Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

SCORM works on 2 main principles – as a way to package and sequence learning material, and as a way for learning management systems to track learning activity through a run time interface. It is based on traditional teaching-learning processes and provides additional promises of inter-operability and reuse through standardization of the way courses are organized and presented to the learner.

It has evolved slowly to include new features and rule sets, like sequencing, navigation and QTI (Question Test Interoperability). In fact, the SCORM 2004 4th Edition book defines an organization as:

A content organization can be seen as a structured map of learning resources, or a structured activity map to guide the learner through a hierarchy of learning activities that use the learning resources. One content developer may choose to structure the content organization as a table of contents for the learning resources, while another content developer may choose to structure the content organization as an adaptive guided path through a learning experience, invoking learning resources only if and when they are needed. A third content developer may create a content organization where some discovery activities include a free form use of some of the learning resources, while other activities are more formally managed.

The intent is to provide a way to flexibly organize content in the form of more than one sets (multiple organizations) of  tightly or loosely coupled learning activities rather than just a hierarchical or linear progression. This, coupled with sequencing and navigation information/rules, the LMS can interpret to provide some adaptive intelligence in the learning process.

While these are evolutionary improvements in the standard, there are at least four other dimensions or major impacts that both the Content Aggregation Model (with Sequencing and Navigation) and the Runtime component have not yet addressed.

  1. The scope for a Services extension to SCORM – In the current context, content or activities embedded in the learning workflow will have to integrate with resources outside the resource list and metadata identified by the CAM. With AJAX enablement, it is no longer necessary to navigate away from a web page to access a new piece of functionality. But these integrations violate the fundamental principles behind the notion of a self-contained object, which is why they have not been considered so deeply. This is a formidable impact to include. A related impact is on the Service under consideration. If you build a Services Extension to SCORM, you will most likely also mandate that the Service provides a SCORM compliant interface. This is critical. Imagine a WordPress implementation that reports how the learner reflected and interacted with a community to the LMS.
  2. The scope for Complex Data Interchange in SCORM – Games and Simulations as well as other activities that have complex data to seed a learning context or generate complex data both during the activity and for some kind of business intelligence post the activity. Already efforts have been made with HLA (especially refer the discussion on three prototype classes) and S1000D integrations with SCORM. Some of the efforts also integrate a further complicated scenario – multi-player SCORM based learning activities with shared state and communication via the LMS.
  3. The scope for Social Learning Networks in SCORM – the informality of the social learning network also brings a deep impact to SCORM. Whereas the ingredients to metadata or SCO Context may exist in the SCORM specification, the social influence is not accounted for despite the new understanding forged by the theory of Connectivism, the adoption of the informal by LMS vendors and by the fast paced technological developments we have and are witnessing. What this means essentially is the modeling of two major things – the student and the network or the learner and the community. Many will see the PLE in stark contradistinction – I think PLEs will arrive at the same conclusion from a different direction soon enough.
  4. The scope for a Mobility extension to SCORM – Content and interactions possible to leverage now and in the forseeable future based on the mobile platform (not just the presentation aspect) using services such as Location Awareness and Semantic web applications are now very integral to the learning experience and cannot be ignored. This goes past, obviously, thinking of packaging or presentation for a smaller screen real estate and limited processing powers – the focus is on what the mobility enables.

Without an adequate assessment and incorporation of these dimensions into SCORM, the standard is incomplete and anachronistic. There are pressing reasons why these should be incorporated for the Standard to become current and relevant – and soon.

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On Innovation

For my 200th post, I thought it would be a good idea to write about a possible model to comprehend the spate of technological changes happening around us.

There is a wealth of material available on defining what innovation really is. And, of course, multiple views and types of innovation have been identified and argued about. There is an interesting discussion here summarized here. There are many ways that organized innovation spaces or structures can be created as well within an organization. Steven Johnson talks about these spaces in his new book Where good ideas come from. There is a bit about different models like open innovation & FORTH and sites like platforms like One Billion Minds and Atizo. Various theories such as Actor-Network Theory and techniques such as Crowdsourcing innovation have also been conceived. The purpose of innovation is also discussed with respect to the context as is the evolution of an innovation over time-space. There are also many identified sources or ingredients of innovation.

We are concerned with not just how innovations can be engineered or can emerge, but also spaces, processes, models and uses in different contexts for innovation. We are also concerned with defining what an innovation is or looks like – there is an OECD classification as well. The word itself means “to renew or change”.

I see innovation as the relationships in a mashup or cross-linkage of entities. Visually:

The entities may be software, people, devices, experiences, qualities or anything else. The relationships may be equally representable.

I think this kind of map can prove to be a good catalyst for innovation thought. Maybe a system could be developed where it picks randomly from these ever-expanding baskets of entities and relationships and presents you on thought-provoking combination to base your ideas on each day. Perhaps market and other data could be linked to such an exercise, making it easier to weight different entities and relationships to derive more effective innovations….And so on.

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In 1978 Milan Kundera wrote a novel , The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, and said: “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”

Now in 2010, in our context, perhaps, this statement might be revisited. Our struggle, in the digital medium, is not of forgetting our digital memories (look at Zoetrope). Rather, it is a struggle to make meaning against acquiring instant information.  Translated, I mean the struggle is of the use and development of technology (and techniques) to make meaning over the use and development of technology (and techniques) to acquire information.

The two are often mutually exclusive, and I don’t count ordering search results or ranking them or retweeting, as making meaning.  Meaning (and knowledge) can be variously defined though, but I use it in the sense that Meaning is made when there is a dialogue (or soliloquy) or experience that generates a resonance (or connotation) within us.

The struggle is all around us. When we see the huge  amount of investment in technology and marketing that goes around us, much of it is around information or relating bits of it – where to get it, how to store it, how to search it, how to bookmark it, how to share it – but not much (atleast from what I have seen so far) in other more critical areas – how do we use it, how does it contribute to widening our horizons, how does it empower us, how does it help us in the struggle of “man against power”.

The struggle gets skewed at the idea stage itself – is this a mass market application, can it scale to millions of users, what is the cost per user/instance, is it potentially viral – of a new product or service idea. Perhaps because few people believe that they can really make a difference or are motivated (risk taking?) enough to step forward and be counted.

The struggle perpetuates a continuously evolving asymmetry. What others invest in is what you get. What you get is information. It is upto you to figure meaning and if you don’t, nobody really cares.

The networks have created their own divide, because the more you follow it, the more spaces you leave unseen, the more meaning you ignore. For example, “how should we use Facebook or Google Groups in education?”  or “does your LMS support blogs?” become important topics for debate when  the real questions perhaps should be “what kind of networking platform needs to be created that will engender meaning-making” or “is there a way that structured scientific thinking can become mainstream in such and such area?”.

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In case you didn’t know, 3 Idiots is now a record-breaking Hindi movie, that explores and exposes the educational system. As of the time of this post, it has been released worldwide and is the highest grosser in Indian cinema history (about US$68mn in 19 days and also made 43 million pounds worldwide to date).

The movie is based in a “traditional” academic setting in an engineering college, reputed for its excellence and for its no-holds-barred-excellence-is-the-most-important thing principal. The story revolves around 3 students who get to live together in the college hostel and become lasting friends. The story tries to bring to the front the problems created by a severe focus on grades and book knowledge and essentially laments the restriction of freedom of thought and reflection that has become a hallmark of the educational system. The term “idiot” is used to refer to not someone stupid but to an irrepressible free thinker who follows his heart.

It has caught the imagination of an entire nation of learners. And that fact bears important testimony to the popular perception that the academic system discourages free thinking, diversity of opinion, creativity and innovation because of it’s over emphasis on grades, bookish knowledge, competitive spirit and teacher-centricity.

The main “idiot”, played by Aamir Khan, is, in my opinion, the only idiot in the film. Born to the assistant of a rich man, he proxies all the way through engineering college for the rich man’s son. As a result, he gets to go where his interests take him, to whichever subject and teacher that excite his imagination. He is naturally inclined to be curious, his questioning ways earning him the ire of his teachers and the ridicule of his peers. But he is brilliant and ultimately emerges as a scientist with a large number of important patents to his name.

Aamir believes in free thinking, of questioning the dominant paradigm. Ultimately he converts the principal of the engineering college, who is fanatically entrenched in the “traditional” mindset, to seeing things in a different light. The movie ends with shots of Aamir in a “school” in Ladakh doing what he believes – teaching kids to let their imagination, innovation and creativity take over.

But there is a bit of demagoguery here, with no clear indication that the ideas are as revolutionary as they seem. For example, a point of discussion should be what is exactly being proposed. The movie is not clear on what or how this pedagogy and system really to be made possible. If it is argued that ultimately it is a movie and not a research project, I would argue that it is not a trifling matter given the reach and success of the movie and its ability to shape popular perception.

The applicability of these ideas and their sudden, almost inexplicable shift from a higher education setting to a school, is a little puzzling too. There is no evidence of Aamir’s school principal having the same endgame delirium as was the case with Boman Irani, who played the engineering college principal. The dynamics are very different between the two scenarios. 

Also, there is little evidence that creativity, innovation and imagination does not at all exist in the traditional system -sometimes teacher-heroes led and sometimes with an organizational focus. It then begs the question – are we talking of a change from inside the box or are we talking about something revolutionary that is at odds with tradition. I don’t see that debate happening around me. Most of the debate seems to be around how the movie has borrowed more from Chetan Bhagat’s Five Point Someone than anything else.

Conflicting verdict at the end for me, though. It leaves me wanting for more because it was hugely entertaining. And a trifle irritable because perhaps the matter should not be trifled with.

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The 21st century LMS

I recently read a report compiled by eLearning Network from their Next Generation Learning Management Event held in September, 2009. It is an interesting report.

Personalization of content is a base expectation with an element of learner’s control or choice over what she wants to learn coupled with added intelligence from the system to provide relevant content.

Access, to the degree of ubiquity, seems to also come up as a key requirement with pressure on LMS vendors to resolve user experience and tracking challenges across devices.

Search, to make content available easily, and the corresponding improvements in taxonomies, is a key requirement. So are classroom management tools.

A key shift is from the learing management system from an administrative and management function to a communications function, lowering barriers to knowledge flow within the organization.

Competency definitions and links to HR systems for a variety of tasks (such as talent development) find their way as other key requirements. Similar to the IMS standards for Reusable Competency Definitions and Learner Information Package, a need is voiced to make transcripts transferable (from organization to organization).

The report ends by stating:

At first glance this may just seem like a long wish list, but a more detailed reading demonstrates two things. Firstly, pretty much everything here is already available elsewhere in some form, and LMS vendors need to catch up with wider developments. Secondly, long development cycles and expensive development resource are not acceptable. It seems that LMS still has a key role to play for many organisations, but the terms of their engagement with vendors needs to change.

This report is interesting because it provides an insight into how the participants were trying to accomodate recent developments in social networking, talent management, Web 2.0 and technology with specific bottlenecks that they have experienced using an LMS. They are also seeing the LMS as part of a wider ecosystem with closer linkages between learning, talent development and performance. They are seeing the roles of the vendors changing to more proactive and technologically updated levels.

My personal opinion, though, is that we are flogging a dead horse. The changes we are seeing around content, personalization, search, collaboration, learning experiences, ubiquity, mobility (just to name a few), pronounce the need for LMS vendors to fundamentally re-architect their systems, not just technologically. Mere addition of social networking or Web 2.0 features does not cut any ice for me. 

A key shift in perspective could be the one from “management” to “facilitation” or from “courses” to rich “experiences” or from “common structure” to a much more delegated, learner led self organized environments.

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Reading Marshall mcLuhan’s the medium is the MASSAGE. Deep. The impact of media – the wheel as an extension of the leg, clothes as an extension of the body, electronic circuitry as an extension of the brain – has powerful impacts on the way we are.

He makes the point about “electric technology” presenting a unifying force, “recreating in us the multidimensional space orientation of the ‘primitive'” unconstrained by the dictates of the primarily visual and pushing us to become aware of the integration of time and space – “an acoustic, horizonless, boundless, olfactory space”.

“Environments are not passive wrappings, but are, rather, active processes which are invisible.”  This is crucial to us when we think about creation of learning environments. To be able to use “multiple models for exploration – the technique of suspended judgment” is key to these environments.

We cannot approach now by looking into the rearview mirror or use new media to do old things or things the old way. We need to understand how that impacts the way we “do learning”.

Writing in 1967, mcLuhan exhorts us – “it is a matter of the greatest urgency that our educational institutions realize that we now have civil war among these environments created by media other than the printed word”.

The book, and the wonderful visualization by Quentin Fiore, is a call to action. And action it should provoke among us!

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2009 Predictions

It’s the new year and time to review some of the predictions I had made for 2008.

  • PLEs will be shareable – tools shall arrive on the web that shall allow entire learning experiences to be sliced and shared between users. This shall be followed by ratings on which PLE slices are great. Any learner wanting to learn about a topic will take a PLE slice of a person who the community says has mastered it and follow the learning path.

Not much success here! Some notable attempts such as Twine helped in some way, as did others, but the concept of shared learning experiences seemed to be too futuristic or useless for 2008. Better luck in 2009 perhaps.

  • Hybrid VLE + PLE systems – LMS/VLE enterprise systems shall incorporate many social constructivism inspired features and organizations will pick up this trend.

Some luck here as major LMS vendors started putting in 2.0 features into their toolkit. But no real effort except perhaps for Mzinga which focused on Communities of Practice. This will pick up in 2009.

  • The first classification systems to manage and search the huge amount of tagging will start to surface. Folksonomies will start getting structured in some way.

The semantic web beckoned, and IMINDI was a start. I don’t reckon that this will catch up steam in the near future either, but it is a start.

  • The shift to rich Internet applications in e-learning using Flex and Silverlight among other tools, shall become a reality thus providing a boost to gaming and simulations for learning.

Ah! This was perhaps more successful as a prediction. We can see some real movement this year with Silverlight courses being developed and Flex extending in RIAs.

  • Learning process outsourcing will get established as a business model for small and medium companies.

Doesn’t seem to be well entrenched, but companies such as Expertus and Intrepid seem to have taken larger strides in the enterprise market.

That sure is a mixed bag. I hope I do better with my 2009 predictions. Here they are:

  1. Silverlight (more so) and Flex for learning development and tools will see a significant rise
  2. LMS mindshare shall start being significantly impacted by Learning 2.0 solutions such as Mzinga and ELGG. As the adoption starts, enterprise measures/metrics will also start falling into place. Adoption of Learning 2.0 approaches will start in earnest in the second half of the year
  3. LPO or Learning Process Outsourcing will gain momentum in 2009
  4. The use of the mobile as a learning platform shall see renewed interest – the start of ubiquitous learning being made possible by technological developments in the handset, services and network space
  5. The use of virtual worlds for learning will acquire more importance – if things are right, it should mark the beginning of the end for traditional virtual classrooms.
  6. Games and simulations will see an increased adoption

The trends in the industry that shall back these predictions seem to be cutbacks on travel spend, need to bring in cost effective approaches to learning, higher engagement provided by games, simulations and virtual worlds and opportunities for enterprises to strategically pause and reflect on systemic changes in the light of the recessionary trends.

That’s my take on the new year. Hope they are borne out by the events to follow!

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The book by the same name written by C.K. Prahalad and M.S. Krishnan has much to offer us in the learning industry. There is a fundamental transformation in the way we do business and it is critical for companies to negotiate two fundamental pillars of this change – co-created experiences and access (rather than ownership) to global resources.

If we look at traditional distinctions such as between products and services, hardware or software, these distinctions are getting blurred. Rather, a new order is emerging that conforms to global standards yet is locally responsive. This change can be seen in companies like Bridgestone and Goodyear, traditionally thought of as a product (tires) companies. Both companies now offer their customers an experience rather than a product. This experience is based upon creating a revenue model based on actual usage rather than on the product itself. The relationship becomes more of an ongoing relationship with the customer and from just a business to business interaction, it starts focusing on the consumer directly. The service model is simple – provide guarantees, support and services on the usage of the tires (say in a fleet management scenario) rather than transactionally on just the tire. The experience includes then additional services such as fleet management, sensors in the tire that send real time usage information to the company and training  for tire users to manage their investment better.

A similar experience is being brought to us by TutorVista, an online tutoring service. TutorVista provides its customers with the ability to choose what they want to learn, when they want to learn and for what duration they need tutoring. The student can decide she needs tutoring on a particular area, go to Tutorvista and determine the exact training fit for her requirements.

This is different from mass customization where customers have preset choices or combinations thereof. It also moves away from the heavily used tools and techniques for market segmentation. The market segment consists of one consumer at a time. Personalized yet scalable, affordable and high quality. This is what they call N=1. The locus of value is seen to be shifting from products and services to experiences.

Making this happen means the firm has to be very flexible. Operationally it must be able to plan based on needs and trends, i.e. ability to reconfigure resources is key. Complexity increases in an N=1 world because we are dealing with more and more analytic or consultative selling rather than information based selling. Simplicity of the customer interface also becomes critical along with the ability to initiate and grow a dialogue with the customer. This also requires a new level of IT sophistication.

N=1 involves a new approach to access and use of resources. The authors term this R=G. We need to move away from owning access to resources to co-opting them rather than attempting to own them. There are two big advantages to this and one necessity. The advantages are that the firm can rapidly scale based on expectations and needs of customers and that each resource is an independent entity capable of providing innovations that can percolate to your customers (innovation arbitrage vs. traditional cost arbitrage). The necessity is that no one firm can even attempt to own all the different resources that it would need for creating new experiences for the customer in an N=1 world.

Business processes and associated analytics are what will be the key enablers of an innovation culture. And firms should move from a cost based to a value based model operating as a nodal enterprise in a complex network of global resources. N=1 and R=G need not be costly to create, rather it should be possible to create the social and technical enterprise infrastructure to support these in an affordable manner.

What does this augur for us in learning? We have seen outsourcing and leveraging a global vendor base as a trend and necessity in most situations for large global firms. I would also believe that R=G is thriving in the learning industry and innovation arbitrage is a key factor along with rapidly shrinking and sensitive-to-performance budgets for training. But N=1 is not and that I think is the challenge facing the learning industry as well – how to co-create effective learning experiences for learners. To take an analogy from the tire example above, WBTs/ILTs etc become the “tires”/products that are produced by the firm to train employees and partners. But the end experience for each customer is very personal; learning needs a personal touch. In a socially networked world, this can become a reality because it is a high touch network and based on relationships. This could imply that firms start breaking down content and instruction into manageable transformable forms. Or it may imply that L&D needs to play a more active role in ensuring learning happens by facilitating it more strongly in a 2.0 manner.

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Innovation is a weird beast. At one end it arouses vivid and rapturous enthusiasm about the future and the promises it holds. On the other, it is constrained by real-life constraints and mindsets. Perhaps the greatest challenge is focus and that is what this post is about. How to resolve the apparent conflict of being radically innovative while at work. Here are some things I have found extremely useful.


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