Friday, 14 October 2005

Top down or Bottom Up

10 days ago when I was at the "Advancing ADL through Global Collaboration", I was with a group of international learning technology standards participants (SP). As I was watching, hearing and participating in discussions about global learning technology standards, I started to reflect on the differences between a top-down approach to global interoperability, as typically represented there in the forum and the current bottom-up movement as promoted by the active participants in the blogosphere (BP) such as Stephen Downes, George Seimens, James Farmer etc, just to name a few.

There are, of course, complete different philosophical preferences between the two groups. While the SPs are claiming pedagogical neutrality of the technologies, the fact is, they are NOT. AND, more importantly, SP fails to see the implicit pedagogies embedded in the learning technology standards they are creating. BPs, on the other hand, are pretty open and straight forward about the pedagogy that a particular approach is embracing. For example, George Seimens does not shy away and is actively promoting "connectivism" as a learning theory. I am actively promoting online role play simulation!

I don't think I ever see a post about describing learning design in a universal way pomoted by BPs (reporting of such development are many!). SPs promoted EML as a notation for learning design. The work done by LAMS Foundation has received wide-spread support. Personally, I think it is a wrong approach. When we try to compare musical notation and education learning activities notation, we are not using a fair analogy. There are very established science in sound and music thoery. Today, educationists are still arguing how to teach, or how to help people learn. In fact, I have to be careful to say "teach" and "help people learn" in order to please both sides of my readers. We are also starting to learn more about how our brain works. Designing a learning activity notation language is pre-mature at this stage. Even if such a notation does exist, the implement of a software system to support the full scope of EML will be a huge monolitic application. The BPs, including myself, are promoting a distributed learning technology strategy. If we want to implement software to preform some pedagogical support, it would be better for such support to be distributed.

While learning technology standards development is "voluntary", the fact is that these are people doing the standards development as a full-time job, supported mainly by government funding. People participating in blogosphere, mostly, have a full time job and maintain their blogs at their own time, or as a part component of their daily duty. (This is my speculation and I cannot produce any evidence to support my observation!) It would be difficult to predict which approach is more financially sustainable. If learning technology standards remains political important and continues to attract long term funding commitment from the supporting government, it seems that these people can continue to fly across continents for meeting for quite a while. On the other hand, BPs are subjected to the shift of interest of the people involved. Some will come in, other will leave. From the development and the increase of blogs related to education, we are in an upward trend (well, the whole blogosphere is expanding anyway!).

Interoperability is a top requirement in SPs. It seems to me that the BPs are more focussed on distributing good ideas and leave it to whoever pick that up to implement in their own way. Diversity is a top requirement.

IMHO, interoperability should be achieved by protocol, not by standardising on the format of the content. Of course, the payload of any protocol is still content, what I mean here is that we should limit the learning technolog standards development to a supporting layer, which will support the "upper" pedegogical implementations. Learning technology standards should NOT concern with the payload standards, rather at an efficient underlying connection technology to support whatever that is put onto it.

One more observation I may make here is that SPs are more focussed on formalised learning/training whereas BPs are more towards informal and life-long personal development.

Any comment? Welcome!

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