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Monday, November 22, 2010

Interview with Josh Blank, OpenSesame: Innovators in E-Learning Series

Empowering elearning instructors and designers is a key element of making education widely available. While mentoring and tutoring sites are available through virtual worlds such as SecondLife, and many webinar platforms are available. However, packaging and marketing elearning courses is a different matter, and a place of great opportunity. Further, it may offer colleges and universities, both hybrid and online, an opportunity to share courses in an effective way. Hypothetically, the developer of a course, Anglo-American Folk Music, now offered through MIT's OpenCourseWare project could develop and offer a similar course. Or, an accounting instructor could develop a course that could be adopted by a college offering online accounting courses. Welcome to an interview with Josh Blank, OpenSesame, which offers a platform for creating and distributing elearning courses.

1. What is your name and connection to elearning?
I'm Josh Blank, and I am the cofounder and General Manager of OpenSesame, a new marketplace for buying and selling elearning courses. I started my career in web design and digital communications, and I started working in elearning ten years ago. In the elearning field, I lead companies that create and distribute elearning courses that meet the needs of diverse professionals. I am deeply committed to advancing the elearning field because I believe that elearning democratizes education. We are creating new possibilities and new opportunity for millions of people to advance themselves through personal effort.

2. What is OpenSesame? What is the content? How does it work? Where can people access it?
OpenSesame is an open, web-based marketplace connecting purchasers of elearning content, such as corporate learning officers, with an extensive library of courses provided by a wide range of content creators. OpenSesame simplifies the process of implementing elearning by connecting courses purchased in our OpenSesame marketplace to any Learning Management System (LMS).

The OpenSesame marketplace connects content developers with potential buyers of elearning courses. Course developers can sell previously built or newly created content to multiple buyers while maintaining security, control, and centralized management of their intellectual property. The OpenSesame marketplace enables content developers to connect with new customers, no matter where the buyers are located or what LMS they use. Furthermore, OpenSesame’s proprietary technology ensures that buyers cannot download or re-sell courses without the developer’s permission.

Buyers and sellers can access the OpenSesame marketplace by visiting and browsing our library of courses, classified in four categories: technical, business skills, compliance and safety. We are proud to offer an always-expanding library comprising courses as varied as "How to Respond to a Bomb Threat" and "XML Schema Definition".

3. Who are you trying to reach and what are your goals?
In our ten years in the elearning industry, we have consistently believed that the industry was at a tipping point -- on the cusp of fantastic growth -- but our growth remained slow and steady. Our team finally realized that our growth was limited by the lack of communication between the buyers and sellers of elearning courses. Content developers, subject matter experts and independent instructional designers need channels to publish their content, reach new customers and understand how their courses fit in the overall marketplace. Learners at all sizes of organizations need a marketplace where they can research and find the courses they need, purchase them simply and connect them easily to any learning management system.
Our goal is to create a community where both buyers and sellers thrive and elearning is accessible, easy to implement and rewarding for everyone.

4. What is your elearning philosophy?
Our philosophy is simple. We have a vision for a world where people can advance themselves through only personal desire and access to educational opportunities. OpenSesame is a competitive marketplace for buying and selling high quality educational content, where sellers will create courses to meet market demand, and learners can evaluate courses based on their reviews and success in the marketplace.

5. How do you see the future of m-learning evolving? What's the next breakthrough?
I believe that the next breakthrough in mlearning will be the killer app that takes any standards-compliant content and delivers it simply to a variety of mobile devices. This kind of app will enable learners to take their courses with them: to consult their training courses easily while actually employing the skills they are learning. I believe that well-designed elearning courses delivered through mobile applications will ease the transition from learning skills and abilities in the abstract to implementing them in your daily life.

6. Please recommend 2 books (can be fiction / non-fiction / technical)
Daily Drucker for the business book and anything by Vince Flynn for my fiction addiction.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Interview with James Caras, Sapling Learning: E-Learning Innovators Series

Science education online is often a hit or miss affair, and it is difficult to develop an instructional strategy that both engages the learner and incorporates effective assessments at higher levels of difficulty. Welcome to an interview with Dr. James Caras, Sapling Learning, who focuses on science education.

1. What is your name and connection to elearning?
Dr. James Caras. I am the Founder and President of Sapling Learning. I have been developing online instructional technologies and media for higher education science for over 17 years--ever since the NCSA Mosaic Web browser first became available.

2. What is Sapling Learning? What is the content? How does it work? Where can people access it?
Sapling Learning is a leading provider of engaging and interactive online homework and assessment software. The learning software can be accessed anytime through a Web browser, and delivers question-based assignments to students, providing them with real-time tutoring when they need help in the form of hints, feedback specific to misconceptions a student has, and detailed solutions. Sapling is focused on higher education science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), but also will roll out solutions for other problem-solving disciplines such as economics. For instructors, our software provides automatic grading and detailed performance statistics, saving them time and increasing the transparency by which they can gauge their students' progress and ability.

3. Who are you trying to reach and what are your goals?
Sapling's goal is to increase the quality of STEM education through adoption of our software by higher education faculty. Besides the quality of our content and software, we are accomplishing this because we help drive down the cost of educational materials to students, and promote student engagement through rich interactivity and immediate instruction when students struggle. If this country is going to be successful and competitive in the 21st century, we need bright people to have access to tools that remove barriers to understanding STEM concepts and promote their interest in science and engineering.

4. What is your elearning philosophy?
You can't fill a closed mind. Students are open and receptive to instruction if they are engaged with a problem and therefore open to receive information on how to solve it.

5. How do you see the future of m-learning evolving? What's the next breakthrough?
Sapling Learning has spent a lot of time thinking about this. Mobile learning is actually very different than learning at a computer, if you include phones, iPods, and other single-hand-held devices as the hardware for delivery of eLearning software. I don't include the iPad in this category. Students will not do scientifically rigorous homework on a cell phone. These devices are much better suited to other forms of learning that are more "quick-click" oriented. Memorization exercises like flashcards are perfect for the phone, as are drag-and-drop diagram labeling. Multiple choice quizzing as well. Video delivery for instruction is a good use of mobile devices. But as far as working through the equations and calculations of a multi-step physics problem, tutoring a student through each of those steps, or asking a student to perform a virtual experiment, you need a much larger screen.

Breakthroughs are not the most pressing need for the evolution of m-learning--the current bottleneck is standardization. Online learning delivered through any device needs to be relevant to the discipline being studied. For STEM e-learning, there is a need for rich interactions such as drawing molecules or graphs, or performing virtual experiments. Rich interactions such as this benefit tremendously from Flash and Java, yet these are not fully supported on all mobile devices.

HTML5 is no answer because it is far from a standard, lacks easy-to-use and robust development environments, and has tremendous compatibility issues. All of these significantly drive up the costs of development and support, as well as degrade the user experience. Since student grades depend on Sapling's software being bullet-proof and widely compatible, we take these considerations very seriously.

6. Please recommend 2 books (can be fiction / non-fiction / technical)
I recently read two books that I enjoyed a great deal. For fiction, Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson. For non-fiction, The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.

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