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Location: Meensel-Kiezegem, Belgium

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Afternoon parallel sessions - "Learning enablers"

I attended the 'learning enablers' session.

*. Wolfgang Nejdl, Institut fur Informationssysteme, "I know it should be here somewhere".

Wolfgang talked about their project "Beagle++". They used the open source Beagle search engine to develop a social semantic desktop search tool... This tool would not only search documents and mails, but remember the link between them (e.g. you would find the document you were searching for, together with the email it was attached to and the contextual information associated with it).
They're also using social software intelligence: documents you get from your trusted network are ranked higher.
Nice developments in a quickly evoluting sector.

*. Fabrizio Cardinali, Giunti interactive Labs, "Ambient Learning".

Media companies are struggling to find new distribution channels and methods for content... They still like 'books' because books represent a sure and quick way of making money, while e-content is still tricky.
Yet the 'homo zappiens' clearly wants personal and customized content, something where traditional delivery methods fail. The rise of wiki's, blogs, photo sharing tools (such as flickr) and podcasts clearly reveal this.

In order to solve this problem for the publishers, Fabrizio talked about 'ambient publishing'. 'Narrowcasting' is the fabrication of self packaging, smrt and personal content. The content package itself adapts to the learner.
This business model exists, but not yet in education or publishing. He referred to the iMode success story: young people use cell phones to buy/download games, ringtones, backgrounds... all custom tailored and 'obvious' technology.

He stressed the importance of open standards: if you buy a CD player from Sony, it's not acceptable to have to buy all your music from Sony. Yet this is often the case for learning content management systems.

He concluded with the remark that publishers are not ready for the nomadic and ubiquitous learning which we want, but this is not a new problem, since the same innovation and change pains occured with every new media invention (radio, television, printing press...): it took a long time to find a new business model or to use the new invention in an innovative way.

Inspiring talk...

*. Oleg Liber, University of Bolton, "Learning Object Economy: pointers to success".

'Where are the learning objects?'. Technologically, we've come a long way (with regards to standards, interoperability, metadata...). Why are there so few publishers or teachers innovating and making learning objects?

We need to provide teachers with time to publish, and give them a forum (authoring communities) to share their content. People have the natural instinct to share and collaborate (examples are flickr, blogs, wikipedia...), we just have to provide with an better organisational context (a system of quality control, staff development...).

I don't know if I completely agree with this. It is my experience that teachers are rather reluctant to reuse content from their peers. The 'not made here syndrome' signifies that every teacher thinks (knows?) that only he/she can provide learning material custom tailered to her/his teaching style, made for his/her class... not the most modern assumption, but I witness this almost every day.

*. Erik Duval, Leuven Catholic University (and president of the Ariadne Foundation), "A Learning Object Manifesto".

(Erik is also blogging about this event at

This was the first time I heard Erik at a conference... nice to see that Flanders has managed to produce one of the world experts on learning objects and metadata. He spoke enthousiastically and with a nice humoristic flavor.

One striking idea he uttered, is "what do we want to do?". It's not clear at all how we will measure what we aim to achieve. Traditionally, we're measuring drop-out in e-learning and using this as an indicator. But maybe a higher drop-out rate is not necessarily bad? Maybe a course can be open to everyone, and a high drop-out can be a sign of people deciding that this is not the right format/learning style/content for them? This is not necessarily bad. In a classroom setting, these people would be physically present but mentally absent. E-learning is a clear benefit here.
An eye-opener!

According to Erik, learning is a 'root solution'. Better learning means better everything. The current learner support is not really impressive - we need more personalisation and customization in order to go forward.

About metadata, he stated that it should be like the sewage system: it must be invisible in order to work effectively.

After nine hours of conference, Erik provided a nice and light-to-digest talk.


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