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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Point Solutions vs. Suites and Composition

One of the more interesting back-stories in Blended Learning / eLearning 2.0 is the classic question of point-solutions vs. suites.

As background for the question, take a look at LAMS and particularly the demonstrations.

The description of LAMS in their FAQ is interesting:

LAMS is focussed on a very specific aspect of e-learning – sequences of learning activities, particularly collaborative activities. LAMS provides rich functionality for designing a “flow” of learning activities, especially where these activities rely on collaboration between students to drive the learning process. LAMS is a comprehensive system for the design and implementation of learning activity sequences – it includes an authoring environment, a “run-time” environment for implementation of sequences with groups of learners, and a monitoring environment so teachers can see student progress in real-time (and view past activities). It also includes a user administration system for system administrators. LAMS can include content delivery (and quizzes) as single-learner activities within a sequence, and you can point to content held elsewhere from within a LAMS sequence via a URL. However, LAMS does not attempt to replicate the course administration functionality of a typical LMS/VLE/CMS.

As an example, here's a screen shot of a workflow defined:

LAMS allows the specification of a blended learning sequence via a workflow diagram. Very interesting concept.

It's also worth looking at what Michael Feldstein and Patrick Masson are doing around an LMOS.

In the corporate space, probably the closest thing comes from Bill Bruck at q2Learning.

All of these aim at the need of being able to compose together a variety of intervention types into a Blended Learning solution. The LAMS approach is good to look at, because it looks like the workflow problem that this really is.

I think its pretty safe to assume that the big corporate LMS vendors will jump on this bandwagon soon enough by adding a workflow tool into their systems to finally be able to support richer specifications of blended learning programs.

In fact, my contention is that Workflow itself is going to be a central part of what we are doing even beyond composing together blended learning. See my post: eLearning Technology: Blurry Vision of Future of Work (Workflow, eLearning 2.0, Web 2.0, Decision Systems)

However, what's happening here is almost the opposite of what is the direction being suggested in the Web 2.0 world. Web 2.0 says "create lots of easily composable, point solutions that can be mashed together."

The providers I've listed seem to say, we'll provide you all the tools that you can compose into your blend. While, I want and need the composition, I don't necessarily like the tools being offerred by these vendors. Their particular implementation of voting, forum, questions, chat, surveys, wiki, etc. are not the best out there. But, instead of allowing me to compose together point-solutions using their workflow solution, I'm locked into their solutions.
I can understand this to a degree today given the lack of standards around things like identity, but it seems pretty clear that the path is towards suites. As a person who likes to develop interesting parts and be able to choose best-of-breed, the trend troubles me.

This is also coming out in the authoring world. Can you compose your course out of smaller components composed together, or does your authoring tool provide all the components you need?

Undoubtedly, we are going to see overlap between the suites, points solutions and authoring tools in terms of capabilities as they reach into areas such as comments, peer-review, etc. Today the overlap is most evident in testing. You can use your LMS' test solution, your Authoring tools test solution, or Questionmark Perception. This is an easy problem because the interface between a test and an LMS is standard. Just don't try to have the course authored in one authoring tool try to link directly into the test authored in another tool without first going back to the LMS - even thought it would be MUCH NICER to be able to link directly to the test from the content.

Still, my chief complaint is that I want to be able to have my best of breed solutions, but I want to also have easy integration. Buying everything from a single LMOS or LAMS vendor makes me worried that I'm not going to get my best of breed and that the promise of Web 2.0 to have composable elements is not going to come together. For more on this see my posts on Composition:

Promise of Web 2.0 and eLearning 2.0 - Comparison to Macros, IDEs, and Visual Basic

Typepad Widgets - A Sign of Things to Come in eLearning Authoring / Developement

Authoring in eLearning 2.0 / Add-ins & Mash-ups

Keywords: eLearning Trends, eLearning 2.0, Web 2.0

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