Sunday, August 31, 2008

Reusable Learning Objects vs. Reusable Content Objects

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” - Albert Einstein.

Why do I start with such a quote, you may wonder...

Well, I am in a phase where I am trying to understand the advantages and disadvantages of using a Reusable Learning Objects (RLOs) strategy. And at this time, I am focusing more on the disadvantages. (much has been said about the advantages anyway!)

I must admit that in my earlier days of being an instructional designer, I never quite realized the disadvantages of using RLOs. I considered them ID's (SCORM's) gift to mankind! RLOs offered the much-in-demand, customizable, structured training - which could be easily converted from one form to another (irrespective of media) and allowed for standardization, easy update, and quick maintenance! It epitomized the implementation of the concept of 'chunking' and never could I implement info mapping as perfectly as in a RLO.

But all that was until I thought 'content was king'.

But then things changed. For the learning industry and me.
We realized that 'context is king' - and content is freely available to all.

Unfortunately, RLOs don't pack any (or much) context! And that's where the basic flaw exists. Now, the quote by Albert Einstein would probably make some sense. When using a RLO strategy, by design, we are reusing objects (chunks of information) - for different audience - different needs - at different times - and expect different results! (Effective training?) Now, how is that possible?

The concept of Reusability Paradox highlights this flaw. It says - with an increase in pedagogical value, the potential for reuse decreases. Pedagogical value is generated with the help of context. Therefore, the more context you add, the less reusable the learning object will be. However, in true 'learning terms', the less context you have, the less meaningful the object will be.

Additionally, RLOs - by design - are restrictive in the amount of information to be covered for each learning object. The smaller a RLO, the more reusable it is. But the smaller the RLO, the less meaningful it could be too.
So, where does it leave any space for the more constructivist approaches to learning using lengthy, discursive material?

Am not saying, a RLO strategy is good or bad. It has its advantages and many have reaped benefits too. But it also has its limitations. In the ideal case, we use RLO where it fits best. The question to be answered is where does it fit best? Can I teach problem-solving, analytical abilities using a RLO? Or is RLO more suited to procedural, task-based skills? Obviously, one size doesn't fit all.

But on a bolder note, how about calling Reusable Learning Objects as Reusable Content Objects. Why?
Because am questioning whether RLO (strategy) is more of a content organization model...and not a learning model and do RLOs really cause learning...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Collaboration - The power of group intelligence

"When we are dreaming alone it is only a dream. When we are dreaming with others, it is the beginning of reality." (Dom Helder Camara)

I have been thinking about collaboration and its relevance to work, life, learning... I know collaboration is important. I know groups have power to do more than individuals. But I really got to realize the importance of 'group intelligence' when I read this article by Peter Miller called Swarm Theory in
National Geographic.

It is amazing how we can draw parallels from the insect and animal kingdom into our own work life. It is a rather long article, but some interesting points made are:-

--"If you watch an ant try to accomplish something, you'll be impressed by how inept it is," says Deborah M. Gordon, a biologist at Stanford University. "Ants aren't smart," Gordon says. "Ant colonies are."

--"When it comes to swarm intelligence, ants aren't the only insects with something useful to teach us. On a small, breezy island off the southern coast of Maine, Thomas Seeley, a biologist at Cornell University, has been looking into the uncanny ability of honeybees to make good decisions. With as many as 50,000 workers in a single hive, honeybees have evolved ways to work through individual differences of opinion to do what's best for the colony. If only people could be as effective in boardrooms, church committees, and town meetings, Seeley says, we could avoid problems making decisions in our own lives. "

--"A honeybee never sees the big picture any more than you or I do," says Thomas Seeley, the bee expert. "None of us knows what society as a whole needs, but we look around and say, oh, they need someone to volunteer at school, or mow the church lawn, or help in a political campaign."

--Such thoughts underline an important truth about collective intelligence: Crowds tend to be wise only if individual members act responsibly and make their own decisions. A group won't be smart if its members imitate one another, slavishly follow fads, or wait for someone to tell them what to do. When a group is being intelligent, whether it's made up of ants or attorneys, it relies on its members to do their own part. For those of us who sometimes wonder if it's really worth recycling that extra bottle to lighten our impact on the planet, the bottom line is that our actions matter, even if we don't see how.

Nature already has everything that we want to learn! While we are trying to come up with new models and methods of learning, thinking, brainstorming, communicating etc the insects and the animals are way ahead of us in these areas.
There is no denying the value of group intelligence. The challenge is how to collaborate and get to this level? Well…people may say that we can crack the 'how-to' by leveraging tools and technologies - web 2.0 and beyond. But I don't think this is about tools and technologies.

To be able to collaborate, we need to have a shared goal - an objective that everyone in the group believes in. And then, each of us in the group needs to do our part. We may not be able to see the big picture all the time but by collaborating and sharing information, we can achieve our goals. While no one is incharge - everyone is. It is shared responsibility and therefore each of us is responsible. When I reflect more on this phenomenon, I realize that one great leader can't lead to an 'intelligent' group - but each member of the group can.