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.
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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.