Eylan Ezekiel in his post ” Wither Content? eLearning industry assumptions Blown Apart” asks:

“Why we are so obsessed with conventions such as SCORM and the whole VLE infrastructure debate?”

Apart from a great use of the word “wither” 😉 the basis of his argument is that huge curriculum spanning VLEs with huge curriculum spanning content packs are really no good for the type of learning he argues educators should (want to?) embrace – where the learner is at the centre of everything.

To achieve this state it’s essential to have the ability to tailor your resources to a high degree and that publishers spending time and money worrying too much about VLEs is simply a macguffin.

If I’m understanding him right he’s suggesting everything else in life seems to be moving into a pick and mix model so why does education seem to be dragging it’s tail? Are VLEs holding back education? That’s a big question and not a debate for this post but as to why there’s so much time and effort spent on VLEs:

  1. Becta has committed to delivering all students with “a personalised learning space with the potential to support e-portfolios available to every school by 2007-08” (“Planning for personalised online learning” – Barry Kruger, Head of Content, Becta). Of course, the immediate market solution to this is a VLE. And there’s loads to choose from.
  2. SCORM is an attempt at a universal standard for placing content into context and VLE’s can read SCORM. THIS bit of content is aimed at THIS key stage in THIS subject for THIS type of learning.

I’m not convinced there’s anything wrong with the idea of a VLE per se but that the content plugged into them, pushed by persuasive sales teams often to top level purchasing groups (LA, SMTs, Consortia etc) is simply fashioned from old style thinking: here’s a big ol’ collection of words, pictures and such like that follows a pattern we have laid down for you. To gain from this content you have to go section to section in order.

For us it’s not necessarily how you view and manipulate the content, that’s up to you – ode is not a VLE . We don’t want to challenge that thinking but bypass it all together by placing content selection and re-aggregation back into the hands of the educator.

It’s what content you choose and how you find it that counts. And even better, how you share that thinking with others.

There are countless millions of potential content objects out there (SCORM compliant or not), of vastly differing degrees of quality and validity. Both user generated and commercially made for the classroom.

Decisions are made at all levels in the school as to what content is appropriate for what need. Big committee led decisions will lead to big committee designed solutions, such as whole classroom programmes that proscribe to the Nth degree how to teach your students.

Whereas at the chalkface individual educators will cherry pick low priced or free objects to supplement those big solutions, that are often foisted upon them, to give them some degree of personalisation, of invested ownership. Not personalised learning, but personalised teaching.

So how do you personalise teaching?

In the same article Eylan pointed me to Mark Berthelemy’s post “The King is Dead, long Live the King“. In this extremely well constructed post Mark suggests that for digital content to rightfully fulfil it’s potential we need to “(keep) the learner at the centre of our thinking when designing content and configuring delivery systems” and to do that content makers essentially need to move to a brave new world where they “accept the limitation’s of the rapid/disposable approach“.

This is exactly right. By “learner” we might perhaps substitute “content user”. The content user “…needs to be able to take the bits that are relevant to them and remix it into their own content collections“. But this is only possible when you have liberated the content in the first place from it’s original fixed setting.

But that only applies to backlist – stuff that exists already.

The real key is frontlist – stuff that is not yet published, that still may only be at conception stage, a niggling idea at the back of a publishers mind. Designing content from the ground up for disaggregated delivery. Imagine digital content that…

  • …is only designed to exist for a few minutes for a specific purpose.
  • …is flexible enough to be moved from a mobile phone to an interactive whiteboard. And then into a Second Life classroom.
  • …is malleable enough to not exist in the same state twice, depending on the use the educator is putting it to.
  • …pays no attention to curriculum mapping at all.
  • …remembers who used it last and what they did with it.
  • …allows every user to improve it slightly and pass it on. Cumulative improvement. Forever.
  • …openly licensed for anything the user wants to do with it.

Will this ever happen? Absolutely. I’m 100% convinced that once the right delivery platform arrives that provides incentives for the content creators to think laterally, and I believe ode is that platform, then they will embrace a totally new type of learning object, finally serving the needs of the digital native.