Web 2.0 LMS Opportunities and Obstacles: Exploring OpenSocial, OpenID,and OpenCourseWare in NIXTY

This is a guest post by Glen Moriarty, PsyD, for the On the Horizon series on distributed learning environments. Glen, who is CEO of NIXTY, has served in several executive and academic positions. He co-founded and led Scholar360 for several years. He is also a licensed psychologist and educator who has taught at the doctoral level. He has published and presented on eLearning, psychology, and technology, and is a member of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and the American Psychological Association. Glen lives in Norfolk, Virginia with his wife, Nicole, and their twins, Colin and Madeleine.

“Don’t fight the Internet.” Eric Schmidt, CEO, Google

“Fight the Internet.” CEO, Major LMS Company

Learning management systems (LMS) have solved many problems by providing a way for people to learn in an online context. The suite of tools that are commonly associated with the LMS (SCORM, file-sharing, test managers, gradebooks, collaboration tools etc.) has brought real value to institutions, educators and students. Despite this progress, however, there still remain several problems that obstruct the LMS from reaching its full potential in a distributed learning landscape. These difficulties largely arise from a hesitancy to develop learning management systems that leverage the Web 2.0 strengths of the Internet.

The above quote attributed to a CEO of a Major LMS company is not a real quote. It is just used as a bit of hyperbole. Major LMS/CMS companies, however, have taken several steps that suggest this is their tacit approach to dealing with Web 2.0. Clearly, this tendency to resist the Web is unsustainable (Christensen, Johnson, Horn, 1997). Academics, businesses, and programmers need to collaborate and find ways to harness the Web to facilitate access to open educational resources.

My paper will explore the opportunities in moving to a Web 2.0 global learning environment. My goals are to highlight how OpenSocial, Open ID, and OpenCourseWare can be leveraged to amplify learning for people and institutions around the globe. NIXTY, a forthcoming Web 2.0 platform, is utilized to illustrate how different components can be implemented to facilitate open education.

First, OpenSocial is explored as a common way that developers can build applications that promote relational and social learning. Google’s OpenSocial is an API that allows programmers to develop applications that can be used across different social Websites. In the past, programmers would have to create applications for individual sites. For example, they would have to write code for Site A, then write a different program for Site B, and yet an entirely new program for Site C. This was a major disincentive for programmers. Now, however, with OpenSocial, a programmer can create an application that can be used across multiple sites; ONE program can be developed that can then be used on Site A, Site B, and Site C with no additional modification. This, of course, is a huge incentive for programmers.

NIXTY is OpenSocial compliant. We plan to deliberately support programmers and provide resources, so that social-learning applications can be developed. As a community, we should begin to put some serious thought into what those social learning applications might look like. We might start with identifying some basic goals.

One goal would be to create applications that intrinsically motivate people to learn and teach others. Something that immediately comes to mind is the idea of educational games or serious games. We certainly seem to be much more motivated to learn when there is a sense of fun or competition added to the mix. Think back to your primary education days when the teacher would divide the class into 2 teams to review for an exam. The teacher would ask a question and the 2 students would battle each other to answer the question first. Contrast that with the idea of sitting at home doing homework. One is natural, fun, engaging, social, and very stimulating. The other is pretty boring and lonely.

At NIXTY, we are in the conceptual phase of mapping out a few social games that we think will really help people engage with one another and learn. It’d be wonderful if these games, and others, could utilize OpenSocial, so that learning games could be used across social sites. I think there are a great number of games that could be created that would bring a tremendous amount of value to students and lifelong learners.

Open ID is another Web 2.0 strength that is important for open education. Open ID is sometimes referred to as Identity 2.0. The best metaphor for Open ID is that of a driver’s license. It acts as a person-centric identity that proves who you are to other people and institutions. For example, I use my license to buy alcohol (if carded), procure credit, and drive my car. Imagine if I had one license for the pub, another license for my banker, and yet another license for my car insurance company? That would be ridiculous, but that is exactly the situation we currently have on the Web. You have one ‘license’ or unique ID – your username and password – for your email, another for PayPal, and another for Amazon. For example, I’m a member of several sites (Gmail, Reddit, Hacker News, OLDaily). Each time I visit those sites I have to login with a unique username and password. If they were all Open ID compliant (OLDaily actually is – props to Stephen), then I could just use one sign-on to access them all. What we need is one ID, or license, that allows us to gain access to all of the different sites and services on the Web. In short, our ID has to move from being site-centric to being user-centric.

What does this have to do with online learning? It signals a trend and shift away from the institution and towards the individual learner. LMS companies require a unique identifier for their educators and students. This ID and your associated work (comments, posts, learning objects) function as long as you are a user in that LMS. That is, as long as the institution continues to buy ‘seats’ for you to exist. If they stop buying space for you, then you stop existing in that space. This isn’t good for the institution, the student that graduates, or the faculty person that moves on to another university. Instead, what’s needed is a platform that supports Open ID, provides plenty of space, and allows for transitions from one role to another. Open ID will provide a tangible way for individuals to take their identity with them no matter where they go.

OpenCourseWare (OCW), or Open Educational Resources, is a third strength that can be used to unlock learning for millions of people. OCW is free course content. The MIT faculty is largely responsible for starting this trend by publishing over 1800 courses that anyone can download and work through on their own. Currently, using OCW tends to be a lonely experience. People can work through the courses on their own or share questions on a bulletin board, but, beyond that the social learning components are quite limited. This material has to be optimized to make it more accessible and promote collaborative learning. Using SCORM, sequenced learning/lessons, wikis, blogs, discussion posts, and groups, around this material will help free it and make it more accessible to others. One of NIXTY’s main goals is to further unlock this material so that people can form study groups and create communities of practice around these learning assets.

My paper will explore how the LMS can evolve to harness the 2.0 strength of the Internet. In addition, more detail will be provided on how NIXTY uses the Web to multiply our collective efforts. Applications can leverage the Web to exponentially expand the reach and practical use of open education. OpenSocial, OpenID, and OpenCourseWare are all essential pieces that will help us build a global learning environment.

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17 Responses to Web 2.0 LMS Opportunities and Obstacles: Exploring OpenSocial, OpenID,and OpenCourseWare in NIXTY

  1. Brian P. Clark says:

    Some of my happiest hours have been spent on my own at home doing homework. Boring and lonely? I don’t think so. In fact it was natural, fun, enagaging and very stimulating. The only thing it wasn’t was social. So what?

    What will NIXTY do for me, and people like me, who prefer not to learn in groups?

  2. Hi Brian,

    The posts in this series are introductions to articles that will be published in an issue of “On the Horizon” magazine early next year. We will also be releasing them as open educational resources in some format, although the details have yet be be worked out. Stay tuned; I’ll post publication details here the decisions are made.

  3. Brian, good point. I wasn’t suggesting that all people are the same. Indeed, there are many people, like yourself, that prefer to work through things alone. On NIXTY, you’ll be able to set educational goals and then take courses to reach those goals on your own. So, for example, if you are interested in electrical engineering, then you’ll be able to take a course on electrical engineering. You won’t have to interact with anyone if you don’t want to. You’d also be able to publish your own courses and create materials for other people to work through.

  4. Javed Alam says:

    Why create another platform and not use the existing open social gadget container IGoogle or the other once who will support open social API and Open ID.

    It will be lot easier to extend IGoogle once it implements Open ID and Google FriendConnect into a personal LMS sort of by adding missing assessment abilities and gadgetize the learning content to plugin as cartridges to the personal LMS. It can not be that hard to implement.

  5. Javed, I appreciate your thoughts and think that that is one good solution. In fact, I think there will be many solutions that will arise to solve the educational problems that we currently face. Our goal is to be one of those solutions. OpenID and OpenSocial, as well as several other pieces, will be essential to helping us work together.

    Also, I think your personalized LMS description works great for the individual, but not as well for the institution. I think a solution has to support both individuals and institutions in order to connect people and really leverage open educational resources.

  6. Kudos for this effort. There’s clearly lot’s of room for innovation in building a web 2.0 LMS, but it seems to me that one of the real innovations is the concept of free learning and persistent (lifetime?) accounts. What’s the organizational model for Nixty?

    I work as a part-time adviser to Haiku LMS (http://www.haikuls.com), and though they’re we’re commercial saas platform (primarily working in K-12), I think they share a similar vision with Nixty. While we’re excited to be blazing this social media trail (along with others like you), we’re wary of significant privacy concerns especially with younger students.

    I really look forward to reading more.

  7. Anthony, thanks for your post. I’m familiar with Haiku LMS. I think they have a nice design and I appreciate their use of Ajax.

    Privacy concerns are definitely paramount. There have to be multiple options. Unfortunately, I cannot really go too much more into detail, but look for more on our blog (www.nixty.com) on this in the near future.

    I wish you the best with your consulting work. Nice photography too : ).

  8. Cathy Garland says:

    The sheer numbers of people flocking to MySpace, Facebook and other social networks seems to prove that pepole are willing to invest in relationships.

    The idea of using open-source tools to provide a more relational learning experience seems to answer the need. I look forward to see where Nixty heads with this.

  9. Cathy, thanks for your interest.

  10. Brian P. Clark says:

    @Glen. That’s good, but I suppose I could do that all on my own – write my own objectives, download an electrical engineering course from MIT and retire to my room.

    Where does my value-added come from? I now look at your Open Courseware comments. I don’t care if the material is open or shut, but… sequenced learning/lessons, SCORM, discussion forums – we’re getting very traditional VLE here. (And I like that.)

    Do you envisage using an existing VLE for this part of NIXTY?

  11. Brian, yes, you are exactly right. The OCW material will be much more accessible in those ways you’ve highlighted. Robust VLE functionality will be a primary part of NIXTY. We are developing our own VLE.

  12. Jon Mott says:

    Nice to find another kindred spirit. I like your notion of “evolving” the LMS. It has done a lot of good for us, but there are too many built-in limitations. I agree that we need to leverage Web 2.0 technology without throwing away the benefits of an institutional LMS (for secure, private information like class rosters, grades, etc.). For a lengthier thought about how we get institutional leaders and faculty to go along for the ride with us, read my response to this post on my blog. 🙂

    I look forward to watching things unfold with Nixty.

  13. Jon, thanks for the comment and encouragement. I really enjoyed your blog post as well. Your point about the importance of convincing administrators, decision makers, and faculty at institutions is right on target. Like you, however, I sense there will be considerable resistance to large-scale change. Here are some additional thoughts on helping these folks feel more comfortable with change.

    1. We have to provide everything that they are used to with an expensive solution. That is, they have to know they’ll have a strong SLA (99.9% uptime), co-location, secure and private information, robust functionality, tech support etc. If they know that these things are available, then they’ll be more likely to embrace change.

    2. Price is important. The only way these decision makers are going to get on board is if you can save them significant amounts of money AND they are convinced that they are not giving up any items outlined in #1.

    3. They have to be able to try the product w/out having to leave their current LMS/CMS/VLE etc. If they can try the product for free, and use it for free, then they’ll be more likely to trust it after a series of months. Then as their renewal date comes, the disincentive of having to pay much much more for the same product will begin to set it and they’ll be more likely to consider alternatives.

    4. There has to be a way for people to export material out of their own system and import it into the new system.

    5. You have to provide great free tools to their educators and students. If they love it, then they’ll have some influence on the decision makers.

    6. The network effects have to be easy for their institutions to capitalize on. That is, you have to solve a lot of their problems; problems that they currently face and are not solved by their LMS provider.

    That said, we don’t realistically think that you’ll even to begin to see much of this change occurring for 1-2 years. It just takes that long to build a strong and trustworthy brand. Universities and other large institutions won’t actually start to switch over for 2-3 years (or potentially even more) and that will only be some of them.

    What will likely happen in that time between 0-2 years, will be the typical disruptive approach that occurs in any industry. Disruptive innovations compete with non-competition. That is, solutions like we are describing here, will be used by institutions that want a LMS but cannot currently afford one. Similarly, they do not have the resources or technical expertise to host and/or customize an open source solution. Also, educators, trainers, and learners, that are currently underserved in this space (ie., no LMS company is really going out of its way to help students or educators), will also begin to use the platform in the bottom-up ways that have been cataloged in this series of posts.

    Probably more information than you wanted in response to the change question, but we feel aligning institutions with the rest of us, particularly those in the late-developing world is extraordinarily important. If a solution solves real problems for decision makers, costs considerably less money, and is a trustworthy provider, then I think you’ll begin to see change. That, at least, is our hypothesis.

  14. Jon Mott says:


    Thanks for sharing this perspective. I think your roadmap is realistic and viable. I might add one that we’re pursuing at BYU. We’re beginning to disaggregate the functions of the CMS into more flexible, open, stand-alone components (yes, that means SOA). The first major step in this process is to build (or implement) a “gradebook” that’s not inside the CMS.

    Our intent is to create an secure yet open application in which the full range of student work can be reviewed by instructors and peers. Both teachers and students will be able to enter the gradebook through our institutional portal without entering any other app (including the CMS). We also intend to build it in such a way that it can harvest content / evaluative data from our CMS, our proctored testing environment, faculty spreadsheets (Google Docs!), etc. etc. etc.

    I think your hypothesis will hold up well over time. I’d love to chat with you about it further. You can e-mail me a jonmott at byu dot edu.

  15. Jon, sounds fascinating. I appreciate the different perspectives and solutions that we are all working on. I imagine, collectively, we’ll get a good ways towards solving some of the major problems that we are currently struggling with.

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