“Evaluation and adaptation of Open Source Software (OSS) for Distance Learning in Asia” projectSurface Transport & Logistics

PAN_Mongolia-conf5

Advent of the Internet and related technologies favored development of new tools that help people to actively participate in distance education process. The term LMS have been around for sometime, the Wikipedia defines it as “A Learning Management System (or LMS) which is used to describe software tools designed to manage user learning interventions.” These LMSs are mostly accessible via internet to facilitate ‘anytime, anyplace, any pace’ access to learning content and administration. Nowadays not only distance education (DE) institutions want to utilize LMSs, what is more the conventional educational institutions are also looking eagerly at different LMSs to broaden their reach to the audiences

Challenge

For educational institutions in Asian developing countries, commercial LMSs aren’t an option due to its high license cost, its unavailability in local languages and copyright related issues to adapt to their situation. Therefore most of the DE institutions use open source LMSs. Partly because of English language barrier, these institutions could not make effective use of them by means of customizing. While some of them duplicating one other’s efforts in the customization process.  On the other hand accessibility of any LMSs over low-bandwidth (dial-up etc.,) connections and inadequateness of user/admin manual and interface of such LMSs in local languages reduce benefits to developing Asian learners. This research project evaluated 56 LMSs concluding that Moodle being most suitable, while it was found that loading times of same sized (kb) simple HTML is much lesser than that of served by Moodle. From the needs assessment study conducted in partner counties, following development were made to Moodle LMS: localized into Mongolian, Sinhala and Vietnamese languages; nine additional modules (viz., Active user’s block, Mongolian and Vietnamese Unicode converters, Moodle language pack analyzer, Vietnamese text input block, Flash video, SMS module, Online class and Readability checker) were developed and shared on www.moodle.org

Solutions

Following are the conclusions drawn from the evaluation, localization and customizations of learning management system carried out within this project.

  • As the date (2008) of concluding the most suitable learning management system for Asian distance education institutions is the Moodle 1.6. And this learning management system is now available in Mongolian, Sinhala and Vietnamese languages. The user and admin manuals are available in these languages.
  • The low internet bandwidth issue is persistent in Asian developing countries therefore it is very important to consider performance of any learning management systems over low bandwidth connections. The comparative study carried out from 17 different rural provinces of Mongolia proves that loading times of simple HTML page and equivalent of that served by Moodle shows that learning object materials be developed using simple HTML formatting than using comprehensive dynamic systems.
  • As per localization is concerned in Mongolian and Sinhala languages there exist debates among trainers, ICT professionals and linguists, because many of the fundamental terms found in distance education, software systems and internet etc., still lack standard translations. This problem is effectively addressed by organizing discussion sessions including trainers, ICT professionals and other relevant interested parties and letting the public to comment on translation of each term using online translation portal sites.
  • In class training is still desired by the general public (68%) however from various distance education delivery methods internet (46%) portal sites with multimedia capability is mostly desired by students.
  • The modules and blocks developed by project team members were diverse. Modules such as Active user’s block, Mongolian and Vietnamese Unicode converters, Moodle language pack analyzer and Vietnamese text input modules have addressed long standing issues while Flash video, SMS module, Online class and Readability checker modules have dealt with latest development and trends in distance education in the region.
  • The collaborative approach taken regionally to address the needs of learning management systems in the region proves that there are common problems/objectives and such problems are effectively addressed in collaboration than having to address these independently.
  • More about PANdora project research results: https://www.idrc.ca/sites/default/files/openebooks/503-8/index.html
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