Archive for December 2009



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Beyond Course Management Systems

In the Social Learning group in LinkedIn, someone currently using Blackboard and exploring Moodle asked what folks thought might be characteristics of the next generation learning systems. Here’s what I shared there, and thought might be worthwhile posting here as well!

In designing our own xPERT eCampus social learning platform, we started with the belief that most eLearning replicates the worst practices of education electronically – lecture and objective test. Some of the design characteristics we have tried to build into our platform include:

1. The learner at the center: We have focused less on learning *management* than learning *delivery.* The user experience should be key, with the ability to configure the platform to suit the requirements for that experience. Should the user encounter a catalog of courses? A community of people with content available when needed? A site listing job functions with step by step performance support for each? Every situation is different and we believe the platform should be able to be configured so that the learner experience matches their needs and requirements.

2. Support instructional processes. Learning isn’t content, else universities could be replaced by libraries. Yet LMS’s and even Bb are basically content management systems with other features added on. Conversation is a fundamental business process. People like to learn from people – we’ve been doing it that way for 20,000 years. We know how to teach effectively. The problem is that our tools have not allowed us to map *best* practices rather than *worst* practices online. So for us a fundamental design characteristic is to be able to map best instructional practices by providing a toolkit that allows courses to be comprised of ILT sessions, eLearning packages, web meetings, discussion forums, individual assignments, assessments, manager certified action plans, coaching sessions, etc. etc.

3. Measure the important – not just the easy. We believe that a fundamental design flaw of most LMS’s (and SCORM in general) is that they confuse content with learning. They measure only that which is easy to be measured – SCORM completions. We believe that a design imperative is that if you’re going to support a full range of instructional processes, you need be able to track not only SCORM, but track participation in online discussions, attendence at webinars, completion of action plans, etc. etc.

4. Support the other 80%. We believe that the same platform, the same interface, the same administration, and the same user experience should be used for informal learning and for structured instruction. Rather than bolt on a wiki for informal learning, we think that it’s a better practice to have a rich discussion engine that can support wikis, blogs and forums – and have that be the same engine used for formal and informal learning. We also believe that support for informal learning goes well beyond that – that there are affordances in the best social networking and online community tools (like rich facilitation features and community health reports) that facilitate the success of online learning.

5. Support performance in addition to learning. This is where my focus may depart most significantly from your requirements, but the other critical focus we see for a 21st century learning system is performance support. Today’s workers face complex challenges – from new plant launches to managing employees in a litigous environment to staying abreast of new technologies. We believe that the wave of the future will be performance support systems that reduce complex tasks to logical steps, providing at each point access to learning assets, job aids, live experts, and best practices that will keep folks on top of their game.

It’s the integration of learning, collaboration, and performance support that I believe will characterize this next generation of learning system.

That’s a few of my ideas, anyway – your thoughts?

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