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Am I missing the mark?

8. james dalziel- may 22nd, 2007 at 11:49 pm

Ken, Thanks for your thoughts on the adoption of Learning Design in the US. I think a terminology issue needs clarifying first. For me, the phrase “Learning Design” (especially with the capitals) tends to refer to a specific body of quite recent technical work that attempts to describe how software can “run” a sequence (or flow) of learning activities (particularly collaborative activities); and this ability to run the activities is based on a run-time system executing a machine-readable “design” document (which can be created independent of the run-time environment; and hence is shareable).

The core elements of a Learning Design are a series of activities that include details (for each activity) about who is involved and their roles, what is to be done, and how it is done; together with some overarching description of the “flow” of these activities, and potentially the reason for this Learning Design (eg, objectives). This description could be applied to a well structured (human written) lesson plan, so Learning Design’s unique contribution is to provide a machine-readable “formal language” that allows the lesson plan to be “run” in software.

The early work on Learning Design was around Educational Modelling Language (EML) at the Open University of the Netherlands in the late 1990s. This work was then an input to the development of the IMS Learning Design specification, which is the main reference point for most people within this field. IMS LD was developed in 2001 and 2002, and released in February 2003. Over the past five or so years, we’ve seen the first generation of Learning Design systems that are either directly based on this work (eg, Coppercore and Reload) or draw inspiration from it (eg, LAMS).

I mention all this because there is a wider set of activities within educational organisations sometimes called learning design, instructional design, or other terms - and this often predates the specific work mentioned above. Sometimes there is quite a bit of overlap between these approaches (such as the SUNY learning design work, which has quite a bit in common with the ideas behind IMS LD), sometimes less so.

Much of the focus on instructional design in the US relates only to “single-learner” contexts, whereas Learning Design (as described above) has tended to have a strong (but not exclusive) focus on collaborative learning contexts. While I applaud the sophistication of US single-learner instructional design, I remain dumbfounded at its silence on collaborative learning contexts.

As an aside, the software implications of single vs collaborative learning contexts are quite different too - running single-learner materials is much simpler than collaborative activities, as collaboration requires co-ordination of groups of learners, which normally means a much more complex “backend” software system.

Let me list the projects I know of (and their country of origin) which fall within the scope of my narrow definition of Learning Design. This is a quick, rough list, so apologies to anyone I’ve missed. Also, I’ll only list the main software project, not more general add-ons, research reviews, etc. Not all are directly based on IMS LD, but have (or plan to have) the core characteristics of shareable designs that support sequences of collaborative learning activities:

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, The impact of open source software on education. OpenStax CNX. Mar 30, 2009 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10431/1.7
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