Monday, March 31, 2008

Will Open Source Software Unlock the Potential of eLearning?

Technology has great potential to expand and improve the ways people learn, yet eLearning has done little more than mimic earlier learning and teaching practices. Why isn't technology living up to its tremendous potential? The answer may be, in part, that education has been treated as a market of learning rather than an environment for learning. Markets, and the commercial considerations at their base, are driven toward uniformity and reproducibility. Environments, structured with educational underpinnings, support diversity, a requirement for the experimentation needed to unlock the potential of eLearning.
Open source applications

You've probably noticed the "buzz" about open source this past year. Open source is a way of building, owning, and using software as a community. Online, in the journals, in meetings, and in hallway conversations at conferences, open source projects like Sakai, OSPI, uPortal, and others are getting a lot of attention. In fact, Educause 2004 will probably be remembered as the tipping point when the open source movement spread beyond the early adopters and innovators who nurtured it over the past several years.

Open source is not a new phenomenon. It has a history nearly as rich and long as the software industry itself. So why all of the buzz now? The buzz, I think, is about the accelerated evolution of open source. For many years open source has thrived, even dominated in many parts of the software stack. Probably the most well known examples are the Linux operating system, the Apache Web server that claims 67 percent market share, and uPortal, the most successful enterprise portal among colleges and universities. The illustration below shows prominent open source software in platforms, servers, middleware, and tools. What is new and exciting is that in the past few years open source has spread into a new part of the software stack--the applications layer. This evolution brings open source in touch with many more users and offers an attractive alternative to proprietary software, high prices, and limited innovation.

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