there are more things in heaven and earth

November 16, 2006

I’m deep in research and writing for the Horizon Report, and I am, as always, humbled and amazed by the sheer quantity of stuff that there is in the world, and the sheer number of other people who know a lot about any given bit of it. There are 12 topics on the Short List, of which six will make the final report; each of the twelve is a little world unto itself of knowledge, tools, and ideas. Writing them up in brief descriptive papers is daunting and exhilarating at the same time.

You can follow some of my progress by peeking at my 2007 Horizon link list on It’s not comprehensive, but I’m adding to it as I work my way through the topics. Many of the links in there were supplied by our Advisory Board. Some were found via search or serendipity (which is my favorite aspect of this part of the project).

the myth of reuse

November 10, 2006

Yesterday, during Brian Lamb’s excellent session on mashups, I had a little epiphany. Brian made a throwaway comment about learning object repositories and my mind wandered for a moment, and suddenly a shaft of light pierced the dusty fog in my brain and I realized this truth: reuse isn’t the point.

Back in the mists of time (technologically speaking) I wrote about learning objects, and one of the things I wrote is that learning objects should be designed to make it easy for the creator and others to reuse or repurpose them. This was the conventional wisdom of the day, but I don’t think it holds true any more.

The important thing now is not reusability. The important thing now is customization. It needs to be easy — really, really, ridiculously easy — to create something new. To reverse engineer. To change your mind, customize your message, substitute a different flavor, get the sauce on the side.

Back when I preached reusability, it was hard to make learning objects, and the amount of effort that had to be put into one justified the claim that reusability was desirable. But it needs to not be hard. We need ways that people — and not just geeky people — can decide one afternoon that they want to make a learning object (or call it what you will) and have it ready by dinnertime. It needs to be point-click-drag-click-clickclickclick easy. The tech isn’t there yet, at least not for everyone, but it’s getting very close.

Like Brian’s mashups, these things will have little existing pieces of other things pulled into them. This means the barrier we face isn’t just technological. We need to rethink ideas of ownership, permissions, fair use, and copyright. We need a model that works, so people can grab stuff, make stuff, and share stuff, and assemble it into a learning-object-of-the-moment. These things don’t have to last forever. I want something that responds to my instant need to communicate information by letting me pull words and sounds and clips and pictures and stuff together instantly. Let’s call it the Teachable Moment Authoring System.