ALL-IN Learning Objects: What are they?

1 July 2013

Education, K-12, ALL-IN Learning Objects, Interactive Content, Javascript, Announcement

This post is announcing the release of ALL-IN. AZARDI Learning Library - Interactive Now! A resource for publishers to quickly, professionally and cost-effectively turn their print resources into highly interactive digital books.

I retweeted Micah Bowers from Bluefire Reader today. Here is his message to the world:

Twitter image of Micah Bowers. Message is 25 years ago, I realized that the only way we could save ourselves was through education via digital media. Still believe it.

Making this statement only five years ago would have brought derision from many pedagogues. The points are: Technology has changed, society has changed, individual attitudes have changed, the education situation around most of the world has not changed (failed is probably the correct word). I agree completely with this statement and now the tools are available to save ourselves.

Some may say that the Bluefire Reader and AZARDI:Content Fulfilment are competing products. So why am I mentioning them in a post on the Infogrid Pacific site? It's because the subject of delivering education content via digital media to save the world is a little bigger than two relatively different business models for similar products. The tweet was like a starter's flag. The timing was exciting as I was preparing this post. Both solutions are aimed at what is possibly the most important, most diverse, digital content target ever. The more education digital content delivery canons the better.

A little background

I become passionately interested in using technology for learning starting in 1996 working with Dr Kalbag at Vigyan Ashram. We were creating interactive products on CD-ROM that have yet to be matched today. So, I am only five years behind Micah with that vision.

The Vigyan Ashram Mission Statement.

To revolutionize the Education system

Improper education is the root cause of many of our problems. We need an education system which will be :

  1. Suitable to 90% of our population, who at present often opt to remain out of school.
  2. Work activity should be base for education.
  3. Learning should be by "Learning While Doing"
  4. Same quality of education to all. Technology is the best social equalizer. We must use modern technology to improve quality of education.
  5. We must do this within our present time, money and resources constraint.

At Vigyan Ashram, we have developed the Educational System. The formula works. It needs replication, and computer technology is the prime tool for doing this.

Our mission is to spread this system in each and every school in India.

Dr Kalbag was the one who coined the term:

Computer as Tutor.
Teacher as facilitator.

...and quietly used it to move ahead and change lives for the better. Pragmatism has to win when there are no teachers or teacher skills are low.

Interactive Content Now

The Internet

The Internet is full of learning resources for everything. The problem is they are significantly in English and they are all over the place. It takes a skilled teacher to sort out the resources that target a specific set of student learning requirements. The resources are also probably limited and incomplete. Also to use them you have to pretty much have ubiquitous internet connections.

Apps and Proprietary Delivery Systems

Today digital textbooks are apps or focused on tablets with locked channel delivery. By creating textbooks using ePub3 with enhanced interactivity it is possible to have content that will go anywhere, not just in closed and limited performance delivery systems like Apple and Amazon's bookstores.

Digital content needs to be able to be accessed from workstations, devices and where there is no Internet. Devices such as the Huawei MediaQ have the potential to make dramatic changes to the delivery of content to devices in remote regions.

The other problem with the current textbooks, especially at the core learning levels is they cannot be internationalized or localized because of the production tools. In a number of developing countries textbooks are controlled by the Government and publishers are producing curriculum linked learning resources to enhance the core textbooks.

Education publishers around the world are reluctant to go digital because of the chicken and egg situation with both delivery systems and suitable reading systems not being available.

Video Services

In recent years there have been a number of wonderful video services that have sprung-up to help learning with nearly every empirical subject. Khan Academy is probably the best known, but certainly not the only one.

The problems with video education/instructional services are:

  1. They are nearly all in English. They are immediately inaccessible to most of humanity. The effort and cost of creating similar videos in dozens if not hundreds of languages is pretty intimidating.
  2. They are linear in nature. You can of course pause, click back and review. But no matter how many times that is done the same content is repeated.
  3. The user has to have online access. This is not available for more than 50% of Earth's young learners.
  4. They don't evaluate the learner. They deliver straight-line teaching with the hope that learning is taking place.

However it must be said these videos are better than nothing and in some subjects are excellent.

A Fresh Approach

We are publisher technology solution providers not publishers. We stay away from creating content to the extent possible. However there was too much missing in this area so we decided to create a library of highly reusable, extensible, language neutral, localization ready, curriculum based learning objects to help accelerate the creation of interactive education content for K-12.

Publishers can use and customize the learning objects look and behaviour without having to pay over and over again for custom programming. In some respects it is an extension of the AZARDI Interactive Engine but because of the subject and learning objective specific nature of the learning objects they have to be classified separately.

ALL-IN is Born

We are calling the library of learning objects ALL-IN. That is an acronym for "AZARDI Learning Library-Interactive Now!" OK the "N" is a little weak but the acronym seemed to capture the spirit of the product.

In a "crude Flash" sense learning objcts are subject and learning context specific interactive HTML5/CSS3/Javascript (HCJ) block components that can be inserted into textbooks and other learning resources. They can be used in both reflowable and fixed layout ePub3 content.

Currently we are focusing on maths and science such as counting, short-arithmetic, long-arithmetic, measurement, geometry, trigonometry and basic algebra skills. A basic science set is also in design. This will be extended to language and literacy which is more challenging given the variety and weirdness of languages around the world.

How They Are Constructed

Because HTML5/CSS3 and Javascript (HCJ) says we can be highly configurable, Learn Objects can be much more than the Flash things of yester-year.

Configurable means a lot of things. A Learning Object should be able to be used in presentation, teaching, practice and test modes. Where appropriate they should have levels of difficulty and a lot more. When required they should allow behaviour exploration. They should be able to be easily combined with patient tutorial content.

It is probably a little more expensive to program a highly configurable Learning Object in an HCJ environment but it only has to be done once.

Interactive education content is an area where the HCJ punch can really be made to work. Rather than taking an application programming approach it was necessary to make sure the HTML5 and Javascript were really independent of the CSS.

This means the internal HTML tagging pattern structure is always consistent for manipulation by the Javascript and always flexible for any type of presentation customization by CSS. It means using Canvas in a limited manner and only when required.

The World Goes Round

Creating great Javascript interactive modules is non-trivial. It is not just a matter of getting some programming done right, there is also the engagement experience of a child to consider. It's "art programming".

All children are not in developed countries. All children do not speak "English" nor use the Latin alphabet. 

One of our priorities is to ensure that the ALL-IN Learning Modules are both localization and internationalization ready to significantly reduce production costs and make it easy to get the best interactive learning content out to the world.


What is Localization Ready

"Localization ready" means that if a child is asked to count objects the images are not London double-decker buses or barbie dolls when they live in a country that has no exposure to these objects or the objects are not culturally appropriate.

It must be easy to insert generic or locale specific images that have context in the local learning situation. It also means it is essential to address locale language and concept issues with things like units, currency and relative numeric values.

Internationalization means the ability to insert the instructional language into the text without having to reprogram anything. In some cultures it is necessary to be able to switch between languages in a single lesson. For example in some Indian States both decimal and Devanagari numbers are used when teaching arithmetic and they are taught in parallel.

Curriculae and Concepts

As little brains develop they need to be taught concepts which are more or less applicable to their age/brain development. Fortunately the curriculum controllers of the world are pretty much in sync on this. They use slightly different vocabularies but when you read through the deep and meaningful stuff the learning targets are clear.

ALL-IN learning Objects have to be classified by target age and curriculum concepts with guidelines for educational designers. This posed a problem with certain modules like arithmetic. Long-addition, subtraction, multiplication and division span across a number of years. Do we create them by learning level, or can one module be configured for all those years. It's an ease of use problem. It's a learning path for us as well.

Using ALL-IN

ALL-IN learning modules are designed to "drop-in" to digitized versions of existing text books, but can also be uses for the creation of new books, online resources, online tests and more.

This means publishers can take the short path to first-version digital content expressions of their books as they gain experience in producing these new products at minimal costs.

As the ALL-IN learning module library expands they become available instantly.

ALL-IN is included with the IGP:Digital Publisher license at no extra cost. The learning modules can be included and used in any number and quantity of books with no additional fees.

We will be publishing a series of articles on the various learning modules during this month.

Posted by Richard Pipe


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