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Next-Generation Management Systems - Part Two
by Bray J. Brockbank

 
   
 
   

As organizations are transitioning from old economy to the new knowledge economy - they're recognizing the imminent need for an organizational LMS that will provide an integrated, scalable learning technology platform - built for the future.

The focus of eLearning is no longer to simply train but to channel knowledge into ideas and use those ideas to create business competencies and solutions. These newly found skills and ideas can then be channeled and used by the organization to thrive in an environment of intense competition and relentless change.

Learning Content Management System (LCMS)

An LCMS is an assembly of software products that include a learning object repository (LOR) with authoring and delivery interfaces for eLearning and knowledge management. LCMS software products are primarily responsible for creating, managing, maintaining, delivering and tracking Web-based content and provide functionality such as:

  • Content migration and management
  • Asynchronous collaborative learning via email and discussion groups
  • Content reuse and adaptive individualized learning paths based on learning objects (LO's)
  • Interoperability with LMS, ILT, and enterprise applications
  • Testing and certification
  • Learning Object repository

A LCMS is used to author, approve, publish, and manage learning content or objects. LCMS combines the administrative and management dimensions of a conventional LMS with the content creation and personalized assembly dimensions of a CMS.

The LCMS empowers organizations with the ability to:

  • Design: instructional designers can consult with subject matter experts (SME) to create reusable learning objects (RLO's) that target knowledge gaps.
  • Just-in-time (JIT): learners get the instruction when they desire to learn.
  • Granular learning: learners get only the piece of instruction they need (bite-size learning).
  • Personalized: the learner is able to personalize their learning experience by browsing through RLO's (or course) catalogues. The system will make recommendations based on previous RLO requests.

Learning Objects

A learning object (LO) is an object designed for instructional purposes. A LO is simply a piece of content or information. A LO is self-sufficient, providing instruction on a distinct skill or unit of knowledge. Its platform (LMS) independent, and runs on standard Web platforms and operating systems. A LO doesn't require special "plug-ins" or prior application installations.

A learning object also has descriptive metadata wrapped around it. Metadata is used to describe what each object contains. Each object is catalogued using subject-explicit metadata and can be indexed, searched, and reused as required. Typically metadata includes information about the instructional content - how long the content takes to complete, the language in which it is written (English, Chinese, etc.) and any prerequisite knowledge required to work with the object.

By using LO's, employees receive a personalized, just-in-time training experience - increasing time to performance. LO is reusable and re-sequenceable. The only limitation with LO is that they only provide "one-way" communication of knowledge - from instructor to learner.

Reusable Learning Object

Although there are many definitions and interpretations of what a RLO is. Typically, an RLO is considered to be a modular building block of eLearning content. An RLO is considered the smallest, self-contained, chunk of eLearning instruction possible. Each RLO can be mixed and matched to generate complete, personalized courses, lessons, and instructional events.

A RLO is a collection of reusable information objects (RIO), overview, summary, and assessments that support a specific learning objective. An RIO is a collection of content, practice, and assessment items amassed around a single learning objective.

RIO is built from templates based on whether the goal is to communicate a principle, concept, process, fact or procedure. Each RIO contains content, practice and assessment components.

The objective is the instructional objective, or performance goal, that the RLO aims to achieve. The learning activity is the body of the RLO or the instructional strategy that the RLO uses to satisfy the instructional objective. The "assessment" part tests the mastery over the subject matter.

RLO's work individually or in sequence to produce a course. RIO and RLO combine in different ways to build custom learning and performance solutions.

Learning Object Repository

The Learning object repository (LOR) is a central database used for storing and managing learning content. It is from this point that individual LO's are either dispensed to users individually or used as components to assemble larger learning modules or complete courses, depending on individual learning needs.

Instructional production may be delivered via CD-ROM, the Web, or printed materials. Each object produced is reusable - and the integrity of the content is preserved regardless of the delivery platform used. XML provides this function by separating content from programming logic and code.

The Future Business Ecosystem

As markets and systems like knowledge management (KM), business intelligence (BI), customer relationship management (CRM), supply chain management (SCM) and others begin to converge, both the LMS and LCMS platforms will evolve into a next-generation LMS - a universal management platform (UMP).

The UMP will provide the infrastructure that enables organizations to pull all of their systems, processes, planning, applications and pieces together into one system platform. The UMP will offer a truly open system that will connect or integrate all enterprise systems together seamlessly.

UMP architecture will be based on an open architecture that quickly and seamlessly integrates any content, system, and application, providing a sophisticated level of automated training administration. Beyond the basic LMS capabilities of managing ILT, eLearning, and skills management, the UMP will also provide a total integration platform that easily interacts with a variety of enterprise systems and truly provide a centralized point of management and access for all corporate needs and initiatives.

Components and Versatility

Because of this "open" architectural design, the UMP will be flexible and extensible - allowing the system to be tailored to business processes. The power of the component architecture is harnessed through the creation of modules. A module may be a single component or group of components that satisfy a functional need. Modules based upon the component nature of UMP will allow organizations to choose the modules that best meet their needs, whether these are out-of-the-box modules, third-party solutions, or modules developed by the organization internally.

UMP, out-of-the-box components will provide leading LMS functionality with optimal flexibility, scalability, and ease of use to facilitate organizational development. As a knowledge platform, this architecture will allow integrated solutions - by taking advantage of existing enterprise services and infrastructure.

Each component will own its own data (self-contained) and business logic and provide a public interface accessible by other components, the user interface (UI), and reports. This public interface provides other components the ability to use the same interface without regard to its internal operations. A new component will be capable of replacing a similar component in the UMP system without affecting the functionality or operation of any other component. Because the new component supports the same interface as the component being replaced, all other system components continue to work seamlessly and flawlessly.

Component architecture will be the foundation of the system's versatility and scalability. Each component will be easily interchanged with any other component that provides similar functionality. Each component will be capable of extending or adding new functionality to the features of another component. New components will have the ability to modify the functionality of other components without changing the original component code - allowing components to be independent and interchangeable.

Localization

The UI and product itself will be enabled for localization. The UMP database will support multiple languages in a single database; a single UMP system will be used to support the preferred language of a variety of organizational users (French, German, Spanish, and Italian). Regardless of whether the users are learners or administrators, they will each have their UI display in their preferred language while using a single installation of UMP. UMP will support single-byte languages such as French, German, Spanish, and Italian as well as double-byte languages like Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.

Development Platform

The UMP will also serve as a development platform. The development platform will provide tools for creating a set of components that provide useful functionality to any application. These components will not be LMS specific and will be used as building blocks for any organizational application. Programmers will develop applications based on UMP components using the UMP software developer's kit (SDK).

Scalability

Instead of having to deploy an entire end-to-end UMP solution all at once, organizations can implement a basic UMP to start and enable other modules, such as skills management, e-commerce, resource management, or ILT as needed. All of these modules are built upon and share access to the core UMP components. Each component can be upgraded independently of other components, resulting in less downtime, quicker migration to new versions, and less painful upgrades. System upgrade-ability will be dynamic and painless.

Architecture Services

Architecture services, which will form the foundation of UMP, will contain three main services:

  • Client Communication - relays information from the client (user) to the UMP development platform and back.
  • Inter-Component Messaging - relays information between components.
  • Data Abstraction - passes component data to and from the database(s).

Client Communication

Client communication will be responsible for interacting with the user. This component will gather inputs from the user, then send the inputs to the UMP development platform, receive the information back from the UMP development platform, and then display the information to the user.

Client communication will be separated from other UMP layers. This separation makes it easy for organizations to adapt the look and feel of the UMP without tearing apart the system. Changes to the UI will not affect the business logic or other system components. The only requirement will be that the new interface provides the relevant inputs for the desired business logic processing to occur.

The authentication component will apply the same business logic rules to the UI regardless of the look and feel of the login screen. The UI for logging in to the UMP will also utilize methods other than manual entry of a login/password, such as a Smart Card or biometric scan. Regardless of the methods used, the authentication component will continue to carry out its function.

Inter-Component Messaging

Inter-component Messaging will be an asynchronous event messaging system responsible for communicating service requests and responses between UMP components. UMP will employ an event messaging system built upon the Java Messaging System (JMS).

UMP components will be easily switched out and exchanged for third-party components because of inter-component messaging. This will make it possible to modify existing components with nominal impact to the existing business logic.

Data Abstraction

The Data Abstraction layer will be responsible for storing and retrieving data from a database. It will abstract data at three levels:

  • Public Object Providers: The data storage will abstract from component logic. Components will interact with objects without regard to how objects are stored.
  • Object Access Control: The method of storage will be abstracted. The system will handle relational databases, object data stores, or other storage types.
  • Persistent Object Providers: The storage engine will be abstracted so the components do not interact directly with the database.

These multiple levels of abstraction will allow for easier development with no effort from developers as new storage engines or methods are supported.

User Interface

The UMP UI layer will use 100% HTML (or a similar language technology). This will create browser independence as well as a true "thin" client operation, requiring no plug-ins or downloads. The UI will be simple, intuitive, and designed using scientific human factors principles including customer research and usability studies. The UI content will be presented based on the user's role in the system. A user will be presented with only the tasks they have access rights to perform.

All text will be fully customizable. Organizations will be able to easily change various common strings to match the terminology of their organization. For example, in some enterprise settings, a learner may be referred to as an "employee" while other organizations may use "student" instead. Either way, each organization will be able to easily customize the interface.

Another flexible aspect of the UMP interface will be the simple customization of the interface's look and feel (re-branding). By using industry standard style sheets, an organization will easily customize colors, fonts, and other visual styles through editing the UMP style sheet template. The organization can also customize the layout and navigation of the UI by adding and removing UI elements or changing the way they act or perform.

Finally, UMP will use text strings rather than bitmap images in all of its graphical navigation aids such as tabs and buttons. This will make it easier to localize UMP to other languages.

Because of this design, UMP will be both flexible and extensible allowing for the system to be truly tailored to business processes. The power of the component architecture is harnessed through the creation of modules. A module may be a single component or group of components that satisfy a functional need. Modules based upon the component nature of UMP allow organizations to choose the modules that best meet their needs, whether these are third-party solutions, or internally developed modules (developed by the organization using the UMP SDK).

In the near future, everything in the organization will focus on the management of knowledge, learning and training. For this reason, the LMS platform will evolve to manage all organizational processes and activities. The LMS and LCMS will be the foundation for the UMP.


     
   
     
   

The Author

 

Bray J. Brockbank has fifteen years successful experience in marketing, management, product, and public relations development and execution. Mr. Brockbank has also been a marketing and business consultant to small and medium-size technology companies. He has extensive experience and success in marketing and managing software, technology, and enterprise learning solutions on a global scale. Mr. Brockbank has also taught on an adjunct basis marketing, management, and technology at a prominent North American college. He can be reached at: BrayJB@hotmail.com .

     
   
     
   
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Copyright 2002 by Bray J. Brockbank. All rights reserved.

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