Enterprise e-Learning: Effective Use of Educational Technology
Enterprise e-Learning: Effective Use of Educational Technology
Jim Farmer*, Justin E. Tilton**
*Georgetown University, USA
Nuerasoft s.r.o., Czech Republic
Abstract understanding about the transformative potential of open
source education.” He comments further: “Thus, a
e-learning and e-research are universities’ core crucial task before us is to build intellectual and
competencies. In the United States information and technical capacity for transforming “tacit knowledge”
education technologies have not yet demonstrated any into “commonly usable knowledge”; Building this
increase in productivity in these critical activities. This capacity is urgent, as the process of creating and sharing
paper suggests enterprise architecture, integration of quality educational knowledge needs to catch up with the
numerous “tools” specialized by discipline, level, and burgeoning availability of open educational goods.”
method, digital repositories, and common open standards
Yet there those specializing in distance learning—the
could achieve significant improvements in teaching and
Open University UK, Open Universiteit Nederland,
Athabasca University in Canada, Lübeck University of
The paper identifies actions information technology Applied Science (Fach Hochchule Lübeck), Open
executives can take to increase institutional performance, Polytechnic of New Zealand and Coastline, Rio Salado,
improve services to students and faculty, and reduce and Dallas County Colleges and the University of
costs. Maryland University College in the U.S.—have
demonstrated that education technology, primary
Keywords: e-learning, productivity, enterprise systems. implemented using the Internet can increase student
retention, student mastery, and academic program
completions by 5 to 20% with costs less than residential
1. The Issue: More for Less universities for the same disciplines and levels of
instruction. 1 These colleges and universities have learned
With few exceptions, the productivity of colleges and how to effectively use the technology. Similarly the for-
universities in the U.S. has declined as education profit U.S. universities University of Phoenix and Devry
technology was introduced. Now most colleges and Technical Institute have achieved productivity in their
universities in North America and much of Europe have on-line courses.
installed commercial learning systems that are little used
by faculty, tolerated by students, and appear relatively In information technology, estimates of 50 to 80% of
ineffective. software licensing and maintenance costs are for
maintaining interoperability of enterprise systems.2
Industry has implemented service-oriented architectures,
open standards, and open source software to reduce costs
of software licensing and maintenance, perhaps as much
Similarly colleges and universities were duplicating the
development of course materials. However MIT and
Utah State Universities initiatives to distribute “open
courseware” free of any licensing restrictions on its use.
This offers a way, through cooperation, the high unit cost
of instructional materials can be sharply reduced. The
Figure 1. Change in Productivity
U.S. Colleges and Universities
The Carnegie Foundation for Advancement of Carol Twigg summarized the benefits in a policy context. See
Teaching’s Toru Iiyoshi  expressed his concern Ref. . Individual institutions have reported similar success,
differently: “Yet one of open education's most critical often in conjunction with a software or content vendor.
Colleges using Plato have an exceptional record of success
questions—how can open education's tools and resources
with remedial and college algebra.
demonstrably improve education quality?—was rarely
mentioned [in national and international meetings]. From “CIO Challenge: Maintenance Costs,” by Jim
Unfortunately, this omission from the conversation Middlemiss, Wall Street Technology, June 2004 as quoted by
mirrors the education community's serious lack of Oracle Corporation. See Ref.  for the Oracle Corporation
amortized cost of content development is about one-fifth perhaps say faculty were not communicating. Closer
of the cost of instruction. 3 observation reveals rationale behaviour. There are
hundreds combinations of discipline, level, and pedagogy
Until now information technology managers seem to
required to effectively teach the many knowledge
have been unable or prevented from adopting practices domains of modern universities. These specialized
that would benefit faculty, students, and the universities
learning systems differ because they tend to focus on
through improved service and reduced cost implementing unique combinations. For example, some of the learning
of education technology.
systems teach algebra focusing on equations, engineering
on problem sets, language instruction on translation of
written text and dialog of native speakers, English
2. Presentation or collaboration composition on short essays, chemistry in laboratory
simulations, and so on. Each combination is an effective
Reflecting the method of instruction for advanced pedagogy appropriate for the type of student, discipline,
graduate students, universities tend to develop learning and level. And they place different requirements on the
systems focusing on communication between and among learning system.
students and faculty. The Sakai Enterprise Bundle and
Bodington open source learning systems focus on e-mail, For effective instruction, the faculty member must be
discussion forums, chat, and now voice and video able to have available and choose the right combination
communications. Distance learning, most pervasive in for the students in the class.5
the first two years of college, tends to focus on At some institution likely there is a learning system or
sequenced delivery of lesson content, activities, and tool designed for a specific combination. These systems
quizzes. Open source elearning systems LAMS and and tools are often developed by faculty or dedicated
Moodle implement sequenced pedagogy. programmer under faculty direction and reflect the “best
Sakai Chief Architect Dr. Charles Severance  practices” of the faculty member. As these systems are
describes the university’s position: used with additional students, there is a new requirement
the software add a directory, security, authentication and
“My biggest concern is that LAMS organizes things authorization of the user, activity logging, access to
into flows with some sense of order, whereas the repositories, and so forth. Software development on this
more traditional LMS systems simply provide specialized system then duplicates work common to all
capabilities/tools that are always there and can be learning systems and often to administrative and library
used in any order and with no need for the instructor systems as well and, because of different designs, even
to ‘make a script’.” becomes a barrier to interoperability.
Open University UK’s Jason Cole  suggested why the Consolidating these learning systems would reduce
two different perspectives are common. In his book information technology costs. Enterprise architecture
“Using Moodle,” he identifies four types of courses: created a way to achieve this commonality. Typically
Introductory survey course, skills development course, called “platform and tools” or “framework and tools” the
theory and discussion course, and capstone course. communication functions, including context, is provided
Achieving learning objectives for introductory survey to the “tool” as a service. 6 The Eclipse project for
and skills development courses is best done with software developers is an example with more than 400
sequenced learning; discussion and theory and the :tools” available to business analysts, systems analysts
capstone courses more through collaboration and and programmers. With a standard framework, the tool
independent study. The design of a learning system often developer has to develop only the functionality unique to
mirrors the type of institution rather than the pedagogy the tool and use the framework services for common
approach for a specific discipline, level of instruction, functions.
and type of student.
Blackboard was the first learning system supplier to
Moodle and LAMS are adding collaboration “tools.” document this need. Chris Etesse  observed:
Sakai is adding learning sequences. The same is true for
commercial systems such as Blackboard and WebCT. In “The first generation of Course Management
a few years perhaps the systems will begin to have the Systems (CMS) focused on ease of use and
same broad functionality. If so, faculty utilization of all generic features such as grade books, quizzing
learning systems will increase as their needs for the tools and course calendars. Now that this first
support of diverse pedagogies required for teaching and round of wide adoption has been achieved,
learning would be available. And students will benefit faculty and instructors are finding that they
from the availability of the technology. require a second generation of tools and
capabilities. They want discipline and
pedagogy-specific tools and content which
provides distinctive instructional experiences for
3. Framework and Tools
There are between 80 and 100 open source projects This remark was made at a Sakai meeting. The author asked
developing online learning systems. One representative not to be identified since his remarks require context.
said MIT has “28 learning systems.” 4 The casual 5
The Sloan Consortium has been reporting research
observer would say this duplicative development and results on the part of the participating colleges and
universities. For example, see Ref. .
The cost of courseware development and the total cost of
instruction for Arizona community colleges is given in Ref . 6
See Michael Feldstein’s discussion in Ref. .
students. This requires a second-generation CMS comprehensive and detailed specification may emerge
platform that supports the integration of external from IMS consistent with user needs.
tools and content while still providing a stable,
Although any open standard for tools interoperability
robust, easy-to-use environment. In many ways,
would limit some tools development, its acceptance
a CMS is becoming an operating system for
would sharply accelerate the adoption of standard “tools”
and decrease the cost of maintaining interoperability of
Blackboard now has several hundred “Building Blocks” learning systems.
available and sponsors an annual “Building Blocks
Conference” held several years at Georgetown
University. Many of the Building Blocks have been 4. Learning Management Operating System
developed by other firms; some are available as open
source software. 7 Michael Feldstein , State University of New York
Moodle implemented “platform and tools” in version 1.5 (SUNY) Learning Network, described the “Learning
called “Blocks.” This has encouraged a number of Management Operating System” explaining how it would
developers to design, develop, and make available contribute to the increased effectiveness of e-Learning at
specialised “tools.” LAMS has a similar capability called SUNY.
the “tools interface.” The learning operating system is a services-based design.
The Sakai Project labeled the specification for the tool as An important function is providing “context”—as Sakai
“Tool Portability Profile. The Sakai Framework is Chief Architect Charles Severance calls it—to tools.
described in Figure 1 from a recent presentation on Context includes a list of persons and their roles for a
architecture. An outline for writing a Sakai Tool is tool and relates the tool to course, course offering—the
shown in Figure 2. specific instance, and sections and groups within the
course offering. CHEF, Sakai’s predecessor learning
system, simplified context by defining it based on the
Sakai Framework location of the “site” within the layout as compared to
other “courses.” Later Sakai added “section awareness”
to tools implying the structure must be “course offerings”
• Registration of tools
and services within a term and subordinate “section.” CHEF has
• Provides portability
inheritance of authorizations and people. Feldstein
The Sakai Framework
between environments Sakai Sakai prefers Groups and Permissions from uPortal since it
TPP Tool TPP Tool
where possible implements a directed net instead of a tree structure. This
– HTML / Web Services Sakai Sakai
provides the flexibility necessary to support cross-listed
• Framework includes Service Service courses, team teaching, multiple levels of groups within a
presentation elements course offering, independent studies, and non-term
as well to support tools instruction such as Executive MBA programs.8
SUNY is implementing uPortal with aggregated layout.
This brings up a second consideration; what functions
Figure 1 – Sakai Framework should be in a portal and what functions are in the
learning operating system or framework. For example, at
Aggregator the portal level, an e-mail portlet would use the student’s
Writing a Tool personal e-mail address and personal contact list—it
Aggregator could even be GMail and aggregate mail from multiple
• Each tool describes its presentation
addresses. The same portlet as an e-mail tool
needs in a generic fashion - the
framework provides mechanisms to
Support implemented in the learning operating system would, by
“context”, send mail only to students within the student-
The Sakai Framework
The Sakai Tool Environment
render the tool’s presentation
• The tool is unaware of any
aggregation or final presentation
defined study group or only to students registered in the
• Tools may produce “application” Sakai course or section and faculty identified others. SUNY’s
services related to the tools (chat Tool Code
current design efforts should provide guidance for the
tool / chat service)
• A service built for a particular tool Application division of functions between the portal and the learning
should still operate through an API operating system.
and be available to other tools
Services Sakai, uPortal, LAMS, and Moodle have efforts
underway to bring commonality in the way the learning
operating systems interoperate with enterprise portals. 9
Figure 2 – Writing a Sakai Tool Likely this will focus on WSRP—also supported by
So far the learning system developers have been unable
to agree on a “tool portability profile.” IMS Global
See also Refs.  and  for more of Feldstein’s vision.
Learning Systems Inc.’s Tool Interoperability 2005 early 9
Note that Moodle was represented in the IMS Tools
draft specification was inadequate to develop a Interoperability demonstrate at Alt-I-Lab 2005 by the Dirk
comprehensive and interoperable tool. With IMS now Herr-Hoymann, University of Wisconsin, a Sakai Partner that
focusing on specifications that benefit users, a has implemented Desire2Learn as the enterprise learning
system. However, the University, like many others, has
Blackboard Chairman Matthew Pittinsky described his vision Moodle being used by a school (or department) within the
for Building Blocks in a 2003 White Paper. See Ref. . university.
Microsoft’s .NET—and Web Services. 10 The service Perhaps the best example of collaborative enterprise
definitions will be the most difficult. One of the Moodle architecture is the ESUP Portail Project in France. The
developers has suggested implementing services as they 13 universities have a plan to provide enterprise
are being defined by JISC (UK), DEST (AU), and SURF integration using open source software January of 2007.
(NL) in the e-Framework for learning and research The project uses existing staff and is on schedule and
initiative. under budget. The project provides both formal training
and a help desk. They are using Web Services and JSR
Recently Open University UK has reported funding
168 and WSRP portlets for data exchanges. The
Moodle to implement roles (version 1.6) and all levels of enterprise system includes CAS, uPortal and Moodle and
IMS’ Learning Design. By agreement, Open University
existing administrative systems modified for single
UK will also bring their assessment experience and signon and as sources for administrative portlets. 37
assessment expertise from JISC-funded research into
other universities, schools, and agencies are planning a
Moodle. 11 This development will improve Moodle’s similar implementation. 14
interoperability similar to Blackboard and WebCT’s
early adoption of the IMS specifications, and may, by the
number of Moodle users, encourage the rapid and broad
adoption of all IMS standards. If so, the quality of on- 6. Open Courseware
line instruction should improve significantly because of
the capabilities that will be available to faculty. The only Open courseware offers an economic way to share
issue, as Toru Iiyoshi, is building the capacity to use instructional content and even templates or sequences of
these new capabilities. learning reducing unit costs. Open courseware can also
include assessments necessary both to adapt learning to a
student’s mastery and learning system and to
demonstrate mastery. Moodle’s community templates
5. Enterprise Integration and courses and MIT and Utah State’s open courseware
are examples of available content. Publishers also
The need for enterprise integration soon follows the
provide content available as IMS course cartridges that
implementation of a widely-used learning system. The can be immediately used in IMS compliant learning
volume of transactions and the need for accuracy
suggests automated business processes.
There are two challenges to widely use these materials.
Suppliers of administrative software are now adopting
First is internationalization and localization. This is often
open standard Web services for enterprise integration as achieved by someone locally translating and localizing
suggested by JISC several years ago.. At one level—
these materials. Because the materials themselves change
major software suppliers like Oracle, SAP, and IBM— with new knowledge, there needs to be a way of
use industry standard definitions for the SOAP
managing the continuous update of the material for each
transactions and XML data exchanges—HR-XML for locale. This coordination and management has been
human resources, IFX and XBRL for financial
accomplished in the translation industry; their assistance
transactions, DSML for directory, and so on. Those was offered to uPortal, but was not implemented. Those
specializing in student systems tend to use national
developing or aggregating courseware should consider
standards for data exchanges. Specifications from building a community of translators for the material and
BETCA in the UK and PESC in the US and Canada are
a system for organizing continuing maintenance.
examples. But other sources of data exchange
specifications are emerging: In the European Union and Second, the material needs to be reorganized to meet
those that are implement EU practices, it is the yet-to-be national or local learning objectives. The European
fully-defined Diploma Supplement. 12 In the U.S. it is a Union’s efforts to develop “transferable courses” and the
set of standards from the U.S. Department of Homeland U.S. common course number initiatives from the several
Security that may be imposed on U.S. colleges and states suggest that a method be developed to assemble a
universities and non-U.S. students. These standards specific “transferable” course from standard courseware
include directory and human resources and education. and local content.
The Department claims to be coordinating the
Universities in the U.S. generally expect faculty to
specifications with the European Community, but there
develop courseware as, in the past, they authored
are no publications suggesting how or when this will be
textbooks. Courseware now requires—as the distance
learning programs understand—a team of multimedia,
About half of all colleges and universities use a Microsoft learning design, and assessment specialists to assist
operating system. Microsoft does not support the JSR 168 faculty express their domain expertise in course content.
portlet specification in its Sharepoint portal. This is a major development effort that publishers could
11 have profitably undertaken if tertiary education had
From conversations with Open University’s Niall Sclater and
Jason Cole that have not yet been documented.
developed specifications to permit published materials to
An example was provided at EUNIS 2005 by a presenter (UK), SURF (NL), and DEST (AU) are partnering in the
from the University of Warsaw. eFramework for Learning and Research to ensure
commonality. The specification processes will have to be
A report on some of these differences is expected from sharply accelerated to avoiding delaying software developers.
Georgetown University’s Interoperability Center. Discussions
are underway to vet U.K. standards with U.S. software The effort is led by Alain Mayeur, Université de
suppliers and to bring the JISC service specifications to the Valenciennes. A summary is given in [x]. The project Website
U.S. Postsecondary Electronic Standards Council (PESC). JISC is www.esup-portail.org.
be used without modification in all major learning university. 16 But information technology executives can
systems.15 The IMS initiative for a “common course take actions that will improve performance by supporting
cartridge” could resolve this issue. The record so far in the early-adopters of education technology and perhaps
achieving agreement does not suggest early success. This “cross the chasm” to main stream faculty.
then leaves the larger distance learning programs to bear
this capital expense or cooperative organizations among These steps may provide some improved service,
universities and colleges to reduce unit costs. The efforts increased productivity, and lower costs with effective
of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to make the implementation of education technology. The suggested
specialized learning materials from Open University UK steps for those developing the technology:
available as open courseware as well as their investment
in the materials from MIT and Utah State University may 1. Agree on a common set of APIs for tool
have a major impact on the availability of effective portability specific enough that developers can
course content. achieve interoperability solely by complying
with the specifications.
2. Modify current learning systems to support the
7. The “community” IMS tool interoperability guidelines.
3. Develop new “tools” using the IMS
As researchers probe sustainability of open source
specifications and guidelines and reprogram or
software, they have identified two sharply different types
refactor existing tools to become compliant.
of communities in higher education. The Sakai
Costs will decline as rapidly as new or re-
Foundation focuses on the development of software
manufactured tools are consolidated into a
“code” with the mantra “code rules.” Exchanges of
single enterprise learning operating system.
information about the Foundation’s work are most often
posted on the developer’s list. Much of Sakai’s 4. Develop open standard Web services version of
conference programs is especially relevant to Java platform services to support integration with
developers. (This may change as the Sakai partners begin administrative and library systems. Follow
to influence governance and priorities. The Sakai industry standards if available and global
Foundation followed the University of Michigan’s Sakai standards if possible.
Project in January 2006).
Almost all of the 65,00 registered members of the If those could be accomplished, best estimates from
Moodle community are users—teachers, principals, current data suggest student retention could increase by 5
faculty members, and education technologists and to 20%, productivity could increase 5% per year for six
researchers. MoodleMoots are local and inexpensive. years, and information technology operating costs could
They focus on how to use Moodle for teaching and be reduced by 25% to 40%.
learning. A large number of those attending
MoodleMoots have financed both their own travel and The cost of courseware could be also reduced by 50 to
the low conference fee themselves. The sixteen 90%.
MoodleMoots in 2005 had an estimated total attendance
of 2,400 people. Within a year every five new Perhaps it is worthwhile to work together rather work
participants yields a new institutional implementation separately toward the same objectives.
and five additional Moodle forum participants from the
Without articulating his strategy, MoodleMoot founder
Sean Koegh may have developed a strategy to build this  J. Cole. Using Moodle, Sebastopol, California,
capacity for transforming “tacit knowledge” into O’Reilly Media, Inc. (2005).
“commonly usable knowledge.” And it helped that
O’Reilly Media selected Moodle for its first publication  C. Etesse. Leading the Way on Standards–Based e-
documenting an enterprise application. The published Learning. Washington, DC, Blackboard Inc. (2004).
book conveys a sense of recognized success that no
 J. Farmer. “Financing Instructional Technology and
electronic file alone evidences.
Distance Education,” Public Funding of Higher
Education: Changing Contexts and New Rationales,
pp. 186-214, E. P. St. John, M. D. Parsons eds,
8. A Plan of Action Baltimore, Maryland, Johns Hopkins University
The urgently need focus on teaching and learning is an  J. Farmer. “Open Source in Higher Education,”
institutional-level issue; the priority and investment Open Source Software: Days of Dialogue,” Seaside,
should come from the highest levels of the college or California, California State University-Monterey
In the U.S. the costs for developing a three-unit course Geoffrey Moore  describes “core” as the processes that
(equivalent to 45 hours in class) has been estimated from distinguish one business from another; all else is “context.” He
US$30,000 to US$1,000,000. In the 1990s the cost of would recommend focusing on teaching and learning and
developing the three-year baccalaureate programs at Open research. However, in the U.S., five times as much is spent on
University UK was confirmed as $US 1 billion. administrative information systems and learning systems.
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