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Changing the way we learn

Enabling the "share and reuse" of education and training material across institutions and across continents is the aim of a system called Ariadne. Now also a not-for-profit foundation, its earlier EC funded work has led to an international standard on Learning Object Metadata. With nearly 10 years of research, Ariadne is now looking towards getting into mainstream education and training.

Ariadne started off as a concept to enable technology-based education and training material to be shared. Behind this worthy ideal lies a wealth of technical complexity that has taken upwards of 100 person-years of development effort. Much of the groundwork for the Ariadne system was carried out in two EC-funded projects, and the results are impressive. In practical terms, if you want to share material in this way, you need an efficient, user-friendly and convenient way of finding it and of accessing it. The Ariadne solution has been to develop a distributed repository of material, called the Knowledge Pool System (KPS), and to develop an indexing system that facilitate searching. There are KPS repositories in most EU Member States, as well as in North and South America, and North Africa. The Ariadne indexing system has now led to a standard that is recognised worldwide. In the language of educational technologists, a piece of learning material is called a learning object, and the descriptors that are used to compile the index are referred to as metadata. The need for a standard is clear; unless everyone describes a learning object using exactly the same descriptors, the system won't function correctly. The Learning Object Metadata (LOM) standard is based on early Ariadne work and was developed in the Learning Technology Standards Committee (LTSC) of the IEEE. LOM contains details such as type of object, author, owner, terms of distribution, and format. There are also pedagogical attributes such as teaching or interaction style, grade level, mastery level, and prerequisites. Where now, Ariadne?,Erik Duval, coordinator of the IST programme-funded UP-ARIADNE project, says that, "much of the development of Ariadne was carried out in two EC-funded projects in the period from 1996-2000. But around 1998, we realised that we could end up in a perpetual loop of having to apply for further funding. The UP-ARIADNE project sought to secure the self-sustained operation of Ariadne, and after much debate within the consortium and user group, we decided to form a not-for-profit foundation, the Ariadne Foundation. I'm happy to report that our recent general assembly clearly indicates that we can operate on self-funding basis and have no need for further EC support to finance our daily activities - although we do envisage to remain very active in R&D, some of which we hope will continue to be funded by the EC." The work of Ariadne goes far beyond a system for conveniently storing, cataloguing and retrieving material for education and training. "We not only need to make it easier to store and access material - the KPS repository and the LOM standard - we also need a more general open infrastructure for learning, and this implies the need for standards," comments Duval. "What we were doing in 1996-97 on learning object metadata became a world standard in 2002. You can only build this kind of infrastructure if there are certain agreements and commonalities on the way you do things." So how does the Ariadne compare to other standardisation bodies in this sector? "Ariadne is regarded as an important organisation in the field of standards, interoperability, learning object metadata, etc., and is equal in status to organisations such as AICC, IMS, ADL-SCORM and others," says Duval. He continues, saying "what makes Ariadne different is that we are much more than just a standardisation body in a particular sector. We actually develop tools that implement our own specifications. We conduct user experiments and evaluations, and we carefully analyse what happens when people start using our tools and methodologies. We then revisit the original problem, specification, tool, etc., and learn from how things turned out. Based on our past experience, we know things in this field that other organisations are having to learn the hard way. "Ariadne is now looking towards getting into mainstream education and training," adds Duval. "The adoption of new technologies typically has its own life cycle: the users are called, in terms of their desire for the product: early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards. We're now at the point of crossing the chasm between the early adopters and the majority of users, or, in other words, we're ready for the mass market. "We're realising that most course developers have never heard of, and are not interested in, metadata," continues Duval. "They would like the benefits of the system but they don't want to get too involved in the technical stuff. So we're now focusing on low-effort user-friendly tools for using Ariadne. One of the things we're working on, for instance, is to completely automate the task of generating metadata so that users no longer have to see it. We envisage a system that is so user oriented that teachers and students might well be completely unaware that they're using Ariadne. Their portal into Ariadne might be a simple search box, similar to the Google search engine, which leads them directly to relevant learning material. Ariadne will make a real impact on the way people learn." Source: Based on information from Ariadne The IST Results service gives you online news and analysis on the emerging results from Information Society Technologies research. The service reports on prototype products and services ready for commercialisation as well as work in progress and interim results with significant potential for exploitation.,