on early work by the European ARIADNE Foundation…

How does LOM and SCORM related to the Semantic Web? We all agreed that many of the basic standards are relevant for any kind of activity, including for instance entertainment, where you might also want to describe content, package it, track its use, etc. The learning part comes into play once the content is put to use in a learning context: in LOM, that part is covered by a specific category of data elements. Because of the generic nature of a large degree of the problem space, we should align and consolidate the different specifications and standards. Personally, I would love to see LOM, DC, MPEG and other metadata standards converge…

Vincent Wade asked whether SCORM isn’t based on the invalid assumption that the central notion is shared content… He wondered whether we should not follow an approach based on much smaller content fragments that are used through web services. Dan Rehak had reservations about the scaleability of tens of thousands of these small objects, residing on servers and “accessed” over web service transactions. Philip Dodds seemed to have some reservations about driving content down to very small objects, as such small object would, in his view, become quite ephemeral. I agreed more with Vincent: my “documents must die” slogan points in the same direction. I don’t really see a scaleability problem for the metadata, as these should be generated automatically to a very large extent – that is what my “electronic forms must die” slogan means. I am not sure about the service based approach, though I do think that we urgently need to pay more attention to the question of content object models – or a service based approach as an alternative.

– Philip Dodds had some interesting comments about the origin of SCORM: basically, when content moved from CBT applications to the web, the notion of branching based on earlier end user interaction was lost, and SCORM started as an attempt to bring that aspect back. The need for SCORM arose because learning applications require a mixed initiative between computer and end user, whereas most web surfing places the initiative only with the end user. I am not sure I agree with this view, and I do prefer an approach that always puts control with the end user, but I feel that it would help if we could try to be more clear about the needs that learning has that are not well served by generic web technology.

Anyway, the session seemed to go quite well – I had some positive comments from folks who attended and I hope that these short notes capture some of the more relevant parts of the discussion. Apologies to anyone whose views are misrepresented…


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