Versioning Open-Source Digital Learning Objects

From E-Learning Faculty Modules


Contents

Module Summary

In the open-source digital learning object economy, those who create learning objects are incentivized to share what they’ve created in open-source venues to benefit the larger public. The idea is that design and development teams would benefit from the design and development work, and they would gain public reputations by sharing that work broadly. The learners who benefit from open-source learning are not only those in developing countries but those from all over the world, including lifelong learners. This short module discusses the work of versioning digital learning objects and sequences for open-sharing and other related issues.

Takeaways

Learners will...

  • explore what open-source learning is and what types of licensure enable others to use objects for open-source learning
  • identify traditional creators of open-source learning objects
  • consider who the typical learners are for open-source learning, how open-source digital learning objects are used, and what open software programs exist
  • consider how digital learning objects and learning modules (sequences) may be versioned for open-source usage…and the main issues of concern in versioning (re: legal, accessibility, and others)
  • consider some benefits of going open-source for design and development teams

Module Pretest

1. What is open-source learning? What types of licensure enable others to use objects for open-source learning?

2. Who are traditional creators of open-source learning objects? Government? Public education? Non-profits? Corporations?

3. Who are the typical learners for open-source learning? How are open-source digital learning objects used? Open software programs?

4. How can proprietary digital learning objects and learning modules be versioned for open-source usage? What are the main issues of concern in versioning (legality, accessibility, and others)?

5. For a design and development team, what are some benefits to going open-source? What is the return on investment (ROI)?

Main Contents

1. What is open-source learning? What types of licensure enable others to use objects for open-source learning?

Broadly, open-source learning refers to publicly available learning opportunities for the general public based on sharing of digital learning objects and learning sequences. These objects may be unfunded and provided as “pro bono” work by content creators (and often shared on content-sharing social media platforms); these objects may be funded through grants and non-profit organizations. The open-source learning may involve crediting (digital badging, college credits) in many cases, and in many others, non-credit learning that is informal or nonformal. The access to such learning is “open-access” with easy-to-find listings on the Web and Internet. A number of thinkers have contributed to the practice of open-source sharing, but the “wealth of networks” idea by Yochai Benkler is one of the more important ones—with the observations that digital non-consumptiveness enables broad sharing and re-use without excessive costs.

Some learning objects are shared with open-access only and copyright retained by the creators. At the other extreme is sharing by public release of the contents into the public domain, which enables users to harness the contents without limits. In between the two extremes are various forms of licensure release. One of the most common types is the Creative Commons licensure regime About the Licenses, created by Lawrence Lessig. Creative Commons License 0 is release to the broad public domain. The other licenses address issues of crediting/non-crediting, revision/non-revision, commercial use/non-use, and others.

Software releases may use the GNU General Public License or other forms of licensure release.


2. Who are traditional creators of open-source learning objects? Government? Public education? Non-profits? Corporations?

Traditional creators of open-source learning objects and sequences include entities from the following general “verticals”: government, public education, non-profits, and corporations.

Government learning objects are usually those created for public education campaigns for the general public and atomistic raw materials / learning objects (like photos, like data tables, like videos) for educational use and expert applications.

In higher education and K12, open-source learning objects may be byproducts of grant-funded projects and educator work. (While there is not a current pipeline for easy publishing of LOs, the social media platforms combined with learning object referatories enable sharing of open-source learning objects.)

In the age of massive open online courses (MOOCs), non-profits have been created to attract funding for the broad creation of high-quality learning by top-flight schools and “star” professors.

Corporations that focus on content creation also sometimes release some learning objects into the public space as part of marketing and outreach. For example, makers of learning management systems (LMSes) have enabled public and free versions of learning contents that they enable the public to access. Being pro-social is an important part of a corporate image.

Then, too, there are partnerships (various combinations of the above) that enable the creation of open-source learning.


3. Who are the typical learners for open-source learning? How are open-source digital learning objects used? Open software programs?

Initially the thought was that open-source learning objects and sequences would benefit the developing world and enable those facing high hurdles to limited seats in higher education to access some higher education. Then, as the idea of componentized digital learning objects come to the fore, there was the thought that the reusability of the learning objects would enable all to benefit—so that instructional designers and developers would not reinvent the wheel. The idea was that all working in the online learning space could benefit. The deal would be that people would share. Experts in their respective areas would offer some learning objects, and they would access others’ learning objects from experts in other fields. As years have passed, professionals in respective work fields have gone to informal sources for professional development (much of it through open-source means). Open-source learning has also come to the fore for lifelong learning.

Open-source digital learning objects may be used in a stand-alone decontextualized way. Or they may be used in a different context (separate from the original context).

Open software programs used for learning are often used as interactive simulations, with automated grading. These may be hosted on open-source platforms or on unique sites or may be downloadable to the local machine.


4. How can proprietary digital learning objects and learning modules be versioned for open-source usage? What are the main issues of concern in versioning (legality, accessibility, and others)?

In an educational context, the original digital learning object or online learning sequence is often protected and proprietary. The objects are designed for a particular learner audience for particular learning objectives. These objects may be distributed through a learning management system (to learners who are official and registered students)…digital media devices…and others. Some courseware may be delivered on proprietary platforms. There are likely some open-source courseware platforms as well.

Proprietary learning objects are not able to be versioned for open-source usage as a matter of course. There are often additional legal rights that have to be acquired for media releases, copyright, and other concerns before learning objects may be published openly for open-source usage. Optimally, before any object is created, proprietary or otherwise, the proper releases should have all been captured (and maintained into “perpetuity” or the lifespan of the usage of the object). Beyond the publication rules, the intellectual property protections, and such, there are also requirements for accessibility based on federal laws. Images should be alt-texted; audio and video should have timed text versions; digital data tables should be properly labeled for accessibility; interactivity should be enabled for all users, and so on.

Works that are designed for targeted audiences should be versioned for the general public, with the proper controls for negative learning.

The proper licensure should be applied to the digital learning objects and learning sequences to control against mis-application. (For example, whomever inherits a learning object that is editable may edit the contents incorrectly and introduce mistakes.)

Following all legal guidance in this work helps to control for some of the risk in going fully public.


5. For a design and development team, what are some benefits to going open-source? What is the return on investment (ROI)?

A design and development team benefits from going open-source in several ways. First, going open-source enables the group to contribute to the public good (assuming that the work finds an audience). Professionally, the extra work provides more hands-on experiences. The team members may benefit for the professional connections, and they may benefit from creating a professional name for themselves.

One of the more interesting challenges is to design open-source learning that is “the go-to” for the particular subject matter. To do this, the designers and developers need to achieve some of the following: create a memorable and unique learning experience; share original and rare information; offer charisma and personality; provide necessary and useful learning; create “buzz” and positive word-of-mouth, and so on.

“Return on investment” (ROI) refers to the “benefit” in the cost-benefit calculation. There are not small costs to the design and development of learning objects. If versioning for open-source is low-cost, and most of the work is done voluntarily, then it is possible to keep the costs fairly low for the respective learning objects. However, building from scratch for open-source delivery can be quite expensive.

Some types of ROI for an organization are the following: better trained staff (with new learning about designing for a global environment along the open-source track), improved organizational branding and reputation, a (pro)social portfolio, and possibly new business alliances.

Examples

Online, there are many examples of open-source learning objects and sequences.

How To

How to version a work for open-source distribution involves a complex sequence of work, and this sequence will depend on various factors: the work context, the target learners, the technologies and platforms, the learning objects, the informational contents, and others.

Possible Pitfalls

The risks of going open-source are several-fold.

First, publishing publicly entails some level of risk—because of the wide availability / exposure and broad audience. Anything broadly released has the potential to result in bad press.

Second, there are many legal requirements that have to be met. This means all i’s have to be dotted and t’s have to be crossed.

If open-source learning objects are released to the public domain or released with very few strictures, they may be re-versioned into something unrecognizable and / or inaccurate.

Finally, it is possible that the released objects may entail a cost in time but not find an actual audience. Something designed for a small-scale targeted usage may not translate so well to a potential large-scale mass audience. A majority of publicly-available digital learning objects are not inherited or put into use by others (one research study suggested only 20% are). Another version of this is that one's work may be trumped by others'. Oftentimes, only a few learning objects are selected for popular use, and the majority of others exist in a "long tail" of unused objects.

Module Post-Test

1. What is open-source learning? What types of licensure enable others to use objects for open-source learning?

2. Who are traditional creators of open-source learning objects? Government? Public education? Non-profits? Corporations?

3. Who are the typical learners for open-source learning? How are open-source digital learning objects used? Open software programs?

4. How can proprietary digital learning objects and learning modules be versioned for open-source usage? What are the main issues of concern in versioning (legality, accessibility, and others)?

5. For a design and development team, what are some benefits to going open-source? What is the return on investment (ROI)?

References

Extra Resources