Online Learning Systems

Online learning systems follow all the basic principles of any learning system. For a detailed overview of learning systems, please see this page. What follows is a description of the technology specific to open-source online learning systems, such as those developed and maintained by Skvare.

The major principles of a learning system are

  1. Desired outcome(s)
  2. Program, an organized set of ideas necessary to achieve outcome
  3. Intervention, presentation of informational content that communicates the program’s necessary ideas
  4. Documentation -- determine the user’s baseline knowledge, record experiences and interactions with the system, verify transmission of information
  5. Results, Analysis, and Reporting -- Record learner test results leading to creation outcome assessments

The desired outcome is determined by the stakeholders and is not often an automated process requiring computer software. Programs are in turn developed mostly at a human level. Ideas are often grouped into pre-requisites, courses, and lessons, but any organization structure can be implemented. Both of the first two principles should be developed independently of the learning system, then revised to best suit the type of learning system that will be used to communicate the program’s ideas.

For example, to create a learning system that has the desired outcome of producing engineers one would gather and organize all the necessary ideas to be a successful engineer in general, then revise the organization based on the system used, whether it be in person classroom, or automated online learning system. In person systems can be organized with broader strokes, while online learning systems work best with shorter sessions and discrete ideas.

Learning Management System (LMS)

A learning management system is computer software that:

  • allows a learner to engage with the educational institution
  • presents the program’s organization in a searchable way with a clear learning workflow
  • displays the learning content
  • provides tests
  • tracks and documents the learner’s experiences and interactions
  • allows the educators to administer the learning content, organization, workflow, and tests
  • displays status and reports to both learners and administrators

The above LMS details were drawn from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learning_management_system

An online learning system is a LMS based on internet technologies such as the world wide web and all its auxiliary technologies. Today most learning management systems are web-based and presenting a wide variety of media including videos often from sources such as YouTube and Vimeo. In addition interactive video technologies on the market present new learning options.

Learner Engagement

An online LMS must allow the learner to register a unique user account and oftentimes provide a way for the user to purchase or register for access to programs, courses, and learning material.

Organization and Learner Workflow

Once the learner gains access to the system  they need to be able to understand what to do and where to go. The program’s organization should be broken down into constituent courses, lessons, and content units that are clearly navigable.

In addition, it should be clear to the user the proper order that the material should be consumed in. Access to course material and the issuance of credit may depend on completion of prerequisites such as reading material, watching videos, taking tests, and submitting surveys.

Display of Learning Content

The LMS will organize and display a wide variety of learning content including links, files, pages of text and images, videos, interactive activities. Modern LMS systems will display the content in a manner that looks good and functions properly on mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones.

Testing

The LMS provides the infrastructure for the user to take tests, which includes presentation of the question or activity content, tracking of the results, and either automated grading, manual grading, or both.

Learner Activity Tracking and Documentation

The LMS tracks the important metrics for assessment of its desired outcomes and either records them internally or communicates and stores the learning experiences in a Learning Record Store (LRS).  

In modern systems, every learner interaction should be tracked including page views, link clicks, file downloads, videos watched (including duration), activity or game interactions, quiz question answers, test answers, surveys, and evaluations. Often the time a user spends viewing a page, taking a test, or answering a question are tracked and documented.

Every specific idea and combination of ideas can be specifically transmitted, documented, verified for comprehension, analyzed, and reported upon.

The learner activity tracking and documentation principle is facilitated by communication between the LMS and LRS software.

Administration

The LMS should provide a way for learning system administrators to create, edit  and curate content.

Status and Reporting

The LMS is also responsible for at least some description of status and reporting to both the learner and the administration. The data may be stored and reports may be generated elsewhere, such as in an LRS, but the LMS displays this information to the learner. For instance, learners usually need confirmation after completion of tests and when all the requirements for a course have been passed.

Learning Record Store (LRS)

Traditional online learning management systems implemented all the basic learning system principles, but the growing complexity of online learning systems and the capability of modern internet technologies has led to the concept of a learning record store, or LRS.

In modern systems, the LRS  is chiefly responsible for the storage of documentation of learning interactions, and the generation of reports and analysis from the data. LRS functionality may include report builders and dashboards.

The key advantage of an LRS is its ability to store learner experiences from multiple learning management systems simultaneously. Organizations often have many websites and tools that are used in presenting program learning content and tracking learner interactions. A LRS could be in the same website system as the LMS, or the LRS could be a separate system altogether.

It became practical to develop learning record stores to centrally and efficiently manage the storage, analysis, and reporting of learner experiences across a wide spectrum of learning management systems including online, in classroom, and with hybrid or alternative devices and formats.

In this way complex learning systems using multiple platforms can store learning experiences and interactions in a consistent way, as well as generate reports and perform analysis of a large multifaceted program or organization-wide outcome scope.

Why use an LRS?

  • People learn in different ways, with varying media and technology.
  • An LMS is only one way to learn, but all ways need automated, consistent documentation.
  • 75% of learning is done by traditional, non web-based means.
  • All learning experiences could/should be documented in one place.
  • LMS-independent storage of learning experiences.

Learning Profiles

The advent of the learning record store concept has led to the concept of learning profiles, or learner profiles. Individuals or even organizations can compile learning profiles, detailing all the documented learning experiences and verifications of mastery that the learner has had from many different learning management systems.

In the future the resume will be as archaic as the yellow pages. A learning profile generated from modern learning documentation standards can provide detailed information about every single idea that a learner has been presented and tested on. A potential employer viewing a resume can only guess at one's knowledge based on where they went to school and what their degree is when making a hiring decision. However, a learning profile could provide a highly detailed report on the actual, proven knowledge or skill set a potential employee has acquired.

Individuals can also craft their reports to highlight learning in areas relevant to the job they desire.

Standards

Standards are important for the movement of information between digital systems. Standards provide a common specification for interfacing systems, and for providing a common language to use for documentation and reporting of learning activities. Standards also allow learning content creators to make learning packages which can be consistently integrated with any standards-compliant learning management system.

SCORM

The SCORM specification was developed shortly after web based technologies were made widely available in the 1990s, and evolved for some time into the 2000s. It's been the predominant standard for both learning content packages and communications of learner interactions to the LMS. It has several limitations which have become apparent as learning system have become more complex. It can only record a small set of metrics such as score and success. It is primarily a technology for content to LMS communication, but it's not extendible in a standardized way.

Tin Can API (eXperience API)

When a learning activity needs to be recorded, the application sends secure statements via the Tin Can API to an LRS. The LRS records all of the statements made in the form of “Noun, verb, object” or “I did this”. An LRS can share these statements with other learning record stores. An LRS can exist on its own, or inside an LMS.

The Tin Can API provides:

  • Statement freedom: the structure of “statements” using nouns, verbs and objects lets you record almost any activity. Think: “I did this.”
  • History freedom: the Tin Can API allows LRS(s) to talk to each other. LRS(s) can share data and transcripts with one another, and your experiences can follow you from one LRS (or organization) to another. Learners can even have their own “personal data lockers” with their personal learning information inside them.
  • Device freedom: any enabled device can send Tin Can API statements (mobile phones, simulations, games, a CPR dummy, the list goes on). A constant network connection isn’t necessary — occasional connectivity is fine.
  • Workflow freedom: tracking learning events doesn’t have to start or end in an LMS, it can start wherever the learner is and on whatever device they choose to use. Your content isn’t tied to an LMS.

and includes features such as:

  • Robust specification for communication using a known formula
  • Standard data format and security protocols
  • API for platform transition ( e.g. start e-learning on a mobile device, finish it on a computer)
  • Extendibility build into the API -- properly called “Extensions”
  • Record a variety of contextual information pertinent to the statement of activity
  • Content to LMS, LMS to LMS, LMS to LRS, LRS to LMS, and LRS to LRS communication
  • Store and retrieve “states,” or a user’s status in a learning workflow (similar to bookmarks),  states can contain any arbitrary data required for informing the content of a learner’s status
  • Standardized documentation of any transmission and comprehension of any information.
  • Standardized communication and protocols to other record stores or reporting tools.
  • Decoupling of interaction communication, and learning documentation data modeling concepts from content, content media type, and presentation.

Some material is drawn from [http://tincanapi.com/overview/]

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