CMI5: A Call to Action

Introduction

Since 2000 a lot has changed. Think airport security, smart phones, digital television, and social media. In 2000, the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative gathered a set of eLearning specifications and organized them under the name of SCORM. In 2021, in a time of tremendous technological change, SCORM still remains the standard for how we describe, package, and report on eLearning.

However, finally, we are on the eve of adopting something new and something better: CMI5.

We no longer have landlines, but we still have SCORM

CMI5 Examples

To many, CMI5 is another meaningless acronym. To understand the power and benefit of CMI5, consider these very simple examples:


A Learning and Development specialist creates a learning activity that offers managers several samples of readings and videos from leadership experts. The activity allows the managers the freedom to pick and choose what they read or view; however, the specialist wants to know what they choose to read or watch as well as how they fare on a culminating assessment.

CMI5 enables the activity to capture both the learner experience (for example, the learner read an excerpt from Brené Brown’s Daring to Lead ) and the test score. CMI5 can generate a statement on virtually any kind of learner experience as well as the traditional data elements such as score, time on task, quiz questions and student answers. In this sense, CMI5 supports both openness and structure.

Let’s consider another example:

An instructor authors a learning activity that virtually guides students to places in Canada to observe the effects of climate change. She wants students to answer questions, post reflections and observe the effects of climate change on glaciers, Arctic ice, sea levels and permafrost. She sets a passing threshold for each activity. Once students have completed all of the units, then the learning management system registers that the course was mastered.

Let’s go further:

The instructor wants the learning activity to reside in a learning object repository or website outside of the learning management system – but still report to the learning management system. In fact, she wishes that no content reside on the learning management system. Regardless of where the content resides, she wants to know what sites students visited, how they scored on short quizzes, and how students reacted to the severe impact of climate change on Canada.

For students with disabilities, the instructor makes an accommodation and requests that the LMS administrator adjust the mastery score without editing the activity.

As the course becomes more and more popular, she anticipates placing the website and its activity onto CloudFlare or some content distribution network so that students all around the world can gain faster access to the learning activities.

The instructor works as adjunct for multiple universities and wants each of their learning management systems to get the content from a single location. In some cases, she wants the content locked for anyone who circumvents the Learning Management System and in other cases she openly lists the unlocked content with OER libraries like Merlot and OER Commons.


Before CMI5 much of this was difficult to achieve, if not impossible. So, let’s review what CMI5 offers us.


CMI5 captures scores in the traditional sense. But it also records data on learning experiences such as students virtually observing the change in the permafrost. CMI5 allows instructors and trainers to set the move-on criteria for each unit in a course (i.e. passing score before student moving on to the next unit).

CMI5 activities can reside anywhere – on one’s own website, for example, and still report to the learning management system. CMI5 enables an LMS administrator to change the mastery score from the LMS for the benefit of students who need accommodations and essentially trump what is set in the unit.

LodeStar’s CMI5 Implementation allows
authors to indicate where the content resides


CMI5 is a game changer. And yet for many – learning and development leaders, instructional designers, technologists and students – it doesn’t seem that way in 2021. CMI5 seems like a non-event. It feels like something we all talked about – a welcome change of weather on the horizon –and then nothing. Not a drop of rain.


We have been talking about and anticipating CMI5 for a long time – and yet, major learning management systems both in the corporate and academic worlds still don’t support it. CMI5 was envisioned in 2010, released to developers in 2015, and then released to the public in its first edition in 2016. We are now in the waning days of 2021—with limited adoption.


But that is likely to change.


For one, Rustici Software and ADL delivered on their promise of Catapult. Catapult is likely to accelerate adoption of CMI5. It provides many benefits to developers, including the ability to test if a CMI5 package conforms to the standard.

In my view, the learning technology architects have done their part. They brought us a meaningful set of specifications. They brought us the tools to test learning packages and to test the learning management system’s implementation of CMI5. Now’s it’s up to learning and development specialists and the instructional design community to cheer CMI5 on. It is my belief that once the community understands CMI5, spreads the word, and imposes its collective will on the LMS providers, CMI5 will become an important part of our tool bag. I urge you to share this article and others like it.


In the meantime, let’s take a deeper dive into CMI5’s potential.


Benefit One: Freedom to capture and report on any learner experience.


With CMI you can report on scores, completion status, and just about anything else. You can report on standard assessment results, and the not-so-standard learning experiences.


To understand this, we need to re-look at SCORM.


One should consider CMI5 as a replacement for SCORM – an improved specification. Conforming to SCORM was useful because a learning object or learning activity could be imported into just about any modern learning management system. As an instructor, if you created a game, quiz, presentation, simulation, whatever and exported it as a SCORM package, your activity could be imported into Moodle, BrightSpace, Canvas, Cornerstone, Blackboard, and any learning management system that supported SCORM. So, the benefit of SCORM was that it was a set of standards that most LMS systems understood. The standards that fell under the SCORM umbrella included metadata, a reporting data model, and standard methods for initializing an activity, reporting scores, reporting on interactions, and reporting passing or failing and completion status.

The data model included dozens of elements. One example of a data element is cmi.core.score.min. Related to score, SCORM conformant activities reported on the minimum score, the maximum score, the raw score (absolute number) and the scaled score ( a percentage between 0 and 1).


SCORM supported a lot of different data elements. A SCORM conformant activity could report on a variety of things. The limitation of SCORM, however, was that, despite the large number of elements, it was still a finite list. Take a Geolocation Storytelling activity as an example or an eBook reading. If I wanted to capture and report that the student virtually or physically visited location A, then B, and then C, I would have to work around the limitations of SCORM. I could not generate a statement such as, for example, ‘Student visited the Amphitheater in Arles’. If I wanted to capture a student’s progress through an eBook, SCORM would be problematic.


At this point, you might be protesting, but xAPI does that! xAPI? Another acronym! Yes. xAPI, or The Experience API is a new specification that makes it possible to report on a limitless range of things that a learner has experienced: such as, completed a chapter of an eBook; watched a video; toured a museum, and on and on. So, if we have this thing called xAPI, why CMI5?


The benefit of xAPI is that it supports the reporting of anything. The downside to xAPI is that, by itself, it doesn’t have a vocabulary that the LMS understands such as launched, initialized, scored, passed, completed. That is what CMI5 offers. CMI5 is, in fact, an xAPI profile that includes a vocabulary that the LMS understands. In addition, CMI5 can report on any type of learner experience. Here is the definition of CMI5 from the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative:


cmi5 is a profile for using the xAPI specification with traditional learning management (LMS) systems

(Advanced Distributed Learning).


With CMI5, you can have your cake and eat it too. You can report on learner activity in a way that LMS understands and you can report on just about anything else that the Learning Management System stores in a Learner Record Store. The Learner Record Store or LRS is a database populated by statements about what the learner experienced.

xAPI Statements can capture an
any learner experience, including reading the instructions


Benefit Two: Freedom to put the learning activity anywhere


With CMI5, you can place a learning activity in a repository, in GitHub, on a web server, in a Site44 drop box site, in SharePoint, in a distributed network, wherever….without restricting its ability to connect with a learning management system. CMI5 content does not need to be imported. A CMI5 package can contain as little as one XML file, which among other things, tells the LMS where to find the content.


To appreciate this, we need to look back at SCORM once more (as if it were ancient history).


I’ll start with a pseudo technical explanation and then follow with why it matters.
The way SCORM works is that the learning activity sits in a window. The learning activity uses a simple looping algorithm to find the Learning Management System’s SCORM Adapter. It checks its parent window for a special object. If the window’s parent doesn’t contain the object, the activity looks to the parent’s parent, and so on. In other words, somewhere in that chain of parents, there must be that special object. Typically, the SCORM activity can only communicate to the learning management system if it is a child window of that system or if some server-side technology is used.

CMI5 works quite differently. CMI5 gives us freedom to leave our parents’ home. Whereas SCORM uses a Javascript Application Programmer Interface to communicate, CMI5 uses xAPI to reach across the internet and call a web service’s methods. Loosely, it’s like the difference between a landline and a cellular phone service. To use the landline you must be in the house; to use a cell phone, you must be in the network.

Benefit Three: A simplified sequencing model.

SCORM supported simple sequencing, which many say is not so simple. CMI5’s ‘move on’ property, in contrast, is very easy. A CMI course can contain one or more Assignable Units (AUs). The instructor spells out what the learner must achieve in an assignable unit before being able to move on. The move on property has one of the following values:


• Passed
• Completed
• Completed Or Passed
• Completed And Passed
• Not Applicable


Once the student has ‘moved on’ through all of the assignable units, the LMS notes that the course has been satisfied by that student.


Benefit Four: An assignable unit passing score can be overridden


In SCORM, the mastery score is hard-coded in the activity. In a SCORM activity, the instructor can base completion status on a passing score. But what if that hard-coded score were inappropriate for a group of students, for whatever reason? The specification enables an LMS to pass the mastery score to the Assignable Unit upon launch. So the LMS launches the AU, and sends it student name and mastery score (among other things). By specification, the AU cannot ignore the mastery score but must use it to trump what is hard-coded in the unit or refuse to run.


Benefit Five: Theoretically, CMI5 isn’t hamstrung by pop-up blockers.

When an LMS launches a SCORM activity, it either embeds the activity in an Iframe or launches a window. Both scenarios are problematic. The content may not be well suited for an iFrame and a pop-up blocker can obstruct the launched window.


Theoretically, CMI5 AU can replace the LMS with its own content. It’s not in an embedded iFrame and it’s not a pop-up window. When the LMS launches the AU, along with student name and mastery score, the LMS sends the AU a return URL. When ended, the AU returns the student to that return URL, which is the address of the LMS.


I write “theoretical” because the LMS should not but may ignore this requirement.

Benefit Six: CMI5 activities securely communicate to the Learner Record Store


As I wrote, the activity can send information about learner experiences clear across the internet to the learner record store. But how does the AU have the authorization to do this from, let’s say, a web site? And how does it happen securely?


This is the marvel of 2021 technology versus 2000 technology. Before 2000, we had difficult-to-use protocols for passing information securely across the internet. Oftentimes, special rules needed to be added to internet routers. Then along came a simpler protocol that the first version of CMI5 used (SOAP). Then came an even better way (OAUTH and REST). After launch, the LMS hands the AU a security token (kind of like a key that dissolves in time). The AU uses that key to gain access and to post information to the Learner Record Store.

Conclusion

CMI5 returns power to the instructor and to the L&D specialist. CMI5 allows one to choose where the content resides and to choose what the content reports. CMI5 captures learner experiences more completely and yet it communicates with Learning Management Systems with a vocabulary that LMSs understand. CMI5 supports accommodations for a special group of students without needing to change the code of the Assignable Unit. Finally, CMI5 uses current technology to send data over the internet.

The implications of this emerging specification are tremendous. It is better suited to mobile learning and it is better suited to the learner experience platforms that are emerging (e.g. LinkedIn Learning’s Learning Hub). Soon instructors may be able to organize content from a variety of providers (like LinkedIn Learning, Khan Academy, or OER Commons) but retain the learning management system as an organizer of content, data collector, and credentialing agent. Now instructors, average instructors, may be able participate in that content market from their own GitHub repositories and web sites.

But many LMSs have yet to adopt CMI5. The architects have done their part. Now it’s on us to understand this technology and advocate for it. Start by sharing this article. Thank you.

Appendix A — How it Works (A simplified flow)

For those interested in a deeper dive, let’s walk through the CMI5 process flow step-by-step. (See diagram)

To begin, the author (instructor, L&D specialist) exports content as a CMI5 package. The package can be a simple file that instructs the LMS where to find the content or it can include the content itself.

(1) When a student needs the content, the Learning Management System (LMS) launches the content and sends the Assignable Unit (a course can contain one or more Assignable Units) (2) information that includes student name, a fetch URL and the activity ID.

(3) The Assignable Unit (AU) uses the fetch URL to retrieve a security token. The security token enables the AU to communicate securely to the Learner Record Store (LRS).

(4) As the student interacts with the content, the AU can optionally send Experience API (xAPI) statements to the LRS . (5) At some point, the AU reports that the student passed and/or completed the unit.

(6) The LMS uses the ‘move-on’ information to determine whether or not the student can move on to the next assignable unit. The move-on options are passed, completed, passed and completed, passed or completed, or not applicable.

Finally, when all of the assignable units within a course are completed, the course is marked as satisfied for the specific learner.

A simplified process flow that starts with the
launch of the CMI5 Assignable Unit by the LMS

LodeStar 8 Release

Response to Crisis:

LodeStar’s genesis more than 20 years ago came out of a response to crisis. It came out of an aspiration to help students who were homebound for reasons of health and safety. 

Technically, the origins of LodeStar, in the late 90s, were found deep within an early learning management system.  By 2001, it developed as a stand alone tool in partnership with Broad Education and Microsoft Class Server.  By 2003, Mark Burrs and I incorporated LodeStar Learning and looked to the future to support the needs of teachers and students in any learning management system that embraced the standards of IMS+, and then SCORM and xAPI.

Since then, LodeStar has weathered technological change after change, but the inspiration behind this tool remains the same:  help instructors create a richer, more interactive experience for online learners.

Now the entire world has been forced online.  The need that first engendered LodeStar is global.  It is an unprecedented situation that awaits LodeStar 8, our newly released version on March, 30, 2020.

LodeStar8

LodeStar 8 supports images with branch options

Our Latest Response

We also recognize that we’re in a time of scarce resources.  We have a new tool, but it comes at a difficult time. To address this issue, we’ve made every effort to set the cost of entry low. There will be teachers, however, who can ill afford any cost however low. For them, we’ve created an online request form for a free one year free license.  Just like any license, anything that teachers create is licensed to them in perpetuity.  Only the authoring tool license lapses.  There are truly no strings attached.  We want to do our part.

We ask that instructors from institutions endowed with resources purchase at least a one year license.  (LodeStar 8 requires a new license.). This will offset the cost for others who can’t afford a license.  The key goal is to put tools in the hands of instructors to make online learning a richer and more meaningful experience.

In the upcoming weeks, I’ll be re-releasing ‘how-to’ videos and articles that were produced for LodeStar 7, but are still valid for the new release.  I’ll then create new articles and videos for the new capabilities.  For the future, we’ve  designed a new foundation that, hopefully, will support our building blocks for years to come.

In the meantime, thank you so much for your service.  I hope we’ve developed LodeStar into something that will help you and your students in the upcoming months.  This is a time of crisis, but it is also an opportunity to explore what’s possible in online interaction.  We want to be part of that exploration through our tools, templates, articles, and conversations.  Help us play a role and make a difference.

Please stay safe and stay in touch.

LodeStar Home and Free Trial License Download

http://www.lodestarlearning.com/

During the Covid-19 Crisis

For teachers who don’t have the financial resources to purchase a license, please click on the link below and fill out the request for a free 1 year license.  We may not be able to respond to and grant every request, but we will try.

Request for a Free License

The Humble Variable

Introduction

Instructional Designers are skilled at using text, media and graphics to help meet learner objectives.  But design often extends beyond the visible into the functional.  Designs might require tracking user performance, branching to an appropriate level of instruction, saving state, and creating highly individualized, interactive, learning experiences.

At the root of this functionality is the humble variable.  Understanding the variable and all of its implications in a learning design may seem a little out of reach of instructional designers.  That seems like programming…and programming is the domain of specialists like programmers or instructional technologists who know and, perhaps, even enjoy things like mathematics and logic.

But most instructors and many designers don’t have such specialists as a resource.  With a little knowledge, designers can expand their designs on their own and create better experiences for learners.

The Variable

As a start, there are some basic things about the variable that all instructional designers should know – some basic things that will help designers think about their designs more clearly.

First, a bit of unlearning.

We learned about the variable in elementary school.  We were asked to solve for x, given this type of equation.

6 + x = 10;

‘x’ was a challenge.  You had to manipulate things in your head like  x = 10 – 6.  You needed to learn about the dark art of algebra.

And so, something as arcane as this

image1

produced the graph below if you repeatedly plugged in a number for t, solved for x and scaled up the result:

image2

Probably not the traditional domain of instructional designers.

But, in instructional design, the variable isn’t a problem to solve.  It’s a tool.  It’s a tool like text and graphics and media.  And you can start simple.

The use of variables gives us the ability to save state (remember things like user performance on a question item) and to branch (go down one learning pathway versus another) and to evaluate performance (were the right things chosen and in the right order, perhaps).

So powerful is the variable that all major eLearning authoring systems not only use variables internally but give the author access to them.

Down below is a screenshot from Storyline, a popular authoring tool.    The author of a game is tracking how many correct answers the learner achieved (correctcounter), whether or not the learner has achieved a fail condition (fail), and other things not pictured here like whether or not the learner has attempted the question once, twice or three times, the overall score and the number of seconds on the timer (timer).

The variable is a storage place.   Some people like to use the analogy of a bucket – a place to dump data into.  I like the analogy of a mailbox.  The mailbox has both an address and a place to store stuff. Like a mailbox, variables have an address in computer memory; they have an easy name that we can use to refer to that place in memory; and they store a value. That storage place can typically hold numerical values, characters (as in a name) or true/false states.  There are fancy names for all these things like integers, floats, strings and booleans – but we are only concerned about basic things such as the value being stored as a number, set of characters or true/false.

Numbers versus characters versus true or false matter because they take up different amounts of computer memory, they enforce the type of data that is stored in the variable so that coding mistakes aren’t inadvertently made, and they are stored differently in the bowels of the computer.

2020-02-27_2050

The following screenshots also hint at another division between variables.  The first screenshot that follows shows user variables.  User variables, in this case, store information about the student name and id.

User Variables in Captivate

image4

In the next screenshot, system variables store program settings related to movie control.

System Variables in Captivate

image5

There is also another category often referred to as the user-defined or custom variable, not shown here.  In most programs, if you wanted to track something special, you would create your own variable.   For example, if I gave the learner a choice of tools to select in order to complete a task and wanted to track which tool was selected, I could create a variable called ‘toolSelected’ and assign the variable a value.

For example, toolSelected = ‘caliper’

Or, optionally, I could assign a number to the variable, as in  toolSelected = 1

image6

Alternatively, I could create a variable called ‘caliperSelected’ and set it to true or false. Or I could create a variable called ‘toolsSelected’ and in this case, set it to:

toolsSelected = “caliper; nippers”

In short, I have options.

So with that we are straying dangerously close to the wheelhouse of the computer programmer.  But for the instructional designer, what is important is an affordance — a capability.  We could give our learner a task and have the learner collect the appropriate tools.  Just knowing that variables can hold a bunch of values gives us a strategy to think about.  What if we placed learners in a situation where they could gather things to use in a problem-solving situation?  Thinking about variables and their capacity to store can inform our thinking – and give us a strategy or a way to accomplish our objective.

Let’s take this a bit further.

Conditional Statements

In my next example, I will use a custom variable and apply it to some branching logic.   In order to understand the example, we’ve already looked at the variable.  Now let’s look at some logic.  Branching logic can be achieved by either a conditional statement like one finds in Microsoft Excel or, in the example that follows, a ‘Gate’

Let’s think about logic.

In the spreadsheet below, we have scores in column B.  The logic is that if the score in column B is greater than 49, then the text in column C will show ‘Pass’.  Else, column C will show ‘Fail’

image7

The gobbly-gook language part of this, looks like:

=IF(B3 > 49, “Pass”, “Fail”)

B3 is the cell that lies at the intersection of column B and row 3.   So, if you can think of the first part inside of the parentheses as a condition, the second part is a value if the condition is true, and the third part is a value if the condition is false, then the gobbly gook reads like this:

If the condition is true, show “true”, else show “false”.

The condition:  is the value in B3 larger than 49?  If yes, show ‘Pass’; else if no, show ‘Fail’.

eLearning authoring systems present different ways of using the same type of logic.  You can imagine a branching scenario.  If the learner score is greater than 80, proceed down the ‘enrichment’ path.  If not, proceed down the ‘remedial’ path.   Branching is just a series of else if statements, like the one shown on the spreadsheet.

So now, let’s show an example that combines the use of the variable and some branching logic.

An Example

In the following example, we’ll introduce LodeStar 8 (which will be released soon).    In the activity, I will show 6 animals.  3 of the animals are critically endangered.

The object of the lesson is for students to understand what critically endangered means and, given some data,  to be able to identify some animals that are examples of critically endangered species.

Identifying the critically endangered is actually highly technical, involving numbers, habitat area, habitat fragmentation, number of generations and so forth.  Let’s say, for the sake of our example, that we presented students with all of that information and then asked them to select the animals that are critically endangered.

If students correctly select a critically endangered species, they will earn 2 points.  Selecting an endangered species subtracts 1 point.  Selecting a vulnerable species subtracts 2 points.

Out of the six animals, three are critically endangered.  The best score is therefore 6.

Here is a screenshot of LodeStar 8 and the ActivityMaker template, which we used in our example.

image8

A screenshot of LodeStar 8, due to be released March 2020

ActivityMaker supports different page types.  I’ll select the “Text” page type.  This page type supports text, imagery, SVG graphics, and widgets.  (We’ll talk about widgets soon.)

On the first page, I’ll add six images and a page heading.

image9

Produced with LodeStar 8 ActivityMaker Template

Adding Branch Options to Images

First, to assign a Branch Option to an image, I click on the image and select the branch icon.  The branch icon is used throughout LodeStar.  (Please note:  You can only add branching logic to an image once it is loaded and appears on the page.)

image10

The Branch Option dictates what happens when a question is answered correctly or incorrectly, when a page is displayed, when a gate is reached and so forth.  In this case, the branch icon controls what happens when an image is selected.  There is a selected branch option and a deselected branch option.  This is new to LodeStar 8.

image11

To start, I load the image, select a scalable size (in percentage) and then click on OK.  I then click on the image and re-open the dialog box.

I click on the ‘Selected’ Branch for the Sumatran Rhino and launch the branch dialog.

I then set the Branch Option to ‘Append Value’ and fill in the variable name, which is ‘score’ and a value that will be appended to the variable, which is the value of 2.

Appended, in this case, means that 2 will be added to whatever the value that the variable ‘score’ is currently storing.    Essentially this:

Score = Score + 2

Meaning

The new value of score is assigned the old value of score + 2.

image12

For deselected, the opposite is true.

score = score +  (-2);

Or

-2 will be appended to score, which is the same as

score = score – 2;

image13

I then want to present the option for students to evaluate their selections.  I type in text ‘Check Answer’, highlight it, and then select the ‘Insert Link’ tool in the HTML editor.

LodeStar’s HTML editor is unlike any other editor.   The ‘Insert Link’ dialog presents multiple options including the ability to link to one of the LodeStar pages.  The Pages (UID) dropdown displays all of the available pages.  If the author forgets to give a page a human-friendly name, then only the computer-friendly UID number is shown.  In the screenshot below, you can see both.

image14

When the student clicks on ‘Check Answer’ they will jump to the ‘Evaluate’ page and see an Embedded Variable widget displayed on the page.

The purpose of the Embedded Variable widget is to display the values of variables.    The widget dialog is launched by clicking on the sprocket icon as pictured.  (Remember, the LodeStar HTML editor is not your everyday brand of HTML editor.)

image15

Insert a widget on a page

The widget dialog presents a menu of different widgets.

image16

Widgets enable authors to embed timelines, word problems, questions, drag and drop, and other items on a Text Page

The author inserts the ‘Embedded Variable’ widget wherever s/he wishes to display variables and then types in the following:

Your ability to identify critically endangered species ranks {score} out of 6.

‘score’ is a variable name.  It holds a value (the student performance).  When the student sees this sentence, they will see the value and not the variable name.  If the variable has not been initialized (given a starting value), they will see ‘undefined’.

I also added two links:  ‘Start Your Journey’ and ‘Go back’.

Students can go back and attempt to improve their scores or they can move on.    The ‘Start Your Journey’ links to the ‘Gate 1’ page.  The ‘Go back’ links to the page with the animals.   The following diagram, found under ‘Branches’ on the left side, shows the branching connections from the Evaluate page to the preceding page and from the Evaluate page to the Gate. (I’ll explain gates in a second.)

image17

The Branches view

The following screenshot shows the ‘Embedded Variable’ widget editor.   Variables that have been used elsewhere in the program need only curly braces {} to be used.  Variables that don’t exist can be declared here.  (They can hold the result of expressions written in JavaScript, which is a more advanced concept.)   ‘score’ was used on an earlier page and, so, it can simply be referenced with the curly braces.

image18

Again, the two links on the page cause the learner either to move forward to the gate or backward to the animals.

Finally, we have the ‘Gate’, which is a LodeStar page type.  We use the gate in this case to branch the student.  If the student scored 5 or above, then we follow the ‘Pass Branch Options’.  If the student scored lower than 5 then we follow the ‘Fail Branch Options’.  ‘Pass’ and ‘Fail’ might not be appropriate terms, but students never see these terms.  They just imply one branch if the condition evaluates to true and another branch if the condition evaluates to false.

The condition is:

Pass only if Score Is >=  5

The variable that holds the score is the variable named ‘score’.  The variable name can be anything.  The author simply checks ‘Use Custom Score’ and identifies which variable will be used in the condition, as pictured below.

image19

The following two screens show the two branch options.  The ‘Pass’ option is set to ‘Jump to Page’ to a page that is titled ‘Enrichment’.  The ‘Fail’ option is set to ‘Jump to Page’ to a page that is titled ‘Remedial’.

image20

The following screenshot shows a page labeled ‘Enrichment’.  Notice the ‘Page ID’?  The Page Id was used in the gate.  This represents the start of a whole series of pages that represent the enrichment sequence. Similarly, there is a remedial page, the start to a series of pages that represent the remedial sequence.

image21

Here is what the ‘fail’ branch dialog looks like.

image22

When I click on the ‘Gate’ in the Branches view (as opposed to Pages view on the left side) and filter out the other pages, I can see the following.  Gate 1 branches to either ‘Enrichment’ or ‘Remedial’.  If I check off the filter I will see all of the branches for all of the pages, which gets to be a bit overwhelming.

image23

More Complex Scenario-based Learning

So far, we are making the learner do something.  We then store their performance in a variable called ‘score’.  We use the value of the variable to branch in one direction if the score is low and in another direction if the score meets or exceeds a number.

That is a very basic building block.  It’s like Legos.  A Lego® brick is a simple thing, but Lego® bricks can be combined to form ever more complex shapes.  So too in eLearning.

As a culminating example, let me describe a project we recently completed.  The basic strategy of storing values in variables was used in a highly interactive learning module that we created to teach the topic of using LinkedIn in for business development.

image24

With the use of variables, we were able to track learner performance through four Social Sales Index (SSI) measures: brand, people, insights, and relationships.  If learners acquire the skills to improve their SSI index through the learning module, then they can apply that directly to LinkedIn and see tangible results.

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In the learning module, behind the scenes, there are four variables, each matched to an SSI metric.  As learners expand their LinkedIn network, respond appropriately to notifications, build their profile, etc. etc. they increase their SSI.  Each activity is tied to one of the variables.

The Function

We started with the humble variable, and then saw it used in branching logic.  Variables are also frequently used with functions.

A function is a group of instructions used by programming languages to return a single result or a set of results or simply to do something.

Because LodeStar automatically tallies student-earned points and reports performance to the learning management system, in our example, we use functions to override that behavior by setting the user score and total score to our SSI metrics or to anything we want.

Let’s look at functions in general, and then at how our example uses them.

As mentioned, the function either does something or gives you are result based on some input.  In LodeStar, functions are just something you use rather than define.  But if you looked at a function from a programmer’s point of view, it would look like the following function named addValues.  (functions are often named in this way, with the first letter lower cased.)

function addValues(value1, value2){

            sum = value1 + value2;

            return sum;

}

‘value1’ and ‘value2’ are inputs (or arguments, in technical speak)

The body of the function falls inside the curly braces {}.  The body of the function adds the two inputs and spits out a result — a return value.  Notice how we assign the sum of ‘value1’ and ‘value2’ to a variable?

Our use of a function is simpler.  We don’t need to define functions.  That work has been done for us.  We just need to use them.  We need two functions to override the default behavior of LodeStar.  As mentioned, the default behavior is that LodeStar automatically tallies up the student performance points in all of the different question types and reports that to the learning management system.  But we don’t want that.  We want to report the SSI score.

A perfect SSI score is 100, so that becomes the total score.  The sum of brand, people, insights, and relationships becomes the user score.

We use the function named setCustomUserScore(value) to set the user score.  We use setCustomTotalScore(value) to set the total score.

Once we do that, all of the module’s learning activities are tied to this real-world performance measure.  Finally, and most, importantly, all of the activities simulate real-world LinkedIn actions.

Conclusion

So, for our project, it all started with the humble variable.  We asked how does LinkedIn measure proficiency.  The answer is the SSI index.  We then asked how would we capture the learner’s performance in an SSI metric.  The answer is four variables named brand, people, insights and relationships.  We then asked how could we bring up different types of content in the form of notifications, messages and so forth.  The answer was in the use of variables and some conditional logic.  Finally, how would we report the SSI index to the learning management system.  The answer was….the function.

Instructional Designers traditionally think about text, graphics, audio and other types of media.  These elements alone lead to very linear designs.  The addition of variables, logic, and functions frees up our designs from the constraints of these linear models and allows us to add variability, surprise, realism and other things that enrich the learning experience.

So, start simple.

Mobile Learning

Mobile Learning means much more than easy access to responsive educational applications from a smartphone or tablet.   It is an amazing confluence of technologies that represents a new era in technology-assisted instruction.  Researchers have a name for technologies that bring us new capabilities.  They call it affordances.  I once hated the word.  But now I embrace it. Recent advances in technology afford designers new opportunities to engage students.

New technologies bring new capabilities and help us redefine what is possible. When we had our shoulder to the wheel, working with computer-based training, floppy disks and stick figures, we looked up and saw the approach of interactive video disc players, and imagined the possibilities.  We worked with videodiscs for a time and then saw the virtue of CDROMs.  We gave up full-screen full-motion video for the ease of use of the CDROM and bought our first single speed burners for $5,000.   The CDROM gave way to the internet and the web application.  Flash based applications on the web gave way to HTML 5.  And now, the desktop is making room for the mobile app and the mobile browser experience.

We always lose something – but gain something more important in return.  New technology affords us new capabilities, new opportunities

Organization

To make best use of these capabilities, mobile learning demands that we think about old ideas in new ways.  To use a simple example to start, our current projects may have forward and back buttons that chunk the content in nice bite-sized pieces.  We recognize that chunking can be useful to learners.  But mobile users are in the habit of swiping up and down and sideways.  Content is laid out for them in one long flow or in slides.  Chunks on the screen are the result of how aggressively users swipe their fingers. It challenges us to think about organizing content in a new way.

Responsiveness

Mobile apps, whether run in a browser or natively on the mobile device’s operating system, must conform to all sorts of device shapes and sizes.  They call that form factor.  The iPhone alone comes in multiple sizes ranging from 4 to 5 ½ inches.  There are smartphones, phablets, mini-tablets and large tablets.  There are wearables and optical displays. An application may be run on anything from a multiscreen desktop configuration to the smallest smartphone.  An application may be viewed in portrait mode (vertical) or landscape (horizontal). The ability of a single application to conform to all of these display configurations is called responsiveness.  Responsively designed applications automatically size and scale the views, pick readable font sizes, layout components appropriately and provide for easy navigation.

mobile_learning

Responsive Application Created with LodeStar Learning FlowPageMaker

 

Designing Mobile Learning Experiences

But the challenge of mobile is not just in screen sizes and navigation.  It is in the appropriate design of applications pedagogically.  When we moved from computer-based training to videodisc we considered the power of full motion video and the ability of the learner to make decisions and indicate those decisions by touching the screen and causing the program to branch.  When we moved to CDROM we made use of 640 megabytes of data – which seemed massive but afforded us embedded encyclopedias and glossaries and other information and media at our fingertips.  When we moved to the web, suddenly WebQuests harnessed the full power of the internet and sent learners on inquiry-based expeditions for answers.

But what now?  What are the opportunities that mobile devices give us – in exchange for extremely small screen sizes, slower processors and slower connectivity?

Part of the answer lies in student access to resources when they are on a bus or on lunch break – spaces in their busy lives.   The more interesting answer is access to resources and guidance from environments where learning can happen: city streets, nature trails, museums, historical and geographical points of interest – in short, from outside of the classroom and the home office.

This is what mobile learning – M-Learning – is all about.  M-Learning requires much more from applications than being responsive.  They should support students being disconnected from the internet. They should support a link back to the mother ship – the institutional learning management system – once students are reconnected.  They should report on all forms of student activity.  They should report on not just quiz scores – but what students have read or accomplished or what a trained person has observed in the performance of the student.

Responsiveness is an important start – but this added ability to report remotely to a learning management system is facilitated by one of several technologies that are somewhat closely related.  You may have heard these terms or acronyms:  Tin Can, xAPI, IMS Caliper and CMI5.

To really appreciate the contributions of these standards to the full meaning of mobility, we need to do a deeper dive into the standards.  Bear with me. If you haven’t heard of these terms, please don’t be disconcerted.  They represent a tremendous new capability that goes hand-in-hand with mobile devices that is best explained by the Tin Can telephone metaphor.  If you haven’t heard of these terms, you are in good company.  We’re only on the leading edge of the M-Learning Tsunami.

Tin Can

Tin Can was the working title for a new set of specifications that will eventually change the kinds of information that instructors can collect on student performance.   To explain, let’s start with the basic learning management system.  In the system, a student takes a quiz.  The score gets reported to the grade book.  The quiz may have been generated inside the learning management system.  The student most likely logged into the system to complete the quiz.   But quizzes are just one form of assessment and no learning management system has the tools to generate the full range of assessments and activities that are possible.  Not Blackboard.  Not Moodle.  Not D2L.   Hence, these systems support the import or the integration of activities generated by third party authoring tools like Captivate, Raptivity, StoryLine, LodeStar and dozens and dozens of others.  With third-party tools, instructors can broaden the range of student engagement.  Learning management systems support tool integration through standards like Learning Tool Interoperability (LTI), IMS content packages and a set of specifications called SCORM. SCORM has been the reigning standard since the dawn of the new millennium. SCORM represents a standardized way of packaging learning content, reporting performance, and sequencing instruction.  SCORM is therefore a grouping of specifications.  Imagine packages of content that instructors can share (Shareable Content Object) and that follow standards that make them playable in all of the major learning management systems (Reference Model).

But SCORM has its limitations.  The Tin Can API is a newer specification that remedies these limitations.  A SCORM based application finds its connection (an API object) in a parent window of the application.  That’s limiting.  That means that the application has to be launched from within the learning management system. Tin Can enabled applications can be launched from any environment and can communicate remotely to a learner record store.  Imagine two tin cans linked by a string.  One tin can may be housed in a mobile application, and the other tin can in a learner record store or integrated with a learning management system.  The string is the internet.

SCORM has a defined and limited data set.  An application can report on user performance per assessment item or overall performance.  It can report on number of tries, time spent, responses to questions and dozens of other things but it is ultimately limited to a finite list of data fields.  (Only one data field allowed arbitrary data, but it was really limited in size.)

Tin Can isn’t limited in the same way. Tin Can communicates a statement composed of a noun, verb and object.  The noun is the learner.  The verb is an action.  And the object provides more information about the action.  Jill Smith read ‘Ulysses’ is a simple example.  Imagine the learner using an eBook Reader that communicates a student’s reading activity back to the school’s learner record store (housed in an LMS).  Tin Can is M-Learning’s bedfellow.  The mobile device gives students freedom of movement.  Tin Can frees students from the Learning Management System. Any environment can become a learning environment. Learning and a record of that learning can happen anywhere.          

lodestar_lrs

LodeStar Learning (LodeStar 7.2) Ability to configure an Learner Record Store Service (LRS) and Export to a Tin Can API enabled Learning Object

The next acronym, xAPI, is just the formal name for Tin Can.  Tin Can was a working title.  When I was at Allen Interactions working on ZebraZapps our team provided early comment related to this evolving specification – which became xAPI.  The eXperience API is a cool term for a cool concept, but Tin Can has stuck as a helpful metaphor.

The openness of Tin Can, however, presents its own challenge.   If one application reports on student reading performance in one way, and another application reports on a similar activity but in a different way, it is hard to aggregate the data and analyze it effectively.  It’s hard to compare apples and oranges.

IMS Caliper attempts to solve this problem.  IMS Global is the collaborative body that brought us standards for a variety of things, including learning content packages and quiz items.  IMS Caliper is a set of standards that support the analysis of data.  They define a common language for labeling learning data and measuring performance.

Which leads us to the last standard: CMI5.   CMI5 bridges Tin Can with SCORM.  Applications still benefit from the grade book and reporting infrastructure built around SCORM – but are free to connect remotely outside of the confines of the LMS — once again supporting M-Learning.

Had I written this entry a year ago, I would have found it difficult to try out various learner record stores.  Today, they abound.  The following link lists tools and providers:  http://tincanapi.com/adopters/

The following two LRS providers give you an inexpensive service in order to test out this technology for yourself.

Rustici SCORM Cloud

https://cloud.scorm.com

Saltbox Wax LRS

http://www.saltbox.com/

So what?

Now that we’re free to roam around the world, what do we do with that?  Mobile applications, even browser based mobile applications, use GPS, cell towers and WIFI to locate our phone geographically.   We can construct location-aware learning. We can guide students on independent field trips. They can collect information and complete assessments of their learning.  All of that can be shipped back to the institution through the learner record store.  Mobile devices have accelerometers and gyroscopes that help the phone detect orientation (e.g. horizontal and vertical) and the rate of rotation around the x, y and z axes.  With that we can create applications that assess the coordination of a learner in completing a task that requires manual dexterity.  Devices have cameras and microphones, both of which can be used to support rich field experiences.

The smart pedagogy for M-Learning is one that recognizes these affordances and uses them – rather than shrinking a desktop experience into a smaller form factor.

An Example

Aside from our work at LodeStar Learning and at the university, my most recent encounter with this technology came from a serendipitous meeting with a local community leader who introduced me to Pivot The World.

Pivot The World  http://www.pivottheworld.com represents an example of a good starting point.  It is a start-up company interested in working with universities, museums, cities, towns and anyone interested in revealing the full richness of a location in terms of history and cultural significance. It combines the freedom of movement of a mobile device with its ability to detect location, overlay imagery and geographical information, and match what its camera sees to a visual database to retrieve related information.   The combination of camera, maps, imagery, audio, location, and other services engage learners in a new kind of experience.

The Pivot The World founders and developers started in Palestine, have since applied their technology to a tour of Harvard University and are currently working with a volunteer group of history buffs to create a Pivot Stillwater experience in our own hometown.  At the north end of town, where there are condominiums, a simple swipe of the finger can reveal the old Stillwater Territorial Prison with elements of the prison preserved in the design of the new site.

If a university or museum wished to keep a record of student or visitor experiences with the application, then an integration with the Tin Can (xAPI) would add that dimension.  As users engaged with the content, statements of their experience could be sent to a Learner Record Store.

Conclusion

LodeStar Learning’s mission is to make these technologies and capabilities accessible to instructors. We have done that with the addition and improvement of our templates.  We have incorporated the ability to export any learner object with Tin Can capability.  Now instructors can choose between SCORM 1.2, SCORM 1.3, SCORM CLOUD, SimpleZip (for Schoology and other sites) and, most recently, TinCan 1.0.

We have improved Activity Mobile Maker and added ARMaker (for geographically located content) and FlowPageMaker for a new style of mobile design.

We’ve already gone global.  Now we’re going mobile.  We’re embracing M-Learning and all of its amazing affordances.

 

Top Five Changes to LodeStar 7

In April 2013, we launched a complete redesign of the LodeStar eLearning authoring tool, culminating in LodeStar 7. Since then we have announced each new change as we added to the tool. We blogged, tweeted and announced each new feature in Facebook and our Web Journal.

Today, we are on the eve of LodeStar 7 achieving general acceptance. We’ve overcome our last largest hurdles and will publish the last of the beta versions before going gold.

This article summarizes the five most significant changes to our authoring tool in the redesign. There are literally dozens of changes – but we will focus on the most significant to instructors.

template_viewer

One: Fusion of web design and interactive learning activities

In LodeStar 7 and its ActivityMaker template, instructors can build attractive web sites with integrated learning activities.

The instructor no longer needs to decide between certain types of activities, HTML pages and branching. LodeStar 7 combines them all in the ActivityMaker template. LodeStar’s web pages combine text, imagery, embedded Web 2.0 resources and the following interactions:

  • Multiple choice questions
  • Multiple select
  • True/ False
  • Matching
  • Categorization
  • YouTube Video
  • Short Answer, with Regular Expression support
  • Long Answers (readable in the SCORM report)
  • Interactive Interview
  • Flashcards
  • Crosswords
  • Tiles

See our web journal entry https://lodestarlearn.wordpress.com/2015/01/03/12-ways-to-engage-students-with-elearning-authoring-tools/ for details.

Two: HTML 5 editing with accurate rendering

LodeStar 7 offers faithful HTML 5 markup and rendering. Early adopters of LodeStar 7 may have noticed an issue when they dragged their mouse over headings and styled paragraphs. That issue is now resolved. What remains is all of the power of HTML 5 to create rich, interactive experiences.

LodeStar activities now display beautifully in all of the current versions of the major browsers as well as the iPad, Android and other devices that are HTML 5 capable.

Three: Layout Manager and Theme Manager allow diverse layouts and colors

Screenshot of LodeStar 7 activity with chosen layout

Screenshot of LodeStar 7 activity with chosen layout

In the screenshot shown above, the effect was achieved with the following:

Tools > Layouts > Album.starlayout

Tools > Themes > Black

In the screenshot below, the site was created by dropping LodeStar into an iFrame and setting the theme to ‘Blank’ so that the LodeStar activity does not clash with the host website.

Web site with embedded LodeStar activities

Web site with embedded LodeStar activities

Four: Expanded Branching Options

LodeStar 7 provides more options for branching and more options for executing a branch than ever before. The combination of HTML 5 editing, a variety of activity types, and the power of branching is what distinguishes LodeStar from other tools. Branching applications fulfill the promise of eLearning to individualize instruction for students. Rather than providing students with a simple page turner, the instructor who uses LodeStar can change the path of instruction (branch) based on how the student answers a single question or series of questions. Branches can occur on HTML hyperlinks, question items, pages, menu items, and gates.

The following is a brief summary of branching options:

  • Go to Next Page
  • Go to Previous Page
  • Jump to Page
    (jump to a specific page, by page ID)
  • Open URL
    (cause a web page to be displayed in its own window)
  • Add Overlay
    (cause another page to display over the current in its own dialog window)
  • Set Value
    (create and set the value of a custom variable)
  • Append Value
    (append a value to an existing custom variable)
  • Reset Page
    (Unlock the interaction so that a student can try again.)
  • Remove from Flow
    (remove a question from the navigation flow so that students repeat only questions that they missed.)
  • Execute Commands
    (Execute any of the above commands conditionally or batch a number of commands. For example, remove a page from flow and advance to the next page.)

Branch Options in LodeStar 7

Branch Options in LodeStar 7

Five: Ease of Integration with D2L BrightSpace, Blackboard, Moodle and other SCORM conformant learning management systems

Publishing to a learning management system was once a process that involved many steps. LodeStar supports the Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) a standard that defines how an activity can export and report to a learning management system.

Today, an instructor can publish to any SCORM conformant learning management system by clicking on the Export button, and filling in three fields.

The instructor can export to a SCORM 1.3 (SCORM 2004 edition 3) for Blackboard and D2L Brightspace or SCORM 1.2 for Moodle.

Conclusion

The benefits of activities, HTML editing, layout managers, branching and SCORM export are nothing if they come at the expense of simplicity. LodeStar 7 was redesigned from the ground up to be powerful and yet simple. The LodeStar 7 redesign had one audience in mind: the busy instructor who is dedicated to making his or her online courses better. Instructors are recognizing the power and simplicity in LodeStar 7 and choosing it as their primary eLearning authoring tool.

These are my favorite things

LodeStar 7 has reached its beta milestone. Learning institutions of every level will be supported by the rich feature set of the current release. You may be surprised to discover the many  things that LodeStar 7 supports with the help of its star template, ActivityMaker. Let’s list some of our favorites:

  • HTML Text with images, tables, links, and embeds

text

  • Image support for png, gif, and jpeg
  • Multiple Choice, with 5 distractors, feedback and branching options

  multiple_choice

  • Multiple Select
  • Matching

categories

  • Categories
  • Short Answers
  • Menus, with branching options

screenshot of LodeStar eLearning Authoring

  • Gates, with support for performance thresholds defined by raw score, percentages and custom variables
  • Walls to section off content, but now with the ability to take any page out of the flow
  • Report page, to report to learning management systems like D2L, Blackboard and Moodle
  • Long Answer Questions
  • Interview Questions
  • YouTube Video support (embed code not needed)

video

  • Mpeg Video and Web 2.0 support through embed tags
  • Flashcards
  • Journals
  • Journal Reports
  • Crosswords

crossword

  • Conditional branching from menus, question options, and gates.

And all this in the one template called ActivityMaker, which comes with LodeStar 7.

In the following example, we demonstrate 7 out of the 20 features – hopefully enough to whet your appetite for LodeStar 7.

The example speaks for itself. It features a side menu that gets switched on through tools and project settings. Any color can be applied to the menu and to any project element. And one more thing. LodeStar is completely HTML 5. No Flash, no plug-ins. Projects display beautifully in an iPad.

http://lodestarlearning.com/samples/Online_Learning_Activities/index.htm

Engaging Instructors in Significant Learning Experiences

As we near the completion of LodeStar 7 Lite, I’ve been imagining how one of LodeStar’s templates could be put to work engaging instructors in the work of L. Dee Fink, author of Creating Significant Learning Experiences, published by Jossey-Bass.

Fink, L. D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences: an integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass.

Before I write about this proposed project, let’s understand the main players.  First there is LodeStar 7 Lite.  This is an eLearning authoring tool (currently in an alpha release) that has been redesigned from the ground up.  LodeStar 7 Lite enables instructors to create SCORM conformant learning objects that can be imported into learning management systems such as Desire2Learn, Blackboard, and Moodle.  In short, LodeStar helps instructors create activities that engage students.

With LodeStar, instructors select a template, convert the template into a project, input their content, save, preview, repeat the process and then, finally, export the project as a SCORM  learning object.

An activity template enables instructors to create simple presentations, branching scenarios and interviews, together with audio, video, a variety of question types, and more.

Which leads us back to the content. 

Fink’s integrated approach requires that instructors engage in a sequence of design phases so that, at the end, their courses’ learning outcomes, assessments and activities are properly aligned.  This means that activities are tightly tied to specific learning outcomes and to both educative and auditive assessment items. More importantly, a well designed course sets the stage for what Dee Fink labels ‘significant learning experiences’.

I recently began prototyping an activity that introduces Dee Fink and embeds a televised interview in which he touches upon the main principles of designing courses for significant learning.  To make this activity more engaging and effective, I began adding a simulated interview, in which he, represented by a static image,  poses a series of questions, each with three possible answers. 

In a simulated interview, one of the answers might be ranked as the best.  The other two might be weaker answers, but not necessarily incorrect.  Alternatively, the questions might present one really poor answer.  Upon answering, the student immediately sees a meter needle move to the right or left, indicating a good, weak or bad answer.  At the same time, the student sees feedback and, optionally, references to resources that will help him or her in the future.

Each of the pairs of screens below illustrates one aspect of the activity. You will see what the activity looks like from the author’s point of view, and then from the student’s point of view.

Before introducing the screens,  I must state that Dee Fink hasn’t seen or endorsed this learning object. I have had only one brief exchange of emails with him.  These screens are part of a prototype.  How the finished product will be used is yet to be determined.

 Introduction

A screenshot of LodeStar eLearning authoring tool

Authoring environment

intro_page

Previewed introduction page

Embedded video

Screenshot of LodeStar eLearning Authoring tool - Video Page

In authoring environment, the URL of a YouTube page is entered into a field

Screenshot of LodeStar eLearning Authoring tool - Video Page

In preview mode, the video is embedded in the page.

Interview Question

Screenshot of LodeStar eLearning Authoring tool -Interview Page

In authoring mode, instructor adds image and questions.

Screenshot of LodeStar eLearning Authoring tool -Interview Page

In preview mode, student sees the image and the question choices.

Feedback

Screenshot of LodeStar eLearning Authoring tool -Feedback Page

In authoring mode, instructor fills in feedback matched to an answer option. Optionally, instructor can specify a branching operation.

Screenshot of LodeStar eLearning Authoring tool -Feedback Page

In preview mode, student gets feedback on his or her answer choice.

 Report

Screenshot of LodeStar eLearning Authoring tool -Report Page

In authoring mode, instructor adds a report page, which will display performance and feedback to the student.

Screenshot of LodeStar eLearning Authoring tool -Report Page

In preview, student sees score and aggregated feedback.

Conclusion

As instructors imagine their own activities to engage students, they will find the resources of LodeStar 7 Lite extremely useful.

Dee Fink writes about creating significant learning experiences in the classroom and online.  LodeStar is one of many eLearning authoring tools that help instructors generate the activities that contribute to significant learning experiences.

A free trial of LodeStar Lite is available to LodeStar Learning’s followers at

http://www.facebook.com/lodestarlearn

LodeStar 7 Lite Coming This Fall

LodeStar 7 Lite is the first complete redesign of LodeStar since LodeStar 1.0 appeared in the fall of 2001. At that time we envisioned a system that could adapt easily to java applets,  Flash,  eBooks and whatever new technology came along.  The initial design lived up to its promise.  When HTML 5 became all the rage in 2011, LodeStar easily moved in the direction of full HTML 5 support.

LodeStar 7 screenshot

The new interface for LodeStar 7

But we also added many features that were not well integrated into the initial design. Vector graphics editing and the interactive graphic are two examples. Vector graphics editing requires launching a specialized editor. Making a graphic interactive requires an author knowing which menus to select and what parameters to change.  The features are there, but are not intuitive.  They seem like add-on’s to the initial design.

Compounding our dissatisfaction with the original design is the need to integrate new feature requests. For example, from Normandale College, we received the request to display pages and their branches in an interactive visual.

We also received requests for accessibility on the authoring side as well as mobile authoring and web-based authoring.  These were difficult to achieve through the original design.

The design of LodeStar 7 stems from our experience of 12 years and learning what faculty really care about. We have insight into what aspects of LodeStar faculty truly love and what aspects are less important.  We have a laser focus on the features that really make a difference and, as a result, have better integrated them into the product.  Features that have become important and that were added subsequent to the original design will now be first class citizens in the product.

When LodeStar 7 Lite is released in late fall of 2013, it will not have all of the rich features that are present in LodeStar 6.7.  The HTML editor, for example, will be simpler.  The ability to draw vector graphics will be missing.  Spell checking will be missing.

In future releases, LodeStar 7 will slowly migrate from a lite version to a full featured version.  The missing features will be more tightly integrated with the product and will result in a better authoring experience.

Early releases of LodeStar 7 will be made available to our Facebook followers in early to mid fall. Please follow us at https://www.facebook.com/LodeStarLearn Early releases will become available free of charge to our Facebook community.

LodeStar 7 Lite relies on your good word of mouth.  Rather than expending energy  and resources on product marketing, we will continue to build upon the new design and hope for good word of mouth to announce its availability.  The full-featured version of LodeStar 7 will be primarily marketed by RiverTown Communications when it becomes available.

Please follow our developments on Facebook and help us spread the message that LodeStar 7 Lite is coming this fall.  We will be noticeably absent from the Minnesota eLearning Summit next week – but please assure your colleagues that a new release is on the horizon.

As always, I am deeply committed to this work.  My guiding principle has been to make it easy for faculty to employ a variety of strategies that support learning outcomes.

We hope that LodeStar 7 makes it easy for faculty to deepen their tool chest of effective online learning strategies. I’ll look forward to your feedback on Facebook.