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DigiCULT 27
B
efore anyone can use a learning object he or
she must be able to find it.This is obvious of
course but the problem is that people in the
culture and heritage sector and else-where tend to
forget it.They focus on the content but forget about
the wrapping', says Patrick Towell, CEO of Simulacra
and very much involved in the British Government's
Curriculum Online Programme. `I am not saying the
museums and libraries should develop their own
channels to the learner.They are probably not
equipped for that. But the least they can do is to
think about their role in the value chain for digital
learning content.'
To demonstrate his point,Towell talks about an
average visitor on the Internet with a rather vague
objective, for instance to learn more about castles in
France. `That person needs support to clarify his own
needs.To assist him in formulating his learning
objective you have to show him samples. Generally
people do not systematically search the Internet; it is
more like a discovery trip.They wander around a
particular domain before they focus on a particular
piece of content. And then, once they are focused,
their need has to be quickly fulfilled.They don't want
to wait for a CD-ROM in the mail nor do they want
to subscribe to a specific learning platform.'
According to Towell there is a large demand for
(informal) learning.This includes information about
public records, for instance, but also about art, history
and science. `It is not just a matter of offering content
to fulfil that demand.You need many wrapped-
around services to make the content useful for
the learner.You could compare it with a filmed
documentary. Before it is on television it has gone
through the hands of the production company, the
post-production polishing, the distributor, the
broadcaster. A whole chain is needed to make
content available and accessible.'
In the traditional value chain for learning, cultural
heritage institutions would make their collections
accessible through catalogues, exhibitions and
monographs.These were then used by authors
of textbooks and published and distributed by
publishing houses.The value chain for digital
learning needs new players.Towell: `The relation
between providers of content and vendors of lear-
ning systems is rather weak.There is a role to play
for an intermediary for delivering digital content.
Another role yet to be fulfilled is the closing of the
gap between the subject-matter expert, often within
the institution, and the learning system.These are
just two examples of where value can be added by
intermediaries.'
The value chain has several links that, according
to Towell, can be either public institutions, not-for-
profit organisations or private companies. `Thanks to
a combination of market forces, regulation pressures,
funding and a bit of luck, all building blocks will fall
into place to create new channels and reach new
customers. It is still an embryonic market so roles
haven't been established yet.'
Standards are needed to help define the content or,
better, the wrap-around services, but Towell adds that
formulating standards is not enough. `It is not that
you specify standards and then everybody starts using
them.You will have to put a lot of effort into adop-
tion, because a poorly implemented standard is of no
more use than no standard at all.
The problem is that the work on standards is often
viewed as the work of `geeks'. It has a low status
inside the boardrooms of companies and institutions.
What these CEOs don't realise is that adopted
standards are a prerequisite to realising the strategic
goal to achieve high usage of learning objects. For
instance, without interoperability, a concept that
relies heavily on standards, you can forget about
the strategic goal of high usage.'
Simulacra
http://www.simulacramedia.com
C
ONTENT IS
U
SELESS
W
ITHOUT
A
W
RAPPING
A
N
I
NTERVIEW WITH
P
ATRICK
T
OWELL
,
CEO, S
IMULACRA
, UK
By Joost van Kasteren
Digicult_THI4_backup_13_10_03 24.10.2003 11:54 Uhr Seite 27