Friday, August 26, 2011

Key Innovation Drivers for Learning Environments

I’d like to share a recent blog post by Eric Shepherd, CEO of Questionmark. Eric describes his thoughts on how new learning systems will revolutionize the way that we learn and I really like the idea of competency mapping where learning is personalized and natural. I believe education is quickly headed towards a "blended learning" approach and that tomorrow's "librarians, or a crowd-sourcing equivalent" will be greatly needed to “curate” the content.

Here is Eric's post in it's entirety:

In recent posts I have shared some examples of today’s increasingly open and creative ecology of innovation:

Lack of Copyright Protection Fosters Innovation in Fashion Industry
Copying, Remixing, Plagiarizing, or Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Having explored these, and other current trends, I believe we are at a point when new learning systems will revolutionize the way that we learn. The underlying goals of these new “Natural Learning” environments will be to:

■Use competency maps to understand where we are and help us navigate to where we want to be
■Magically expose content at our moment of need and in the right context

With those goals in mind we can innovate, renew and/or change from Plato’s long-standing Academic Model to a new model of natural learning that resonates with GenerationText’s expectations as driven by YouTube and Facebook.

Enablers of this innovation will be:

■Learning content that is available and discoverable
■Inter-system data sharing to allow personalization
■Data flows to maintain stakeholder participation/engagement

Learning content that is available and discoverable

For the longest time, learning content, in the form of books, was stored on dusty shelves and indexed and maintained by trusty librarians. Books were replaced by e-books and e-learning. As crowd-sourcing tools enabled rapid creation, re-purposing and deployment of learning content in wikis, blogs, video sites, etc., as well as more conventional e-books and e-learning, we have moved from scarcity to abundance. (More on this in the blog article on Content Clouds.)

Our learning content needs to be available, transportable, discoverable, open, and accessible and we need our librarians, or a crowd-sourcing equivalent, to “curate” content to:

■Locate and evaluate valuable learning content
■Associate learning content with keywords to make it discoverable
■Tag learning content by competence and target audience
■Organize content to help define pre-requisites
■Add and maintain paradata, such as ratings, ratings by experts, usage, comments, etc..

Now we can match the learner’s context with the available learning content so that it magically shows up at the moment of need!

Key Innovation Driver: Funding of Open Educational Resources initiatives based on open standards (See articles on Open Learning Resources and What Does “Open” Mean?).

Key Innovation Driver: Content openness is scary to orthodox legacy publishers just as the MP3 standard was confusing for music publishers or as Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press might have been scary to the scribes of the time. New data models will change the business of educational publishing. The groups working in earnest on this are:

IMS Global Consortium (
Schools Interoperability Framework (

Key innovation driver: Encourage the use of Library Science techniques for Content Classification similar to Library Classification systems. A key indicator of this movement is when the Library of Congress extends their classification system to include Learning Content classifications.

Key innovation driver: Create registries that make learning resources easier to find, easier to access and easier to integrate into learning environments wherever they are stored — around the country and the world. This will enable teachers, students, parents, schools, governments, corporations and non-profits to access, package and personalize learning solutions. The most interesting initiative I see here is The Learning Registry.

Inter-system data sharing to allow personalization

Market pressures drives innovation and so (thankfully) it is highly unlikely that one company will control all of the environments related to learning, assessment and the analysis of results. We expect there to be a patchwork of technologies and these will be required to exchange personal data in order for the system to have sufficient context to personalize the learning, assessment and/or coaching experiences.

Resonating with the learner context is important for maintaining motivation and enabling learning at the moment of need without requiring repetitive data entry or re-assessment.

Today’s “launch and track” standards (AICC and SCORM) based on the Academic Model have not allowed for personal data to flow freely between learning environments, thus preventing personalization and accommodations.

To incubate innovation we need to allow personal data (see Identity Cloud) to pass to the learning environment to enable:

■Content to resonate with the moment of need (i.e. content magically shows up at the right time)
■Enjoyable experiences with the most appropriate learning content mysteriously showing up at the moment of need.
■Reduce learner distraction/frustration with unnecessary data entry
■On-the-fly personalization and accommodations
■In-context personalized searches and presentations

Key innovation driver: Standard integrations that allow one environment to launch another system with learner context. The groups working on this are:

Open Data Protocol (
IMS Global Consortium (

Data flows to maintain stakeholder participation/engagement

When you care about the results of a learning experience or an assessment you need to provide the right stimulus to gather data and then provide, in a timely fashion, for the right person, analysis in a presentation format that makes sense to the stakeholder. And this needs to be valid, secure, efficient, effective and trustworthy.

In schools, colleges, and universities we see teachers, students, parents, administrators (school, district, colleges, university, local/national government, etc.) as examples of stakeholders that could use data to make decisions more easily for the benefit of those involved. If data sits in a silo (i.e. single system) if might serve the users of that system but would lack value for all of the stakeholders in the process.

Key innovation driver: Standard for Results interchange as this will allow usage data and assessment results moved between learning environments to be sliced and diced to assist the learner, the learner support network and other stakeholders. This requires open and rich data structures to allow simple exchange of these results. The groups working in earnest on this are:

Postsecondary Electronic Standards Council (
Schools Interoperability Framework (

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