Objects & Repositoires

George Siemens distills the essence of the use of learning objects and repositories in the e-learning field:

… content in context is the real challenge. Or put another way, the extraction of meaning from an object is the real challenge. We can have access to all the content in the world, but if we are not able to find what we need, when we need it, in the format we need it, and for the task which we need it, it’s of no use. Content management takes care of organizing resources. The extraction of meaningful content is where systems fail.

I find that there is still a lot of snake oil being sold as e-learning. If you can help people find what they need, when they need it, in the right context to be useful, then you will have effective content management and/or performance support. The rest is what a friend of mine calls "shovel ware".

Cooperation vs Competition

Knowledge@Wharton has a recent article [requires free subscription] on start-ups and cooperation. According to David Hsu, co-author of “When Does Start-up Innovation Spur the Gale of Creative Destruction”, some industries are more open to collaborative efforts between start-ups and established players. The key factors being:

1) the strength of the startups’ intellectual property rights; 2) whether they have relationships with intermediaries such as venture capitalists; and 3) whether their industry requires big investments in things such as manufacturing and distribution.

The biotech sector is described as an optimal industry for cooperation, but I’m wondering if our e-learning sector is also one. I would guess that intellectual property rights would be strongest for the technology companies, especially those with something unique. Now in the e-learning business there is not a lot of unique technology. One LCMS is similar to another, and there are many synchronous environments as well. A start-up that launched something like Groove, with few existing competitors, would have better chances of cooperation with the big guys. Now for point 2, the e-learning industry in New Brunswick does not have access to much VC financing, which is why the government plays that role. On point 3, the e-learning industry is OK, because there is not a lot of infrastructure necessary, mostly good people.

So it seems that, according to Hsu, the e-learning sector in NB could be fertile ground for cooperation between companies. A recent article on the industry in New Brunswick lists the cooperative environment as one of its strengths. For a region with many small companies, and few large ones, Hsu’s cooperative model may provide more impetus for growth.

Open Source & Language

In an evaluation of v. 2.4 of Groove’s peer2peer software (v 3.0 is out in beta), a group of francophone reviewers looked at its functions. Since Groove is already upgrading, I didn’t go into much detail on the tech specs, and will wait until more reports on Groove come out. See my recent post on Groove 3.0.

What I found most interesting is that Groove has no intention at this time to come out with versions in other languages, and is not looking for any volunteers to help with localisation/translation.

Q: Is Groove Networks looking for partners to assist in translating Groove into other languages and/or testing under local environments?
A: No, Groove Networks is not looking for partners to localize Groove software at this time.

Now if you go to the ATutor site, you will see that there are many people working on version translations. The French version of the latest ATutor release came out at the same time as the English.

My point is that if you happen to work in a non-English environment, then open source makes more sense; because you will at least have the option to do your own translation.

CATA Supports Open Source

Last April, in a letter to the Treasury Board, the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance urged the Canadian government to support the use of open source and open standards.

These governments have been attracted to Open Source because it provides a foundation for lowering costs while increasing stability, scalability and security. This change in procurement strategy provides an opportunity for our members to capture new markets.

I made a similar recommendation to the New Brunswick government during their recent pre-budget consultations. Too bad I hadn’t seen this letter earlier. Notice how CATA believes that open source/standards would be advantageous for its SME’s (small and medium enterprises).

Thanks to Seb for pointing to this.

Link Errors

I just discovered a number of link errors on my previous posts. I had used the wrong kind of quotation marks when referring to a URL, and the link just pointed back to this website 🙁

I think that I’ve cleaned them all up, and have discovered a bit more about HTML, which I’m learning on the fly.

Future of Work

I’ve written a bit about the need for business models that are more flexible than the industrial age corporation. An effort to look at the future of work organisational models has been going on at MIT since the mid-1990’s. in 1999 the team at MIT wrote a manifesto on the changes needed for future work structures. They called for the creation of organisations that are environmentally, socially and personally sustainable.

Thomas Malone, author of the forthcoming book “The Future of Work,” has been involved with the Inventing the Organizations of the 21st Century initiative at MIT, and in a recent interview talks about open source as a good busines model for the future, and applauds the success of e-Bay.

Malone also explains that all new work models have resulted from improved communications systems.

We’re now in the early days of the third stage – transitioning from business kingdoms to business democracies. Much more decentralized decision-making is now possible because communication is so cheap. We can afford to have vastly greater numbers of people well-enough informed that they can make a lot more decisions for themselves, decisions that, in the past, were only possible in central offices.

Decentralisation is becoming a fact, but whether it will result in environmentally, socially and personally sustainable organisations, remains to be seen. I guess it’s up to us. I look forward to reading Malone’s new book.

Honesty on the Net

An article in the New York Times [requires free subscription] discusses a Cornell professor’s small study of student behaviour, and found that they will lie more often off-line than online. At first this seems counter-intuitive, but:

On the Internet, though, your words often come back to haunt you. The digital age is tough on its liars, as a seemingly endless parade of executives are learning to their chagrin. Today’s titans of industry are laid low not by ruthless competitors but by prosecutors gleefully waving transcripts of old e-mail, filled with suggestions of subterfuge.

The Internet may be making us all more honest, because our words can live forever, so we’re more careful online. We also have a tendency to spill our guts a lot more – witness blogs. This essay was referred by NewsScan Daily, whose credo is "Be informative, have fun, and get to the point!"

New Models for Business

I’m exploring business models in my own work. I have been a full-time employee for most of my working career. Now I run my own consultancy and I am the director of education of a non-profit organisation, the Atlantic Wildlife Institute, which from time to time has opportunities for paid work. I am also affiliated with other individual knowledge workers, and we share in projects that we cannot do alone. The sub-contracting model, which I have also worked under, is much less satisfying – intellectually and financially. I’m not sure which business model will be best in the long-run, but if I did not work for myself, I would not be able to stay in this town. There are no “jobs” for me here.

Business models come in varying sizes. Rob Paterson explores open source as a potential new business model. He sees the need for a new metaphor to replace the old one of the corporation. For instance:

A corporation that had as its purpose the need to serve its physical community would I suspect be transformed immediately. For instance, what if we had a corporation on PEI whose goal was to supply all Islanders with renewable energy at prices that were competitive or better than fossil fuel? Imagine generations of Islanders working to truly serve our own society?

I’ve been thinking about business and organisational models as I watch our downtown core change. We have about five empty storefronts within a one block radius of the only street light. These are small businesses that have recently been forced to close. When I talk to people in town, the general feeling is that we need more companies to set up business in town. This seems like business planning through wishful thinking – “Let’s have a corporation move in and look after us”. People want corporations to move here, because corporations are what they know. No one is saying that we should create a commune, a co-operative, a node, or a network – because these are unknown. There are few models to create these, and fewer still that are recognised by the banks.

So maybe the problem is the corporate model that governments, individuals and corporations take for granted. Corporations have the access to financial capital that is necessary for new ventures. Most individuals do not. The problem may not be the economy, it may be the tools and models we use to make it work. As I have posted before – what if every individual had the rights of the Corporation? Would this help us to create more sustainable and community-friendly business models?

What, more laptops?

Stephen Downes recently attended the RIMA conference in Quebec where, among other things, he covered Seymour Papert’s presentation on learning environmentalism. It was wide ranging presentation, and here is an interesting statement on laptops in schools:

"Putting laptops in schools, he [Papert] noted, is not tantemount to educational change, but it’s the seed of educational change. It is the act of putting the change in motion. But it couldn’t have come from within. Ask educators what the proper ratio of computers to students is, and you may hear, %:1, 6:1 – but the proper answer is 1:1 – but that is something that can be said only outside the system."

So it’s not about the technology. It’s about planting seeds of change, and as any internal consultant can tell you, change from within is difficult. The kids want change, the parents want change, Governors and Premiers want change, but those in charge of the education system don’t think that radical change is necessary. Neither did the politburo.

Evaluating LMS & LCMS

Here is a list of some system evaluation tools and postings available on the web:

The Edutools site is a not-for-profit information resource, with a focus on academic course management systems, both open source and proprietary.

EdTechPost matrix with many links to EduTools.

The Commonwealth of Learning conducted an Evaluation of five Open Source LMS in mid-2003 (Moodle, LON-CAPA, ILIAS, dotLRN, Atutor). The two finalists were ATutor and ILIAS.

Xplana OpenSource Evaluations from May 2003, which groups systems by type (PHP, java, etc).

Simon Fraser University LMS selection committee website, with many resources.

Brandon-Hall offers some free resources and a number of reports for purchase.