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Yesterday I visited the Fraunhofer institute in Karlsruhe, Germany. They have been investigating a learning map metaphor for the past few years. Interesting visit. So what did I learn from it?

The Fraunhofer institute is an impressive organization 18.000 employees working in applied science. So they approached this research in a scientific way. They use web didactics as a didactical framework and build a very complete solution around that. If we take a closer look at their solutions there are some things that I like, but also some things that need improvement.

Image of the prototype from the Fraunhofer solutions for learning maps
Image of the prototype from the Fraunhofer solutions for learning maps

If you look at the image you will see a course that has several learning paths. Based upon the results they use a branching mechanism to steer you in a certain direction and they will choose the proper path for you. This I don’t like. The purpose of a map is to give insight to the learner in the content and the possible learning paths. There is no point in presenting alternative paths if you can’t take them. What I do like is the fact that you can see the route you have already taken (dark on the image) and that they give feedback on the branching. At the first intersection you can see in the map that you will navigate to the top of the map if you score over 50% and that you will take the bottom route if you score lower. The biggest problem is the amount of information. You can zoom in and out of a map. On a high level it is OK, it shows the routes and it presents the learning content as a smaller or larger town. When you zoom in (like in the picture above), there is way to much information. Each symbol is a combination of media type, content type and level. This combination makes it very too complex. As always the hardest part is leaving things out in order to make it simple and intuitive. An other problem is the representation of learning objectives. They are presented on the top of the screen in a sequence. The selected learning objective is indicated with a red square. This way you don’t have an overview of all objectives and you can’t see the relations between the objectives.

It is easy to have comments on the work of somebody else, but it is way harder to come up with suggestions that make it better. I tried to come up with them in the form of requirements for a new metaphor. Here they are:

  • The new metaphor should give the learner an overview of all learning objectives and their inter relations in one simple overview.
  • Information must be shown to suggest to best learning path, but the learner should be able to decide which path to take.
  • The metaphor should show the followed learning path.
  • Information should be dosed carefully, so we don’t want to present all information at once. You should be able to zoom in to one specific area only.
  • We need to have simplified icons to inform the learner about the content that is available.
  • Creating a learning presentation based on a metaphor should be as easy as building a course with a book metaphor, It should be automatically generated, no scripting required.

I do believe that maps are a potential candidate for a new metaphor, the challenge will be to make it simple, intuitive on the one hand but rich on the other. The first post on a new learning metaphor was very well read (it is already my best read post ever) and I got a lot of comments. Thanks for that, I got great input that really helps me. Apparently this subject is of interest to many people and I will definitely follow-up with more posts.

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