Thursday, May 04, 2006

SCORM and Learning Object hype

I thought the front page story in eSchoolNews on SCORM by Robert Brumfield was interesting, but I found it reflected the hype that I see going on in the education community. I'd like to see an article written with a bit more caution in the message. I've been watching this concept develop since the early days of the IMS. And I was initially taken with the idea as well. It sounded like something that would be wonderful, and conceptually I think it is, and it is an important step. But many of the folks who are "gung ho" on SCORM are reacting to the promise not the practicality.

I had an interesting conversation with an industry representative on the IMS Council. He said, that while they had to talk about the specifications and give them lip service, the leader in the online platform industry was not going to make it easy for their clients to jump ship to cheaper platforms. It just didn't make good business. I've watched as programs have had to change their CMS for a variety of reasons and its always a painful process. And, it always a major undertaking.

The folks I know, who design good online courses, provide a great deal of instruction in their courses for the participants about how to navigate their particular platform. If SCORM were to require that the discussion area has a standard name, the communications tools were always the same, and navigation was always the same then interoperability would be easy to accomplish. We ran into this when we were working with PBS TeacherLine, and had developed a set of professional development courses to run on Blackboard. TeacherLine then decided to use Desire2Learn. They were able to port content from Blackboard and that was nice, but since we had all the original files on the server it wouldn't have been difficult to rebuild the courses in the new platform. What took the time, was reading all the instructions and making the conversion to the structure and naming conventions in the new platform. Yes, it is possible to write a course that just has the content without the directions and reverences to where a participant needs to go to make a posting. But, some folks will get lost. We're not yet at the point where everyone has so much familiarity with online courses that directions can just say, "go post" and everyone will know what to do and where to do it.

If SCORM is hype, the concept of Learning Objects is bigger hype. Again the promise of Learning Objects is that anyone will be able to assemble a course like building a house of Lincoln Logs. But, when I hear speakers talk about learning objects, my first question is always to ask how the speaker defines learning objects. I'm most interested in learning object granularity. I have found many speakers don't have a good definition, and no idea about granularity. But the range of definitions I have gotten from folks who are thinking about the issue, ranges from units of instruction that "must" include an assessment, to single pieces of material (i.e. a graphic or a page of text.) We developed materials for Teachscape, and within their platform, with a set of materials developed by a single developer, or with a group of developers working with a common vision it was possible to modularize the content in a way that provided the Site Facilitator with some of the flexibility to arrange materials in a way some learning object advocates have described. I think learning object repositories developed and used by an organization do have great potential -- because there will hopefully be a common definition on the granularity and on the design standards, but the notion of a course developer grabbing learning objects from across the world and dropping them into a SCORM complaint CMS and that they will be able to then offer the course without any further work is science fiction. That's not how good courses, either on-ground or online are developed.

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