Opinion is growing around the world that the US, Canada and UK dominated ‘old school elite’ of learning technologists now need to recognise learning technologies’ appeal and relevance to the whole world – and so allow their colleagues from the rest of the world to play an equal part in helping to shape the future of this worldwide industry.
One area where this imbalance is most in evidence is within the governing body of the IMS Global Learning Consortium (IMS GLC), the consortium whose members include leading institutions, suppliers and governments. The IMS aims to enable open educational application and resource sharing across a variety of learning platforms, portals and ERP systems.
In recent months, there have been rumblings from a number of sources within the learning technologies industry around the world that the IMS GLC’s inherent conservatism and inability to facilitate a shift in its powerbase through greater international representation at Board level is hampering opportunities to popularise and promote learning technologies throughout the non-Western world. Critics believe that the IMS Board represents only a part – albeit an extremely affluent and influential part – of the learning technology world and its markets.
Sources from the learning technology sector believe that, with the IMS’s members being drawn from large publishers and technology vendors in the US and the UK, the IMS Board tends not just to focus on issues affecting these people’s business interests but also seeks to influence the learning technology market in those businesses’ favour.
Such things are, of course, not unheard of in business circles. However, observers argue, such a strategy is counter-productive and, indeed, detrimental to the future development and deployment of learning technologies. The emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) – along with other developing nations – are increasingly using learning technologies and learning content to help their workers compete effectively in world markets. Initially, these technologies and learning content have been developed by western economies but, once these learning technologies have been deployed, the rest of the world’s learning technology users, buyers and developers will be adapting them to their own education systems. This is likely to give rise to new approaches which could well benefit the whole world – in the ways we ‘do learning’.
Yet, given the current outlook and constitution of the IMS GLC, there is a danger that, faced with this situation, the IMS’s decision makers may act to protect their market interests rather than uphold the IMS’s published aim of promoting widespread interoperability.
Already, there are those who believe that the IMS is using Common Cartridge – a cornerstone of its policy – to protect intellectual property rather than promote learning. Particularly in the USA, an interpretation of that policy is that Common Cartridge seems to be being used to authenticate the launching of locked content and publishing services, providing no details of open interoperability on the structures and services behind the firewall. So, say some, Common Cartridge is not really empowering next generation content. Rather, it’s helping publishers to protect their own contents and publishing interests.
This industry is too young, innocent in ‘hidden agenda’ terms – and too potentially beneficial to human development – to be allowed to be subverted by short-sighted protectionism masquerading as cultural elitism. In the interests of promoting worldwide human equality and producing new learning applications and opportunities, learning technologists from the world’s emerging economies should be allowed to use interoperable systems in their own way to meet the needs of their education systems – and learners.