Monday, 30 August 2004

What I would like to see added to the SCORM specification

It has been almost two weeks since my last post. I have been keeping my head down working on version 2 of Fablusi. There is a lot of new features in version 2 that I can write about, but it seems that I just cannot avoid writing about SCORM.

One of the improvement I wish to see in the data model behind SCORM (or in fact any eLearning effort) is to support the concept of cohort of learners. Stating the obvious, a cohort of learners is a group who has agreed to advance the study in approximate the same pace, sometimes for the logistic reasons determined by the education/training provider. However, there are other valid pedagogical reasons that support collaborative learning too. This post is not going to touch upon that. Let us assume that there is value under SOME situations for supporting collaborative learning in an eLearning environment. Then, one of the pre-requisites will be the concept of cohort – the ability to express the intention of a group of learners to engage as a group. Without this, there will NOT be any collaborative learning. After all, collaborative learning implies learners working together – tackling or discussing about the issue, working on solution or problems together. It will be extremely frustrating if I am talking about one issue while everybody else is working at a different issue. To me at least, there will not be any collaboration. A pre-requisite of this is the identification of the group (cohort). Synchronicity is not necessarily the pre-requisite of collaboration, but “approximately at the same pace” and an agreement or obligation of participation are.

There are two types of collaborative learning activities (as my per normal kind of thinking, talking about two types is only a place holder to describe two extremes of a continuum....): free form and structured.

Free form collaboration can be formed ad hoc. The membership of the group can be quite dynamic, just like any discussion forum. People started a topic, some find it interesting and throw in a few ideas and the exchange occurs. Such collaboration is difficult to sustain. For a sufficiently large participation forum, the interests come and go – typically represented by bursts of intense exchanges followed by quiet periods. The group process is only managed as the collaboration develops as and when becomes necessary. Such free form collaboration can be supported by conferencing software, blog, or other collaboration tools.

For the same technique to be applied to a formal group (like a student body), there are lots of difficulties in the group building and maintenance as evidenced by a large body of literature addressing the issues of “moderating” discussion forums.

Free form collaboration is good for life-long learning. If you subscribe to some active discussion forums related to your profession, that can provide some valuable ongoing development for your professional life – although not necessarily those “just-in-time” training some authors may have allured to.

Structured collaborative learning activities implied some form of structure, e.g. a debate is a collaborative activity and the turn-taking process in this particular activity is well-known. (Sorry for the shameless pluck, see the first paper at

Free form can be implemented in parallel to SCORM using a discussion forum accessible to the group of students taking that course. Structured collaborative learning activities is better implemented *within* SCORM. Both will require the use of some kind of "cohort" information – best coming from the SCORM supported data model – rather than the current random implementations by different vendors.

The cohort data may also support SCORM-SSS (my dynamic look and feel of SCORM – see any paper in the above site.).

The discussion of the exact nature of the cohort data fields may be too technical to be discussed here. Interested readers may contact me directly. If there is sufficient interest, I may do a post about the technical aspects.

Please let me know how you feel about support collaborative learning within a SCORM environment. Is that against the original design vision as derived from a computer managed instruction paradigm? Are we ready to proceed into the collaborative learning?

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