Software as a Service (SaaS) and elearning

The last couple of days has seen a bit of discussion in the blogosphere about Software as a Service (SaaS) and the where it is going in terms of adoption. This post summarises some of the discussion and makes a number of points. Wikipedia has an entry for SaaS.

Applying SaaS to elearning in universities might bring you the ASP based idea for course management systems. That is, Blackboard sets up servers that host courses for universities that pay for that service. elgg spaces is based on this idea – but supports software much more appropriate for education.

This model, however, is still based on the “one ring to rule them all” model. A single piece of software. I’m more interested in an approach that is more a best of breed, Web 2.0 concept, i.e. “Web 2.0 course sites”.

Use of RSS, open APIs etc to create a course website consisting of a combination of services provided by the various “free” online services such as Google Video, You Tube, Writely, etc.

The model is goes something like

  • Glue scripts and open APIs are used to connect University infrastructure (e.g. creation of videos etc) with the services
  • Other scripts create a course site that integrates the services into a single place. RSS feeds used to update the course site due to changes on the services.
  • Also used to create an OMPL/RSS feed that students/staff can use to track changes

The Long Tail – aggregation and context and the role of a "Web 2.0 course site"

The model inherent in most university based elearning and in most LMS/CMS/VLEs relies on course offering based websites that contain content produced primarily by the academic. This is the standard model used by the majority of academics in designing their teaching. Academics can spend upwards of 90% of their planning and development creating information (Oliver 1999) as the primary focus of learning.

Bear Stearns, a US-based consulting firm, have a presentation around the impact of the Long Tail on the entertainment industry. The summary is

  • New technologies are democratising content production
  • This fall in barriers to content creation are leading to user generated content
  • Consequently, the value in the supply chain will shift from content production to the aggregators/packagers of content

If applied to current practice in e-learning then the role of the academic changes from being primarily a content producer to being an aggregator/packager of content. Consquently, the tools available to the academic for e-learning should support this activity.

The various implications of this include, but surely aren’t limited to,

  • The course offering model is wrong. The central model needs to be much more long-lived than that. It also needs to be much more open.
  • The model needs to support aggregation and contribution of knowledge, and possibly more importantly, context.
  • It’s the context, the direction, the principles and the way for the learner to get into the knowledge and understand it which becomes the major contribution of the academic
  • The current LMS/CMS/VLE model is broken.
  • It resonates strongly with the push by Oliver and colleagues over a number of years.
  • This will be extremely challenging for many academics as this requires a great deal of insight and experience in the knowledge area. Something that isn’t generally a requirement for the current model of teaching and learning.
  • It’s still early days in terms of user generated content, where the user is the student. There is a comment from one of CQU’s students in the 2005 Course Experience Questionnaires complaining about being required to produce a Powerpoint presentation for assessment and how the student was new to this and did not receive an appropriate level of support.


Ron Oliver. (1999). “Exploring strategies for on-line teaching and learning”. Distance Education. 20(2): 240-254

The first missing Ps presentation

It’s been quiet on the blog front for the last couple of weeks as I’ve been busy putting the finishing touches on the missing Ps presentation. The presentation was given on Friday the 24th November, 2006.

I finished a rough 1st draft of the presentation about 10 minutes before it started. The presentation itself was too long for the time allowed. But overall it went reasonably well.

You may judge for yourself by looking at the slides and some streaming video of the presentation available elsewhere on my site.