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Making SCORM objects truly sharable - the Dynamic Appearance Model

Canada's Department of National Defence (DND) have released a white paper proposing methods for reusing content while retaining the organisation's "house style". The intention is that sharing SCORM objects between different organisations is made easier and more effective by dynamically altering the appearance of the material without changing its content.

The key problem was outlined at last year's IMS Open Technical Forum by Lt Cmdr St-Pierre. St-Pierre presented the idea of creating a course of study comprising of sharable content objects (SCOs) that either originated within the same organisation, or came from different sources.

In this latter scenario, it is difficult to create a coherent course because individual SCOs have their own appearance, possibly conflicting with the presentation styles of other SCOs in the course. As the DND's Captain Peter Hope explains:

"If a SCO has a Canadian appearance applied to it when it is created, sharing that SCO with a European organisations will often necessitate the application of an appearance that is more appropriate to the new organisation".

As an example, a training course for a piece of field equipment may use modules from different countries explaining different components - so one part looks like it belongs to a US training course, while another is in the Canadian style. Perhaps more important than the "branding" issue is the possibility that the internal navigation schemes for the modules maybe inconsistent, making the experience more difficult for the learner.

To tackle this problem, Lt Cmdr St-Pierre, Suzanne
Skublics and Captain Peter Hope from Canada's DLN Test Lab have been looking at using XML (eXtensible Markup Language) and XSL (XML Stylesheet Language) to dynamically change the appearance of the material depending on where they are being used. Using this approach, each organisation produces an XSL stylesheet that defines the appearance of their "house style".

The EML connection

For this scheme to work, agreement needs to be made on how the content itself should be defined in XML. One possible scheme is the Educational Modelling Language (EML) developed by the Open University of the Netherlands, currently being considered by the IMS Learning Design working group for a new IMS specification.

Until there is a common way of describing the learning experience within a SCO, the dynamic appearance model cannot be put into practice. This is because the individual learning objects will not use a consistent means of identifying their structure, making it impossible to render the content for the user using a different organisation's stylesheet.

More than just a SCORM issue

Outside of the military or even the SCORM context, the paper provides an excellent insight into the practical issues of reusing learning objects, and provides useful examples of how XML and XSL provide a means to dynamically present materials. The issue how to share and reuse content while still providing a consistent and valid learner experience is certainly applicable to further and higher education.

The white paper is now available for download in PDF format (2.3Mb) or as a ZIP file (500k).

For more information on SCORM, visit the ADL website. For more information on EML, visit the EML website.

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