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Experts question SCORM's pedagogic value

Is the underlying model behind SCORM actually useful for teaching and learning? This is the question raised in an article at Online Learning Magazine, with input from a number of US learning experts.

"Clarity or Calamity?" is the headline; pretty dramatic stuff given that the subject is the usually somewhat dry topic of the SCORM content application profile developed for the US Department of Defence by ADL. SCORM provides a means to package, describe, sequence, and deliver web pages for use by a single learner, and is one approach for implementing "Learning Objects"; small chunks of reusable learning materials.

According to the article, what is alarming some instructional designers is not so much SCORM itself - which provides a handy means of moving pieces of material around systems - but the underlying model. Are learning objects actually useful and appropriate? Is this a good pedagogic approach?

Some of the comments - from IMS' Thor Anderson and David Merrill - echo concerns from a number of quarters about the Learning Object concept; For example, can a piece of learning really be detached entirely from its context? And can a sequence of such de-contextualised pieces truly convey a unified experience for the learner? As Merrill states in the Online Learning article, ""You can't chop things up and expect them to make sense,"

Because of the approach taken by SCORM, the main uptake may be in delivering what Anderson calls "shovelware"; basic mass-produced page-turning activities. On the other hand, Claude Ostyn of Click2Learn points to the recent IMS Simple Sequencing specification as a way to bring some of the "pedagogical logic between learning objects.

Simple Sequencing (simple in terms of behaviour rather than implementation!) provides a mechanism for defining the way a set of objects are presented, including branching, iteration and so on. This is an important part of the SCORM profile, adding a great deal of additional functionality and flexibility. Unfortunately, the specification does not convey any interaction or collaboration between learners, following instead the general SCORM model of the single self-paced learner.

Creating a standard that defines a higher-level, pedagogically valid experience is something that IMS has been aiming quietly towards for some time. The Learning Design specification, due to be released sometime later this year, will be the first attempt by the consortium to produce a specification that directly engages the interest of pedagogy experts and instructional designers in e-learning. Based upon work on EML (Educational Modelling Language) by the Open University of the Netherlands, producing the IMS Learning Design specification has proved to be one of the most complex challenges facing the consortium.

Other approaches to the problem have also been taken, for example the PALO language developed in Spain and TeachML from Germany's University of the Armed Forces both use ontologies to build semantic networks of learning objects.

Of course, moving into the pedagogic realm brings with it a whole new set of complex issues, with conflicts between empirical, constructivist, social, behavioural and other approaches. Is this something an e-Learning specification can reasonably tackle?

You can read the original article at Online Learning Magazine.

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