I’m dreaming of an open learning content landscape

I’m still all fired up by the learning solution conference of last week. During one session we had to answer the question: “Where will you be in 5 years from now”. I will answer it in this post: so it is time for some daydreams.

For me personally I hope and expect that I will still be working at easygenerator. By then we are recognized as the best learning content platform in the world, we will have an active network of partners in 121 countries and we will have more end users than we can count. But probably you couldn’t care less.

What might be interesting to you is where our learning content will be and what will happen with it. Inspired by the learning landscape of Will Tallheimer I created a content landscape. This is how I dream that that landscape will look like in five years’ time.

Content landscapeOk, instead of easygenerator in the middle, it should have said ‘any content management or authoring system’, but it’s my dream so I can do what I want. Here are the details.

From the authoring tool (easygenerator) perspective
Content management and authoring tools are completely open, allowing authors to pull in information from anywhere and to publish to all kinds of systems. Easygenerator has no functionality to create images, flash or any other type of media content. There are great tools available that do just that. Easygenerator is the content integrator, enabling authors to gather, organize and publish all kinds of learning content and to create and maintain text in multiple languages. It supports open standards that enable you to connect to all kind of media on the web and any type of content that you have produced in any other tool. You can freely pull that information in, our push it out and it will work flawless in all systems on all platforms. Learning content is tagged for context, so it knows what is it about, for whom it is and when to show itself. Learning content is published in all kind of systems: Learning Managements Systems, Knowledge Management Systems, Social networks, internet, intranet and Electronic Performance systems. They closely work together in presenting relevant information in an active way to the learner precisely when he needs it.

From the author’s perspective
Authors will create learning material, harvesting all source materials from the web, gathering it from SME’s through social media, working together with designers, managers, SME’s, project managers. Content is re-used a lot and the structure of  courses is languages independent, so you can maintain courses in many languages with that one structure. Context is added in the form of meta data, most of the tags are generated automatically, some of them added by authors or by end users of the content. Authors have reports on the usage of courses and topics and the will get loads of user feed back (like/dislike and comments) they adjust the content based on this input. If they change anything, it is available to users within seconds.

From the learners perspective
A learner who has an question or a problem is supported because there is a lot of information available about him that creates a user context. Based on location, preferences, previous issues, education, function, current usage of systems a context is automatically defined. The content is also context aware. Whenever a user activates a help or learning system relevant information is automatically presented using filters that apply both contexts. Users can add to content or comment on content (based on rights and type of content) and indicate whether they like content or not.

Probably I can come up with a lot more, but you will hopefully get my drift.

My E-learning predictions and plans for 2011 #LCBQ

Tony Karrer is the guy behind elearninglearning.com a community where he gathers all kinds of blogs about e-Learning, He also is the blogmeister of the Learning Circuits community. On that community he runs a series of post regarding ‘The big question’. The question of the month is: What are your Predictions and Plans for 2011? He asked me to write a blog with my view, so here it is.

My predictions

I see some important changes developing in the world of e-Learning. I don’t think that 2011 will be a year of great transformations but these changes will slowly gain importance.

2011 Moving from the LMS to the workplace

I believe that in the long-term we will move from formal learning (courses in a LMS or classroom) more and more towards just-in-time workplace learning that supports the informal learning processes. Formal learning will always be there, but now it is the main or only focus of e-Learning. I believe that focus will shift.

Form courses to nuggets and collaboration

In order to make this shift we need to change we our approach to e-Learning. In stead of well designed complete courses with a beginning and a end, you will see more and more smaller ‘nuggets’ of training, best practices and knowledge. These nuggets will often be made by learners and subject matter experts. This will (over time) change the role of the professional e-Learning author. In stead of creating complete courses he will be coaching learners and Sme’s and his writing role will become more an editorial role. The courses that remain will (should) become more and more adaptive.

Disclosure of content: capturing context

A lot of the learning content will no longer be published through a LMS, but through portals, help functions and knowledge systems. Form the context of the work a query will be made into our content database, we have to deliver the appropriate answer to that query. This is a challenge, it means we have to focus on adding keywords in a structural way to pieces of content; we need to get involved in metadata and taxonomies.


2011 will be a crucial year for easygenerator. We want to make the step from a regional player (The Netherlands, Germany and the UK) to a global player. We will drastically increase our partner network and start selling in as many countries as possible. (Interested? Drop me an email!).

We will focus on facilitating collaboration better, we will make the first step at capturing user-generated content and feed that back to the author and we will create a Publication platform, that can deliver content to the LMS (SCORM) and to all kind of other systems. In order to do that metadata will be an important attention point.

This means a lot of innovative thinking and developing. We do not want to do that on our own and we don’t want to invent the wheel all over again. Therefore I created a LinkedIn group called the ‘e-learning piranhas‘. This group is aimed at collaborating on those ideas to make them more concrete, sharing our knowledge and insights, and creating partnerships that can convert these ideas into tools. Please join, if you want more details, please read my blogpost on this subject or contact me.

And the learning blender get’s bigger

I like mind maps. Yesterday I was sitting in an airplane on my way back from the Learning Technology exhibition in London just playing with my Ipad. I started a mind map on all kind of terms related to learning, trying to get some structure in it. Here is my result:

This is by no means a complete overview of what we (or better said the learner) has to deal with. It shows the complexity and dynamics of the e-Learning field. What does this mean for us as a developer of an e-Learning authoring system?

I think it will mean a lot, we will have to adjust to this changing landscape. At this moment tools like easygenerator are being used almost completely to generate formal e-Learning courses. That is just one sub node of the mind map.  The common denominator in all nodes is that content is being generated. That is interesting for us as a content creation and management platform. All that content is scattered over an increasing amount of tools that bring information to the learner/worker. We need to transform easygenerator to a platform were you can manage, organize and maintain all that information, we must develop from an e-Learning authoring system to a content authoring system. Enabling professional workers to create, gather, maintain, organize and publish all that information into all those platforms.

We use the term Blended learning for the mix between e-Learning and classroom training. But we need to blend much more. The blender must become a lot bigger in order to accomplish the above.

Mind the gap

Recently I have thought and read a lot about the future of (e-)Learning. Yesterday I saw a video of a presentation by Sir Ken Robinson at TED. He states that a lot of people do not use their talents or for that matter even are aware of what their talents might be. For a large part he blames the educational systems, which with his linear setup kills all creativity. He states that this is our second climate crisis, not on natural recourses but on human recourses. He calls for a revolution because evolution is not enough anymore. Not only an interesting but also a very humorous presentation, I can recommend it to you.

This week I was reading in the ‘Working smarter fieldbook‘ fundamental change is all over it. We need to do different things and we need to do them in a different way. I agree completely with both of them. But at the same time I can’t help to notice that there is a huge gap between practice and theory, between dream and reality.

An example of that was the workshop of the Internet time alliance I visited. I know they hate frontal one way presentations, but because the audience wasn’t really cooperating, that was mostly what it was. Or when I hear the stories of my wife who works at a primary school, for example that they have six very old computers for 50 or so kids from they highest grades. That’s a far cry from what you need for more innovative  forms of education. That is the gap I’m worried about. It is important to paint new horizons, but we need a route to get there, and we need to find a way of getting lots of people there.

This week I heard two examples of innovations and solutions that are based on solutions derived from the nature, it is called biomimicry. One was a presentation named ‘ Learning from the gecko’s tail‘ by Robbert Full. The other one was a guy talking on the radio (I didn’t get his name) he had examples on how ants solve traffic jams and how termites have a highly efficient airco system in their mounds and how we can use their solutions for to solve our problems. Interesting enough Ken Robinson argues that a more organic way of learning and developing should be adapted  in stead of the linear ‘ industrial’ approach. Maybe we can find answers on how to change and how to learn in nature? Should we un-organize the learning and just let it be? Intuitive learning or natural learning sounds nice, but how will it look?

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.


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