At Blackboard World on 13th July 2011, four publishers announced new products and new services:
- Pearson integrates MyLab and Master learning services with the Blackboard Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). This integration gives faculty immediate access to tools, assignments and learning analytics based on their Blackboard logon and returns grades to Blackboard.
- Cengage creates a deeper integration and full interoperability of Cengage Learning’s digital content through automatic sign-on and grade book integration. This added level of integration includes Web-services architecture (MindLinks). The partnership also includes integration of Cengage Learning’s MindTap program and MindTap applications.
- Macmillan provides integration of Macmillan’s digital learning offerings and Blackboard. It automates automated access via Blackboard and upload of grades and performance data into Blackboard’s gradebook.
- Wiley provides seamless access to Wiley’s learning content and tools. Wiley supports access via Blackboard credentials and automatically synchronize grades and other data with Blackboard.
Collectively these announcements suggest learning delivery services (LDS) as a more effective model for online learning than local delivery of static content , integration of the learning delivery and management systems and single sign on [SSO] for user convenience.
A supplier of hosted services [using adaptive instruction] gains a mass of data about learner behavior. … So my current “intuitive tip for the next ten years” is that the next phase of VLE development will involve the provision of automated and semi-automated tools that draw on the mass of data about user behavior and about user performance that VLEs hold or can access, combining it with data about the individual learner.
Pearson used the term “learning analytics” to suggest learning materials are provided to a student based on their past performance. Pearson’s MyMathLab, with 40 years of development since it was created at Stanford University, is an example. The path through learning depends upon assessments of progress, an analysis of wrong answers, and data relating to the time spent on individual elements. Pearson reports increased student retention, completion and performance of MyMathLab students as compared to the methods of learning used before.
MyMathLab is also available from Amazon U.S. as a service with a traditional textbook and access to an e-textbook. Amazon UK lists more than twenty titles that include the “glue in” access card, though none are yet available. In the U.S. there was significant dissatisfaction as purchasers of used “textbooks” included in the student access kit believed the access card would be valid even after being used by the original purchaser. This may explain the delay in the UK. If students choose this alternative the college or university learning management system (LMS) would not have access to student performance data.
Responding to a question at a U.S. Department of Education hearing in 2007, John Sargent, representing the Association of American Publishers (AAP), said publishers depend upon specialized software and hosted services to achieve better learning results. He said Holtzbrinck Publishers revises their online physics courses each semester based on the data and results from earlier student experiences.
This learning model can be effectively used for beginning courses. Courses, especially in last year of undergraduate and graduate and professional school programs, based on student research are not well supported by this model of course delivery. Research is beginning to confirm that “blended learning”—a combination on online and classroom instruction—provides even better results. It also permits the instructor to more easily adapt the materials to current needs and to the students’ capabilities and interests.
These four publishers should only be considered examples; other publishers have similar courses offered as hosted services.
The resulting system has an enrolled student logging on to Blackboard Learn and then connects to the publisher’s course. This is a combination of SSO and authorization for the student to take the course.
A student may take different courses from different publishers at the same time. The student’s VLE must support connections to the separate courses and, as the Blackboard announcements suggest, likely via an LMS.
Some delivery systems, such as Cengage, permit a course to include different presentation sequences and materials provided by the faculty.
The publishers’ LDS and the LMS would be in different locations. This contrasts with providing materials to be installed on and limited by the capabilities of the LMS. As another example, the adaptive learning model is used by the University of York’s online equation factoring instruction from a remote server.
Cengage’s MindLinks provides integration in the exchange of data between the LMS and the LDS. This capability has been available in few SCORM compliant materials since the specification was first available. It was frequently used in corporate training, rarely, if ever, in tertiary education.
Specifications for this data exchange is currently being developed by a parallel and coordinated efforts of the LETSI (Learning Education Training Systems Interoperability) and the SIF Association (Student Interoperability Framework Association) [November 2010 media release], with publisher participation.
The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation is funding similar specifications work in Texas available under restrictive licensing. Their work includes a survey summary of 2,600 K-12 teachers on what data they would like to have available in the classroom.
Although the four publishers have extensive data for a “student profile,” we currently lack community agreement of what data should be exchanged and when it should be exchanged. The profile should begin with knowledge of pedagogy effectiveness. In response to a subsequent email, John Sargent agreed to share the Holtzbrinck experience and data with the Instructional Technology Council—a small U.S. association of colleges offering television courses and now key online-course providers. This experience would be helpful to those creating or modifying course materials and those developing LMS software.
Cengage’s MindLink activity suggests their data exchanges could be quickly expanded if the learning management systems were prepared to use the data. Specifications for a student profile, assessment results, and learning sequences and performance of the learning management systems are needed to “manage” instruction. Similarly the learning management systems need to know what data is needed to “manage” a student’s learning and the algorithms for modifying forthcoming learning delivery.
Cengage, as Seb predicted, supports user-developed applications (apps). The potential of the added functions and materials will emerge from user experience and could sharply improve learning. VLEs have been based on LMSs with both learning delivery and, in a limited sense, learning management. Now VREs will need to support separate learning delivery and learning management systems. VREs should also be supplemented by collaboration tools, access to library materials, data files, and Web-posted content, and extended to include the Web-based applications student use. The VLE will need to support the real-time exchange of extensive data between learning delivery and learning management systems.
Seb Schmoller’s prediction has come true. The challenges are great; the results can benefit thousands of students.
Jim Farmer: biography; email - jfx "AT" immagic "DOT" com.