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IMS Simple Sequencing approved

After some delay, IMS members have voted for Simple Sequencing; a means of describing how a learner can progress through on-line learning activities. The idea is that it will provide a means of choreographing learning objects in a few simple ways. The spec will be part of the forthcoming version of SCORM (1.3) for precisely that reason.

Though the sequencing behaviour that can be specified is fairly simple, the spec itself is anything but. Hence the fact that a prior version of the final release was released as a public draft in September. A lot of clarification was called for while SCORM implementors where waiting for the next big thing.

It is here now, however, and it may make quite a difference to the learning experience of a lot of people. What Simple Sequencing enables is the specification of what learning activities a learner will be presented with, in what order and other what circumstances. At the moment, the learning experience afforded by your average learning object is basically limited to reading or viewing your way through a number of pages or videos, which is followed by a test. Results are recorded, and the learner can go on to the next object.

Simple sequencing is based on the same 'single person interacting with online material' paradigm, but spices that up by spreading these activities over an activity tree. A learner could, for example, start out with a mandatory introductory activity, on completion of that be presented with a choice of two other activities, and only after completion of all three be presented with a test, sequenced in the same order in which the learner wandered through the content bits. Other nice features include the ability to suspend and resume the activity- no need to finish everything there and then. Also, the spec explicitly enables the embedding of activities in other activities, making it possible to provide learning experiences that are either very fine-grained, or extremely extensive or both. Assuming that content authors are interested in that sort of thing- which they haven't always been with regard to aggregating learning objects.

There are, of course, things that Simple Sequencing won't do. Probably most significantly for a lot of people is that it has no notion of role. It only assumes one person in the role of learner, and anything else is outside of the specs' scope. This is not necessarily bad, as multi-user learning experiences using multiple roles is already well catered for by IMS Learning Design.

Which inevitably leads to the question how these two relate. Both, after all, allow you to choreograph learning experiences by putting activities into a specific order. Apart from the single v. multiuser issue, the main differences are Learning Design's persistent objects and services in an environment versus Simple Sequencing's embedding of services and the like as another type of resource inbetween other resources in a sequence. What that means is that Learning Design has a strong notion of creating a social online context, where Simple Sequencing is more about finely controlled and well defined training. Fortunately, you should be able to embed one in the other. That may sound confusing, but imagine that the little one activity, three activities, test sequence outlined above is simply an activity within a much larger learning design. You could do worse when teaching a specific skill in the context of larger team based learning.

Technically, Simple Sequencing presents a few changes from the way things are done in, say, SCORM 1.2 and earlier. Both the JavaScript API that allowed the content to talk to the VLE, as well as the AICC derived content model aren't necessary for Simple Sequencing per se. Instead, the main way a Simple Sequencing learning object would talk to a VLE is via the IMS Content Package in which it comes. On the one hand, that shows that IMS specs are nicely integrated, but on the other, it presents quite a curly mix of packaging and content. Learning Design is similarly featured/afflicted. Talking to a VLE via what is essentially a static packaging bill also means that rather a lot of the real hoopla needs to be taken care of by the VLE. The content provides the choreography, but the VLE needs to do the dancing. And dance it will, because there are no less than eleven interacting processes to keep track of.

A slightly revised version of the spec will be up on the IMS Simple Sequencing pages shortly.

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