Are flash based Learning Objects dead?  They sure are expensive - since 2001 the Teaching & Learning Federation (TLF) has used “AUD$123 million ….. divided by 6300 curriculum items. That’s close to AUD$20,000 for each single (eg, Flash) TLF curriculum item,” observed Stephen Loosley (Member, Victorian Institute of Teaching) when he opened some excellent discussion on the Oz-teachers email list on the continued relevance of the digital content produced by the TLF. These are some significant Australian dollars at stake.  Please leave a comment below on your observations about whether you think this is an effective use of money.

In March, the group put together a document “Sustaining supply of content for the digital education revolution. This paper details the sustainability of the Ministers’ Le@rning Federation initiative beyond 2009 to provide content for the digital education revolution.” In here they put forward a number of options to the government for more funding. These range from $5 million a year, for not very much at all, to over $16 million a year for presumably much of the same.

Let me start with a closed-minded generalisation - to my mind TLF Learning Objects became irrelevant to today’s learners about 2005 - when user-generated and filtered content began to gather more relevance than that of top-down institutions.

20080607-Tt545Kmrxjss5Pntdsiyx7P6Sa“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” — Albert Einstein

My main observations from talking to hundreds of teachers in schools through my work in gov’t/business is that the TLF LOs were/are too hard to access and that it was mostly impossible to assess student’s learning because they did not allow a venue for conversation around the content.

The group was set up in 2001, by all Ed Ministers for, “developing and procuring online curriculum content specifically for Australian and New Zealand curricula, and delivering it for free distribution to schools….. The Initiative has delivered a valuable national asset that will directly support the national curriculum and assessment agenda for decades to come.”

So what do we do with these figures as Stephen Loosley acutely observes - they are worth repeating - “$123 million .. divided by 6300 curriculum items. That’s close to $20,000 for each single (eg, Flash) TLF curriculum item.” How has the learning that has supposedly occurred as a result been quantified and analysed? I’m sorry to the content creators that may be reading this but my general observations is that kids thought they were “lame” - 3 or 4 in a class of 30 usually thought they were engaging and challenging but the rest went “meh!”. Another question needs to be asked - how many of the Flash objects made in 2001 for Adobe Flash 3.2 actually work now and are relevant - have the thousands of conversations that supposedly went on around them captured, or was the use of Flash merely just eye-candy to keep the kids occupied for a few minutes? And if they are for teachers why can’t they embed the LOs directly in our Portal spaces/Edublogs/Moodles/Scholaris/Wikispaces.

In actually modelling access and usage of these LOs in workshops I observed around 50% teachers give up at the search phase as they couldn’t find anything relevant to their needs. Another 30% didn’t know how to unzip the downloaded learning object, let alone distribute this to students. 10% were Mac users and were frustrated when a pop-up told them they had to use Internet Explorer, and around 5% who against protocol installed the whole DVD or CD on their Curriculum server sat school aid they were handy for point of need or for IWB use by the teachers. One astute observer I remember saying the search functionality was “akin to using AltaVista way back in 1995″.

I will give the new Scootle interface a fair go - it is faster at least - keyword search actually works and the UI does look friendlier - yet no info on how to log-in - another walled garden. Not so good if you want kids in Africa to join in your class discussion around content.

Funny - as a Japanese teacher in 2004 my class took part in one of the TLF Learning Object online user surveys of both teacher and students. Ironically, the students were more engaged in the ability to respond via the TLF’s Survey Monkey (yes freeware!) than they were by the actual Learning Objects. But why? ZOMG - the kids had input and and an audience - what could be SO motivating about that (excuse the sarcasm).

In reassessing the TLF role we need to get beyond this ancient idea educational gerontocracy keeps peddling that we must deliver content and fill the empty to receptacles of these kids brains. What we could have done with the $123 million are three things:

  • given learners different online and open venues for connecting with each-other via real-world conversations around the expensive content;
  • access to their own wireless devices to creatively communicate understanding (well done Rudd via DER - it’s a start - let’s see the kids getting connected to each other though);
  • employing teachers that aren’t scared of the kids being better at using the technology than them - this means losing some control over knowledge production that most are comfortable with.

But these strategies are generally seen by the gerontocracy as the words of a heretic! Thankfully some educators on Oz-teahchers are willing to engage in dialogue and work towards a better use of such funding…..

@David Westaway - you said, “at present in Victoria because of licensing issues teachers must access digilearn (inc. TLF content) through a teacher login and copy a student access URL which is only able to be used by students at schools with a VicSmart connection. If I wish to set a DLO as a homework exercise for a pupil, they won’t be able to access it.”
- I just counted 6 hoops to jump through here - Google has 1 - hrmm - I wonder which will win. This will need to change to be useful for Year 9-12 DER recipients.

@ Rob R Costello said “Comparisons might be odious, but I saw a trial of Mathletics the other day. Somehow or other they’ve hit on a model that both kids and teachers instinctively felt would work - don’t know I’ve often had a full class for 73 minutes, without even one year 8 kid getting sidetracked - it has a collaborative mode; allows kids to race against players from around the world”
- Indeed! - who would have thought - kids being engaged by having a stage for their knowledge and a desire to learn collaboratively. TLF 2010 could take a huge leaf out of Matheltics book and apply open, collaborative and Allah forbid slightly competitive game-based learning elements to the content they already have. $5000 to make each LO to work this way and be embeddable elsewhere on top of the $20,000 already spent could actually make these Learning Objects relevant. And why not apply an Australian copyright with a tracking code applied to the embeddable content so that if other educational systems worldwide want to use the LOs they have to pay to use them. Value attached to our Australian curriculum content will only happen when the rest of the world can see it - let alone teachers who have forgotten their log-in. Paradigm shift in the thinking of our gerontocracy anyone? Nah - too hard - just throw more money at tired institutions and hope the same old approach catches up with the web2.0 world expanding through a mantra of sharing and conversation.

So all this leads to a scary use of AUD$123, 000, 000 - it smells of total irrelevance to 21C learning environments and a complete waste of money. Why? One word - s e a r c h - as search becomes more sophisticated, so too is the need students and educators to be critically literate in their information inquiries around knowledge creation. A search for a Learning Object on the topic “Climate Change” produces 6 results using the new Scootle interface to TLF content: and requires a log-in. Pity kids around the world can’t discuss the same content for such a global issue huh? - wheras we could also do a Google “filetype” search by searching for Flash files (Interactive Learning Objects) with the following “filetype:swf Climate Change” and yield “about 3,850 results for filetype:swf Climate Change in 0.04 seconds.

But I’m not the first to observe this. Heck - Stephen Downes said all this back in 2003 (!!!) - on this website ironically another Australian gov’t funded technology delivery system, “The Flexible Learning Network”:

Though much discussion has centered around the nature and use of learning objects, less attention has been paid to the problem of their distribution…… The emphasis in learning object distribution thus far has been toward federated search systems. A federated search system can rigidly control access to search results, requiring authorization before these results are released. This option is preferred by owners of commercial educational content, since even search results are marketable content. A federated search system also promotes branding and, because the number of repositories searched is limited, can be used to reduce competition from wider networks of less expensive or free content.

But though content producers have many reasons for supporting a federated search system, it is not clear that the needs of a global network of online learning repositories will be best served in this way. Much content will by necessity remain outside the network, thus limiting the choices of participants. Moreover, such large systems require considerable overhead, and therefore cannot be supported by providers of inexpensive or free educational content. Though many providers are not ready for the wide-open environment of the peer-to-peer world, they are often willing to surrender some control in order to reach a wider market or to provide lower cost or free content.

I’ll repeat myself for silence to hear it again - why not apply an Australian copyright with a tracking code applied to the embeddable content so that if other educational systems/educators worldwide want to use the LOs they have to pay a small fee to use them. Value attached to our Australian curriculum content will only happen when the rest of the world can see it.

– repost: This was originally a reply to a post on the Oz-teachers email list.