Learning Object Repositories 2.0

I (still) spend a fair amount of time thinking about the learning object repositories work that was done back at the turn of the century. A bunch of folks (myself included) took up the task of building software to let people easily publish, describe, share, find (and hopefully use) digital assets or learning objects (assets with a bunch of metadata tacked on the side).

I think it's fair to say that the experiments failed pretty dramatically. The only content that was added to CAREO was done under the auspices of Large Projects and/or Institutions. Individuals, by and large, didn't spend much time with it, or its ilk. Why is that? Why have other applications and platforms gone on to be much more successful, by any definition of the word? Well, here are some reasons:

  1. Sharing. With all of the talk about interoperability, all that really happened was some loose agreement that "metadata is important, for some reason, and that people will want to write lots and lots of stuff to describe every resource, for some reason." We wound up with a bunch of quasi-standardized metadata, but no real way to share it - sure, there was the OAI. That's a pretty powerful end-user strategy.
  2. API. The closest the Learning Object Repositories got to an API would be either OAI or EduSource. Name 3 apps that you use today that use either or both of those. Both are rather cumbersome to implement, and not too mashup-friendly. Nowadays, as David Wiley is fond of saying, people "just use RSS". Sure, you can add other APIs if needed (atom? custom?), but RSS is good enough for most interaction between systems.
  3. Social. Sure, CAREO had a threaded discussions feature, and a wiki for every resource in its database, but without PEOPLE, it was just a bunch more empty web pages. One of the lessons I've learned from David Wiley's recent presentations is that we should be leveraging what people are already doing, where they are already doing it. Don't make them come to CAREO to comment on something. Let them comment on del.icio.us, or digg, or wherever. And work on ways to tie those conversations together. That's not to say that this functionality isn't necessary, but that it shouldn't be exclusionary. Play well with others (see points 1 and 2 above).

I've mentioned before that much of the functionality of a "learning object repository" could be implemented for free with Google and del.icio.us. That's a bit facetious, but not that far off the mark. I'm seeing some recent stuff that is really promising. Most recently, fOUnd It, from the Open University. It's just a Pligg install. That's it. But it lets people add resources ("news items") that can be tagged, referencing any web page. And it supports rating/reputation (thumbs up/down, promoting to front page, etc...) and discussions. This takes care of 99% of CAREO's functionality. For free. And, because it's not a Learning Object Repository project, there are more developers working on it (because it's more generalizable - there is NO need to build special apps just for education).

Or, you could just grab a copy of Drupal, install a couple of modules, and have a learning objects community site that could connect with del.icio.us, flickr, or any other app/platform that supports RSS. And have full-on blogging, forums, etc... for free, out of the box. Without any focus on metadata, or interoperability, or any of those other helpful things that just get in the way of individuals connecting. If we'd just waited 5 years, the "learning object repository" work would have been completely different, and would have been able to focus on important stuff, like content and context.

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