Project Tin Can

The good folk at SCORM appear to have not only a really good idea but a spec, an API and a whole bunch of example applications that are working right now. I’ve been deeply sceptical of the reusable-learning-object approach since the 1990s. It’s a train wreck that SCORM has played a large role in perpetuating, at huge cost relative to actual gains (excluding a few large-scale military applications and some similarly inward-facing initiatives). The move away from this to the more flexible notion of open educational resources has been a positive one, on the whole. But this is a very different and much more interesting ballgame altogether that leaves the limited pedagogies and poorly conceived metadata standards of the older SCORM standing.

In essence, Tin Can is a spec for capturing actors, verbs and objects (sounds spookily familiar) or, more simply, a way of saying, in machine-legible form, ‘I did this’. ‘I’, ‘did’ and ‘this’ are all very interestingly definable, flexible and mashable. The focus is on activities, not just content, and it puts the LMS in its rightful place as a management tool, not a learning environment (it is treated as a learning record store), though people can continue to use the LMS for teaching and content delivery if they really want. For everything from portfolios to formal quizzes, from social tagging to personal learning apps like Tappestry, the spec supports an open and interoperable world of technologies and tools to support learning.

It’s not the first initiative of this kind by any means, but it has heavyweight industry muscle behind it, is open, and seems flexible, simple and elegant. More importantly, it makes pedagogical and practical sense, which the previous focus on RLOs never did. I don’t know enough about the technology yet to give a full review, and there are clearly a few things that are not quite there yet, but the road map is clear and the vision is a good one. I’m keen to add support for Tin Can to the Landing, both as a client and an endpoint if possible, though there are a few other pieces that must be in place before it becomes really useful in AU, so I think we can take our time to make sure we get it right. Moodle and Mahara, at least, also need to play this game if it is to have a big impact. But there is already work in progress on those platforms to support Tin Can, so it looks like that would not be a major obstacle. 

Address of the bookmark:

I am a professional learner, employed as a Full Professor and Associate Dean, Learning & Assessment, at Athabasca University, where I research lots of things broadly in the area of learning and technology, and I teach mainly in the School of Computing & Information Systems. I am a proud Canadian, though I was born in the UK. I am married, with two grown-up children, and three growing-up grandchildren. We all live in beautiful Vancouver.

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