Significant investments have been made by universities, colleges, distance learning providers, and corporate training departments in the area of e-learning. Moving from early use of static HTML pages providing course details, the use of the Internet as a delivery technology for education and training is now commonplace, with both distance and presential learning providers exploiting e-learning in their offerings. A standards-based IT infrastructure is in place in educational institutions around the world, simplifying the delivery of e-learning courses and opening the doors to mainstream, largescale, Web-based education (Brusilovsky & Vassileva, 2003). Many different virtual learning environments (VLEs) exist (Everett, 2002), including significant contributions from the open source community (Dougiamas, 2004; Sakai, 2005). Above the underlying IT standards rest a significant number of e-learning standards, specifications, and reference models (IMSCP, 2003; Loidl Reisinger & Paramythis, 2003; Wisher & Fletcher, 2004), designed to improve the interoperability between systems and remove islands of e-learning. These infrastructural changes have been mirrored by developments in the area of learning objects (Littlejohn, 2003; Wiley, 2002). The learning objects movement is based upon the idea that reusable units of content can be created, shared, and reused between different communities, and is viewed as a solution to the significant production costs associated with the development of high-quality learning resources—see Sloep (2004) for a discussion of this issue. Critics of the learning objects movement have expressed their uneasiness with e-learning as page turning that leads to “static, fossilized, dead [content], low learner motivation and engagement, impersonal and isolating environments” (Stacey, 2003). This debate has brought pedagogy in the e-learning community to the fore. How should different groups of learners best be taught? What does existing educational theory have to teach e-learning, and how could the results of this work be brought into e-learning systems? How could new information and communication technology developments, particularly in the area of collaboration and cooperation, be brought into e-learning offerings? How could ongoing R&D in the area of pedagogy and e-learning be more easily brought together and compared? This article describes the IMS learning design specification (IMSLD, 2003). IMSLD is an open specification, freely downloadable, maintained by an international consortium of universities, system vendors, and learning providers. The specification provides a counter to the trend toward designing for lone-learners reading from screens. Instead, it guides staff and educational developers to start not with content, but with learning activities and the achievement of learning objectives.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Learning Object: “Any digital resource that can be reused to support learning” (Wiley, 2002).
Problem-Based Learning: A teaching approach in which learners work in groups to identify solutions to real world problems.
Virtual Learning Environment (VLE): A centralized software system that helps teachers in the management of e-learning courses for their students.
Extensible Markup Language (XML): XML provides constructs to support the design of markup languages to facilitate document and data exchange.
Pedagogy: The art or science of teaching.
Unit of Learning: An abstract term used to refer to any delimited piece of education or training, such as a course, a module, a lesson, and so forth. It is noted that a “unit of learning” represents more than just a collection of ordered resources to learn; it includes a variety of prescribed activities (problem solving activities, search activities, discussion activities, peer assessment activities, etc.), assessments, services, and support facilities provided by teachers, trainers, and other staff members.
IMS Learning Design: A specification released by the IMS Global Learning Consortium that supports the use of a wide range of pedagogies in online learning. Rather than attempting to capture the specifics of many pedagogies, it does this by providing a generic and flexible language. This language is designed to enable many different pedagogies to be expressed. The approach has the advantage over alternatives in that only one set of learning design and run-time tools then need to be implemented in order to support the desired wide range of pedagogies.
E-Learning: Learning that is supported by Internet technolgies such as Web pages, forums, and chat facilities.