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Universal Platform Solution, Universal Curricula Problem

Taran Rampersad

It is apparent that technology gives us the potential to extend learning beyond traditional settings, yet the given contexts vary – as Cavin Mugarura wrote in his post, Strategies for Deploying eLearning in Developing Countries. I will simply add my own perspective and hope that it spurs on greater discussion.

The Universal Platform Problem

Each nation, developed or developing, has its own context of technology and technology availability. While I am an advocate of use of mobile technology, it would be foolish to assume that all mobile phones are created equal and that access to mobile phone technology is equal across the world. Socioeconomic divides combined with technology cost accounts for striations within a nation itself – the disparity between techno-haves and techno-have-nots is arguably greater in the developed countries due to the greater variance between economic classes within a society.

In the United States, someone may walk into class with a pristine iPhone or Blackberry where another may have a very basic phone and another may not have one at all. In developing nations, the same divides exist though perhaps at a lesser level – and the advantage within such a nation is that a curriculum can be more easily adapted to an accessible platform. It is far from perfect.

Attempts to create a universal platform haven’t necessarily met with success or failure. The OLPC advocates will hold up their successes to the world like a proud parent and yet the metrics for such successes do not in and of themselves aren’t definitive. In fact, it is hard to state that eLearning even in developed nations has had a positive effect – and if so, how much.

So what, exactly, is a universal platform? Internationally there does not seem to be one but there are advocates for each platform. Lobbyism in education must make way for reality in education. Where mobile phones in use can provide platforms for a curriculum, mobile phones could be a good platform. For nations willing to spend money on the OLPC instead of a more modern infrastructure rivaling developed nations, the OLPC may be the right option. No option is perfect – but the core of the problem remains adapting the curriculum to the device(s). That the devices are often seen as largely incompatible is one issue that, when considered, answers the Universal Platform Problem.

The Universal Platform Solution is not a hardware solution. It is not a software solution. It is an issue of standardization across hardware and software platforms. Educational materials consisting of text, video, images and all possible combinations are the basis for any transmission of material. Fortunately, the Internet has provided tools that handle this quite well – XML and HTML. Technology problem solved, use whatever hardware and software you want that complies to the standards of the world wide web.

So there is no technology platform problem. There is simply an implementation problem created by advocates of specific technologies.

But that doesn’t solve the problem. A curriculum must be adapted, and for a curriculum to be adapted there have to be educators that adapt the material to the universal platform. Since educational systems and their related curricula vary across the world, the options are to make standard curricula around the world or to have specific adaptations of curricula across the world.

With specific adaptations of curricula across the world, the global incompatibility of education becomes extended. If there is any doubt about this, go to the Wikipedia and research any topic in two or more languages: the results vary on language alone (something that both advocates and critics of Wikipedia typically fail to realize). Do we wish to extend these differences in education? In information? In knowledge? Yet there is a freedom to be found in specific adaptations that cannot be argued.

Internationalization standardization of curricula comes with heavy bureaucracy, will (at least at first) be slow to adapt and will have a lag time. There will be claims of bias in education; in the United States alone the science of Evolution is an issue for a culture that disagrees with it. ‘Teach the conflict’, some say, but do we want to teach how to be in conflict or how to resolve it? The point is that international standardization seems very far off when even a developed nation cannot resolve its own internal conflicts of a curriculum. To extend that debate internationally seems counterproductive.

Specific Adaptations of Curricula

Who then will adapt curricula for eLearning? It must be the local educators that adapt the local curricula; communication and work with other educators around the world will be useful in implementations but cannot define them. And the trouble with adapting the curricula is that it will require more than knowledge of tools and knowledge of material – it will require the foresight and imagination to combine the two.

And it must have metrics. To have metrics, there must be goals. And this, for better or worse, is where eLearning inherits from traditional education. Maybe the core of the problem is exactly that – and maybe we need to redefine some of the goals, and thus metrics, of education as a whole before we can do it properly with eLearning.

One Response to “Universal Platform Solution, Universal Curricula Problem”

  1. Standards are very vital for any technology. What will happen is that companies will have to make their products interoperable to survive in this harsh market. Business models that are based on closed technologies have not stood the test of time. IBM's downfall can be traced to this practice. They produced hardware parts that were not compatible with any other computer. This was a ploy to dominate the market. Little did they realize that IBM consumers could not easily get replacement parts causing them to jump ship at the nearest opportunity.

    Most e Learning platforms such as Blackboard, Moodle, KEWL, etc have adopted Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) compliance. This is an effort to delimit a course module from operating on different e learning platforms.

    Any technology that does not adhere to open standards will face the same consequences that befell IBM.


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