DevLearn follow up: Not only curation but also moderation and didactics

One of the most interesting topics at DevLearn was ‘Curation’ and the question attached to it was: “Will e-Learning (developers) become obsolete?”. I took some time to reflect on this and my answer is: “Yes curation is an important development” and: “No, the e-Learning developer will not become obsolete. I believe that the role of e-Learning and e-Learning developers will become even more important in the near future.” In this post I will explain why.

There is now software available that gathers information (based on RSS feeds), republishes it and stores it.The great thing about it that if you find an expert on a certain field that does this, you can tap in to his selection of content. Tony Karrer with his elearninglearning site is someone who does this for e-Learning. And it really is a valuable source of information for me. He selects and filters information about e-Learning. But can this phenomenon replace (e-)Learning?

No, it can’t. Curation filters the information and it will help you to manage the information overload. But you will have still a huge amount of information. Leaving you with two problems. Too much information and no learning experience. Curation is not a new thing at all. Decades ago people where creating publications with clippings from newspapers and magazines and they made them available to others by copying them. The only difference with the modern form of curation is that we have more information and it is digital.

The conclusion must be (as always): There is not one simple solution to a complex problem. Curation is part of the solution. So the question is what else do we need?

In order to help me manage the information overload I need someone who processes that curated  information and gives meaning to it: A moderator. Somebody who discovers trends, makes cross connections, summarizes this and makes it available to me. I want more than tapping into a persons network, I want to tap into his knowledge and experience. I do believe that there is an important role here for learning departments en developers because it is not about the technology, it’s about the content and knowledge.

But we are not there yet. learning is more than the transfer of knowledge. Learning is about acquiring knowledge, skills and new behavior. Learning is about change. In order to make that happen you don’t need information, no matter how well curated or moderated it might be. You need lessons and a teacher, you need learning experiences. That is one of the reasons I believe e-Learning will never replace face-to-face teaching completely. And the same goes for curated and moderated content. I do believe that E-Learning courses will become a bigger part of the formal learning that is offered to the learners. For me the difference between information and learning content are didactics, e-Learning developers, instructional designers and teachers.

My conclusion is that e-Learning will become even more important than it is now and for e-Learning developers there is a whole new role as a moderator. I foresee that e-Learning courses in the future could become the carrier of curated and moderated content. Of course with a didactical approach.

Project Tincan: What should SCORM 2.0 look like?: Participate!

Today I was interviewed by Ben Clarck from Rustici software. They do a project for the ADL to investigate what the next version of SCORM should look like. They have called this project Tincan.

SCORM is the standard of the e-Learning industry and now and then we say less nice things about it, but it is our guarantee (most of the times) that content from our authoring systems will actually run in most LMS, and that the learners progress and results are tracked and reported.

I will not bother you with all my wishes (except one!) you can make up your own and participate in the project. On their website you can add ideas, vote for others ideas and you can assign for an interview with Ben to discuss everything in more detail.

The one thing I will bother you with is that I would like to have SCORM as an exchange standard between authoring systems. Our customers invest a lot of time and money in creating content in our tools. Whenever they decide that they want another tool, it is almost impossible to transfer their content to other systems. This is what you call a negative customer lock-in. I’m very much opposed to that. I would like to create a scorm-import export for authoring systems. If we at easygenerator do not deliver what our customers expect from us, they can go to a competitor and take all their content with them!

The project Tincan is almost completed, so if you want to be heard this is the moment. Go to project Tincan, vote and talk to Ben, he really is a nice guy.

Why EasyGenerator isn’t open source

Before I joined EasyGenerator we had a series of discussions about a number of topics. One of them: open source. The question was: should EasyGenerator become open source or should it stay proprietary. In the end we decided not to go for the open source model en in this blog I will try to explain why.

Note: With open source software you share the source code of your software with everybody and everybody can contribute to it. As a user you are free to use the software without paying license fees  (see GPL license). Proprietary software is build by a company and you can’t change it or add to it, and you have to pay a fee to use it.

When I worked at Stoas Learning we represented a few open source packages (Sakai, Moodle and Mahara). My open source experience is therefore mainly based on these three. I want to answer the question based on three different outlooks: the business perspective (as a producer of software), the partner perspective and the end user or customer perspective.

Business perspective

The revenues of an open source solution are limited. As a user you don’t pay licenses. So donations and gifts are very important. A lot of open source solutions have a partner network; these partners often pay a fee (a percentage of the revenues they generate with services around the software). Still you will not earn a lot of money. This means that for your organization and for the development of the tool you can only hire a limited amount of people, for the rest you depend on volunteers. This makes it always a challenge to manage the development process of the software; it’s much harder to plan, more difficult to maintain the quality level and it is difficult to guarantee the continuity of your product and organization.

The most successful open source software product in the learning field is Moodle. It now has almost 50.000 registered installations and 36.000.000 users. The actual figures will be even higher because not everybody registers their Moodle implementation. Moodle was founded (and is still managed) by Martin Dougiamas. I had the honor of meeting him, and in my eyes he is a true hero. He started from a pedagogical vision (social constructionism) and now ten years later he still stands firm for this. He has proven that he can build, manage and inspire a huge community and he brought Moodle to the next level (Moodle 2.0 has just been released last week). But even such a successful open source solution struggles, even with a hero like Martin a the steering wheel. It took them for example years to develop Moodle 2.0 and its release has been postponed over and over again. I don’t have an insight in their financial situation, but I know it doesn’t reflect the 50.000 Moodle installations. In other words you must be a super hero to pull this off, I’m afraid I’m just a mortal person.

Partner perspective

As a partner you are directly part of the open source community and you can actively contribute to road maps and the software development. You are not allowed to ask any license fees for the software, so you have to develop all kind of services (hosting, implementation services, consultancy, training, et cetera) around the software and that’s fine.  As a partner you pay a percentage of your revenues to the open source organization you represent. But this has a flip side. Everybody else can offer the same services as you. But as an official partner you are more expensive: You have to pay your fee and you have to invest time in the community, the others do not.

Customer perspective

But for me the most important reason not to go for an open source strategy are the end users. Or to be more specific, the people in the end user organization (school, university, company, ministry et cetera) that are in charge of selecting a software solution for the learning needs in their organization. I believe that in their mind open source often equals ‘ free of charge’. This is a terrible simplification of the intentions of a GPL license, but what is worse is that they often make their ‘buying’ decision solely based on that fact. So they don’t choose Moodle because it is an excellent learning solution based on social constructivist principles: No they choose it because you don’t have to pay a license fee. Of the 50 or so Moodle installations we implemented at Stoas in last few years, only a handful of customers choose Moodle for the right reasons. This is the main reason why a lot of Moodle installations are not using Moodle to it’s full potential or even in the way it is meant to be. In general they are just being used to launch a course and that’s it. A real shame. If people have to pay money for a solution they are much more inclined to look at the added value of your tool and base their decision (at least partly) on these factors.

Proprietary but open

Therefore we decided against an open source software development strategy for EasyGenerator, and we choose the old-fashioned proprietary model. But we believe in an open model. Software packages often create a customer lock-in by prohibiting them to export the content (data) to another authoring tool. We don’t want that, so in EasyGenerator it will be possible to export your content in all kind of formats based on open standards like XML, thus enabling you to use other authoring software. EasyGenerator will connect to a whole range of software products and will let you use and re-use your content freely. We aim to faciltate a community who will share their didactical designs and content. In that sense we will be an open platform.

The mission of EasyGenerator according to Kasper Spiro

Last week I blogged about the vision I have on the future of e-Learning. What is the relevance of this vision for EasyGenerator as a company and as a product? Therefore this week the sequel: ……
“The mission of EasyGenerator according to Kasper Spiro”. This mission will help to decide what kind of features to add en what kind of  developments to take on.

No matter what you do, if you work with a group of people you need to have a shared opinion on the work you do and why you do it: our shared assumptions or starting points. We have summarized these assumptions in one sentence:  We simplify e-Learning development!

Together these words determine what we do and how we do it. I will explain this by explaining what every word stands for.

We represents the complete EasyGenerator team. We are not just a software product or an authoring environment; we are a group of people and a company that delivers an excellent and innovative service to our users.

Simplify stands for a non-technical, well thought through and easy to use solution that meets the needs of our users.

e-Learning is what  we deliver a solution for and what we are passionate about.

Development has a triple significance for what we do:

  1. We support the authoring process, thus the development of e-Learning content.
  2. Our goal is not to create software; our goal is to support development of the learners.
  3. We want to develop e-Learning itself.

This third ‘development’ point links to our long term mission. We will come up with new ideas and concepts that will help change e-Learning. We believe that making content more dynamic (see my previous blog on the future of e-Learning) is a key part of this. We want to turn this vision into reality and by doing so we want to contribute to the future development of e-Learning.

In short. We want to create the best e-Learning Authoring tool in the world and we want to innovate e-Learning along the way. The thought that  the best authoring environment in the world will probably be the most used one, doesn’t bother us at all.

The future of e-Learning, according to Kasper Spiro

Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog about starting up my work as CEO for EasyGenerator. At the end of the blog I concluded that we needed to come up with a coherent vision and mission to determine the direction of future developments of EasyGenerator as a solution and as a company. Inspired by my visit to the development team, I will take the cow by the horns (I am not sure if that is a valid English expression). Therefore, here is the first raw concept version of “The future of e-Learning, according to Kasper Spiro”.

Let’s first look at where we are and how we got there.

e-Learning started out as digitized versions of courses, the so-called page-turners. We published them on CD-ROM’s as Computer Based training (CBT). Later on, we moved these courses to the web and we promoted them to Web-based training (WBT). Over a little more than a decade this developed into more mature forms of e-Learning. With the use of new media like video and flash animations we made e-Learning more attractive and interactive. But main stream e-learning is in most cases still a page turner with some nice interactive snacks in the middle. We created standards like Scorm that gives us some interchangeability and the possibility to track and trace progress and results. Nevertheless, in essence the courses have not moved forward that much in comparison with the original CBT’s.

We now have tools like Moodle (a virtual learning environment), they add extra dimensions to e-Learning. Social constructivism principles are at the fundamentals of Moodle. Therefore, it is about collaborative learning. It offers learners facilities like a forum, blogs and wiki’s to share knowledge and to experience the learning process together. A WBT is often part of such a course.

The feeling is that we are now on the verge of a new phase in the development of e-Learning. At the moment there are a ton of words buzzing around: Web 2.0, Virtual worlds, Informal learning, learning on the job, lifelong learning, collaborative learning, adaptive learning, blended learning, game based learning, skill based learning, communities of practice, et cetera. What is the trend in all this, where are we going?

Let us take a step back first. A few months ago, I met with to Joachim Levelt (the Dutch Education Sales Manager of Apple in the Netherlands) and we had an interesting discussion. He mentioned  Dr. Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR Model of the Technology Adoption Life Cycle. The theory states that all innovation and development goes through four phases.

Substitution. Technology acts as direct tool substitute, with no functional change.  Example: Word processor used like a typewriter.

Augmentation. Technology acts as direct tool substitute, with functional improvement. Example: Basic functions (e.g., cut and paste,  spell checking) used.

Modification. Technology allows for significant task redesign. Example: Integrated with email, spreadsheets, graphing packages.

Redefinition. Technology allows for the creation of new tasks,previously inconceivable. Example: Integrated with work group and content management software.

Source of  theory Ruben R. Puentedura

I will try to map these phases to the development of e-Learning to see where we are right now.

Substitution. At first, we created page-turners (CBT and WBT), in fact they add no real  extra possibilities other than the books and courses we used to have before that. It is just a change of medium.

Augmentation. Then we started to add extra value. We added assessments to see if the learner learned his lesson well. We created Scorm (an e-Learning standard) so we were able to track and report on the learners’ progress and results. We build smart structures like cases to let people start experiencing instead of letting them read knowledge facts.  We use media like sound, video and flash animations to create more interactive courses. All things we did not have in the first phase.

Modification. Switching to the web created the possibility to let people collaborate and learn together and create extra content of their own. By using the outcome of assessments, we are able to present (more) relevant learning materials, thus making the learning more adaptive. We have set our first steps on the path of game based learning and virtual worlds in order to offer learning in a more attractive way and let people experience more instead of just reading the lesson. Exiting developments but a lot of work and very expensive to create.

We are clearly in the modification phase with e-Learning, we have not yet started redefining (e-)Learning. Are we ready to take learning to the next level? I have some images of the future developments and outlooks. I do not know if they are part of this next step or that they just will be enhancements the adaption phase. For now, I just will share these images with you.

  1. One of the main attributes of e-Learning in the first three phases is the fact that learning is a one way street. It goes from learning author to the learner. The learner can only consume the material. In the adaptation phase, learners can contribute themselves to the learning process by collaborating and creating content of their own (in blogs, wiki’s and forum); the so called user generated content. But it is still a one way street, there is no connection between the source content and this user generated content. At the end of the course all this content vaporizes and disappears into thin air. If we succeed in capturing this user generated content and make it stick we can start to create a two way street. E-Learning content then will come to live.
  2. Adaptive e-Learning as we know it now is the first step to more dynamic content. At the end of (a part of the) course you take an assessment and based on the outcome you are directed to another part of relevant content. I call this the “if then else adaptive learning”. It is an important step because you no longer have to go through content about topics you already know.  But this needs to become much more dynamic and effective, we need to make true adaptive e-Learning. Where an individual learning path will develop itself instead of a predefined path set by an author.
  3. If we publish content in a Learning management system the published content is most of the times separated from the source (often wrapped in a scorm package). The only useful feed back we get is a fail or pass notice from an individual learner. If you change the content or add new or improved information at the source (in your authoring system) this has no effect on the published content, you have to republish everything again. This is very ineffective and it prohibits the learner from having the latest and most accurate information.
  4. Formal learning is now separated from our daily work. You go to a class or a on line course (and stop working), you learn, you come back and you will try to incorporate what you have learned in your daily work. You must try very hard not to forget what you have learned, because of the fact that you can’t apply it directly (that is what makes it stick). Studies show that already 80% of what we learn is informal learning. If we succeed in creating learning experiences in the context of your daily working and learning activities, it will be much more efficient and effective.

What is the common denominator in this; I think it is about dynamics and content: feeding back user generated content, create true adaptive e-Learning with true adaptive content, make publications dynamic instead of rigid and make learning content context aware. As I see it the old paradigm used to be ‘Content is king’. I think that authoring environments like EasyGenerator must facilitate the process of designing, creating, publishing, evaluating, redesigning, recreating and republishing the content that is the core of all these developments. In other words: Dynamic content will be king.

If we succeed in this, I can see learning truly merging with our daily work. You don’t follow a courses with a beginning or an end. You follow learning information on a subject that will grow and change, so you will keep on learning. There will be effective ways to share your knowledge and learning systems will present us with the correct information, just enough and just in time.

Ukrainian visit

This week I have visited the development team of EasyGenerator located in the Ukraine and it was great. Christiaan de Visser (Business development manager) and Jeroen de Haan (system architect) joined me. Goal of the visit was to get acquainted with the team and to work on the EasyGenerator road map. We had some sessions with the complete team, but most sessions where with both Alexanders. Alexander Stulov is our lead developer and Alexander Chernenko will probably take on the role of product owner.  In addition, we met with Artjom Serdyuk (our scrum master) and of course with Dmitry Antonyuk who is director of ISM Ukraine. Since we only had two actual working days, you can imagine that the were crammed with all kind of session and talks.

I came back tired but very inspired. In the short time we had, we came up with a first version of the road map, a vision on e-Learning, a clear mission for our company and even a possible new concept for handling e-Learning content. There have been months in my working life that where less productive.

In the next few weeks, we will work out our Vision, Mission, and roadmap in more detail. I will write blogs on these topics in the coming weeks. The coolest thing is that I’m only preparing for my new job just now, I will start working for EasyGenerator on December 1 (At the online Educa in Berlin). I’m looking forward to it more and more.

Generating an Easy startup

Thanks to the fact that my transfer from Stoas learning to EasyGenerator goes in good consultation, I am able to transfer my work at Stoas this month to my successor and at the same time startup at EasyGenerator.

Part of this startup is that we will visit our Ukrainian colleagues next week to get acquainted with them; so far we only spoke briefly in a conference call. I never visited the Ukraine before and I am really looking forward to it. I already learned how to spell E-learning in Ukrainian (E-Навчання), I’m still trying to figure out how to pronounce it.

We will start planning some short-term developments on the software and start working on a roadmap for the product. I have high expectations; I have received a ‘product tree’ from them with tons of ideas.

In the preparation of the visit, one thing already became apparent; my position has changed. In my role at Stoas we were the reseller of software from our partners and it was quite easy to comment from the sideline, “I don’t like this” or “Why don’t you do that?”. In The Netherlands, we have a saying ‘De beste stuurlui staan aan wal’ (The best mates are on shore) and that proves to be true. Holding the wheel is a different kind of ball game.

We have to come up with a coherent vision and a road map for the product. Getting the priorities right is not easy, especially if you have my mind, I can come up with a thousand ideas. But it is actually great fun doing it, and I’m really looking forward to next week’s conversations and discussions.

I’m leaving Stoas learning because I found a new challenge at Easy generator

After four years I have decided to leave Stoas, I found a challenge I could not resist at EasyGenerator. However, it is with mixed feelings; it is as the French say “Partir c’est mourir un peu” (Leaving is dying a bit). I had a great time at Stoas. I never had a job where I met so many great and interesting people.  Colleagues, partners, and customers, I want to thank you all for great inspiring discussions and conversations.  I learned a lot and had fun doing it. It was a great time and I hope to keep in touch with you all.

The challenge that lured me away from Stoas is to make a good e-learning authoring tool even better. As it happens, I have a history in authoring systems, I have been the founding father of two of them (Seven Steps and Writeplace). Therefore, if I encounter an authoring tool I always have an extra interest and this time I really liked what I saw.

This led to a series of interesting conversations with the people of ISM (the mother company of Easy generator). We came up with an ambitious plan: the goal is to make Easy generator one of the leading e-learning authoring systems in the world. The first step was to split of Easy generator from Sana software and put it in a new entity: Easy Generator. I have the honour of becoming the CEO of this company.

That is the challenge I could not resist. I am looking forward to work with the team in the Netherlands and the Ukraine. I am convinced that we will reach our ambitious goal. I will start on December the first, at the online Educa in Berlin. Maybe we will meet on my first Easy generator working day? Otherwise you can reach me on my new email address

To be continued…….

When learning is the answer, what then is the question?

It’s sunday morning, it’s very early, I’m sitting in my garden. It’s very quit, the only thing I hear are birds. Three weeks of holiday lay before me, a moment of contemplation. What is it all about?

The question in the title of this blog comes from a conference on Management and organisation I attended two weeks ago.  And it is a very good question. Unfortunately the conference focussed more on how we learn and not on the why. So I didn’t get a clear answer.

A day before the conference I attended a meeting of the BVLT (the Dutch industry organization for e-learning companies). Since Ed Botterweg left Stoas I represent Stoas in this body. There was a very interesting discussion. The BVLT stands for ‘Industry organisation for Learning Technology and the question was, does Learning technology describe what we do?  Are we not just e-learning companies, should it be E-learning technology or is it about the learning solution we deliver.  Why do we work in the field of learning, what is our added value, what binds us together? More or less the same question as at the conference: “When learning is the answer, then what is our role in it?”

Now a week later and sitting in my garden at half past eight in the morning it all seems very clear. It is not about technology, that is a means to enable learning and not a goal. Learning is also a means, I don’t learn to learn. I learn in order to change, to develop. There you have it,  it is simple as that. We learn to develop and we as a company are facilitating a process of development of people. So it’s not about the content, not about the technology not about the solutions but about people, the process and about development.

Therefore I propose that we change the name of our industry organisation to BVLD, which stands for Industry Organisation for Learning Development. Maybe I have to change the title of this blog in ‘Change to develop’.

Questionmark user conference, day 3 #qm10

Time flies when you’re heaving fun. Already the last day of the conference.

There was a lot of fun last night. We did our dinner cruise, that was great. I got to speak to a lot of people, a real networking opportunity. After the cruise I ended up the one bus that didn’t go to the hotel, instead it went to Bongo’s a Cuban nightclub, that was a first for me. I had fun.

Migrating from V4 to V5

The morning started with encore sessions, I attended the session by Tom Gilkison, on migrating from V4 to V5. I didn’t expect to hear a lot of news, but I did. The first part of the presentation was an overview on the differences between V4 and V5, What’s new and what’s gone. Then some do and don’ts on planning and executing the actual migration. The third part was about the new architecture of V5. Tom’s presentation contains all the details. Another document Tim pointed to is the best practice guide, a must read.

Closing Session

The closing session gave an overview of the conference and the conclusions. It was presented by Eric and the product owners (John, Steve, Greg and Jim). Great to see how that concept is working, great team. Some of the highlights for me were:

  • QMlive will be in the end the complete authoring environment.
  • QWmise will become QMwiseR (with webservices)
  • Authoring manager will get a portal like interface using Qframes

All that is left to say is that all presentations can be found on  I’m will take 2 days of now and will enjoy Miami as much as I can. I will be flying home on Friday. It was a great conference. On to  Amsterdam were the European User conference will be in October.


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