Key Challenges in the Design of Learning Technology Standards: Observations and Proposals

Key Challenges in the Design of Learning Technology Standards: Observations and Proposals

Adam R. Cooper (University of Bolton, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/jitsr.2010070102
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Abstract

This paper considers key challenges that learning technology standards must take into account: the inherent connectedness of the information and complexity as a cause of emergent behavior. Some of the limitations of historical approaches to information systems and standards development are briefly considered with generic strategies to tackle complexity and system adaptivity. A consideration of the facets of interoperability—organizational, syntactic and semantic—leads to an outline of a strategy for dealing with environmental complexity in the learning technology standards domain.
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The Challenges Of Learning Technology Standards

An Engineering Heritage

In the early stages of the development and use of the electronic computer, the biggest challenges were in the realm of engineering. Hardware, Operating Systems, compilers, data stores and programming languages/paradigms have all been developed to a phenomenal degree through engineering and use of objective measures of performance. In spite of early recognition that IT systems are not simply mechanical – they are socio-technical - in character, computing courses have generally continued to reflect the engineering heritage.

From the late 20th century, it has become progressively more clear that failure to account for complexity and socio-technical factors is severely limiting the effectiveness of ICT interventions and organizations(Bullock & Cliff, 2004) (Mumford, 2000). The recognition of this problem is not, however, a solution; the solution is hard and we live with the challenge of moving on from our engineering heritage in LT standardization as well as in IT systems design.

Connectedness of Concepts and Unknown Bounds

“Connectedness” is used to express the idea that almost anything that is the subject of a communication, i.e., is information, could also be the subject of a communication with different intent and effect. Any boundary around a collection of concepts is arbitrary. At best it is a commonly-adopted convenience, commonly it is an un-conscious artifact of a particular application or context, and at worst it is an insufferable impediment. When there is a high degree of uniformity in, and dominance of, a process, the “commonly adopted convenience” becomes a cause of greater efficiency and it may be possible to package the whole as a standard. In the absence of dominance and uniformity, a conscious and reflective set of compromises becomes necessary.

The challenge for learning technology standardization is that the dominant and uniform processes are generally either not there or not easily seen. The typical case seems to be that any information about subject is used in many ways. For example, information about the content and structure of a university course appears in numerous processes/activities, each claiming some kind of authoritative status: design and validation, marketing, management information, e-learning platform, diploma/transcript, etc…. This appears as a general feature of information systems and is a problematical one if the large number of person-years spent on integration projects - where the consequences of un-conscious and un-reflective compartmentalization are partially compensated for - is taken as a measure.

There are some exceptions to this general challenge, counter-examples where there is a sufficiently isolated sub-domain and cost reductions that make for a proven business case. The most clear counter-example is content/delivery-platform interoperability in aviation maintenance and military training where the case for formalized approaches is clear (Jeffery & Bratton-Jeffery, 2004); a platform from which ADL SCORM could become widespread.

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