What, Why, and How

I want to take a step back in time to 1997 and talk about how ADL got started.  I always think of Dexter Fletcher as ADL’s godfather and his continued interest in trying to attain a 2 sigma increase in learning outcomes through computer-based learning. He has championed research in intelligent tutors from the beginning and its enabling technologies and infrastructure. I think if you peel back and examine the current set of ADL research projects, CASS, PAL, TLA, etc. they are traceable back to the idea that “traditional instructor-centered approaches must be replaced with more active instruction involving learner interaction”.

“Researchers further specify the types of interactions that can occur in distributed learning environments e.g interactions to increase willingness to engage in learning to enhance elaboration and retention. A feature of effective interactions is that they must result in a transfer of knowledge or a change in intrinsic motivation. ADL can accommodate all of this interactivity in a manner that improves efficiency and reduced cost.

The vision had three components

  • a global information infrastructure with registered repositories populated by reusable instructional objects
  • a server which discovers. locates and then assembles instructional objects into education,training, and/or performance aiding material tailored to user needs
  • devices that serve as personal learning associates on which the materials are presented”

Bob Wisher and Dexter Fletcher 1997 The Case for Advanced Distributed Learning

In 2005  Fletcher publishes “The Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL)Vision and Getting From Here To There”, that essentially repeats the 1997 ADL vision with updates on new and maturing methods and technologies e.g Intelligent Tutoring System (ITS), Sematic Web, Web Services, Personalized System of Instruction (PSI, and adaptive learning.

Fletcher strikes a note of inevitability and optimism that these enabling technologies will bring about instructional tutoring capabilities and infrastructure fulfilling the “ADL Vision of fully accessible, anytime, anywhere education, training, and performance aiding”.

One of the more salient points is his comment on structural and organizational changes when he says –

“With or without ADL, fully accessible, anytime, anywhere education, training, and performance aiding seem inevitable. They are likely to require structural and organizational changes in current procedures and practices. Sooner or later, existing organizations must deal with this evolution and its emerging processes, capabilities, and opportunities. It may be time to begin addressing the procedural and administrative opportunities and issues presented by ADL technical capabilities.”

“Technology is easy, Culture is a bitch” Col. Bob Reddy DARPA program Manager

In Oct 2008 LETSI hosted its Pensacola SCORM 2.0 Workshop that sought to examine what the next generation of SCORM might look like. Barr publishes “Assumptions Document SCORM 2.0 Project Report LETSI Technical Roadmap”, based on the 100 plus white papers submitted by the learning and training community on future SCOM requirements. He argued for a broader open learning architecture taking advantage of WEB 2.0 (Service -Oriented Architecture, open APIs, etc.)

Barr proposed partitioning SCORM 2.0 into four distinct integrated service domains of people, competencies, resources and learning activities intended to support, blended learning, KM and formal learning integration, Learner data collection, collaborative learning and assessment, adaptive instruction, adaptive assessment, and integration with simulation/games. The feel of this effort contains some of the same elements of Fletcher’s ADL piece except the context is a bit broader and more inclusive of an ecosystem broader than DoD that encompassed K-12, Higher Ed, KM, and Corporate Learning/Training. From a technical point of view, they share the same research agenda but a bit more focused based on the 100 plus paper submitted at the time.

It would be interesting to see if you could, in fact, get that same level of technical response that the LETSI 2008 call for white paper generated in 2016 from the learning, training, and education community. Such an effort could well instantiate ADL’s current research program. In addition, hearing from ADLs customers about what they think their requirements are.

That was 1997 and in 2016 the ADL’s BAA says –

“The ADL Initiative has the mission to develop and advance the state of the art in education and training through the use of technology and innovative learning methodologies which highly leverage artificial intelligence, networking, data warehousing and recall technologies for the Department of Defense and across the Federal Government. The goal of this initiative is to provide a persistent capability by which learners have access to effective, personalized learning content and/or job performance aids that can be presented to the user in a transparent and ubiquitous manner and can be accessed from multiple devices/platforms through a Personal Assistant for Learning (PAL). PAL defined as a – a persistent capability, by which learners have access to effective, personalized learning content and/or job performance aids that can be presented to the user in a transparent and ubiquitous manner in a format suitable for their preferences and can be accessed from multiple devices/platforms.”

What has changed and why after almost 20 years, do we seem to be no further along that path to attain that 1997 capability of “more active instruction involving learner interaction”?

From my point of view, we got lost in the mechanics of technology and did not create “more active instruction involving learner interaction”.  I think you have to ask yourself why and question some of those 1997 assumptions. I would submit that the following assumptions about reusable content objects, a registry of discoverable content objects and the ability assemble them in real time, on demand outputs that would promote interactions, that in increased a willingness to engage in learning is suspect. Is there widespread reuse of learning objects today? Is the para data from DoE’s Learning Registry a viable tool for teachers to discover content objects? Do we see engaging content that results in a 2 sigma increase in learning?

If you now come forward to 2016 and examine the ADL’s BAA – CASS, TLA and PAL – research initiatives, we are still trying to cobble an architecture of Reusable Content Repositories and Registries to deliver assembled engaging content in real-time anytime and anywhere.

I think without saying it we have focused on the technology of developing an engaging distributed learning environments and assumed the efficacy of the content as if reusable objects and adaptive learning infrastructure would are the solution to engaging content.

“While today’s students live online and instinctively go to Google to find new knowledge, their actual experience of formal e-learning is boring – think online traffic school. As a result, there has been the precious little adoption of the thousands of local innovations by content creators, publishers, teachers, trainers, schools, and researchers.”. Avron Barr 2010, “Beyond Content Portability: Shifting Gears in E-learning Innovation”

We ought to face up to this issue and realize that adoption of technical innovations is dependent on the engaging qualities of that content/activities, not the delivery mechanism. We ought to recognize that the social nature of learning has a definite role for a human teacher and will for some time.  We ought to acknowledge that Education, Training, and Performance Support have unique and separate audiences/requirements and yes there are elements common to all. We ought to find ways to promote and encourage the require structural and organizational changes in our current procedures and practices at the same time we are developing the technical side.

If we intend a wide adoption of innovative educational technologies, we will need to work all aspect of the problem in an integrated manner somewhat along the lines that Barr proposed in his 2009 paper.

There are aspects of ADL’s xAPI project that are worth considering from a learning architectural perspective that views the educational technology as a tool – an affordance mechanism and therefore a potential learning research developmental model.

From a technical view lets us assume –

  • xAPI instruments content /activities in and outside of an LMS and recognizes that learning is more than online courses in an LMS. This aspect affords a wider set of design options for engaging content and activities
  • You can instrument content/activities beyond the five things that SCORM can track and therefore instrument for learner engagement, enhanced elaboration, and retention through summative and formative rubrics.
  • The LRS essentially un-silos learner data from proprietary LMS systems that may provide targeted affordance for the innovative discovery of engaging content/activities in registries and repositories.

From the research model perspective, we ought to test these above assertions concurrently. The ADL xAPI Cohorts and Megan Torrence’s xAPI Cohort program are instantiations of this model that takes a tool that instruments engagement and increases outcomes.

The question is now adoption to scale, which has always been the issue for any research project – transferring it from the lab to the real world which is a different problem that requires a bit of thought.

In ADL’s case, adoption to scale is to its DoD audience. For SCORM there was a DoD directive. For xAPI’s LRS component a DoD directive is being considered. As a first step, we ought to consider prototyping that directive, maybe with a several DISA cloud instantiation of  LRSs with plumbing connecting the LRSs with integrated dashboards to demonstrated engagement and outcomes from engaging content.

#NRC01PL – Stephen’s Learning Networks

I was a bit taken back at first with Stephen’s video when he started to read his Learning Network paper from 2004, especially when you realized that this was going to go on for another 52 minutes. In fairness, he did warn us. A talking head reading a paper looked like a throwback to what I think is wrong about current online learning of xMOOC variety and not what I was expecting from a cMOOC coming from Stephen.

To be fair it was a bit of a history lesson of educational technology, IMS’s Content Packaging, SCORM, Aggregated RSS feeds, the beginnings of Stephen’s Grasshopper, etc. I appreciated his shout out to Wayne Hodgins who chaired the IEEE Learning Technology Standards Committee with Eric Duval that led to a set of standards and the birth of the LMS industry, for better or for worse, which is still with us today.

But the other piece of history is to hear the beginnings of what becomes connectivism and CCK08, all of which is born out of this 2004 Learning Networks paper.

The punch line comes almost at the end when Stephen says, “we need to rethink our definitions of learning objects, to move beyond static concepts, and to start thinking about learning objects as resources generally, not just textbooks and tests. The long answer involves rethinking what it is when we think about offering to learn online. Instead of offering classes and courses, learning online ought to be structured along the model of environments, games or simulations.”

I think what we are hearing is the first glimpse of what Stephen describes as a new form of pedagogy – Networked pedagogy which becomes a bit clearer in 2006 when he says-

“Learning…occurs in communities, where the practice of learning is the participation in the community. A learning activity is, in essence, a conversation undertaken between the learner and other members of the community. This conversation, in the web 2.0 era, consists not only of words but of images, video, multimedia and more. This conversation forms a rich tapestry of resources, dynamic and interconnected, created not only by experts but by all members of the community, including learners.”

If you stuck with him for the first 50 minutes you now come to the gem – and that is to think about a learning environment as “the output layer of the learning network” and “it becomes clear that these output points may be located anywhere in the environment, whether that environment is Microsoft Word, a process control system, a grader or a fishing rod.”

A learning network for Stephen is the ecosystem-

” a collection of different entities related in a single environment that interact with each other in a complex network of affordances and dependencies, an environment where the individual entities are not joined or sequenced or packaged in any way, but rather, live, if you will, free, their nature defined as much by their interactions with each other as by any inherent property in themselves.”

The maturation of this theme later leads Siemens and Stephen to describe a networked pedagogy – connectivism – by simply saying that “learning is distributed within a network, social, technologically enhanced, recognizing and interpreting patterns” and go on to test this theory in their first MOOC, CCK08.

One of my first takeaways from CCK08 was that the act of blogging was a form of reflection, a learning activity of doing, that you shared with others that led to further discussion and reflection and that learning occurred in that network of connections.

P.S. If you are interested in seeing the text of Stephen’s Buntine Oration, delivered to the Australian College of Educators (ACE) and the Australian Council of Educational Leaders (ACEL) conference in Perth, Australia, October 9, 2004, the download of the pdf is at the International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning here.