Vol. 16 : No. 9< >
Editor’s Note: Dr. Aspillaga describes how Utopia2000 learning objects enable faculty to design and develop interactive Web-Based Instruction. Shared Content Objects (SCOs) make it possible for lessons to adapt to different learner needs. This powerful software produces quality reuseable lesson objects, reduces instructional cost, and increases student knowledge, skills and performance. It can be applied to either training or education.
An Online Learning-Object Management Tool
Web-based Instruction (WBI) has become a widely used method of educating and training. However, the software tools used to develop it have not kept pace with changing instructional technology approaches. An Instructional Systems Design (ISD) shift to "learning objects" greatly enhances the ISD process while lowering training costs and development through reusability, adaptability and scalability, (Schatz, 2001; Wiley, 2000).
"Learning objects," also known as "content objects," "instructional objects," "educational objects," "knowledge objects," and "instructional components"are the external representation of knowledge for purposes of instruction for different kinds of instructional outcomes (Gagné, 1965, 1985; Merrill, 2000). Learning objects as defined by Wiley (2000) are digital entities, which can be used, re-used or referenced and deliverable over the Internet. Consequently, many people can access and use them simultaneously. Learning objects were proposed for their productivity and standardization benefits, and as a means of making instructional design accessible to many untrained developers, (Gibbons, Nelson, & Richards, 2000).
Many universities have difficulty taking advantage of this shift. The software they use for WBI development does not support learning objects or templates, because it was developed long before learning objects were introduced as an instructional design approach. Many organizations must adapt software packages for WBI development.
Now, Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), through its Training Center of Excellence (TCE), has developed Utopia2000, the ISD tool for the 21st Century and it can be obtained through CSC. Utopia2000 is a unique tool to creating effective WBI on a large scale using learning objects and templates. Utopia2000 is designed to meet the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) standards.
Along with Utopia2000, the TCE applies its own ISO 9001-compliant Courseware Factory methodology, which incorporates systems engineering principles with the ISD process and the procedures for testing online review.
Advanced Distributed Learning
In November 1997, the Department of Defense (DoD) and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy formally began the ADL initiative. This initiative among government, industry, and academia sets common standards and communication protocols for web-based courseware. The purpose of these standards is to make educational and training products reusable. Unlike learning objects, these standards are not stated at an instructional level but at a technical level. Learning objects themselves cannot be customized. However, a course can be customized through the use of learning objects to support different purposes, maximizing training dollars. ADLs’ capabilities are to reduce cost of instruction by 30-60%; reduce time of instruction by 20-40%; increase effectiveness of instruction by 30%; increase student knowledge and performance by 10-30%; and improve organizational efficiency and productivity, (ADL, 2002).
Similar to learning objects, the ADL initiative employs the concept of "Sharable Content Objects" (SCOs) (Hannafin, Hill, & McCarthy, 2000). Nevertheless, these SCOs handle entire learning objectives.
The Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORMä) is a common framework that incorporates many of these standards into one content model developed by ADL. SCORM outlines a set of specifications intended to provide the technical means for content objects to be easily shared across multiple learning delivery environments (ADL, 2001).
Utopia2000 is designed to meet these specifications. This means it agrees with the DoD in its ADL initiative. ADL establishes a common framework that permits using learning tools and content on a global scale. ADL goals include obtaining courseware that will:
These goals imply that SCOs can be aimed at different targets and reused multiple times in different contexts. They should also be small in size to potentially be shared in different courses, (ADL, 2002).
SCORM and Utopia2000
While SCORM handles entire learning objectives, Utopia2000 handles single learning objects. SCORM deals with a technical outcome, whereas Utopia2000 deals with the learning object’s management process. SCORM is an initial step to manage learning objects. Utopia2000 breaks down this process into smaller instructional components. SCORM talks about course reusability, whereas Utopia2000 talk about objects’ reusability within a same lesson or parts of a lesson. For learning objects to be reusable, they need to be independent from their context. Utopia2000collects data required for SCORM XML output. Although Utopia2000 also talks about SCOs, these are not viewed at the same level as SCORM SCOs. Utopia2000breaks down SCORM SCOs into small reusable entities (i.e., learning objects). Consequently, an entire course can be a SCORM SCO, whereas a single page is a Utopia2000 SCO.
Utopia2000 and Learning Objects
Learning objects’ successful implementation suggests the need for a central location from which to draw these objects. To be effective in lowering training costs, many people must share learning objects avoiding unnecessary duplication. These requirements can be satisfied with a web-based environment that can be used anywhere there is Internet access, and by multiple persons concurrently without interfering with each other’s work. This environment would also simplify the design and development tasks through the use of templates and learning objects that can be used multiple times, thus cutting costs. Utopia2000 with its database provides this environment.
Utopia2000 is designed asa database-driven, web-based, web-designed and developed environment. The user needs only a browser that will provide information rapidly and allow great reusability.
Utopia2000 is composed of a database that contains learning objects. This allows Utopia2000 to have a common origination place, where all learning objects are stored and from which they are extracted and placed on the screen. The use of a common database allows designers, developers and programmers to work concurrently yet independently from each other. Each team member can be occupied in a specific task, without interrupting the others’ job. The template development does not interfere with the graphics design tasks nor it does affect the content itself. Likewise, when content is modified, graphics are not altered, as each component is stored independently. A common database allows several learning experiences and objectives to use the same objects and templates. Consequently, learning objects must be labeled in a general descriptive way. These labels or "metadata" are information about learning objects used to organize and index them to make them easier to find and reuse when needed, (Hannafin, Hill, & McCarthy, 2000; Wiley, 2000).
Working with a database allows the developer to make changes to objects and templates when necessary to repurpose learning objects to meet other objectives. Once an object or template has been modified and the new object or template is entered into the database, Utopia2000 replaces the old one with the new one, updating it globally throughout the course providing quick and easy updates. Therefore, users do not have to find each place where they used that particular object or template to change it. This process decreases the amount of time and resources invested in developing a course, leaving faculty and team members more time for other tasks. This process also helps redefine the outcome of the use of learning objects by situating them in different contexts (Hannafin, Hill, & McCarthy, 2000). The cost of life cycle maintenance decreases when information is quickly accessed and easily updated. In today’s age, where information changes constantly, courses are kept up-to-date through the use of learning objects; changing a few objects keeps the information current, (Schatz, 2001). Utopia2000 allows the designer and developer to keep content up-to-date with minimum effort.
Utopia2000 and the ISD process
The design process begins by building a lesson structure. This structure is based on an architectural design made of layers of instruction connecting learning objects with their context. Each layer has its own structure that links to other layers within a "convergent zone" where instructional ideas are linked to educational material (Gibbons, Nelson, & Richards, 2000). In Utopia2000, this structure is comprised of blocks of instruction, identified by the designer. Each "block" contains other blocks or sub blocks. Blocks can nest as many times as needed. Each block may have one or more teaching points, which are displayed through SCOs, used to meet an objective. Utopia2000 allows the designer to manage the content at a learning object level by creating pages that group learning objects and display the instructional content within the user's browser.
Utopia2000 uses external HTML templates to display its material on the screen determining the look and feel. These templates divide the screen into sections, which the designer uses for different types of content. The designer has a variety of templates from which to select, as seen in Figure 1. The designer can also decide to create new templates or edit an existing template to display a new look. Once a new template is created or edited, it is entered into the database for future use, thus increasing the template availability for future lessons.
Figure 1. Template Selection
Template selection is based on the lesson design and the desired level of interaction for that particular page. After the selection is made, the developer goes to the database and retrieves it from the available templates.
The template used for a particular page allocates all learning objects within that screen. Media objects (e.g., graphics) and content appear on a designated section within the screen specified by the template. Media objects are inserted by clicking "Add Image", which takes the developer to a list of all media objects allocated for a specific course in the database. Content metadata assigned to specific locations within a page is typed on the box pertaining to that section of the screen, as seen in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Assigning Content.
HTML is generated automatically, just by selecting a link, as shown in Figure 3. Consequently, Utopia2000 makes it easy for the developer, who does not need to be concerned with codes. Once all new information and objects are introduced into Utopia2000, HTML should be generated, updating the existing project.
Figure 3: Generating HTLM Files.
Utopia2000 makes navigation simple and independent from other functions. Links for navigation control are assigned to each page. Any of these components can be changed - at any time - without interfering with other components. That is, if one page needs to be linked to another, only the navigation changes, leaving the content and graphics unaltered. Likewise, when a graphic is fixed or modified, changing the shared object in the database updates all pages containing that graphic.
Look and feel is also independent and determined by templates, avoiding redundant coding. Therefore, editing a few templates changes the look and feel, navigation, and other functions without affecting the content, permitting designers and developers to work at the same time on different parts of a lesson.
Multiple designers can use the tool simultaneously from anywhere that has Internet connection. This access allows team members at different sites to work concurrently on a single project. It also facilitates the development since all members can perform their specific tasks without disrupting others’ efforts. Independent components provide flexibility for transient personnel. It also allows Utopia2000 to be used and developed on a global scale.
Utopia2000 offers each project team different features and work areas. Figure 4 shows the menu items that Utopia2000 users have available. The question mark next to some menu items provides instructions how to operate that particular item.
Figure 4: Menu Items
Quality assurance is achieved by an electronic Deficiency Report (DR) with a web interface allowing users to make comments at HTML pages. All comments are recorded in the database. This is most useful when many team members are working concurrently in different locations. Each person can review and or submit a DR to another team member, as shown below.
Figure 5: Submitting a Discrepancy Report.
After selecting the DR button, a box opens, as shown in Figure 6. Each DR identifies the applicable page number, allowing the developer, client or graphic artist to make the requested changes. Once the change is made, the appropriate team member records the nature of the change and inputs it into the database. This information changes the status of the DR within the database, indicating the DR has been fixed. The person who wrote the DR can then review the change and close the DR. This record serves as a communication log between team members and between a client and a contractor. This feature is especially useful when designing training for customers in other locations. The company producing the training can place the project on the web and the customer can make any comments using the DR button. Any modifications can be made almost immediately.
Figure 6: Writing a Discrepancy Report.
As the use of WBI augments, the use of a web-based tool such as Utopia2000 allows team members to work concurrently, without disrupting others jobs. Many companies as well as campuses can develop WBI without having to travel to meet. Team members can work at their own locations, by simply using the web. They can also share learning objects by using the same database, decreasing duplication.
ADL, (2001; 2002) Advance distributed learning network website [on-line]. Available: http://www.adlnet.org/
Gagné, R. M. (1965, 1985). The Conditions of Learning. New York: Holt Rinehart and Winston.
Gibbons, A. S., Nelson, J. & Richards, R. (2000). The nature and origin of instructional objects. In D. A. Wiley (Ed.), The Instructional Use of Learning Objects [on-line]. Available: http://reusability.org/read/chapters/gibbons.doc
Hannafin, M. J., Hill, J. R., McCarthy, J. E. (2000). Designing resource-based learning and performance support systems. In D. A. Wiley (Ed.), The Instructional Use of Learning Objects. [On-line] Available: http://reusability.org/read/chapters/hannafin.doc
Merrill, M. D. (2000). Knowledge objects and mental models. In D. A. Wiley (Ed.), The Instructional Use of Learning Objects. [On-line] Available: http://reusability.org/read/chapters/merrill.doc
SCORM (2001) ADL Sharable Content Object Reference Model [on-line]. Available: http://www.adlnet.org/scorm/scorm1_2/scorm1_2pdf.cfm
Schatz, S. (2001) Paradigm Shifts and Challenges for Instructional Designers. An Introduction to Meta Tags and Knowledge Bits [On-line] Available: http://www.imsproject.org/feature/kb/knowledgebits.html
Wiley, D. A. (2000). Connecting learning objects to instructional design theory: A definition, a metaphor, and a taxonomy. In D. A. Wiley (Ed.), The Instructional Use of Learning Objects [On-line] Available: http://reusability.org/read/chapters/wiley.doc
About the Author
Macarena Aspillaga has an M.S. in Instructional Design and a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology and Technology. Her area of specialization is Instructional Design, which she has been practicing for over 20 years. Dr. Aspillaga designed training using Utopia2000, which was developed by Computer Sciences Corporation. Special thanks to Mr. David MacLuskie for his technical input. For more information concerning Utopia2000 availability, please contact Mr. Thomas Selden via phone (757) 262-3400 or via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Aspillaga can be reached at via phone (757) 262-3623. She can also be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com