Learning 2008: Mashups & Widgets are the Future of the LMS

“Mashups & Widgets are the Future of the LMS” was the title of the talk by Bryan Polivka of the Laureate Higher Education Group. This is a group that runs 36 universities over the world. All of these universities have different methodologies, styles and cultures. It is Bryan’s challenge to find solutions that work for all of these universities.

Bryan outlined his problem for us: The learning model is determined by how content connects to students connect to faculty connect to assessment. Their universities are still in the traditional LMS paradigm. This is a problem because we now have all these new things like podcasts, mobile phones, 3D worlds, social sites, etc.

His solution to this problem is to go back to the basics. What is the core of what they want to do with learning technology? According to Bryan they decided that Content – Students – Assessments form the core interaction. This is what should be supported by the LMS, the rest can be flexible and can be set up in multiple ways.

He then went on to highlight the widgetisation of the web (his example was Pageflakes). It used to be the case that the Internet was laid out according to the physical metaphor of the web page: a virtual location. You moved from place to place by switching web pages. That infrastructure is in the process of being broken up: you now have the possibility to pull in data from all over the web and display it in a single location (look at popurls as an example).

An LMS should support this through its architecture. Bryan gave a quick demo of Asiatrac Learning Studio. This LMS is created in Thailand and allows embedding of all of its contents as a widget on another site.

The courses in the Laureate group’s universities are designed through a very solid design process. This allows them to have a lot of high quality content (much video and audio) in their repository of digital assets. The repository allows for tracking and can display its assets in an LMS, but also in a Facebook app or through the iTunes university. All they need is to make sure the student authenticates. The university is now in control of what options they will give their students and they can experiment with having the content only available in Blackboard, or sharing it more widely capitalising on the site that is currently en vogue with their students.

I find this a very interesting strategy and love how Bryan managed to conceptualise his whole presentation very clearly. It would be great for current LMS’ to have more of an architecture that would support its contents being displayed elsewhere. However, I do see two issues that could use some more thought:

  • Content is seen here as broadcasted material (audio, video, interactive e-learning modules, etc.) and not as pedagogically designed activities. Where is the student as a constructor of knowledge in this story? How do you facilitate and moderate student interaction and collaboration?
  • How do you ensure that the learning experience doesn’t become too fragmented? The British Open University has explicitly chosen a strategy in which all the learning takes place inside the LMS (or as they call it: the VLE, compare Niall Sclater). This way they have full control over the design of the learning experience and are able to optimally facilitate their learners with a unified and clear interface.

I would love to explore this topic further. Does anybody have any pointers?