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LCMS = LMS + CMS [RLOs]
Going by the current buzz in the industry, a pattern seems to be emerging that follows the above equation. Before we discuss what this means to the learner, or the instructional designer, let us first try to understand this equation. To make it simple, I am going to treat this more from the content side, and less from the management side.
Btw, as Mindlever's Harvi Singh has already done a fantastic job of outlining the LCMS (Learning Content Management Systems), you might want to read that article first.
What is a LMS (Learning Management System)?
A LMS's objective is to simplify the administration of learning/training programs within an organization. For employees, it helps them to gauge and plan their learning progress, and to communicate and collaborate with their peers. For administrators, it helps them to target, deliver, track, analyze, and report on their employees learning "condition" within the organization. Most LMSs don't have the ability to create instructional content, and that is why most LMS vendors either provide additional content creation tools, or collaborate with content providers to provide complete solutions. Standalone content creation tools like Macromedia's Dreamweaver can also be used to create customized content.
From the Figure 1, it is clear that the smallest self-contained piece of instruction in the LMS is the course itself. Thus, if there is to be any reusability, it would have to be at the course level (one course --> many learners).
Figure 1: LMS
What is a CMS (Content Management System)?
This is a term which is commonly used in the online publishing industry. Its objective is to simplify the creation and administration of online content (articles, reports, pictures, ad banners, etc.) used in publications. For example, let's consider a fictitious news website called AlphaBetaNews.com. This news site has 100 reporters scattered all over the country. In order to avoid a publishing nightmare, there has to be some means to manage all the articles that the reporters send in each day. This management is enabled by the the CMS by:
- Separating content from presentation: Reporters just need to concentrate on delivering their content (e.g. By uploading MS-Word documents or by entering directly into a web template) and not worry about layout considerations of their article like where the image will appear, how big the headlines will be, etc. All such presentation, and layout considerations are taken care of by the publishing templates. These are layout and presentation blueprints that would make sure that Reporter25's article and Reporter88's article have a consistent look and feel to them.
- Enforcing workflow processes: The articles sent in by the reporters are first approved by editors before publication. And when they are published, the articles are kept "live" for a particular period of time, after which they are backed up and archived.
In a CMS, complete articles are assembled from several self-contained chunks called "content components". The content components for a technology news site like www.zdnet.com would be somewhat different from a financial news site like www.redherring.com. For example, stocks chart and graphs would be part of the core content components for Red Herring, and not of ZDNet. The advantage of having these content components is that they provide a personalized reading experience (personalized assembly). For example, a user can choose to have only his portfolio of stocks displayed in the stocks chart component.
From Figure 2, it is clear that the smallest self-contained piece of information is the content component. Thus, in this case the reusability would be at the content component level (one content component --> many articles --> many readers).
These content components when used in the learning domain are called "learning objects", or reusable learning objects (RLOs)
- Shorewalker: Content management links
- Microsoft: Content management
- KM World: Sampling of Content management providers
Figure 2: CMS
What are RLOs (Reusable Learning Objects)
There are many definitions of RLOs. Some equate a RLO to a single graphic or video file. Others equate a RLO to a small piece of instruction that targets a specific performance goal. For example, Netg defines their RLO as:
the smallest independent instructional experience that contains an objective, a learning activity and an assessment.
The "objective" is the instructional objective, or performance goal, that the RLO aims to achieve. The "learning activity" is the body of the RLO -- it's the instructional strategy that the RLO uses to satisfy the instructional objective. The "assessment" part tests the mastery over the subject matter.
Since RLOs are the smallest self-contained chunks of instruction, they can be mixed and matched to create larger personalized instruction sets (courses, lessons, tracks, etc.) much the same way as content components are mixed and matched to create personalized articles.
Here's a question: How do you create a RLO? Or, in technical terms, How do you populate your database with RLOs?
Answer: Databases can be populated by:
- buying RLOs off-the-shelf from companies such as Netg, and SmartForce
- leveraging on your subject-matter expertise and creating them yourself
When you have to create a RLO yourself, you could either use proprietary applications (e.g.. Both Saba and Docent have such applications), or you could create it directly on the web, by using forms. Mindlever even has tools, called Learning Object Composers, that are integrated with common applications such as MS-Word and MS-Power Point to create RLOs!
- Fastrak Consulting: Objects of interest
- Learning Circuits: Primer on Learning Objects
- Reusability.org: The Instructional Use of Learning Objects
- Stephen's Web: Learning Objects
So finally, What is a LCMS (Learning Content Management System)?
LCMS is a system (mostly Web-based) that is used to author, approve, publish, and manage learning content (more specifically referred to as learning objects).
A LCMS combines the administrative and management dimensions of a traditional LMS with the content creation and personalized assembly dimensions of a CMS.
In a LCMS (see Figure 3), you would have libraries of RLOs that can be used either independently, or as a part of larger instruction sets (one RLO --> many courses --> many learners).
Just like in a CMS, there would be workflow processes around a LCMS too:
- Instructional designers would create either new RLOs targeting specific performance goals, or new courses by assembling already created RLOs
- Editors (senior instructional designers/ learning officers) would go view the submitted RLO/course, and either approve or reject it. If approved, the RLO/course would be made available to all to use, otherwise it would be sent back for revision
- Personalization rules would set in, targeting the new RLOs/courses to those who fit (or, have subscribed to) its profile
- RLOs and courses that have outlived their usefulness would either be backed up and archived, or just deleted from the repository
- e-learning Magazine: Learning
content management systems
Figure 3: LCMS
What does all this mean to the learner? The instructional designer?
Firstly, the LCMS caters to the learner's need to be instantly gratified. As mentioned above, RLOs can be created by resident instructional designers, who can react quickly to any foreseeable knowledge gaps. For example, if there is a product launch due in a month's time, the training department can expect a knowledge gap to exist in the sales department with regards to this new product. Using the LCMS, resident instructional designers could consult with subject matter experts and quickly create new RLOs (or courses) that would target this gap. For the sales reps, this instruction is of high value as it is available when they need it the most - no more waiting for mass training sessions.
Secondly, with the LCMS, learners not only get the instruction when they desire (a.k.a. just-in-time learning), but they also get only that portion of the instruction that they desire (a.k.a. granular learning, or just-enough learning). And this is a big thing. Going by the same product launch scenario, if there was a mass training session for the sales reps, many would have to sit-in for the entire training session that might span a whole day or more, when all that they really needed was a particular 20 minutes portion of that session. The LCMS and the RLOs cater to this need to have just-enough instruction.
Thirdly, the learner is able to personalize his learning experience. Think of the Amazon.com type of personalization model and visualize this change: books equal RLOs. Now, when you browse for RLOs (or courses), you will get recommendations based on your previous RLO requests. You can see the reviews and comments of other RLO users before you make your own choice. You could search by category, author, ratings, etc. Put simply, you could personalize the entire RLO catalogue to suit your needs.
For instructional designers, this object-oriented means of creating instruction presents a paradigm shift in thinking about instruction sets. In this article for imsproject.org, Steven Schatz, outlines this shift:
For instructional designers, the idea of knowledge bits [RLOs] requires a small but immense change in thinking. Instead of looking at trainings as linear processions with a beginning, middle and end, we must now look at trainings as clusters of independent, stand alone bits of knowledge. They are certainly related to each other and they may be viewed together, but they may also be viewed singly. Just as you can enter a web site at any page and leave at any point, so too can training consumers. Lose the notion of a class of eager learners trapped before you for a day. These new consumers of training can come in at nearly any point in the training, stay as long or as short as they wish and leave when either when they are bored or when they have learned what they want. Bits of the training may be used in dozens of different trainings for different people. Designers will now develop instructional goals, piece together knowledge bits based on those goals and develop clear navigation. A much greater emphasis must be placed on developing clear instructional goals, for it will be these goals which guide what should be offered. In addition, navigation becomes crucial. Trainings must be developed to allow, indeed to help the learner get to exactly the point they wish, and then helping them learn and understand that exact piece of information, knowing that once they get what they want, they will leave - no evaluations...no thanks...no flowers.
Let's build a table showing what an instructional designer has to do to provide those learner advantages listed above.
|To deliver this learner advantage...||The instructional designer has to|
|Instant gratification||start thinking and designing with a more focused, goal specific "assembly" mindset. Just as programmers rapidly create applications by assembling existing software components (objects) and build only those components that are not available, instructional designers will have to rapidly create courses by assembling existing RLOs and build only those RLOs that are not available.|
|Just-enough learning||start thinking of designing RLOs as self-contained instructional "chunks", rather than designing -- as Mindlever's Harvi Singh would put it -- monolithic courses. Further, these RLOs would have to make sense in multiple contexts.|
|Personalized experience||do an additional step of meta-tagging the RLOs. This is something that I have not covered in this article. But the concept is quite simple. Think Amazon.com again. Just as books are meta-tagged with information on the book like author, publication date, publisher, ISBN number, etc., RLOs too need to be meta-tagged with information on the RLO like author, publication date, category, instructional objective, etc. And this is duty of the instructional designer. These meta-tags help in targeting a particular RLO more effectively, resulting in a higher degree of personalization.|
Concluding, the LCMS and the RLO present the next wave of LMSs. In this wave, organizations will have greater control over their instructional content, resulting in better customization of their learning programs. For the learners and the instructional designers, this would result in a stronger collaborative relationship aimed at increasing organizational performance.