Forum .LRN Q&A: Re: Request for Comment: Implementing Profiles in .LRN

Before I lay out my thoughts on this thread, let me first apologize to the community for being MIA for so long. My family and I have been through a pretty unbelievable string of calamaties recently and they have kept me preoccupied. As the chair of the User Advisory Board (which I haven't had time to announce or form yet), it was certainly not my intention to check out for so long. I am slowly catching up on both private emails and public posts and, assuming nothing else horrendous happens, should be back up to speed within a few weeks.

Now, a few points...

On the subject of how all-encompassing the profiles should be, I think there's a balance to be struck. On the one hand, focus is important if we want to get things built. I think Al's decision to leave off grades, etc., and to make even the core profile functionality somewhat modular, is a good approach. On the other hand, though, we want to keep an eye toward future growth and integration. It would be worth looking at the IMS "Learner Information Packaging Information Model Specification" (though you have to worry about any standard that was created by an organization that could think up such a hideously convoluted name):

Much of this specification is concerned with the larger problem of tracking transcripts, CV's, etc. However, if it turns out that what we need for profiles is a subset of the info in the spec, then we should look at the data structure of the XML schema and think about ways to make future compatibility easier.

Regarding UI, permissions, etc., I'm envisioning 3 components. The first component is the underlying data structure, i.e., what are all the fields that can be included in a profile. We want to make this flexible in the sense that people can add new fields as-needed but construct it so that it discourages the creation of overlapping or redundant fields. (Use of a standards-based schema would help in this regard.)

The second component I see is a profile builder, in which an admin (for a class? for a site?) could essentially construct a form by choosing from the fields available in the schema, deciding whether they are mandatory or optional, and deciding whether users have the right to hide each field from public viewing. (Saving the profile form as a template would also be big plus here, as would the ability for the site-wide admin to allow or disallow class/community admins to customize the templates provided.) The third component would generate the actual profile input page for the learners and create the individual's acutal profile.

On the topic of the term "LMS," it has very specific usage in the industry which is different then pretty much everyone here is using it. An LMS is generally meant to be something like an online registrar, displaying course catalogs, enabling registration for courses, and tracking results. (In a self-paced environment, the LMS will also launch courses and enable those courses to store and retrieve relevant info about the learner, e.g., where s/he last left off in the course, whether she took the pre-test, etc. This last piece is specifically what SCORM and AICC were both designed to facilitate.) If it doesn't have a course catalog, self-service course registration, some kind of transcript functionality, and some level of SCORM and/or AICC compliance, it ain't what anyone outside of the dotLRN community would call an LMS. As far as I know, nobody within the community has articulated immediate plans to build a real LMS into dotLRN (which is a big problem).

Regarding the adaptive learning stuff, I've been working with adaptive learning quite a bit in the last six months and I honestly have to advise that the community goes into this slowly. The hardest part of adaptive learning is coming up with a decent instructional design methodology and a set of course-writing tricks that make it possible to produce adaptive content that is acutally useful to the learner at reasonable time and cost. It's hard problem, and I don't have a lot of faith that the solution to it is likely to come from a standards body like the IMS. I may have some implementation examples that I'll be able to share with the community six or nine months down the road, but really, we have more fundamental problems to lick first. This is not to discourage Polyxena in any way, shape, or form, from experimenting and leading the charge. Adaptive learning is an important area of online learning where innovation would be welcome. I just don't think that that implementing adaptive learning should be high on the *community's* list of short-term needs.