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Simplifying Learning Design

Durand comments that "The main idea behind SLD 2.0 was to keep the essence of learning design in a voluntary simplistic specification easily usable as an add-on for IMS-CC 1.0. Several documents are already available."

I think this is a reasonable position to take; the IMS LD specification is extremely complex, hard to implement, and perhaps most problematic, hard for authors and users to understand. Most of the effort in recent years to improve adoption has focussed on improvements to tools supporting the specification, for example with ReCourse and Astro.

However there is only so far you can go with building tools and doing odd spec tweaks (like bolting on support for Widgets into the LD Services element) and so a re-think of IMS LD from the ground up is something worth thinking about.

Looking at Durand's proposal my immediate thought is that his idea of the "essence" of Learning Design is rather different from my own - and in fact he keeps what I would have thrown out, and he throws out some of what I would have kept.

Specifically, Durand has kept the aspects of Learning Design that are concerned with conditional branching. This has always been my least-favourite part of LD for a number of reasons; one of which is that I don't like putting programming logic into XML (<if>x<then>y<else>z<endif>). If you're going to use this sort of logic in an XML document, I think its better to use a scripting language like JavaScript or a functional programming language like Erlang. However, that's a pretty technical reason. The main reasons I would give for this being something to leave out of a simplified Learning Design language are that (a) SCORM already does this and is widely implemented and (b) most examples of simple learning designs don't use this feature, and are fairly linear flows.

This is brought home I think by what Durand has left out, which is grouping. In SLD 2.0, the only "groups" you can have for activities are everyone, and individuals. So as far as I can tell, no small-group activities are supported.

This positions SLD 2.0 much more closely to SCORM than to something like LAMS, which is probably the most popular LD platform. Which makes me wonder whether SLD 2.0 would have been better positioned as additional requirements for SCORM 2.0 rather than a simplification of LD?

So what would I do differently? Well, I think I'd start from somewhere else. I'd recognise that for individual, self-paced, adaptive content the only game in town is SCORM. And I'd take a look at existing implementations, like LAMS. And I'd focus on the things which make LD different from SCORM, which is around group and collaborative activities. And what I'd come up with would be something like this:



Each of these concepts should seem pretty familiar to LAMS users, although the LAMS file format doesn't really look like this. It also looks an awful lot like a group workflow pattern language.

I think this specification is simpler than IMS LD, but at the same time it has almost no overlap with Durand's proposal. Which just goes to show that IMS LD is not only complex, but you can carve up the space it occupies in many different ways.

(For the activities themselves, they need titles, instructions, resources, and tools, and there are various ways you could specify that which I won't elaborate here.)

Here's an example of how it might look:


<schedule time="2010-05-05:12:00:00Z"/>
<sequence>
<activity>
<title>Getting started</title>
<instructions>Read the briefing</instructions>
<resource>
<title>Briefing </title>
<url>briefing.html</url>
</resource>
<content src="briefing.html"/>
</activity>
</sequence>
<synchronize/>
<dissolve/>
<choice>
<activity>
<title>Read the articles</title>
<instructions>Read each of the resources in this activity</instructions>
<resource>
<title>Article 1</title>
<url>article-1.html</url>
</resource>
<resource>
<title>Article 2</title>
<url>article-2.html</url>
</resource>
</activity>
<activity>
<title>Do a quiz</title>
<assessment src="self-test.xml"/>
</activity>
</choice>
<group maxGroups="4" selection=":random"/>
<sequence>
<activity>
<title>Discuss</title>
<instructions>Now in your group discuss the articles ...</instructions>
<tool type="chat"/>
</activity>
</sequence>
<wait/>
<dissolve/>
<sequence>
<activity>
<title>write individual log entry on activity</title>
<tool type="text editor"/>
</activity>
</sequence>
<synchronize/>
<merge/>
<sequence>
<activity>
<title>Plenary</title>
<resource>
<title>Debrief notes</title>
<url>debriefing.html</url>
</resource>
</activity>
</sequence>

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