12/02/06  (susheyer)  [0 Comments]

Ain't no (real) reusability for pedagogic approaches with Learning Design

I recently had this enlightenment and was all excited because I thought I had "discovered" something regarding the reusability of learning activity structures that are built using IMS Learning Design. But as I now found out, I just reinvented the wheel! Stephen Downes already posted a similar conclusion on his blog in 2003 (!!!). I am oh so humbled! Let me share my thoughts anyway, in different words than Stephen used. Perhaps it will still be useful to someone.

"Reusability" is the buzzword of the century it seems. Make it reusable and it's w-o-r-t-h-y! Needless to say, the reusability of pedagogical approaches is being discussed as well. Since the introduction of IMS Learning Design, the possibility of exchanging and reusing generic pedagogical approaches seems to be within reasonable distance -- just a grasp away. I looked into this idea when studying the IMS Learning Design Information Model and Best Practice and Implementation Guide (although I found the latter to be more useful). However, what I now realized is that the exchange of pedagogical concepts cannot be done all that easily using IMS Learning Design.

The problem is the technical binding of the created Learning Design: it is embedded in the entire "Unit of Learning package". The learning activities, their pedagogical structure and everything is captured within the "organizations" element (see picture).  However, from this element there are constant links to the other set elements within the package, for instance, the Resources (update 2007/01/17: not necessarily the Resources element, but the Physical files, which contain activity descriptions and so forth) element. And the only "thing" that can be exported and exchanged is the entire Unit of Learning Package. So if you wish to reuse just the learning design within the "organizations" element, you still need to import the entire Unit of Learning, perhaps delete the contained Resources physical files and add your own.

Now, this effort might actually be managable. However, if there are complicated structures of IMS Learning Design Level B in place (for instance, if you use Properties and Conditions to create individualized learning paths) then you will hopelessly drown in the complexity of the structure and can say 'good bye!' to reusability. The reason is that all individualization typically involves Properties that are defined in the learning design (organizations element) but the action of individualization (changing/setting properties) often takes place within the Resources element Physical Files. This creates a complicated net of properties that are linked back and forth: this net cannot easily be overviewed, changed and adopted. In my view that means the reusability potential of such learning designs is reduced.

As an example, you may want to have a look at the "Learning to Listen to Jazz " Unit of Learning provided by the Open University of the Netherlands. And try to figure out how the 100+ Properties within that Learning Design work. At times you have no chance of finding that out unless you have the XML-code of the Resources files, where the Properties are changed, available. But who wants to look at 100+ XML-codes to reuse a good learning design that already makes use of resources files containing Properties? Apparently, there needs to be other measures taken for generic learning designs. But to reuse just the pedagogical design of a great Unit of Learning easily is at this point not easily managable from my point of view. The ties between resources physical files and pedagogical design are too tight, even though they are technically stored separately. But the back-and-forth links tie them together, nevertheless.