Ready for mass adoption?

James Daziel entitled his keynote at the LAMS conference with one of the central questions facing learning design research: ‘Are we ready for the mass adoption of learning design?’ If we are honest despite the enthusiasm and interest in learning design as a potential solution to addressing the lack of uptake of innovation in education and a mechanism for sharing ideas between teachers and across disciplines, sale there has been little impact beyond the early enthusiasts. James’ keynote tackled this conundrum, site the talk reflected a lot of the recurring themes of the LAMS conference – where sharing and reuse were returned to again and again. He began his talk by suggesting there were three different meanings of the term ‘learning design’: 
  • as a means of formally representing the teaching and learning process (descriptive framework), ampoule
  • as a type of e-learning software,
  • or as an approach to supporting effective pedagogy.

In terms of ‘LD descriptive frameworks’ he argued there were a number, both technical (such as IMS LD, LAMS XML, etc) and general (lesson plans, patterns, etc). A key aspect, he argued, was the need to be able to represent many different pedagogical approaches both technically and pedagogically, and that such systems can therefore be termed ‘pedagogically neutral’ (although in my view this is easier said than done!). He illustrated the point about representation by referring to early attempts to capture music in a notational form, pointing out that it took a couple of hundred years before a stable, sharable representation was developed which captured enough of the essence of the music, whilst still enabling flexibility and adaptation on the part of the ‘re-user’. I have heard James use this analogy before and think it is a very good one and does nicely describe the issues we have in terms of trying to capture and re-present teaching ideas. As James said, it too over 200 years to get something useable in the music world and we have only being trying for about 10 years, so there is hope for us yet! I do think this is a key issue, the significance of representation in design is often underestimated but is actually key to the solution of reuse; we need to work hard at developing an evolving set of representations that contain enough understanding to convey the essence of the teaching idea being described.

LAMS, of course, is an example of ‘LD as an e-learning system’. He argued that one of the key benefits of LAMS was the focus on the creation of collaborative learning activities. LAMS was way ahead of its time, particularly because it provides such a simple, visually appealing interface and way of representing the learning sequence but also because it takes the design right through to run time. He argued that a LD system such as LAMS is fundamentally different to a Content Management System (CMS) – suggesting that an LD system is a workflow engine, whereas a CMS is a group-based management website. I suspect a lot of people might argue differently on this one, but for me yet again it raises the issue of the metaphors we use to describe and represent the complexity of the online space. Early notions of describing the online environment as translations of the physical worlds – i.e. a ‘Virtual University’, with virtual lecture rooms, cafes etc. is now inadequate as it doesn’t capture the temporal and networked dimensions of the digital world; it doesn’t represent the dynamics of online environments - the dynamics in use. James’ use of ‘workflow’ partially addresses this – my interpretation of what he was saying was that LAMS better presents the ‘design in action’ as opposed to more static representation in a CMS.

In terms of ‘LD as an approach’ he referred again to the need for and importance of developing a sharable description of teaching practice and a mechanism for sharing good ideas. This is of course at the heart of what we are attempting to do with our new social networking site for designs, Cloudworks. James suggested that part of the vision is to help educators to consider new approaches to improving student learning and to give them advice on appropriate course design.

He then focussed on the challenges that have been overcome. Firstly in terms of frameworks work such as IMS LD have taken us a long way in terms of technical representation. On the educational side, projects such as the AUTC LD project in Australia and our own work on CompendiumLD have provided us with new vocabularies for describing and representing designs. Secondly, software development in this area has been far more difficult than anyone could have imagined (he said that with feeling!!!), but LAMS, Coppercore, Reload etc are now there, available and being used. He provided some impressive statistics in terms of the size of the LAMS community and the number of institutions using it. A key challenge remains to look at integrating across these systems – integrating LD software tools with the backend institutional CMS/VLE is an obvious one. Thirdly, he reflected on the progress made in terms of sharing effective practice and again pointed to both the AUTC site and the LAMS community as evidence of progress made in this area. As an aside Barry Harper from the AUTC work also presented at the conference and was talking about the work they are now doing interviewing teachers to find out more about their design practice – a very similar approach to the one we are taking in the OU LD project. James’ reflected however on the difference between direct reuse of designs, particularly wholesale reuse and looking at other people’s designs for inspiration; suggesting that the later was far more common.




He concluded by touching on the challenges that remain. In terms of frameworks we need to do a lot more in terms of interoperability, educationally we need to articulate out different representations and be clearer about what they are for – if you only have a page to describe an innovation, what is the essential information you would want to convey? In terms of software development, not surprisingly, he has a long wish list of improvements – integration with CMS/VLEs, different types of looping and non-linearity, role-based LD where students can take a more active part in the design process. Also what kind of guidance and support can we give designers/teachers – which is appropriate, at the right time and the right level of detail? This is something we have struggled with in the work on DialogPlus and CompendiumLD, as have the LPP and Phoebe teams. James referred to the new work they are doing in this area in terms of the development of a LAMS activity planner – which will contain a library of pedagogical templates and in-situ guidance and support. He concluded by returning to the issue of sharing, reuse and mass adoption. This is one of the key challenges that we haven’t yet cracked, but as I said in an earlier post, the meme is spreading…    

One Response to “Ready for mass adoption?”

  1. Sheila’s work blog » LAMS 2008 European conference Says:

    […] done an excellent job of summarizing the conference keynotes from Stephen Downes, Helen Beetham and James Dalziel. Grainne’s own keynote gave an excellent overview not only of the work she and her team are […]

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