Thursday, December 18, 2008

Open Source life, LMSs beyond Moodle

I've recently become a fan of Open Source Living, a site that rounds up the best of the many and varied OS apps that are out there.

I find it rather more useful day-to-day than the more far-ranging but rather bewildering SourceForge, probably because while that site seems more targeted at developers, OSLiving is a bit more selective - it seems to weed out the thousands of half finished, one-man-in-a-bedroom-every-second-Sunday-in-months-ending-with-'y' type apps that fill out any search on SourceForge. (Incidently, if like me you haven't visited SourceForge in the last few weeks it's had an overhaul, so do pop in, won't you?)

One area that naturally caught my eye was e-Learning, given an unusually prominent position as the second section under content management, after blogging, but ahead of illustrious app categories such as forums and wikis! No doubt this is due to the prominence of Moodle which appears to be breaking out in to mainstream consciousness - popular British computing weekly MicroMart is even carrying an article extolling its virtues this week.

Moodle is of course THE open source e-learning item of the moment*1. You know something is big when it even starts to be worthy of parody, but the fact of the matter is it's a success. The Open University have spent a lot of money on it, which has in turn seen more people pick it up, it is getting an enormous established user base (for something in the educational sphere its remarkable apparently*2) and its adoption in the corporate sphere is championed by no lesser luminaries of the UK scene than Kineo (2).

But OS software is really no different than other software and where one project blazes a trail, there will be others tagging along*3 and so it was with a certain amount of excitement that I found some other LMS projects:

eFront
Hailing from Greece and available in two flavours, the Enterprise edition is pitched firmly at the corporate sphere, but incurs support fees I think. From the limited screenshots it looks pretty.

Docebo
Like eFront this includes chats and wikis and allsorts of lovely web 2.0 stuff to supplement your training, and claims to support 'blended' learning. I hate that term, but if that means it helps manage classroom learning (so is a true LMS rather than an LCMS) then that's cool.

Dokeos
Interestingly OSLiving doesn't even list educational establishments as the potential userbase for this LMS. Again, looks pretty. For a better insight, and an example of great minds thinking alike*4, check out Steve Rayson's review at the Kineo website. You can even log on to their demo site. Can't begin to say how cool it is that it integrates with OO Impress in a presentation-to-SCORM content model. Brilliant, and it's even called Oogie. Marvellous.

Claroline
Unabashedly targeting the educational sphere, this proclaims to have the stamp of approval of none other than UNESCO! What other e-learning app, or of any other flavour for that matter, do you know of to get a thumbs up from the UN? In 35 languages apparently, so hardly a fly-by-night project this.

What's amazing about these (to me at least) is the level of sophistication of these apps straight out of the wrapping. The demo site of Dokeos set up by Kineo featured a chat room and even a virtual classroom. Simple they may have been, but there they were. Almost no organisation can say that they can't afford e-learning now. And what's more, the feature sets on show here eclipse any corporate LMSs I've been in contact with recently.

In the brave new world of the freelance e-learning specialist that I find myself from January, I will be exploring at least Dokeos as it seems a very interesting proposition.

*1 if moments can be said to last a couple of years or so.
*2 it would seem schools are a fractious, clueless bunch and don't often do things together, so the edu-soft market is awash with crappy two-bit offerings or large corporations selling crap.
*3 except GIMP - has anyone spotted another decent OS image editor?
Or for that matter, do you know of a simple graphics app suited to sketching diagrams? Small, quick, simple? GIMP's a bit heavy for that, you know. Answers in a comment please...
*4 I found Dokeos on Tuesday then read Steve's review on Thursday - I thought this was us both picking up on the zeitgeist early, but I may have been late to the party. Still, OS is Steve's business, so he should know quicker than most...

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Moving in to the Cloud

I've been an enthusiastic convert to Cloud living since I discovered Gears, the Google extension that allows me to take web apps (Google Docs mainly) offline with me.

It creates a local database that backs up your Docs data and synchs it with the online version as soon as you connect back to the 'Net. The interface for Docs suits the way I like to think more than the now clunky, hand-me-down files and folders concept of Word and its ilk, and being able to carry it around and switch between my works PC and my two home machines without needing to copy files back and forth actually helps me a lot.

With this kind of platform neutral feature adding real strength to the 'the-browser-is-the-OS' argument, you could be sure that the boys in Seattle weren't going to let their stranglehold on the desktop/office slip away too easily.

The response is Mesh, a kind of synchronised folder for the net generation. It requires that you install Mesh on each machine and as far as I can tell, still relies on nominated 'meshed' folders, but the basic principle is the same - work on one machine and the files will be available on any others just as soon as Mesh can check back in with the mothership (ahem, connect back to the 'Net).

Since this will still, as far as I can see, perpetuate the files and folders system, I am unlikely to feel the need to opt for this in a personal capacity, but if it means flexible working without lugging the laptop for example, then I can see clear benefits.

The real star of this post is actually the 2008 Learning Trends collaborative tools mindmap, but then I like to hide the subject of my posts down here at the bottom as a special treat for those of you that read this far.

Right then, I listened to the blog and other tales

I've decided that it is time for a change. Reflecting on what has been happening this last year I have come to the conclusion that if I'm going to get to blog more often I'm going to have to make changes to how I fill my day.

So in the interests of Learning Rocks I have opted to change jobs.

Okay, so my decision to leave my current employer is not entirely about blogging, but it would be too sensible to say that it wasn't at least a tiny factor in it.

You can expect more on this channel, and more frequent updates, from now on.

In the meantime, I would really suggest you take a look at Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe (Series 2, Episode 3) on the fantastic BBC iPlayer. Brooker has pulled together some of the best TV writers in the UK - Graeme Linehan, Russell T Davis and more - to talk about writing. There is a lot to get out of this (especially if like me you are terrible procrastinating writer) about the creative process generally, some of which I think can be said of good ID. Highly recommended.