About a month ago I spent quite a bit of time looking into the possibility of using open source tools to create a learning infrastructure that is radically different than what is currently available today. My goals for creating this solution were twofold:
- I was working with a partner to identify and architect a potential solution for a client.
- I wanted to leverage a powerful CMS so that the user interface and experience were different than anything currently supported by the industry.
Leveraging the flexibility, support, scalability and cost effectiveness of open source technologies, my recommended solution provides an engaging and flexible user experience with an easy to administer front end for supervisors and administrators. It was my goal to provide a solution that not only will meet the demands for today, but also build in technology that will support future training delivery needs.
Recommended Training Delivery System Architecture
The completely integrated solution will provide user/member management, support for eLearning (SCORM 1.2, 2004, Tin Can), document management, web conferencing, social learning (discussion forums, threaded Q/A boards, virtual classrooms, communities) and reporting & management tools.
The solution is comprised of three main technology components, WordPress, SCORM Cloud and web conferencing tools (an open source and a license based one). WordPress will be the Front End /Portal to the solution which will enable a seamless environment for both learners and administrators.
WordPress – Overview and Background of Technology
This application is an open source blogging tool and a content management system (CMS) based on PHP and MySQL. It has many features including a plug-in architecture and a template system. WordPress is used by over 16.7% of Alexa Internet’s “top 1 million” websites and as of August 2011 manages 22% of all new websites. WordPress is currently the most popular blogging system in use on the Web.
It was first released on May 27, 2003, by founders Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little. As of December 2011, version 3.0 had been downloaded over 65 million times. (Reference: Wikipedia)
WordPress’ flexibility and functionality is based on its theme, plug-in and widget support.
Allow for the easily updating of the look and functionality of a WordPress website or installation without altering the information content or structure. The PHP and HTML code in themes can also be edited for more advanced customizations, if required.
One very popular feature of WordPress is its rich plugin architecture which allows users and developers to extend its abilities beyond the features that are part of the base install; WordPress has a database of over 22,000 plugins with purposes ranging from SEO to member management to discussion forums.
Widgets are small modules that offer drag-and-drop sidebar and footer content placement and implementation of many plugins‘ extended abilities. These small modules can be used to add functionality such as a course catalog, Facebook Like box, most recent blog posts, top 10 Q/A and more.
SCORM Cloud – Overview and Background of Technology
The SCORM Cloud is a hosted (SaaS) solution that allows for the importing, hosting, delivery tracking and reporting of eLearning content. This application adheres to the Advanced Distributed Learning’s (ADL) Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) specification with support for SCORM 1.2, SCORM 2004 and the newly released Tin Can API. It is important to note that the support for Tin Can is vital as it will allow for the creation of new learning experiences (either within or outside of this framework) that can be tracked and reported. These new learning experiences can be based on learner’s participation in reading of articles on different websites, or their contribution to discussion forums. The Tin Can API can even being used offline where users note their learning experiences and a statement is generated to the Learning Record Store (LRS) in the SCORM Cloud, which you can report out on.
Tin Can Defined
The Tin Can API is a brand new learning technology specification that opens up an entire world of experiences (online and offline). This API captures the activities that happen as part of learning experiences. A wide range of systems can now securely communicate with a simple vocabulary that captures this stream of activities.
The Tin Can API is simple and flexible. It lifts many of the older restrictions. Mobile learning, simulations, virtual worlds, serious games, real-world activities, experiential learning, social learning, offline learning, and collaborative learning are just some of the things that can now be recognized and communicated well with the Tin Can API. The ADL is the steward of the specification.
Web Conferencing (2 Options)
The direct integration of a web conferencing tool will allow for the solution to support the need for synchronous training including virtual classrooms, chat, video conferencing, whiteboard and application sharing and polling. Two options are available, both of which are fully integrated into the solution.
GoToTraining (License Based)
In my experience and based on functionality/budgetary requirements I recommend using the GoToTraining product offering from Citrix as the License Based option. With GoToTraining integrated as the web conferencing (virtual classroom) tool, the end user will be able to allow for multi-user accounts for the various instructors that will be giving the online virtual classroom trainings. This tool will allows for the following functionality:
- Desktop / Application Sharing
- Chatting / Polling
- Mobile Presenting and Viewing
- Multiple Presenters
- Recording Tools
- Drawing Tools
- Audio Conferencing (via telephone and computer)
- HD Video Conferencing
- Advanced Registration & Scheduling
- Detailed Reports
- Break out Rooms
GoToTraining is fully integrated into the solution by leveraging the APIs made available. By leveraging these API’s, the virtual classroom events will be accessible, launched, tracked and reported on through the portal, which will be built on WordPress.
BigBlueButton (Open Source)
BigBlueButton is an open source web conferencing system built on over fourteen open source components to create an integrated solution that runs on Mac, Unix, and PC computers. This open source tool supports direct integration with WordPress through the use of a plug-in and was built specifically for online learning.
BigBlueButton’s supported functionality includes:
- Recording and Playback – Record your lectures (slides + audio + chat) for later playback by learners.
- Whiteboard – Whiteboard controls let you annotate and call out key parts of your presentation for viewers.
- Go beyond slides. The presenter can broadcast their desktop for all learners to see. Works on Mac, Unix, and PC.
- Audio Conferencing – BigBlueButton voice conferencing supports voice over IP (VOIP) conferencing out-of-the-box.
- Document Sharing – The presenter can upload any PDF presentation or office document. Keeping everyone in sync with their current page, zoom, pan, and the presenter’s mouse pointer.
- Video Conferencing – Multiple users can share their webcam at the same time. There is no built-in limit on the number of simultaneously active webcams.
- Chat – Learners can take part in a group chat which is viewed by everyone within the conference, or select a user and begin a separate private conversation.
Leveraging this option as your virtual classroom tool adds an additional open source component to the overall solution, enabling ongoing costs to be low while at the same time being able to scale as user demand increases.
Overview Summary of Technology Solution
By integrating, configuring and supporting the various applications described above, I am presenting a new and unique solution that consists of:
- Open Source architecture (WordPress and BigBlueButton)
- Adherence to industry standards and support for future-state learning activities (SCORM Cloud and GoToTraining)
- Portal Environment supporting formal and social learning activities, member management, knowledge center and customizable interface
Proposed Solution Functionality
The architecture that I recommend for this solution will enable a multi-modal training capability that will provide a blend of eLearning, virtual classrooms, social learning, individual reading and learner/teacher interaction. The goal of the proposed solution is to leverage technology to provide the most effective solution, while at the same time offering a training program that is based on solid instructional strategies.
If you are interested in the functionality that this solution architecture supports contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.