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DigiCULT 25
Very Small Learning Objects
LMS, content management and tool vendors may
have an existing proprietary environment, including
simple content creation, which can only cope with
a particular approach to content. For example this
might be allowing only a single file or single Web
page per `item', or insisting on a particular internal
structure to items. Such content can almost always be
exported as an IMS Content Package, but whether
the `items' make sense stand-alone or when imported
into a different LMS is a different matter.
It is arguable that these approaches, also, do not
deliver `good content' and can undermine a
standards-based approach:
| Reusability may be reduced rather than increased.
For example, a content producer forced to split
meaningful `learning objects' across several small
items becomes totally dependent on the packaging
structure and its interpretation by an LMS to make
the set of items meaningful. Hence it cannot be
assumed that any package can be safely broken up,
even if the first three items could belong to one
learning object and the next three to a second
object.While the provider may want to sell the
package on an `all or nothing' basis, it does mean
that the level of granularity of reuse is actually
larger, i.e. the package rather than its individual
items.
| Quality of materials may also be reduced.There is
a significant body of opinion that effective e-lear-
ning involves interactivity, which almost always
involves choice. Choice cannot be delivered via
a single linear path through a set of materials; it
inevitably implies some form of navigation. At
present, most LMSs cannot deliver complex
navigational paths within the LMS based on
choices made within the content, unless the
content is proprietary to the LMS. If the content
is reduced to very simple pages linked by a LMS's
`next' and `back' buttons, the result is the classic
`page-turner', recognised as less engaging for e-
learning users.
| IMS Content Packaging (CP) specifically recog-
nises and allows for Web-based content items
consisting of multiple related files or Web pages. In
LMSs that do support the use and import of larger,
more complex items, content that has been artifi-
cially broken down into very small elements may
appear limited. If the complete list of elements is
presented to the learner, the result can be infor--
mation overload. Conversely, if LMS or repository
vendors believe that they only need to support a
limited subset of IMS CP that suits them, purch-
asers of those products may be disappointed when
they find that the wider range of IMS CP-based
content is not available to them.
| SCORM's identification of SCOs with IMS CP
items, and the limits placed by SCORM on inter-
SCO interaction, can make it difficult within very
small items to exploit the SCORM Run-Time
Environment at anything more than the trivial
level.
A good test of how truly committed a vendor is
to the specifications is whether the product can
meaningfully import a wide range of IMS CP
structures and content, rather than simply export its
own internal format in a package which is valid but
makes little sense in another environment.
Finding A Balance
Of course, any vendors may find that certain
approaches to content production do not import well
in a particular environment.The purpose of plugfests
and similar events is to allow system vendors and
content producers to gain a wider understanding of
the needs and limitations of each others' products.
However, to encourage availability of the greatest
variety of content for users, it is our view that the
majority of problems should be laid at the doors of
the LMS, repository and tool vendors, not the
content providers. If content providers adhere to the
specifications and seek to develop their content in
meaningful small chunks, then it becomes the job of
the LMS and repository developers to ensure that
their systems allow import of that standards-based
content, whatever the source.
S
OME
R
ECOMMENDATIONS
H
aving reviewed the issues above, the following
approach is proposed to achieve the balance
of quality, reusability and specifications-based inter-
operability sought by the education and cultural
heritage sectors and those responsible for
development of e-learning within these
related sectors.
1.
Content producers should be encouraged to think
in terms of producing content that is broken up into
small learning objects, initially delivered via a pack-
age. Rather than engage in extensive debates about
the exact structure of such objects, a pragmatic
approach needs to be taken. Objects that are too
small may not have any learning meaning whereas
objects that are too large usually result in too much
embedded context to encourage reuse.
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