The Learning Registry: social networking for open educational resources?

The Learning Registry: social networking for open educational resources? (OER13 Conference paper) (PDF)
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This paper reflects on Cetis’ involvement with the Learning Registry and Jisc’s Learning Registry Node Experiment at Mimas (The JLeRN Experiment), and their application to UKOER initiatives. Initially funded by the US Departments of Education and Defense, the Learning Registry (LR) is an open source network for storing and distributing metadata and curriculum, activity and social usage data about learning resources across diverse educational systems.

The LR’s innovative technical methodology applies a new approach to the perennial problems of describing and managing OERs. Rather than mandating specific standards, the LR is metadata agnostic; it ingests all kinds of resource descriptions and data into a document-oriented, schema-free database. Described as “social networking for metadata”, the LR should make it possible to mine networks to build useful services based on the context in which educational resources are used, and the conversations users have around them.

Since its inception, there has been sustained interest in the LR from a number of innovative technologists and developers within the UKOER community. Part of Cetis’ and JLeRN’s brief was to engage this group to explore the applicability of the LR approach to UKOER initiatives, and to scope the type of services that could usefully be built on top of an open LR node. As a result, a small number of projects and developers have engaged with JLeRN and the LR and have established the technical feasibility of implementing the LR architecture and ingesting and extracting data, and have also demonstrated a range of innovative services that can be built on top of an LR node. However, the network effect currently remains unproven, as there are only a handful of nodes in existence.

In exploring the benefits and drawbacks of the LR approach, JLeRN and CETIS surfaced a number of issues. These include managing expectations of the LR’s promise in light of its early stage of development; examining the technical skills and capacity available in the sector; identifying the benefits of adopting the LR versus other technologies (e.g. basic schema-free noSQL databases, RDF triple stores); and exploring the value of the LR approach to subject areas with clearly defined curricula and learning outcomes.

The problem of sharing the educational context and value of resources is one that the sector has struggled with for many years. The LR may not conclusively solve this messy problem, but by taking a new approach to the challenge, it certainly merits further attention.