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Posts Tagged ‘Moodle

Looking Back at Learning Technologies 2010

Learning Technologies

Learning Technologies

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the 2010 Learning Technologies Exhibition in London. In many ways this event is very similar to the Online Educa in Berlin (e.g. most Berlin exhibitors were in London too and the conferences shared a keynote speaker). There are two main differences: Learning Technologies seems to draw a slightly less international crowd and it focuses more on the world of corporate learning. In this post I want to capture the people I met and the technologies that I looked at. What caught my eye?

Mobile Learning, Social Media and Serious Gaming
Those were the three buzz words that most exhibitors thought would sell their services best. I made it a point to enquire with any exhibitor who used any of these terms in their marketing and found out that most of these claims were very hollow. For example, I talked to a developer of mobile applications who told me they would gladly convert all my existing e-learning content into a mobile format (why would I want to take something that does not take advantage of its medium and move it over to a medium where it fits even less well?). Another one on the ridiculous side of the effectiveness scale was the vendor that showed me a screenshot of an internal social networking site where people could do a daily crossword. Honestly? Where is the first vendor that can show me a scalable mobile learning event/application that can only work because it is delivered through a mobile Internet enabled, location aware phone with a camera? The medium is the message right?

Technology Companies versus Content Development Companies
Luckily there were some exceptions to the rule. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to the knowledgable people of Caspian Learning. They have developed a serious gaming platform (Thinking Worlds) which utilises Adobe Shockwave to deliver single user 3D virtual worlds in the web browser of the participant. I have been a participant in an excellent course that used their technology and was very curious to see what the authoring environment would look like. After a solid demo I came away very impressed. The way that scenarios can be created and managed looks wonderful. I believe it is fair to say that Caspian’s technology is good enough to enable a new way of designing learning events. The ball is now in the court of learning designers (I like that better than “content developers”), they have to explore this new technology and have to learn a whole new set of skills. Authoring is easy, but how do you design effective scenarios? The field is very immature in this respect. Here is a demonstration video of a game made with their engine:

Caspian’s business model is interesting too. They consider themselves a technology company foremost, and not a content development company. Their business development efforts are spent on finding content partners. They already have a deal in place with IBM and I wouldn’t be surprised if companies like Accenture, Tata and NIIT will follow soon. This is the perfect way to make your business scale and it will allow you to focus on developing your technology (managing technical people like programmers is fundamentally different from managing learning consultants).

In my quick chat with Gavin Cooney from Learnosity I advised him to pursue a similar strategy: the core competences of his company are their technical skills (I call them “Asterisk plumbers”) and their ability to find strategic partnerships (not that he needs any advice, I am sure his business development skills far outshine mine!).

Some companies seem to sit on the fence when it comes to being a technology or a content development company. LearningGuide Solutions has an Electronic Performance Support System (EPSS) and develops content for it. I believe that EPSSs could be a very efficient way of getting people up to the task with a piece of software. The demo of their product left me underwhelmed.  They have been on the market for quite a while now, but their LearningGuide does not seem to have evolved past a an improved version of an online help system. The granularity of the context sensitivity was disappointing, the authoring has no version control and there are no social features. Wouldn’t it be great if people could write their own tips with the guides? How come LearningGuide has not kept up and emulated some of the functionality that platforms like Get Satisfaction have?

Learning as a Managed Service
I was interested to know whether any vendors would be able to deliver a large part of the learning function (at least the technology and support for the technology) as a managed service. I talked to two vendors:

I asked the people from Learn.com why they keep winning the reader’s choice for “Best Enterprise Learning Management System” category of Elearning! magazine (“Is it because all your customers get a free subscription to the mag?” wasn’t really appreciated). The first answer came from the sales guy: “Because we guarantee Return On Investment”. I don’t even know what that is supposed to mean, but they seem to think it is relevant (check out the relentless Flash-based ROI counter on their site). Luckily the next guy had a more sensible answer: Learn.com has all of their customers on the same code base and has a rapid development process for this code. This means they are able to deliver new functionality and fixes faster than corporations would be able to do for themselves. According to them they have the authentication problem solved and are able to integrate with HR systems like SAP through a mature web-services based architecture. They also had really smart answers to my questions about reporting. One thing I appreciated was their support for all web browsers: it is not often that somebody can promise me support for IE, Opera, Firefox and Safari without blinking. I always take that as a sign that technicians might be in charge instead of marketeers.

Another company that I checked out was the Edvantage group. This UK based business has signed a couple of large contracts recently. They deliver a completely integrated content development and delivery street through a Software as a Service solution. In that sense they are similar to Learn.com.

I would be interested to hear from anybody who has some real world experience with either of these companies.

Moodle Everywhere?
Moodle has become ubiquitous. It seemed that about one in four stands at the exhibition had something to say about Moodle. You can see that this is very market driven (open source finally has become cool), as a lot of the exhibitors had no idea what they were talking about.

My personal favourite was somebody from Saffron Interactive whom I asked about their social networking offerings. Their whole stand was adorned with logos from Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. I was wondering if they maybe had thought of a smart way to integrate these services into learning offerings. She showed me a couple of screenshots of something that looked a bit like Ning and told me they created social communities for their clients. She then proceeded to tell me that the platform they used for this was Moodle and that an implementation of Moodle in general only takes three(!) days. I love Moodle, but I would never use it to create a social community and to make Moodle look like her screenshots takes a lot more than three days. I had to move on after that.

A very impressive Moodle offering came from aardpress. They have invested a lot of their programming talent (months and months of work) into creating Moomis, a set of tools that fills some of Moodle’s gaps for the corporate learning world. Unlike the corporate Moodle solutions that I have seen so far (e.g. ELIS), Moomis is not a set of successful open source projects that are integrated into Moodle. Instead, all functionality is created inside Moodle itself, using Moodle’s libraries and its add-on architecture. This had advantages on the usability side, but could have disadvantages on the side of functionality (i.e. it is hard to write a very rich tool from scratch). aardpress (they don’t seem to want to capitalise their name) is hard at work getting Moomis ready for Moodle 2.0. I hope they are successful in turning this into a sustainable project and maybe even collaborate a bit more with Moodle HQ in developing this type of functionality.

In the conference part of Learning Technologies there was a small meeting of corporate Moodle users that I crashed into in its last 15 minutes. I am glad I did, because I met Mark Berthelemy there, who I had only seen on Moodle.org before.

Monkeys with typewriters

Monkeys with typewriters

Wisdom Architects
Another meeting I thoroughly enjoyed was my talk with Lawrence O’Connor from Wisdom Architects. We chatted about implementing learning technology in very large organisations, discussed theories of memory and the Mind Palace 3D iPhone app he is developing. This app will help people memorise better using the time-tested technique of building a memory palace. I find it fascinating how we are both using technology to outsource our memory (my phone keeps all my to-do tasks, phone numbers, etc.) and to help us get a better memory. I am wondering whether we will see more study tools like this app and like eFaqt in the near future.

Lawrence very kindly gave me a copy of Jemima GibbonsMonkeys with typewriters. This book about social media at work is published by Triarchy Press which has a lot of other interesting titles. I really liked Gibbons’ unconventional approach: she went out and interviewed about fifty people that have either changed the face of social media or have run succesful social media projects in companies. The book is divided into six chapters titled: Co-creation, Passion, Learning, Openness, Listening and Generosity. Each chapter starts with a myth and a reality (e.g. Myth: Social networking is a time waster, Reality: Building connections is vital to business). My copy is now full of dog-ears. A couple of the concepts/ideas that I want to explore further:

Here is an O’Reilly quote:

You design applications that get better the more people use them, then the applications that work get the most user data. The winners are those that harvest collective intelligence: Amazon, Google… Google is actually harvesting the intelligence of all users. [...]
One of the things that I suggest to any company is what data assets do you own and how can you build new fresh data services against that data? I think a lot of traditional businesses have enormous data assets, they just need a slightly different mindset.

Then there is IBM’s idea of reverse mentoring programmes, where younger employees teach the older staff about social technologies. And a great quote from Clay Shirky:

All businesses are media businesses, because whatever else they do, they rely on the managing of information.

Gibbons formulates an argument that I use often when I try to get people to be more transparent about what they are doing:

Today’s smart businesses are not so much about creating an owning knowledge as about applying and learning from it. If [a company's] blog posts and research papers are freely available, to be used , re-mixed, mashed up and built upon, that’s fine: the core competence of [the company] lies in the minds and knowhow of its consultants.

The book ends with “30 ways to get social”: great practical advice.

Other Meetups
Learning Technologies really does seem to be the place where all the British e-Learning people come together. It was chance for me to meet a lot of people that I had only met virtually before. I had a good chat with David Wilson from Elearnity, talking about innovation processes and about his research network. I met some of the people from Brand Learning and The Chartered Institute of Marketing with whom I have been working in the last couple of months on a marketing curriculum. I got to shake Rob Hubbard‘s hand and talk to him about his excellent Rapid eLearning Development Course. The only appointment I missed was the one with Jane Hart, maybe next time!

Bersin Executive Roundtable
The day after the event I joined Josh Bersin, Allan Keetch, Donald H. Taylor, Barry Davis, Ghassan Mirdad and Christina Tsirimokou for a corporate roundtable organised by Bersin & Associates. This was a diverse group of people with very different problems, so occasionally it was hard to find some common ground.

We did manage to have a good discussion about integrating talent management and learning. Doing this from a system’s perspective seems to be the holy grail for many organisations. Bersin thought the overlap between these two things is not as profound as most people think it might be. There really isn’t that much integration to do. On the other hand he has seen many organisations crumble under the weight of their completely systemised and integrated competence management systems.

Allan Keetch noted how good talent management systems are important and useful when an organisation is restructuring. I agreed partially with him. We all know that nowadays it is not only what you know, but also who you know that is important. There are barely any talent management systems that take this into account. My employer just went through a restructuring exercise and I am quite sure that my hiring manager had a good overview of my formalised competencies (and those of my competitors for the job), but had no insight into the network that I would bring into the job. As organisational network analysis (ONA) will mature I imagine we will see more and more tools that creates these social graphs automatically based on existing communication and collaboration patterns. (Remember O’Reilly’s quote, earlier in this post?).

Josh Bersin had keynoted on informal learning and it was therefore fitting to have Barry Davis at the table. He works for Creganna Tactx Medical and he believes that learning is working (or is it the other way around?) and that everybody in his company should be a trainer. His organisation is just the right size for his ideas to have a lot of impact. For example, he has managed to “formalise” (“organise” or “facilitate” would probably be better here) the 70-20-10 rule of Charles Jennings.

Finally
I am not the only who has written about Learning Technologies. Jane Hart had some good comments (with a post by Jay Cross in her wake) and Mark Berthemely wrote an extensive post which is very worthwhile to read.

The Future of Moodle and How Not To Stop It (iMoot 2010)

Yesterday morning I got up at 6:30 to deliver a presentation at the very first virtual Moodlemoot: iMoot 2010. All in all it was a hugely enjoyable experience. I had people attending from among other the United States, Ireland, Zambia, Australia, Japan.

The platform for delivery of the session was Elluminate, which worked flawless. I am still amazed at the fact that we now have easy access to the technology that makes a virtual conference with a worldwide audience possible.

My talk was titled “The Future of Moodle of How Not to Stop It”, an adaptation of the book by Zittrain.

The Future of...

The Future of...

I first recapped the recent discussion about the death of the VLE:

I showed how Moodle was conceived and developed when the web was less mature then it is now (the social web as we know it was basically non-existent) and how a teacher can create a learning experience for his or her students using nothing but loosely coupled free tools. Horses for courses.

I then looked at the two mental models that Moodle could adapt from Drupal:

  1. Drupal’s tagline is “Community Plumbing”. I believe Moodle’s could be “Learning Plumbing”.
  2. Drupal sees itself as a platform. This is exactly what Moodle should reinvent itself as.

In the final part of the presentation I looked at how the new Moodle 2.0 API’s (repository, portfolio, comments and webservices) will be able to help make the shift towards a platform. I finished with asking people to imagine what an appstore for repository plugins and what an appstore for learning activities would look like.

The slides are on Slideshare and embedded below (you can also download a 2MB PDF version). The session has been recorded. Once that recording comes online, I will update this post and try and share that here too.

The one difficult thing about a virtual conference, by the way, is communicating the dates and times. Timezones add a lot of complexity. iMoot, for example, provides users with a custom schedule for their timezone and replays each session twice after the live event. I am starting to believe in the Swatch Internet Time concept again. Wouldn’t a single metric .beat not be great? See you @850!

Written by Hans de Zwart

05-02-2010 at 09:30

Moodle and Multimedia, a Ned-Moove Seminar + iMoot 2010

In April 2007 I was one of the founders of the Dutch speaking Moodle user group, Ned-Moove. When we started nearly three years ago it was still necessary to give Moodle “a face”. Now Moodle has become ubiquitous and the mission of the user group is slowly changing: we now mainly organise meeting trying to bring Moodlers together.

Next Wednesday, the 27th of January, Ned-Moove will have its yearly “jaarvergadering” at Stoas in Wageningen, NL. We will choose new board members, get commitment for our plans for 2010 and deal with our 2009 finances. Right after the jaarvergadering is our first seminar of the year: Moodle and multimedia. There are three excellent speakers (they will speak in Dutch):

All the practical information about the meeting and the seminar can be found here. Registration is free and is done over here.

iMoot 2010

iMoot 2010

On another note: iMoot 2010 is promising to be an exciting Moodle related event. It is the first full-fledged virtual Moodle conference. It runs from February 4-7, spanning 31 timezones and 210 countries. Registration is relatively cheap (45 Australian dollars). The program has a lot of interesting sessions.

I will be presenting too. My presentation is titled “The Future of Moodle and How Not to Stop It“. Recently there has been a lot of discussion on the death of the VLE. I will try to recap the discussion and see how this reflects on Moodle (2.0). I do hope to meet you there!

Written by Hans de Zwart

21-01-2010 at 23:18

The State of Dutch Speaking Moodle 2009-2010

Two years ago I started writing up a little “State of Dutch Speaking Moodle”. You can find the previous versions here:

This year I am pressed for time so all I have done is compiled the graphs (I haven’t looked at any of the sites this year).

Registered Moodle Sites
In 2009 Moodle.org has implemented some automatic culling of inactive registered
websites. This has meant that registered sites for most countries have gone down in 2009. Obviously this does not mean that Moodle is less used (see the Moodle Stats page for proof of that). The way usage is measured will hopefully stay the same so that comparisons between different years will start to make sense again. Please don’t forget that there are many Moodle sites in operation that have not registered (so if you are a journalist don’t misunderstand this and misquote me).

Registered Moodle Sites

Ned-Moove Members
Our Dutch Speaking Moodle Users Group, Ned-Moove, has grown again in the last year. I can’t help but notice that all the growth is in the Dutch memberships. I realise that this might be due to a cultural difference (Dutch people seem to love organising themselves formally), but it is still a pity.

Ned-Moove Members

Ned-Moove is looking for new board members. So if you are interested (especially if you are from Belgium) please let me know before January 27th! If you would like to become a member of Ned-Moove you can register here.

Ned-Moove Sponsors
Ned-Moove is always looking for sponsors. Their financial contributions make it a lot easier for us to organise our seminars and Moodlemoots. In 2009 we found three new large sponsors and four new small sponsors.

Ned-Moove Small SponsorsNed-Moove Large Sponsors

Please register here if your organisation is interested in becoming a sponsor.

Conclusion
I have a feeling that 2009 was really a breakthrough year for Moodle worldwide. For example, it became the market leader in the LMS
category for eLearning Guild members. In the Netherlands something similar has happened. Without the quantitive data to back it up, I am sure that Moodle is the number one LMS in the Dutch corporate world: you find it everywhere.

There is one market where the Dutch are way behind in Moodle adoption: the tertiary education market. This market was shored up by Blackboard about 5 years ago. I am still waiting for the first Dutch university or college that will make the switch. Maybe 2010 could be the year for that?

An Open Office spreadsheet file with the data that I used to create the graphs is available here.

Written by Hans de Zwart

04-01-2010 at 12:40

Posted in Moodle

Tagged with , , ,

Random Notes From Online Educa 2009

My blog, as one of the preferred outsourcing partners of my mind, will serve as a keeper of some of my notes and thoughts on Online Educa 2009 in Berlin. This will be a relatively disorganised post with a lot of different short bits of information, apologies in advance.

Blog posts
Earlier, I wrote a couple of blog posts about this year’s Educa:

Twitter
I used Twitter a lot this year trying to capture some choice quotes and thoughts. Twitter does not give you an easy way to show all your posts with a particular hash tag (why not?), so you can view my past tweets through Tweet Scan. Here are some highlights:

I wasn’t the only person tweeting at the conference. The tag was #oeb2009 and Twubs provided a nice hub.

Making the switch from Blackboard to Moodle
Alex Büchner from Synergy Learning talked about organisations switching from Blackboard to Moodle. He gave three reasons for making the switch:

  1. Moodle is a better product.
  2. Staff and students prefer to use Moodle over Blackboard (see this report).
  3. Moodle has a lower Total Cost of Ownership (see this report).

Alex made a lot of people laugh with his graphic showing how Blackboard is gaining market share through acquisitions and how Moodle still manages to trump that:

Big fish and bigger fish

Courtesy of Alex Büchner of Synergy Learning (click to enlarge)

Brochures that I picked up
There were a lot of exhibitors all handing out brochures. These are the companies/services of which I kept the brochures:

  • CELSTEC, the Centre for Learning Sciences and Technologies. This Centre of Expertise is part of the Dutch Open University and does a lot of original research in the technology space. I would love to explore how I could work with them in the future.
  • Quick Lessons. I like how this company has all the right buzzwords in their marketing: they allow you to do “rapid e-learning development in the cloud” (!). They even have the famous Web 2.0 badge on their site. There is one thing I really like though: the concept of a web-based development tool. I do think there is a lot of potential for those, regardless of whether Quick Lessons is the best option. Does anyone have any experience with using Udutu for example?
  • The market for capturing presentations is maturing. A presentation or a lecture might seem old-fashioned to some, but there still is a space for this type of teaching (if it is well done) and by filming the lecture, you can turn this into on-demand content for students. Through my work at Stoas Learning I already knew about Presentations 2 Go, but I hadn’t heard of Lecturnity before.
  • The rapid browser-based sims of Thinking Worlds are very interesting to explore further. A little while ago I did a course which used a game developed with their 3D engine and I thought it had a lot of potential. Their worlds run in the browser and only require a Shockwave plugin which should be available on most systems. What I really want to know is how quick and easy the authoring process is. How do you design interactions and scenarios? I will check that out in the near future.
  • Geanium delivers “Interactive Chronological Visualisations”, another word would be timelines. Their product looked nice enough: you could put events not just on a timeline, but also on a particular place in the world. I can see some niche applications for this service.
  • I have quite a bit of experience in using Adobe Captivate to do rapid development. I like certain things about the software, but would be interested in finding out how it really compares to the other rapid development tools from Articulate (check out the excellent Rapid e-Learning Blog by the way) and TechSmith (of SnagIt, Camtasia and Jing fame). The latter has a new product out called UserVue, which could be very useful in usability testing. I wish I would have easier access to installed trial versions of these applications.

Lord Puttnam and We Are The People
Lord Puttnam keynoted on the first day. He talked about his latest video project titled We Are The People We’ve Been Waiting For. The basic point of the movie is that we are not preparing our children for the future that is waiting for them. You can get the DVD you for free when you order it online. I ordered and watched it and thought it made a good case for making a step change in our educational system. My favourite talking head in the movie was Ken Robinson. If you have never seen his TED talk, then you should rectify that situation immediately.

An unconference with Jay Cross and his Internet Time Alliance friends
Jay Cross organised a couple of unconferences with his Internet Time Alliance friends. I always admire Jay for how he manages to utilise the Internet to his and his clients advantage. His self-published “unbooks” are a great example of this. His sessions were by far the most interesting and engaging at this year’s Online Educa. Jane Hart and Charles Jennings were in the room and Harold Jarche and Jon Husband were available through video conferencing.

The main question of the session that I attended was: What are the major challenges/vision/issues that we see moving into the 21st century when it comes to learning? Jarche thinks organisations will have to deal with more and more complexity. Everything that is simple or can be commoditized will move to the lowest bidder or will be an automated process. What is left is complex. The training functions are currently not able to deal with this complexity. Cross considers the global downturn a symptom of the end of the industrial age and the beginning of a truly networked world. In that world intangibles are much more important than tangibles. Our training metrics will have to change to reflect this.

Then followed a selection of models and ideas that are mostly familiar to me, but are valuable enough to share again:

  • A hierarchy of employee traits in the creative economy: passion, creativity, initiative (these cannot be commoditized) followed by intellect, diligence and obedience (all of these can be commoditized).
  • Jane Hart’s five types of Learning: Intra Organizational Learning (self-directed, organizational), Group directed learning (self-directed, group), Personal learning (self-directed, individual), Accidental & Serendipitous learning (undirected, individual) and Formal structured learning (directed, individual). These are interesting in that they show that they are other ways of delivery than the traditional face to face workshop, but they start at the wrong end of the learning question. I would like to start on the demand side when it comes to creating a learning typology (actually I am working on exactly that: a corporate learning typology, more to come).
  • The concept of the wirearchy: a dynamic two-way flow of power and authority based on information, knowledge, trust and credibility, enabled by interconnected people and technology.
  • John Husband shared this great paragraph from Peter Drucker (the full text is here):

Bribing the knowledge workers on whom these industries depend will therefore simply not work. The key knowledge workers in these businesses will surely continue to expect to share financially in the fruits of their labor. But the financial fruits are likely to take much longer to ripen, if they ripen at all. And then, probably within ten years or so, running a business with (short-term) “shareholder value” as its first—if not its only—goal and justification will have become counterproductive. Increasingly, performance in these new knowledge-based industries will come to depend on running the institution so as to attract, hold, and motivate knowledge workers. When this can no longer be done by satisfying knowledge workers’ greed, as we are now trying to do, it will have to be done by satisfying their values, and by giving them social recognition and social power. It will have to be done by turning them from subordinates into fellow executives, and from employees, however well paid, into partners.

Accelerating the Adoption of Innovations
I had a great round-table discussion with Ellen D. Wagner from Sage Road Solutions (kudos: the first business card with a Twitter name that I have received, maybe pretty standard in the valley?), David James Clarke IV from Toolwire and others about how to accelerate the adoption of innovations.

Wagner wanted to overlay Gartner’s Hype cycle over Rogers’ adoption curve. Gartner’s hype cycle looks like this:

The Hype Cycle

The Hype Cycle

Rogers’s adoption curve is as follows:

Diffusion of Innovations

Diffusion of Innovations

Wagner puts these two graphs together:

Ellen D. Wagner, Sage Road Solutions: When Hype Cycle meets the Innovation Adoption Curve

Ellen D. Wagner, Sage Road Solutions: When Hype Cycle meets the Innovation Adoption Curve

She shows exactly in which phase the pain lies and where extra stakeholder support is necessary. The whole discussion reminded me of this great Geek and Poke comic:

Gartner Hype Cycle Version 2.0

Gartner Hype Cycle Version 2.0 by Geek and Poke, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 License

David James Clarke IV and Experiential Learning
David James Clarke IV of Toolwire also presented on experiential learning in a plenary. His argument was that in the current information economy knowledge is not power anymore. It is access to knowledge and the ability to turn that knowledge into action and decisions that is power.

He talked about the tension between richness (the depth of the experience) and reach (the amount of people the experience can reach) as first described by Evans and Wurster which, if adapted to the traditional educational field, leads to the following tension between classroom (high richness, low reach) and distance (low richness, high reach) learning:

Richness - Reach tension

Richness - Reach tension

His point is that technology is now at a point where this tension can be overcome:

Technology overcomes the Richness - Reach tension

Technology overcomes the Richness - Reach tension

This is where experiential learning comes in. Students should have hands-on real world experiences while they are in school. He finished his talk with an example from the Matrix. I quote from the white-paper that he and Charles Jennings wrote on experiential learning:

The movie The Matrix provides an exceptional example of experiential learning in action. In this case, it is literally a matter of life or death. In a scene towards the end of the movie, our heroes – Trinity and Neo – find themselves trapped on the roof of the Agents’ headquarters. Their only escape is via a military helicopter.
The problem is neither of them knows how to fly a helicopter … yet. So what does Trinity do? She calls her Learning Management System (LMS), of course. In this case, the LMS is represented by a phone operator named Tank.
Trinity requests a specific learning object – Helicopters for Dummies! – and Tank downloads the skills directly into her brain. You can appreciate the experiential learning significance here. Once Trinity has received the skills, she and Neo fly the Helicopter to safety and continue saving the world!
This is a perfect example of just-in-time, context-sensitive experiential learning delivered exactly when the student needs it … in 30 seconds!

Clarke later in the day did a Pecha Kucha with 10 movies about learning as his topic:

I have decided that I will invest some time into creating my own Pecha Kucha: a top ten of education philosophers.

Niall Winter: a Framework for Designing Mobile Learning Experiences
Niall Winter is an interesting researcher at the London Knowledge Lab. He talked about the fact that mobile learning has failed to exploit the social practices by which the new affordances of mobile devices become powerful educational interventions. He sees designing mobile learning experiences as one of the key challenges for the technology enhanced learning community. It important to focus on the learning intervention and not be techno-centric. This should lead to socio-technical solutions where the context and the activity determine the success. His goal then is to design activities that are appropriate to the context.

He does this using a participatory design methodology going through the following time consuming process:

  1. Explore the institutional context: technology, identifying existing practice, participants’ perspective
  2. Explore the learner context: scenarios, concerns, (un)expected new practices (iterative cycle)
  3. Deploy and go through the cycle again

The host of Niall’s session, Herman Van der Merwe, introduced the audience to the International Association for Mobile Learning.

Two final interesting links to explore in the future

Final conclusion
All in all it was very worthwhile to go to this year’s Online Educa. I don’t think there is another occasion where that many members of the educational technology community are present.


Did You Know Moodle 2.0 Will….? (Online Educa 2009)

Martin Dougiamas spoke about Moodle 2.0 at the 2009 Online Educa in Berlin

Martin Dougiamas spoke about Moodle 2.0 at the 2009 Online Educa in Berlin. Photograph by David Ausserhofer and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Germany License.

I have written about Moodle 2.0 before. But last week in Berlin I had the opportunity to attend two more presentations by Martin Dougiamas about the plans for the next major version of Moodle and I have gotten a better idea of how things will work.

Moodle.com is completely transparent about their plans. You can read the roadmap and view the latest version of the planning document at any time. 16 developers are in Prague right now, making sure all of this will actually happen (search for #moodledev09 on Twitter).

My overview below is not complete. It is just some of the things I thought were interesting. Here we go! Did you know Moodle 2.0 will…

  • …look much better. The way that themes work will change completely. This will allow for much more flexible templating and theming. Moodle has Patrick Malley as the theme coordinator. He has been commissioned to create 20 beautiful themes that will ship with Moodle 2.0. Moodle will not ship with any of the old themes. The old icons will be replaced with a new set based on the Tango guidelines. All of this is great news as most Moodle sites do use the default themes (see this 12.6MB image of registered Dutch Moodle sites for examples).
  • …break most things. The 2.0 release is seen as the chance to do things differently. A lot of code will be refactored. There will be a smooth upgrade from 1.9 to 2.0 for the core code, but any customisations and extra modules will more than likely need an update. Examples? Every designed theme will need to be updated, 1.9 backups will probably not restore in 2.0 (update: there is a workaround) and old ways of getting files into the system (FTP anyone?) will not work anymore.
  • …allow you to search for Flickr images with a particular Creative Commons licence and will add the license to the image itself. This is one of my pet favourites, because it shows how anyone who is willing to be part of the dialogue around Moodle development (regardless of whether they are a developer or not) can influence the feature set of Moodle. I created a request for this feature in the Moodle Tracker and Martin demoed it in both his presentations in Berlin. We still need to get the user interface right, but the functionality is there.
  • …have the concept of a finished course. In current versions of Moodle there is no way to let the system know that a particular learner has finished the course. The concept just doesn’t exist. A lot of people require this functionality. It could be used as a trigger for sending the course grade to some other system, or could trigger the creation of a certificate.
  • …allow for conditional activities. In 2.0 you can make the availability of activities and resources for a particular learner dependent on certain conditions. These conditions could be the completion status of a particular activity (what completed means depends on the type of activity) or a grade for a particular activity. Finally it will be possible to set up your course in advance and then let it run by itself! No facilitation required! If Skinner is still your educational philosopher of choice, you will be very happy with this functionality! On a more serious note: this will allow for even more flexible Moodle course setups and that is never a bad thing.
  • …import external blogs. I believe blogging should be done on a platform that is as open as possible. This way your audience can be as large as possible and that means the interactions and dialogue around your blog will be at its most valuable. This is the reason why I don’t use the internal blogs that my employer provides me with and why I don’t have an active blog on Moodle.org or on any other Moodle installation. Not only will Moodle have a proper RSS feed for your internal blog, it will also allow you to import an external blog (based on a feed URL and on tags) and make it available internally. Moodle will make sure that the posts are in sync: so if you delete a post on your internal blog, it will also be removed from your internal blog. Brilliant!
  • …have a decent HTML editor that works in more than two browsers. HTML Area, the HTML editor that current versions of Moodle use, is old and crusty and does not work in many browsers. Moodle 2.0 will integrate TinyMCE, an HTML editor that has a larger and vibrant development community. It will work on Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Opera and Chrome/Chromium. All Moodle users will really appreciate this change (even if they might not be aware of it).
  • …allow comments on everything. This is the pedagogical big winner for me. It is possible to add a comment block to nearly every resource/activity in Moodle 2.0. This will allow for a lot of peer feedback which can then be aggregated in different places (in the course, in a users profile?). I recently did a course on Rapid e-Learning Design where one of the core activities was commenting on other people’s work. The richness of interaction that this created was amazing. I am just hoping that the development team will think real hard about some of the user interface decisions around the comment API: that will make all the difference.
  • …have a workshop module that you are not scared of using. Currently the workshop module is broken. I would not recommend anybody to use it. The peer feedback concept that it embodies is not broken though! David Mudrák has completely rewritten the workshop module and the first comments are very positive.
  • …will have a built-in feedback/survey module. Modules that implement survey functionality in Moodle have always been the most popular add-ons. Andreas Grabs’ Feedback module will become part of the Moodle core code from 2.0 onwards.
  • …will not eat disk space if a file is used or uploaded multiple times. We all know the problem. You have a course that has a 300MB presentation in it. The course is duplicated for another run. Now you have two courses with 600MB of presentations. This problem is a thing of the past in Moodle 2.0. All information about files and where they are used is stored in the database (drastically improving the security around who can access a particular file). The files itself are stored on the filesystem. A SHA-1 check on each new file will make sure that identical files are not stored twice.
  • …have a completely new way of navigating. The way users navigate a Moodle installation has gotten a complete rewrite. Tim Hunt has done a very commendable job involving the community in his design plans and there is an excellent page in the Moodle Docs explaining what it is going to look like. It boils down to a more consistent navigation bar, a new Ajaxy navigation block which allows you to jump to any resource/activity in any of your courses in one step and the moving of many of the module related settings that were hovering at the top right corner of the page to the administration block.
  • …be a reinvention of itself as a platform. Moodle was approaching the end of its life cycle as a “Walled garden” product. Moodle was ahead of the game in 2001, but has been passed by many of the developments on the Internet since its inception. When Moodle was first conceptualised things like WordPress MU, Ning, Flickr, Delicious and Wikipedia did not exist. Moodle needed to reinvent itself. The repository and portfolio APIs in combination with the Web Services layer will allow Moodle to become much more a platform than an application. Moodle will keep its relevance or will become relevant again (depending on your viewpoint on the state of educational technology). I am already imagining the Moodle App Store.
  • …change the world of education (if nothing else). I think that Moodle already has had a very positive impact on the world of education, but if the Moodle Hubs scheme works, it will be a lot easier for teachers to share the share their best practices and collaborate with other teachers the world over.

I am certainly looking forward to its release! Are you excited yet?

Written by Hans de Zwart

10-12-2009 at 15:00

Will it Blend? A Presentation at Online Educa 2009

This morning I presented in the “The Moodle Experience: Moodle in Practice and New Developments” pre-conference session at the Online Educa in Berlin.

My talk was titled “Will it Blend” and the slides are available on Slideshare, as a PDF ( 4.9MB) and below (no audio unfortunately). If you have any questions about these slides, don’t hesitate to ask them in the comments.

On Friday (14:30-16:00 in room Lincke) I will talk about the use of open source software in corporations. My talk is titled “Open Source: Getting Failure for Free (and Why That Is a Good Thing)” and is part of the “The Added Value of Open Source Solutions in Times of Crisis” session.

I do hope to meet readers of this blog there!

Written by Hans de Zwart

02-12-2009 at 13:46

A Design Concept For a Mobile Moodle Application

Arjen Vrielink and I write a monthly series titled: Parallax. We both agree on a title for the post and on some other arbitrary restrictions to induce our creative process. For this post we agreed to create a design concept for a mobile Moodle application. The concept should include screen mockups. You can read Arjen’s post with the same title here. This month we are delighted to have two guest writers writing about the same topic. Marcel de Leeuwe (read his post here) and Job Bilsen (his post can be found here).

Mobile applications have taken off. This is largely due to the trailblazing work that Apple has done with the iPhone and the App Store. If you have been watching my Delicious feed, you will have noticed that I too have succumbed and will be part of the iPhone-toting crowd (I will write more about me losing my principles later).
Nearly every web service that I use has a mobile application. Examples are Last.fm, Flickr, WordPress, Dropbox, NY times, Paypal and more, the list is endless. Moodle, the web application that I use most often, does not have a mobile app yet. There have been a couple attempts at creating themes that display well on a mobile (such as here). These mobile themes usually try to deliver all of Moodle’s functionality, which often limits their phone specific interaction and their user friendliness. Other applications use JAVA applications that gives people access to specific Moodle functionality (examples here and here).

It would be great to have a true mobile Moodle application. Here are some initial thoughts for a design.

Audience
The audience for this Moodle application would mainly be students/participants. I want the functionality to focus on things that are easily delivered on a mobile platform. I don’t think grading and reporting interfaces lend themselves well to a smaller screen. The things that people like to do with a mobile device are usually: seeing what has happened/is happening, plan and communicate. This Moodle application will enable the users of a Moodle installation to do exactly those things.

Getting rid of the course paradigm
Moodle is extremely course centric. I have always thought that this has some great advantages, mainly that all the learning is very contextual. Students, however, often have to “multi-course” (doing multiple courses at the same time). A mobile application should make the most urgent or current events, actions and resources bubble to the top. This requires the application to get rid of the course paradigm and show a personal page per user.
People that have used Moodle for a while might know of the “My Moodle” page. This page also tried to pull up the most relevant information for a particular user, but would still display this information on a course by course basis.

This application will consist of four main screens. Each screen has its own icon at the bottom of the screen that stays available at all times. Each screen could of course lead to other screens that take you deeper into the Moodle installation.

1. Recent activity stream
Facebook and Twitter have really taught us the use of activity streams. These pages display short status messages about what is happening in reverse chronological order. Moodle has had an activity stream since its inception: the recent activity block. This block shows what has been happening in a particular course. Examples are forum posts, work being handed in or materials being added by the teacher.
This screen will work in a similar way, but will include all the courses a user is participating in. I would imagine that each update on the screen would include a date and a time, would link to an extended version of the update and would include a user image if the update concerns another user, or an activity icon if it concerns a particular activity. The newest updates would be at the top of the screen and the user would be able to scroll down to see older entries (very similar to Twitter). See below for an example:

Recent Activity

Recent Activity

You would have to think about each Moodle module and decide what a status update would look like for that particular module. Some examples of events that could trigger a status update:

  • A forum post is added to a course of which the user is a member.
  • An activity becomes available (either because it was added or because it had certain time that it would become available, like the choice or assignment activity) or a deadline has passed.
  • An entry is added to a database activity or a glossary that the user has access to.
  • A topic or week has been made current by the teacher/facilitator.
  • A message has been sent to the user.
  • The user hands in work for an assignment, fills in a choice, starts a lesson, gets the results for a quiz or starts a SCORM object.
  • A change is made to a wiki page that the user has access to.

These status updates could announce themselves on the home screen in a similar way to how the mobile platform shows that you have new email messages: by showing how many new updates are available.

2. Upcoming events
This screen is also an extension of existing Moodle functionality made course independent. Conceptually it is what you would see if you would scroll up on the recent activity screen. Upcoming events that can be displayed are:

  • Anything that is in the user’s calendar.
  • Activities that will become available or that have a deadline.
  • Courses that will start and that the user is enrolled in.

This screen would look very similar to the “Recent Activity” screen as shown above.

3. Social: contacts, interests and messaging
A mobile device is used for communications and a mobile Moodle application should facilitate that. This screen is an alphabetical list of all the users that a student/participant shares a course with, combined with an alphabetical list of all the interests that a user has put in their profile and all the courses the user is enrolled in. See example:

Social

Social

Selecting a user will take you their profile page. This page will focus on the ways that the user can be contacted. You can message the user from here, call (or Skype) them, send them an email and click on the links to their external websites (a blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc.). See this example:

Profile page

Profile page

Selecting an interest or a course will apply a filter to the alphabetical list. It will now only show users that share this interest or this course. It might allow the user to contact all these users in one go (if this role has been given the permission for this capability).

4. Browsing courses, activities and resources
I really like a side scrolling drill down navigation (examples are the way that email works on the iPhone or the “Slider view” on Grazr). A mobile Moodle application should allow the user to navigate to activities and resources in their course by constantly drilling down. This can be done it two ways: course centric or activity-type centric. The application should probably support both.
The first screen shows a list of all the courses the user is participating in and below that a list of all the activity types that exist in Moodle.
Clicking on a course will make the previous screen slide to the left and display a new screen. The first option on this screen will be called “Course overview”. If you click on this you will see all the section/topic summaries, all the activities and resources and all the labels in their correct order (blocks are completely ignored in this mobile application). Below the course overview are links to the overview pages of each activity type. Clicking these will display all the instances of a particular activity or resource.

If you click on an individual activity or resource you will be shown that activity (again by making the screen slide to the left). What is shown here and what interactions are possible is dependent on the activity module. The minimum it would show is the title and the description. This would probably be the case for SCORM modules for example or for “upload a file” assignments. You would not implement a mobile SCORM player, nor will people likely have files for upload on their phone. The one activity that would benefit from being a bit richer would be the forum activity. It should be possible to follow and contribute to a forum discussion from the mobile Moodle application.

Technical considerations
The (start of a) functional design that I describe above will certainly have technical consequences (not to write obstacles). Below some of my first thoughts:

  • What platform? The nice thing about web applications is that you only have to develop them for one single platform: the platform that the server is using. Of course it would be possible to create a mobile version of a Moodle site, but this would negate some of the great things that a native application can do. We are now in the unfortunate situation that we have multiple mobile development platforms. The two obvious choices for mobile development would be an iPhone app and an app for Android. But what about people who use a Blackberry, or a Symbian or Maemo phone? I have no knowledge of how easy it is to port an Android app to the iPhone, but I do know that multiple platforms will be a reality in the next couple of years. You better write portable code!
  • Where does the code live? It is easy for Facebook to create an iPhone application. They run a single installation and can have server-side code and client-side code to make it all work. Moodle’s install base is completely decentralised. That means that Moodle installations will have to get some code that will allow a client to talk to it. In the client you will then need to be able to say what Moodle installation you want to connect to. This poses a couple of questions. Will a mobile Moodle app require a special server module? Will Moodle 2.0 expose enough of itself to an external API to make a client like I describe above possible? Should one client be able to plug into multiple Moodle installations at the same time? I am not a software architect, so I would not have any answers to these questions, but they will need to be resolved.
  • Performance? Moodle’s data structure is course-centric and not user-centric. Moodle currently does not have internal functions that deliver the data in a format that the Moodle client can use. I think that the query to deliver a recent activity feed that is cross-course and has the perspective of a single user is very complex and will create a huge performance hit on the server. Again, I am not an architect, but I would imagine that this requires a special solution. Maybe more push and less pull? More database tables? Server-side pre-caching? Who knows? I certainly don’t!
  • Roles/permissions/capabilities? Any new Moodle client that uses existing Moodle data (as opposed to new modules) needs to be very aware of any existing capabilities. All of these need to be checked before information can be shown to the user. I am sure this has further performance implications.
  • Online/offline? A lot of mobile applications cache their information so that a user can continue to use the application even if an Internet connection is not available (e.g. the New York Times app). Even though it might be useful for a Moodle application too, I wouldn’t put any initial effort into solving that problem. Smartphones that have decent application support function well in a context where there is persistent mobile broadband. It is therefore okay for the first version of mobile Moodle application to assume that it is online.

A note on prototyping/mockups
I used the excellent Balsamiq to create the mockups that go with this post. This easy tool delivers quick static results, although it lacks a bit of precision that I would like to have added. Moodle has Balsamiq integrated into the Moodle Tracker, making it trivial for anybody to add a user interface mockup to any issue. There are other tools that could be used to do iPhone prototyping. This blog post gives a good overview.

Continuing the dialogue
I would really like an application like this (or something similar) to come into existence. I look forward to working with other people with a similar interest (bored developers? Google Summer of Code students?). Let’s make this happen! Any and all comments are welcome…

Written by Hans de Zwart

01-12-2009 at 00:05

Posted in Learning, Moodle, Parallax

Tagged with , , , ,

Invitation: Ned-Moove Organises a Moodle Meetup

 

Nederlandstalige Moodle Vereniging

Ned-Moove

On Wednesday, the 25th of November, Ned-Moove organises another Moodle Meetup. A selection of service providers in the open source educational technology space will be presenting their products.

The programme starts at 15:30 and finishes at 18:30. Topics include Edurep, Teleblik, Zimbra, Wintoets, and Mahara (and the presentations will be in Dutch).

 

The location is the Open Schoolgemeenschap Bijlmer on Gulden Kruis 5, 1103 BE in Amsterdam. Attendance (and parking!) is free, although we do require a registration: click here to register.

I do hope to see you there!

Written by Hans de Zwart

18-11-2009 at 13:33

Posted in Moodle

Tagged with , , , , , ,

New Paradigms for Course Delivery

The Ministry of Instructional Design

The Ministry of Instructional Design

As I write this I am participating in two exciting courses. Each course is an example of how new paradigms for course delivery are coming to the fore in this online world. I will probably write more about both of them in the near future, but will kick off today with just a simple explanation of both courses.

Rapid eLearning Development
LearningAge Solutions has developed an online course about Rapid eLearning Development. I am a participant in the pilot group: I don’t have a course fee to pay, but have committed myself to giving weekly feedback so that the course can be fine-tuned.

The “Ministry of Instructional Design” (LearningAge Solutions)

Part 3D computer game, part social network, part collaborative learning, the ReD course will teach you how to build effective elearning and informal media using leading elearning author tools.

Designed by Rob Hubbard of LearningAge Solutions with input from some of the smartest people in the elearning industry including Clive Shepherd, Jane Hart and Patrick Dunn. This is a course unlike any other,  designed to show how great elearning can be and built using tools that you too can master.

The way that this course is created/structured is smart and inspiring (regardless of the content which is good too). The course is made from a loosely coupled set of (mostly) free online web applications.

The core of the course is a private Ning network which has links to all the other parts of the course. This is the place where participants do reflective blogging and where people hand in their assignments and comment on other people’s assignments.

Mindmeister is used for mindmaps that contain the learning objectives for each module, ClassMarker contains a couple of knowledge checks/assessments, Dimdim delivers the web conferencing functionality and there is a 3D game made with the gaming technology from Thinking Worlds.

To me this type of course design shows that it is not necessary to assume that one single tool should deliver the full learner experience. It is perfectly viable to use a collection of tools and use each for its strengths. Once I have finished the course I will post a bit more about my experiences.

Connectivism and Connective Knowledge

This is the second year that George Siemens and Stephen Downes (actually my two favourite learning gurus) organise the  “rather large open online course” Connectivism and Connective Knowledge. It is their attempt to destabilise the concept of a course.

The course is open to anyone. You attend freely if you do not need any university course credits, or you pay if you do. The course is decentralised (or maybe “loosely federated” is a better word): the two facilitators set out reading materials and organise a couple of webcasts every week, but the meat of the course is to be found in the discussions that participants have (online in Moodle forums) and the reflections that participants post on their blogs.

A single tag, CCK09, is used by all participants for their posts. This pulls the all the course activity together and makes it easy to find course related postings (e.g. on Twitter or in the blogosphere). By connecting to people with similar interests, it is possible to go on a tangent and explore the things that you want to work on in relation to connectivism and connective knowledge.

A daily newsletter is sent out. This is an edited version of the aggregated posts and discussions and includes commentary by Stephen Downes. Just reading the newsletter is already incredibly valuable.

I tried to actively participate in this course last year, but was not able to keep up with it. It requires a lot of discipline to study this way: there is no passive consumption of information. Instead it requires a lot of effort to select what you want to read and post your reflections. I hope I will be able to do better this year (although things are already not looking good right for that to be the case)!

Written by Hans de Zwart

23-10-2009 at 10:21

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