Key points:

  • We want to be able to basically track everything, we don’t want to have to log in to a LMS. Basically, the LMS should just disappear.
  • We’re trying to open up our LMS data. A lot of times the LMS will know something about the person, but we can’t get that information out of the LMS via SCORM.
  • Encore project, based on IMS LTI, is working towards the goal of making the LMS disappear.
  • It should be possible to track additional custom fields.

What is your background in e-learning?

I started as a web designer and graphic designer and realized that I was pretty good at programming and so I’m doing mostly that at the moment. And strategizing for the future for technology needs for the University of Michigan Health System. I work for the group that, among other things, runs our LMS for the entire health system, about 30 or 40,000 people. Our initial mandate was to do government-required learning, every year you have to do specific courses and so that’s how we got our initial LMS. But over time we got to thinking about it and its really obvious that that’s such a small part of what we should be doing. And it’s usually kind of an irritation to people to have to do these courses that aren’t that relevant to what they want.

They’re basically certification courses?

Exactly. So we’re working on all kinds of things having to do with informal learning and other types of learning and really trying to bring better search in here, because there’s sort of an explosion of content-management solutions happening. People are finally getting it, that they should be putting some stuff out there, their knowledge and solutions they’ve found, just document it, just put it out there. So when I was at the LETSI workshop several years ago I was saying “We want to be able to basically track everything, we don’t want to have to log in to a LMS.” Basically, the LMS should just disappear. That can be handled by most modern web apps, by using an API. What SCORM has currently built requires an open session, where you are logged in and its not very flexible in that regard.

SCORM assumes that the LMS is in control.

Right, so there are a couple of things I’ve seen around and one of them is PlugJam, where they take your database and expose a bunch of standard functions to an API they create, and I haven’t really had a chance to take a close look at it, but on the surface it seems pretty cool. A lot of what we’re trying to do is open up our ancient LMS data-wise. We’re creating all kinds of feeds and it would be great if we could simply have people click a button anywhere that it makes sense, and then they could do some sort of simulation or interaction or assessment, or participate in discussion, and it all could be tracked.

Would these experiences have be assigned by an instructor, or include those found by the learner?

Either way, we have a lot of informal learning going on and we have a lot of people that will add stuff manually to their learning plans. and say “I did this, so I want to keep track of it.”, so we have a huge need for personal portfolios. We’re going to be working on that this coming year. Actually, the medical school and us are probably going to be building a LMS this coming year. The medical school has a big desire to do things in a very competency-based method so that you can go at your own pace but you have to get up to a certain competency level, for different types of skills. They are in a higher education mode, we are in a training mode; so we have somewhat different agendas, but we’re still very competency-oriented. Nurses say, have to know how to judge how much medication for different kinds of patients, and there are specific skills they are constantly brushing up on or learning. Then there’s all kinds of things where they’ll be learning from each other, they need to ask each other questions all throughout the course of their work. So we’re very interested in whatever will help us do better performance support. There are a lot of cases where performance support doesn’t make sense in a medical situation, because it makes you look unprofessional if you’re looking up everything. But where it’s okay to do so, it should be a whole lot easier than it is. So, that’s one thing.

I wanted to talk a little bit about the Encore Project, which features the IMS standard. The Encore Project is being developed by the medical school in conjunction with Chuck Severence, who works with the IMS, and he’s developing basic LTI and on from there. Sort of like Facebook applications for learning, I suppose you could say. Let’s say the student is taking something in Blackboard, they click a link and it goes out and hits Wikipedia or something like that, and authorizes them from the LMS’s authorization, and they do whatever is needed on that external site. Later my goal is to get stuff back from that other site. So basically, the idea is that he is trying to make the LMS disappear — the LMS becomes a few icons attached to whatever page you open by clicking this special link. You don’t actually have to be signed into Blackboard apparently directly, single sign-on is necessary, it probably pops up a login window somewhere.

So you don’t want the experience of: “now I’m going to log-in to Blackboard and now Blackboard is going to be telling me what I am supposed to be doing”?

Right, don’t have to. They do have a dashboard somewhere that tells you what your entire program is and all the medical school competencies that they are working on. So my goal would be to have data going both ways. We have a lot of very fine-grained distinctions between people, and different types of nurses need to learn very different things, and sometimes only the person themselves knows what exactly they are and what they do. A lot of times the LMS will know something about the person, but we can’t get that information out of the LMS via SCORM.

When somebody has a learning experience, however they get there, what sort of information do you want to capture?

I want to be able to capture whatever I want at the time. So, that’s in some cases, a portfolio would make sense. Because you are actually capturing what they wrote, or did, or a description of a project, or the credentials, or all sorts of medical stuff. Or, there are times when I have just wished I had more than 1024 characters. It doesn’t always make sense to use the LMS to store things, where you have a special proprietary system like our quiz server that captures a ton of stuff which should rightly stay in that application. But when you have a one-off custom thing, you just want an answer for the person, you don’t want to just stick it in the suspend data. It’d be cool if we could just add another field and just stick my data in there and let this module access it again, and let me report on it.

Ben is literally one of the top experts on SCORM and xAPI in the world. Heck, he wrote the first draft of xAPI. He’s a software developer here at Rustici Software and enjoys visiting us “down South” because it means trying new foods, like catfish.