Thursday, 30 September 2004

My birthday red egg to her birthday party

Stephen Downes, in his usual inspired way, pointed out 4 things the e-learning industries are wrong about:
1. misreading the marketplace
2. misreading the technology
3. misreading the business models, and
4. misunderstanding convergence.

I won't write any better than Stephen. So I am not going to attempt anything like that. Instead, let me just tell you an exaggerated story.

When I was young, on my birthday, my mother boiled an egg. Dyed it red and gave the egg to me as a birthday present. Cost: AUD0.50 in today's value.

Unfortunately, my family was poor. So I need to jump a generation to continue this story.

When my daughter was young, we bought her a cake from a local bakery and invited a few cousins to join her. We sang the happy birthday song and ate the cake. The cost: AUD20

Now, she wants to hold a birthday party in a 10-pin bowling centre. She wants to invite about a dozen of her school friends. The bowling centre will provide a party leader and a birthday cake (as part of the package). The cost: AUD150

The "birthday business" started as NOT a business at all, to become a bakery and to become an _______________ industry. [Fill in the blank here]

Now, please try to replace "birthday business" with "eLearning industry". What would you like to see this industry develop to? At what stage is the eLearning industry now?

My humble answer starts on the next paragraph - deliberately in white so that you can't see. To cheat, highlight to the end of the post. The answer will appear.

Fill in the blank answer: experience
What would you like to see this industry develop to?
Answer: experience industry
At what stage is the eLearning industry now?
Answer: bakery

Finally, I don't think it will take a generation to move to the next stage. Internet has speeded most thing up. Before you realise, e-Learning will be a service experience industry.

SCORM Course Player Update

I know some of you are following the development of SCORM course player and are quite disappointed that there is not much progress. I must admit that's all my fault. I have over-committed myself.

Despite the website said that the beta course player has expired, in fact it is not. I'll be releasing another version (no change in the code, just the expiry date) tomorrow. At the meantime, feel free to give me feedback, or your wish list of how you would like to see SCORM course player to be developed.

I'll be attending the first "League of the World" conference next week. I'll put some time into SCORM course player after I come back.

Wednesday, 29 September 2004

Simulation and E-Learning

When I see an entry like this below, I have to follow it.

Simulations: "The real promise of e-Learning isn't just as an online textbook, but as a simulator."

I ended up landing at a post at slashdot where a discussion was triggered by a review of Clark Aldrich's book Simulations and the Future of Learning : An Innovative (and Perhaps Revolutionary) Approach to e-Learning . [Disclaimer: I have not read this book yet. My comment is from what I read from the various reviews.] Before I comment on this, let me just steal three paragraphs from the Slashdot review:
Clark Aldrich had a cushy job at the Gartner Group in charge of e-Learning coverage, but felt that the promise of e-Learning was being distressingly wasted by emphasis on the fast-food mentality of quantity over quality and churning out of tons of linear crud, just because it's so easy to do. The real promise of e-Learning isn't just as an online textbook, but as a simulator. And for life-or-death situations, it's the best way to teach people before letting them take a whack at the real thing. The U.S. military knows this. Airlines know this. Medical colleges know this. 'The organizations that care the most about training use simulations.' So he quit his sweet but corrupt job, and co-founded a company to teach leadership via a simulation: 'Virtual Leader.'

The sheer scope of the company's ambition had me shaking my head, convinced that this was going to end in brilliant failure. Especially as they decide one piece at a time that they need to write everything, including the graphics engine, from scratch. But finally, over time and budget, harsh reality sets in and they start distilling their huge collection of data on the nebulous concept of Leadership down to something workable. The meeting is the crucible where everything gets done in the world of the manager.

Virtual Leader places you in progressively higher-powered meetings and tracks their 'Three-to-One' model of leadership: good leadership is getting positive Work done in the short and long term, and levels of Power, Ideas, and Tension affect this. It's your task to try to ferret out good ideas and get them agreed to while heading off bad ideas. Of course, in later meetings you won't be the most powerful person in the room, so you have to carefully nudge things where they need to go by making alliances and building and spending your personal influence. At the end you're ranked on how you did on several metrics. And, of course, all this has to be simple enough for a computerphobe to use.

Like the reviewer Sarusa, I agree that the real promise of e-learning is not an online textbook, but a simulator. Again, like the reviewer, I would be shaking my head if the approach is to build a glorified multiple choice system to provide leadership training. By its nature, leadership is about human relationships. I don't believe that it is possible to model the chaotic and complex human relationships by a set of variables and coupled these variables with 2500 canned responses. My approach would be to build engaging scenarios at critical moments in a role play simulation. Learners playing out the persona, and hence understand the various stakeholder viewpoints. Like a Chinese saying, you cannot help a plant grow by pulling it up, learning has to pitch at the appropriate level of experience of the learners. Experience can be built in real job OR can be built via role play simulation.

BTW, the discussions at Slashdot are highly entertaining with some very insightful comments too.

A comment from Scot Alfred

I just copy his email to me verbatum:

Hi Albert,

I’d love to have posted this comment to your Blog. but there is a 100 character limit for comments, so please see below my comment in full:

Nice to catch up again.

You pose an interesting question in this post and one that deserves some debate. Back in the mid 90's when the online learning really kicked off most thought of the Web as re-publishing medium and a way to reduce the costs associated with distance education. Even though there have been an extraordinary number of studies that have demonstrated the inappropriate nature of this use, well over 90% of the courses offered online today still adhere to a content-based paradigm.

There is a single important theme that is emerging from the contemporary literature with regard to e-learning and is "learner engagement"

So it begs the question "what engages learners?" and the answer to this question is where we should be concentrating our efforts.

Albert you and I both know from the Fablusi online role play simulation approach that learning engagement comes from learner-centred and authentic tasks, but it is not the answer across the board.

Students that publish their work publicly find enormous pleasure from this kind of recognition and others like this bunch of photographers just like to talk about what they are interested in--a kind of serendipitous learning.

Learning is a multi-dimensional and complex activity and what the ICT research is suggesting seems to me to be just as applicable to face to face education.

Thank you for your invitation to comment on ITFORUM, you have even prompted me to begin an e-learning Blog of my own at:

I'd like to think that we can use Fablusi again in the near future, as it is a wonderful tool for producing a rich learning experience.

Keep up the good work Albert.

Kind regards,


Tuesday, 28 September 2004

Turn it to a Learning Object

Best use of Flickr tags I've seen (so far, today) via Abject Learning.

Originally uploaded by Bertrand.

And it looks like a yummy lemon pie recipe at that.

Click through to see what I mean. This opens up some groovy possibilities.

The "problem" of this photo-recipe is that it lacks several "usual" qualities of any recipe as an instruction material: no step-by-step procedure, no ingredient list ...

However, I would suggest it is one of the BEST way of teaching online. If you click on the image above and scroll down a little, you will see discussion by the online users. Granted, the website is a photographers' web-site and hence the discussion is mostly related to the photograph itself. If this "learning resource" is used in a cooking class, I suppose the discussion would be around another set learning objectives: ingredients, method of preparation...

On another more practical level, an online instructor (cooking class or photographic class) can base on this photo and suggests participants to experiment variation of the lemon pie (or the photo subject matter) and upload photos of their own versions for further discussion. Now, that's experiential learning!

This also demonstrates that the SAME learning resource can be used in different context (or subject matter). Isn't it that case that we always learn like this?

Sunday, 26 September 2004

What will her future be?

In 10 to 12 years, my daughter will graduate from university and will need to start work. By then, I will have retired. If I survive to 2020, my life expectancy will be extended by another 20 or more years due to the advance in medicine. She is the only child and hence she will have the responsibility of providing the means to her two parents. She will need a decent job - enough to support 3 with one income. If she gets married, has a child (isn't it a tendency for single child in modern developed countries?) and decides to stay home, her husband would need a job which can provide the means to 7 persons (assuming that her parents-in-law are in the same situation as her own parents).

What will the job market like in 2020? at least for developed countries like Australia?

Here is my speculation - no proof, no research, just based on my gut feeling.

In 2020, all physical production will be outsourced to developing or underdeveloped countries, like China and India. This is from the angle of developed countries - whether Australia will remain as a developed country is another issue!

Given the low starting point of wages, China will continue to capture low-end manufacturing jobs from around the world for the next decade, Anderson predicted. But by then, average wages are likely to exceed $100 a month, up from the current $50 to $60, and labor-intensive industries such as textiles and toys are likely to revert to countries now losing jobs to China, such as Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Washington Post

Just like we don't need any typist today, in 2020, there will be no jobs for repetitive white collar work. All jobs which can be automated will have been taken over by ubiquitous computing devices.

The only local jobs commonly available will be from the service industry - most are low paying jobs - restaurants, barbers, cleaners etc. Some high value service industry jobs, e.g. solicitors for real estate transactions or patent attorney, will under serious competition from self-service online businesses if not extinct by then.

Of course, new jobs that we cannot conceive today will be invented. However, I suspect some of these jobs will be ad hoc, "tiger-group" type of jobs to solve unforeseen problems in the automation process. These jobs will have short notice and need to finish in very short time-span. It is unlikely to have a constant team member structure - simply because the job nature will require different expertise!

Among the jobs listed in a job category from yahoo, can you identify which jobs will still be around in 2020? Many will, but some will be gone.

Again, the same question: How should I prepare my daughter to face the unknown?

Cyber Security - a follow up

Further to a previous post, I have found a project, called Cyber Security for the Digital District via Educational Technology related to this important issue.

Unfortunately, the advice given by the Cyber Security for the Digital District does not address the specific problems a teacher faces as she introduces online teaching as part of her teaching repertoire. However, the advice is IMPORTANT for schools to secure their infra-structure and is still very useful. I would label these security measures as a "health" requirement and would like to see further development to provide a secure "learning environment" for our minors.

Saturday, 25 September 2004

Multiple Intelligences and E-Learning

21 Years Later, 'Multiple Intelligences' Still Debated via wwwtools. The use of multiple intelligence has a wide followers from the classroom teachers, especially in primary schools. Teachers from my daughter's PS were among them.

Adopting the theory of multiple intelligence within e-learning can be a challenge for some of those intelligences (e.g. spatial, bodily-kinaesthetic), but should be quite useful for some others. Technology today provides rich communication choices - many different modes (telephone, mobile, sms, multi-media sms, VoIP, chats, conferences....), high bandwidth and di-directional. This would be harness to support, e.g., interpersonal skills.

The field of E-Learning has been focussed on life-long learning, supporting corporation in just-in-time skills acquisition. May be we can learn a lesson or two from the teachers who interact with young kids on a daily basis...

Friday, 24 September 2004

Longest domain name

From Ben Hammersley on Link Eclectica

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you

This website offers email address which, according to the website,
  • does not work with some web form

  • will cause some email software to throw you an error message

  • is hard for your friends or your co-workers to remember

  • cause people to believe that your email address is fake

  • You want to have one? It is free.

    I did not sign up for one. My heart is too weak...

    What should I teach my daughter?

    This question has been lingering in my mind for a long time. Every now and then, I come back to visit this question. I am yet to find a satisfactory answer to it.

    I have tried to look at what the future may be, (for another post may be). This piece The New Literacy via elearnspace describes well what has happened to us.

    This is my own journey, so far. I started as a high school Physics teacher. During my Certificate of Education, I was re-introduced into programming (I have some experience with punched cards in FORTRAN, COBOL etc. while I was still undergrad) using a hand-held programmable calculated. This has started my journey into personal computing - starting with a 4K RAM Z90 computer from Sinclair. My M.Ed was on the ethnographical study of an electronic bulletin board system. Because of that, I was involved in a project for delivering English language teacher training to secondary schools. I became the first computer officer of the TeleNex project between June 1993 to 95.

    As a high school Physics teacher for almost 20 years, with 15 of those being the head of the Physics department, I have all the necessary experience and qualifications. When I first came to Australia, I was unable to find a job in teaching Physics - but ended up being a lecturer in Computer Science - although I have no formal qualification in this area.

    My experience echoes very well with "The New Literacy". I have been mainly working for the education field and still am. For me, the field has not changed. However, the need of constantly upgrading myself is obvious. The job I am doing today would not have been conceived when I graduated. In between, some job I have done came out to be quite unexpectedly.

    With the coming of Information Age (or it has already arrived!), the path to be taken by my daughter will be different from mine as well. How different? We don't know. How to give her the best preparation? I am wondering...

    A bit of computing history [may not be relevant]

    OK, this post may not be relevant to eLearning, but here is a bit of computing history in a very funny sense. Someone is selling the letters from the corporate logo of "Lindows" on eBay. See here. BTW, the auction will end 28th September. So hurry and take a look - for a laugh.

    For those who may not know, Lindows is a Linux-based desktop OS. It has changed its name to Linspire despite successfully defending the right to use its name in USA because of the high cost in defending court actions outside USA initiated by Microsoft. See Michael Robertson's explanation.

    Thursday, 23 September 2004

    The birth of a language

    Language has always been at the centre of knowledge acquisition. This new understanding how language is created may have impact on our understanding of human learning.

    Wednesday, 22 September 2004

    Google Ad as an alternate funding model - Follow-up

    Harold Jarche did the same experiment long time ago (shortly after I started blogging - and I AM still learning...) As a result of two comments, he stopped putting the Adsense on his site.

    D'Arcy Norman also made a comment. His objective of putting the Google Adsense on his blog is to see the effectiveness of Google's latent semantic analysis. I am very interested in semantic extraction as well. But I will save this topic for another occasion.

    There has been a number of suggestions for generating revenue for free lance writers, such as Voluntary contributions, Advertisements, Product placement and Government funding (see
    The Street Performer Protocol). Google has made it easy for us to try the advertisement model. I suppose I can also add a PayPal Donate button somewhere to try the Voluntary contribution model. As stated in my profile, I am actively promoting online role play simulation. So I suppose my main revenue model is "Product placement".

    That leads me to question what is the portion of each of these revenue models in eLearning blogging. If someone has done any research, please enlighten us.

    Monday, 20 September 2004

    Academic publishing or Blogging

    Publishing is about sharing your view and getting feedback from your peers. I was the first author of a paper in 1999 which was delivered by Iain Morrison as an invited paper in the 5th Hong Kong Web Symposium. The reason that I mentioned this particular paper is this was the first of a series of peer-reviewed, academically published papers on a data model that I developed to help me understand the complex nature of data about data. It was delivered with quite a profile. It was published 5 years ago. However, besides coming up as a discussion topic among the original authors, I don't think anyone would know about this. I have never received any comment about this data model except the initial peer review comments.

    Now, with this blogging, I now know that I have a readership. I know people with similar interests are reading my posts. I have seen at least one track back on one of my post!

    If you check my papers (do a search on google with my name!), you will notice that I have not published alone. I always have co-authors. So, I want to initiate an experiment.
    In the next few weeks, [we] will develop the original data model into a more rigorous form and write about the model here. [we] is yet to become plural! The way I wrote has always been many re-iterated editions of the paper between myself and my co-authors. I will keep that style and post each iteration here. Co-authorship is open. If you can contribute, feel free to do so and add your name on the paper. I won't add your name. You have to initiate this! I won't care where you put your name. If you think you deserve to be the first author, feel free to do so - as long as your conscience is comfortable. Please take a copy of the latest iteration, import into word and turn "tracking ON". Make edits (add, change or modifying...) or comments. Then send your iteration to me by email (albert at DLS dot au dot com). I will publish the iteration verbatim. And the cycle continues...

    Any experiment has to end somewhere. This experiment will end in several ways:
    - run out of steam,
    - just nobody is interested,
    - the fight among co-authors for the first authorship is too much that we want to stop, or
    - we arrive at a form which we want to say quit for the time being.

    Then the final iteration of the paper may, or may not be submitted to a publication. But if we (co-authors and myself) decide to submit to somewhere, that publication must be an open access online journal.

    I realised that blog is more like a personal journey than a rigorous academic work. I will still keep most posts that way.

    Hope you can join this experiment.

    Google Ad as an alternate funding model

    As I am an independent, lonely worker in e-Learning, I don't have the luxury of having a salary. If I can sell my ware, I can affod a bit of bread on my family table.

    I am philosophically subscribed to an open model for knowledge. However, I do want to make a living out of the work I do and I love. I have been experimenting with putting Google's Ad on this blog since 1st September, 2004. Up to 17th Sept, I have generated 1017 impressions (so it is not a heavily visited site - yet!). There were 3 clicks and earned me US$0.68. I have 7 posts during this period. So my writing is worth about US$0.10 (or 10 US cents) per post.

    Am I really this cheap? It hurts to think so...

    Cyber Security by Steven E. Miller

    Miller advocated the establishment of a security team - to provide a safe online environment for teaching and learning to occur. Let me just try to re-interpret the importance of this work with an analogy.

    I have not seen a physical school (except higher education institutions) that does not have a physical fence surrounding the perimeter of the school. When a parent sends her kid to school, as she sees the kid enter the school compound, she feels a sense of security. The "duty of care", in this case, the physical safety of the child, is transferred to the school.

    In the online equivalent, unfortunately, it is very difficult to build this fence.

    What I have written before is about the "duty of care" equivalent to inside a classroom. I have no doubt that in an online learning environment, the "adult-in-charge" should be responsible for the "online safety" within that environment. Whose responsibility is that for the safety before the child arrives at the learning environment? Or, whose responsibility is that when the child moves from one classroom to another?

    Miller's security team has an important task - a very difficult task. I wish the security team luck. I will definitely monitor any progress in this important area.

    Sunday, 19 September 2004

    Director of R and D

    I was the Director of R and D for my company for a long time. In this job title, "R and D" stands for "Repeat and Duplicate".

    Innovations are made in small steps. In science, at least as I understood it when I was young, is about repeating other's experiments, verifying the results and learning the process. During these hard work, improvements are made, small mostly.

    In these days of patent lock-up, it is NOT about publishing the achievement and improvement. My patent lawyer told me the other day, it is about limiting other people's use of your idea. Hence this concept of patent portfolio and mutual licensing. He advised me to break my invention into several patents in order to start building a patent portfolio. When there is a way of doing thing which is lock up in other's patent (by the way, I discover the method myself independently - but it does not matter, somebody has the exclusive right just before you), one can use one's patent portfolio to negotiate for some mutual licensing. This makes sense, a lot of $en$e - but only to the lawyers! I ended up protecting my IP using "trade secret". BTW, if you ask nicely, I may tell you my trade secret after a drink.

    Back to this "Director of R and D" thingy. Should all of us call ourselves Director of R and D? Under the protection of "fair use" and "educational use", let's R and D for the betterment of the world...

    ps On another thought, I should trademark my family name. That would help my bottom line a lot!

    CSS and Learning Objects

    I wrote about an intermediate layer for SCORM - a display layer based on non-customised HTML tags (see here and here). However, for Fablusi v2, the output from the platform is a complex set of attributes (id and class). Am I contradicting myself?

    SCORM is about enabling different compatible LMS to display the same content without any modification. The basic delivery mechanism is based on packaging up the complete course and install the course onto a LMS. In order to ensure compatible, we have to use the lowest common standard.

    Current repository efforts (e.g. content management system) can store the content and through mechanism such as SCO-fetcher, LMS can deliver any courses from CMS across any domain. While the underlying SCO-fetcher solution works like web services, but fundamentally, SCORM-courses are still served like a web site. The diverse nature of the underlying semantic mark-up of the SCOs will not be standardised anytime soon.

    Fablusi is a propriatory, specific solution to a specific requirement. In order to deliver the maximum flexibility, we have separated from underlying data from the presentation. Again, there is a wide range of semantic mark-up being used:
    1. Different interaction spaces may be rendered differently depending on the type of interaction space it is. For example, a news agency may have an online news portal look for one sub-space and a threaded discussion for its office sub-space.
    2. Sim-mail may be rendered as mail using personal stationary or as mail using official stationary.
    3. Different simulation creator may prefer to display the navigation in different area of the screen.

    Such diverse demands require a fairly complex underlying semantic model. For Fablusi v2, I have even included 6 extra spans (I stole this idea from CSS Zen Garden - well, they said such copying is welcome at least!). These extra spans can be used to add eye candies to Fablusi v2 relatively easily.

    Again, I judge myself by my motto of "quality as measure of fitness of use". I can just live by. Any comment?

    ps If you have not seen CSS Zen Garden, do youself a favour, go there. It is stunningly beautiful and all done by different style sheets applied to the SAME HTML mark-up.

    Friday, 17 September 2004

    The role of content in eLearning Activity

    My comment on the "recipe analogy" sent me pondering what is the role of content in a meaningful e-learning activity. One disclaimer is appropriate here. I am not discounting the value of content. A good grasp of facts, knowledge and theory is important. What I want to look at in this post is the relationship between content and activity.

    "Activity" has been a buzz word recently in learning technology standards circle. Most of the work is concentrated on "sequencing activity" - it sounds similar to those discussions we had when we were talking about "sequencing content"!

    I always believe that "quality" has an element of "fitness of the purpose". Without a clearly defined purpose of the activity, there is no sense in talking about the quality of the interaction. I suppose there is a dimension which can be broadly described by these two extremes:
    1. learning to get a skill and
    2. learning to achieve a change of attitude.

    Skill acquisition is more of a transfer of facts and knowledge. Activities would be used to motivate, practice and assess the transfer. Here, obviously, content IS the focus of the package development.

    Attitude or belief system improvement is much more difficult to achieve and measure. However, I do see powerful changes which have occurred to our Fablusi online role play simulation players after playing a persona in our online simulations. When we, or our subject matter experts, design these simulations, the focus has always been on creating an environment which reflects some real life environment - the power relationship between the persona etc. Then we throw in "kick start" episodes which put some the critical issues into sharp focus. The players now have compelling reasons (as part of their game goal) to act, to research and to find out how the persona would respond. In most cases, content was not the primary focus. Actually, in most cases, the players would go out of the "simulation space" to search for information. The game acts as a motivator for information transfer. (This is similar to Marie's free-ranging chicken concept!) However, because in playing a role, a player would inevitably think about how as a real person herself would act versus how the persona would act. The interaction between these two sub-level of reflections is the major driver in achieving attitude and belief system improvement.

    I may have been a bit harsh when I wrote the comment on "recipe analogy". After all, it is the "fitness for the purpose" that is important. We use anything to help us learn anyway. I suppose the trick in good elearning design is to understand the need and create an environment to foster the happening of meaningful activities. Content is a mean of achieving this aim.

    Thursday, 16 September 2004

    Haloscan trackback have been added to this blog.

    Is "recipe" content or activity?

    The recipe analogy said roughly:

    any recipe will have two components: ingredients and procedures. Content is like the ingredients and Activity is analogy to the procedure.

    But reading a recipe book is different from actually cooking.

    If we extend the recipe analogy further, we should discover that it is the environment that is important to the experience. A recipe in a supermarket serves a different purpose from a recipe book in the sitting room and from a recipe near the wok. The experience of using the same recipe is quite different in the above three situations. But in all cases, the recipe is content. The activity occurs OUTSIDE the content.


    ICCE Pre-conference workshop on role play simulation

    Roni Linser and I will be holding a pre-conference 4-hour workshop on 30th November in the most livable city Melbourne this southern summer. Please join us for our reveal of the new version 2 of Fablusi. I am sure you will not be disappointed.

    Wednesday, 15 September 2004

    SCORM & Distance Education

    This presentation (I suppose, I only find this powerpoint like material on the web by accident) supports my view that there is value of developing collaborative learning activities with SCORM. (see my earlier post What I would like to see added to the SCORM specification)

    I have said elsewhere (and the presentation) that there are three ways of supporting SCORM with collaboration:

    1. in parallel - by running a discussion forum (moderated or otherwise) during the SCORM course.

    2. use SCORM within a discussion driven course. When required, learners are sent to learn material (or get facts or viewpoints) in the form of SCORM course.

    3. use collaborative learning activities within a SCORM course. The SCORM content would provide the focal points in such activities. For example, an online debate can be inserted in a SCORM course.

    Obviously, once we add collaborative activities with SCORM material, the concept of "self-pacing" will break down. We need to introduce the concept of "cohort" and require that the cohort move through the material in approximate the same pace. Individual within the cohort still have the flexibility of accessing the material at any odd hour, but the task(s) must be accomplished within set deadlines in order to enjoy the maximum benefits from the collaboration.

    Tuesday, 14 September 2004

    E-learning models

    Marie Jasinski and I spent a whole day together yesterday. Our discussion covered a wide range of subjects. Just before lunch, we were on the subject on e-learning models.

    Marie said her elearning model is like free-ranging chicken. A safe environment (free of fox e.g.) and food are provided. However, the chicken has to search for the food - as contrast to battery hens.

    We were on our way to a Chinese restaurant, so I added that another elearning model is like "yum cha". We can provide the learners with a large range of dim sums and let the learners have a taste of a board range of choices. Diversity was the keyword in my mind.

    Roni joined us after lunch. As we were recapturing our discussion, Roni improved on the yum cha model, pointing out that there should be a main course. Finally, all three of use was happy with the following model:

    Warm-up using an email game such as wormhole. This will give the players a taste of what will come and acts as a learner supported design. This is also as a vision development. Then the main development stage is a full scale Fablusi role play. The game goals of players are to ensure that their wormhole world will be the dominant outcome. So there is a natural competition between the two teams and this will help in tactic development. After the debrief, de-role and so on, there will be a cool down game based on half-life for consolidation.

    While I am very brief in describing the final model here, I see the powerful impact of this model on learning outcome. We argue that for our work to be accepted, we need to create courses that low cost but deliver returns that are measured by "order of magnitude" changes instead of percentage. This is a great requirment and I believe we can deliver this with the above model.

    Another powerful demonstration that when like-mind people are jamming, good ideas get better.

    Monday, 13 September 2004

    Issues with implementing style sheets for use with SCORM-SSS

    SCORM-SSS makes use of the dynamic rendering ability of modern browsers. By using a document.write function in Javascript at the head section of the SCO, we write the style sheet to modify the look and feel of the SCO.

    Stating the obvious for those less technical, CSS style sheet is driven by style selectors which are used to select fragments of the document for style application. There are three different types of selectors for choosing:
    1. existing HTML (or XHTML) elements /tags;
    2. class attribute defined within any HTML tags; and
    3. id attribute defined within any HTML tags.

    The latter two selections give web designers great flexibility to control how a particular group of tags should look like. This is fine for your own document. However, for use of SCORM-SSS, I would advice against this practice. Basically, if we define special class or id attributes, it is difficult to expect other SCO producers will use the same class or id attribute. This is the similar argument and reservation I have with define a global set of tags to describe ALL possible learning material. HTML has its share of drawback, nevertheless, it is universally supported by all browsers and is quite rich to describe any look and feel one would like. By limiting the "display model" to this common set of tags, we would ensure inter-operability of any SCOs using this scheme.

    So the first rule in designing CSS style sheet for SCORM-SSS is include selectors of standard HTML tags only.

    CSS style sheet can be applied by referencing an external style sheet or applied inline by the style definitions. SCORM-SSS supports both.

    However, if you are using external style sheet, make sure that the external style sheet is referenced ABSOLUTELY. Unless you are using a flat structure to store all your SCOs, the SCOs will be arranged in some directory structures. Relative referencing will break because of the different depths SCOs may be located.

    Second rule in designing CSS style sheet for SCORM-SSS is use absolutely referenced external style sheet.

    Since CSS can be inline, so the third rule is use inline style rules.

    We can also mix external style sheet with inline styles. For example, Course Player (from will automatically apply any external style sheet BEFORE applying inline styles. This will allow for customisation of styles for individual course but still based on an institutional wide uniform style.

    A collorary of rule one is for the SCO developer. Since the SCORM-SSS styles only select standard HTML, do not apply any class or id attribute.

    Can SCORM-SSS support accessibility? Yes, but not just by itself.

    Visual accessibility support depends on two factors: semantically meaningful mark-up of the content and rendering of the content.

    For example, if images in the SCO do not have the appropriate alt attributes or descriptions, any style sheet will not improve the situation. Garbage in, garbage out!

    However, for those semantically rich and correct mark-up material, style sheets offer the potential for different styles for different media. You may define a plain (or audio) style for visually impaired, a print style for print-out and a style for online reading.

    In a future post, I will discuss how SCORM-SSS can support eye candies and the impact of eye candies on accessibility. At the meantime, please give me comment on whether SCORM-SSS is a feasible approach to solve an immediate need?

    Sunday, 12 September 2004

    An experiment on propogation of Meme in Blogsphere

    I'm participating in this experiment. If you are interested, please read on:

    8-15 questions for Meme Propopgation

    To add your blog to this experiment,
    copy this entire posting to your blog, and then answer the questions
    below, substituting your own information, below, where appropriate.
    Other than answering the questions below, please do not alter the
    information, layout or format of this post in order to preserve the
    integrity of the data in this experiment (this will make it easier for
    searchers and automated bots to find and analyze the results later).

    REQUIRED FIELDS (Note: Replace the answers below with your own answers)

    (1) I found this experiment at URL: The Daily Meme.

    (2) I found it via "Newsreader Software" or "Browsing the Web" or "Searching the Web" or "An E-Mail Message":

    (3) I posted this experiment at URL:

    (4) I posted this on date (day, month, year):12 September, 2004

    (5) I posted this at time (24 hour time):13:30:00

    (6) My posting location is (city, state, country):Melbourne, Vic, Australia

    OPTIONAL SURVEY FIELDS (Replace the answers below with your own answers):

    (7) My blog is hosted by: Blogger

    (8) My age is: Mature

    (9) My gender is: male

    (10) My occupation is:

    (11) I use the following RSS/Atom reader software:

    (12) I use the following software to post to my blog:

    (13) I have been blogging since (day, month, year): 11th August, 2004

    (14) My web browser is: Firefox

    (15) My operating system is: Win

    Meme Propagation In Blogspace: Add Your Blog!

    This posting is a community experiment that tests how a meme,
    represented by this blog posting, spreads across blogspace, physical
    space and time. It will help to show how ideas travel across blogs in
    space and time and how blogs are connected. It may also help to show
    which blogs are most influential in the propagation of memes. The
    dataset from this experiment will be public, and can be located via
    Google (or Technorati) by doing a search for the GUID for this meme

    The original posting for this experiment is located at: Minding the Planet

    results and commentary will appear there in the future.

    Please join the test by adding your blog (see instructions, below)
    and inviting your friends to participate -- the more the better. The
    data from this test will be public and open; others may use it to
    visualize and study the connectedness of blogspace and the propagation
    of memes across blogs.

    The GUID for this experiment is:
    (this GUID enables anyone to easily search Google (or Technorati) for
    all blogs that participate in this experiment). Anyone is free to
    analyze the data of this experiment. Please publicize your analysis of
    the data, and/or any comments by adding comments onto the original post
    (see URL above). (Note: it would be interesting to see a geographic map
    or a temporal animation, as well as a social network map of the
    propagation of this meme.)

    Friday, 10 September 2004

    SCORM-Style Sheet Support (SCORM-SSS)

    One of the impediment of re-using Shareable Content Objects (SCO) from other SCORM courses is the potential of mosaic effect*. There are two major solutions proposed: Dynamic Appearance Model and my SCORM-SSS model. Obviously, I'll defend my model, but these models are not necessarily mutually exclusive. However, my model is driven by a deeper philosophical stance that I like to reveal in this post.

    After reviewing over two dozens of learning strategies (see ), I have come to the conclusion that there is no one underlying content model to describe all the different types of learning. Case in particular is the re-use of case study material in online role play simulation. Many study cases describe situations where multiple stakeholders interact. These are potential good material to be used in a role play environment. However, there is no way to use the material verbatim without rewriting or reworking through the material. Such re-use still have value - but not the type of re-use that we promote as "automatic re-use". When the case study is further protected by digital right management, the situation will be very difficult - but that is another problem.

    On the other hand, I am a true believer of re-use as a mechanism of reducing cost - BUT NOT QUALITY! I recognise also that one of the powerful re-use is pattern re-use. If someone is specialised in a certain type of learning strategy (multiple choice items development as an example), he would have developed a bank of items, different types of interaction pattern and so on. Most likely, in this time of XML being the default lingua of the web, in XML format. When the material is used in a SCORM-environment, the content will be transformed by an XSLT (or equivalent).

    Up to now, DAM and SCORM-SSS still agree but depart from here onwards.

    When a course is composed, I recognised that the role of the developer has changed. Typically, the composition of course may be done at a different level of the copywriter (or coder). The composition may draw different content objects from different underlying semantic models. For example, a course may comprises of information pages, presentation pages, example pages, quiz pages ... The above example of multiple choice items may be a quiz page scattered at different places within the course.

    DAM suggests (if I have interpreted the model correctly and am happy to be corrected) the server delivering the course will be able to transform all these different types of semantic models directly into SCO - thus making the XSLT (or set of XSLT) a monolithic huge object.

    SCORM-SSS suggests that there is an intermediate layer - a display layer. The deliverable from the copywriter (i.e. the multiple choice item provider - the quiz) may be in HTML (or should update to XHTML) format. The transformation required is kept by the copywriter and need not be available to the SCORM-LMS. The look and feel is applied as a style sheet at the course level.

    In actual use, the transformation and application of the required code for support of SCORM-SSS can be done in one pass. The overhead on work flow is next to nothing.

    There are a few design consideration in the design of style sheet for use in SCORM-SSS. I will cover this in a future post.

    *Mosaic Effect is a team I used to describe the incoherent look and feel when different pages (from different courses with their unique look and feel) are combined to create a new course.

    Thursday, 9 September 2004

    Free Spelling checker on Web (for Firefox)

    It was a common Fablusi user request to have spell checking within the Fablusi interaction spaces (iSpaces as we call them). Obviously, it would be a very demanding implementation until now. (To implement such a feature, at least I would need to get some dictionary or license to use some dictionary!).

    I have been using Google as my online spelling checker. When I am unsure about the spelling of a word, I try to guess the word and do a search on the word (or phrase) using Google. Usually, Google would come back with a suggestion "Did you mean: [correct spelt word]". Believe me, English is not my first language and I have to do this all the time. The bad thing about this is sometimes I'll miss words because I thought I know how to spell them. :-)

    I have just installed the "SpellBound" for Firefox. (Firefox is my default browser anyway.) As I am writing this post, I just do a right click on the input form. Wow! The incorrectly spelt words are in red too! (Of course, SpellBound did not not know that Fablusi is spelt in this way and it also highlight "SpellBound" in red!) I have different language packs to choose as well!

    Click on the title of this post to go to the SpellBound installation page.

    Tuesday, 7 September 2004

    EduChaos presentation by Marie Jasinski

    If you like to get an overview of the fuzzy boundary between randomness and control, if you like to understand the whole process of online role play simulation, even if you don't have time, you better sit still for the next 30 minutes and watch this wonderful presentation.

    I have asked Marie's permission to post her presentation here and I have not got a response yet - but I can't wait to share this with the lucky ones who visit my blog now. In case my request is denied, I will pull this off. So you better watch it while it is still here.

    Marie, I think it is inline with the principle triggering the resonance of the brainwave of like-minded people. :-)

    Hurray, just before I post this, I got the permission from Marie.

    Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Game and Geopolitical Brinksmanship (an Online Course)

    Goal-based, game-based and role-play learning are all good strategies for motivating learners to acquire knowledge and skills within a "fantasy" - which acts as a safe environment where making mistakes is OK. Learners are set in a "suspended belief" stage to play out the role of a character and interact with the environment. (In typical implementation of goal-based and game-based situations, the environment is filled with AI agents; in role-play environment, the environment is filled with other roles dirven by other learners.)

    While there are multi-player games, the communication channel between the players in these games is usually quite restricted. As pointed out by Susan Nash, in a multi-player shooter game, the game's grammar is shooting. "Shooting is a metaphor for communication; it is a way to involve the non-verbal in an environment (online) that tends to be highly restricted in its communication options.".

    Typical implementation of goal-based environment is what I refer as "glorified multiple choice" engine. The instruction is delivered via other roles within the scenario as canned responses (as expert advice or resource material). The communication aspect is almost next to nothing.

    On the contrary, role play depends on communication between the roles. It is a “glorified discussion” environment! There is no explicit delivery of instructions. The learners need to research, discuss and strategize in group (that is why Fablusi’s supports playing a role by a team). The learning occurs at several levels: a self reflecting level, a team level and at an inter-role level.

    At the self reflecting level, the player constantly (and most of time, unconsciously) ponders between “how can I (as in the player) do this?” and “how would this role I am playing do this?”. These two sub-level of reflection is a very powerful technique to integrate the learning outcome into the player’s repertoire.

    When playing as a team, it is required to give the role a consistent character and personality. That would require co-ordination between the team member and involve making sure the other members know the tactic and strategy the role is adopting. This is inline with Diane Laurillard’s conversation framework. However, in this case, the teacher role is taken by other member of the team.

    Inter-role level is where players can see the result of the action as interpreted by the other role. The feedback (response or non-response from the other roles in character) forms the next cycle of the above three levels of learning.

    Without knowing any details, just by reading the title of the online course, I would suggest Susan Nash to seriously consider using role play for delivering her course. Brinksmanship is about pushing risk taking to its very limit – knowing your opponent’s risk limit and willingness to retreat at the “brinks”. The other important aspect of brinksmanship is the ability to communicate.

    If I were to design a course about political brinksmanship, I would start by the learners viewing the movie Thirteen Days (Infinifilm Edition) and then have the students role play. The scenario described by Nash is interesting, but would not necessarily lead to a better understand of brinksmanship. The scenario I would develop will involve both opponents casted in a modern political environment (hence achieve the learning objectives of understanding the geographical aspect of the political environment) and finish off with an analysis of the fall of Saddam Hussein. Was it a failure of Saddam’s brinksmanship to lead to the Iraq war?

    Monday, 6 September 2004

    My heart is with the Russian parents

    Children need not and should not die because of politican conflicts. Schools are meant to be a safe environment. I felt deeply with the Russian parents who lost their loved one.

    Sunday, 5 September 2004

    The Edu-Blogger: ITI: Stephen Downes keynote

    Stephen Downes is an inspired mind. I read his OLDaily daily. Marie Jasinski (re: Educhaos) is a close business associates. When I read an article about them, I have to respond with a small piece.

    Here, let me just add a view on the quote from David Wiley "Instead of trying to organize learning communities, we should focus on how learning communities can organize themselves." There is nothing wrong with this and I totally agree! While "learning communities" is a hot topic of the day, please don't ignore the fact that there is a significant portion of our population who is undergoing an organised learning process daily. It is even more important to realise that our future depends on this group's success in their learning endeavour.

    We should not stop our effort in finding the best ways of organising learning.

    Quiz of this post (sorry no prize will be awarded to the best answer):
    What is the "portion of our population" I am referring to here? :-)

    The Edu-Blogger: ITI: Simulated learning companions

    Rick West reported on a session at ITI which look at some aspects of the impact of learning companion (LC) on learning outcome. As the author is focussed on a solo* learning environment and trying to use AI to support the LC, it seems to me that (LC) is an emotion reflecting chatbot. Extending such AI environment into a full semantic-understanding environment is still a rough implmentation assignment.

    The solution which we implement in Fablusi online role play is quite different. Since we do not focus on solo learning, we suggest a group of players to play a single role. In this way, the players are each other's LC and I do not need to implement any AI to support this. What I need is to provide a private space where the group members can share their feelings, plan their strategy and so on. One of the important elements is the emphasis on "positive inter-dependence" of the group. Obviously, if the group is large enough, we may be able to characteristic social roles emerged from the group. At this point, I have no data to support such development as most of the role play simulation I have watched are played by small groups (up to 4 players per group) and the groups were dismantled/not followed up after the brief 3-week simulation cycles.

    This may be an area of research worth putting some effort in.

    *Solo learning is a term I used to describe the type of learning when learner is interacting with the material alone. The other side of solo learning is group learning where a group of learners work together to achieve some learning outcomes - not necessary the same for everyone!

    Saturday, 4 September 2004

    The Wisdom in Keeping fixed term cycles

    One of my clients ran an online role play simulation for marketing, featuring the marketing of online casino. During one of the regular visits of the Pearson editor with academics, this editor was interested in his role play and she was also made aware that it was driven by an online role play platform. My name was given to the editor for further investigation. After delays of weeks, we finally arranged a meeting.

    I have done a little research before I went into the meeting and as such, I have no expectation of convincing Pearson to include Fablusi in any of their textbooks in the near future. Anyway, I thought planting a seed with a big publisher like Pearson is worth the time (although I should really put my time in the v2 work!).

    Her editor-in-charge attended the meeting too. That was good! I also asked Roni to come along. We have a good exchange of our views.

    I fully understand that as a business, Pearson is market driven. The editor-in-charge was frank in acknowledging that there is no request from authors or academic to have support in online role play. That’s exactly right too!

    This brings me to the question of marketing Fablusi. I have been working and promoting Fablusi for over 5 years. So far, everyone who had used online role play never regretted the commitment and effort put in. The students loved it. Many of my clients became evangelists for Fablusi. But still, the words are spreading slowly and there is logistic problem to overcome. One of the hurdles is how to fit a rewarding online role play simulation to the straight-jacket semesters time slots in higher education.

    One of the powers of online role play is asynchronicity - allowing both flexibility AND opportunity for players to reflect, research and discuss for the each move. We suggest roles to be played by groups. Not only the workload is reduced, the need for the group to act in unison is a great way to force the players to articulate the reasoning behind each action the role takes. However, this also means that we should allow time for the role play simulation to really develop.

    It usually takes about a week for the group to master and be comfortable with a role. If we require the players to log in once a day during a two-week play cycle , there would be about 14 “interactions”. If we consider each interaction as a move in a game of chess, a limited 14- move chess game is hardly interesting. It will still be at the open stage of the game! One way to overcome this is to launch the simulation into the “mid-game” situation by using episodes. Once the players are familiar with the roles, we release “kick-start” episodes which describe the latest situation of the role play simulation and set the game into “mid-game” stage. At this point, there are conflicts, crisis, emergency and so on. I describe this as “giving the roles compelling reason(s) to response”. We also run parallel inter-related threads throughout the simulation. At each log-in, the players are confronted with a number of issues – not one! But, we also limit the number of “sim-mail” a role can send in a day. This will force the players to prioritize their actions and make moderating more manageable. Nevertheless, 2 weeks would be required as a minimium! We may also need another session for debriefing and so on.

    With this 3-week requirement, it is obviously quite difficult to fit into a 10-week term-cycle!

    In the industrial era, universities are gate-keepers, acting as a sorting mechanism for “people quality”. Among the variables “scope of material”, “mastery of material” and “time of instruction”, education institutions choose to keep “time of instruction” and “scope of material” constant and let “mastery of material” depend on other elements of the learners. This is OK in an industrial era where the education institutions is to sort people.

    I believe that in the future repetitive works are going to be replaced by automated processes. Most jobs will be towards handling "exceptions" - those that the automated process cannot handle. I believe this will require a different type of training/education. What is this “different type of education” is something I don’t know and for another discussion. Intuitively, I believe that the wisdom of keeping “time of instruction” to be constant and let “mastery” to vary has almost reached its "used-by" time. We should seriously start investigating new ways of educating our next generation.

    Until then, Pearson will not call us back for further discussion in using online role play simulation in their textbooks.

    But that day will come. And when it comes, it will appear to come so quickly that we hardly notice the change.