Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ World Education Market

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

May 20, 2003

OLDaily exclusive photos of the trade show before the doors open...

Staff at the Brazilian booth get a little hardware ready for the display...


Viviane Reding
Comissioner, Responsible for Education and Culture
European Commission


There is a committment to learning by European commission, but lack of access to learning. That is why the private sector will have to contribute more. There is a lack of investment - only 2.3 percent of total salary.

There is a deficit in the output of scientific specialists; the total number of graduates should increase by 15 percent by 2010 and the gender imbalance should decrease. By 2010 target to have 80% 22 year-olds to have completed PSE. By 2010 EU participation in lifelong learning should be 12.5 percent adults.

Universities are faced with challenges; they are not competitive. They need to put forward concrete ideas of optimising. A new flagship project - the Erasmus Mundos project - demonstrates the openness of European higher education by helping students around the world to engage in post-graduate studies at European universities.

"Quality should join with quality in order to create real centers of excellence."

The project generates friendship by promoting dialogue, understanding. It also promotes the European ideals of freedom and democracy. It promotes learning not just about scientific excellence but also about human values.

Competitiveness also means putting poeople where jobs are, which is why it is important to make people mobile. Part of the goal is to encourage training outside one's own country. Also, we encourage the learning of at least two langauges other than one's own.

Reforms will not be successful if we cannot break down traditional barriers and end the artificial separation between education and professional training. New technologies can help us achieve this aim through access and new partnerships (eg museums, industry)

We are making great strides. 93 percent of European schools are connected with 17 students per computer and dropping.

To take advantage of the added value of e-learning we need new organizational model, for example, school twinning where we match schools across schools with common lessons - to learn from each other.

Remember the Bologna process, of which Erasmus is a consequence. It was launched in 1999 to create a single higher education area. Because it worked so well, ministers of professional training want to adapt it to professional training.

"Step by step we go further in order to do things together"

We are building tools to help people be mobile in their labour markets:

  1. We must create framework for the transparency of qualifiications and competencies, single entrance requirements
  2. We have to have common criteria for quality management, quality indicators, practical tools
  3. We must create credit transfer system for vocational training
  4. Common European princples for validation of non-formal or informal learning.

"A silent revolution has been underway in Europe, not widely known because the ministers that work togther don't often speak in front of the press... but the progress has been extraordinarily quck... because the time was right to do it..."

We want to harmonize just the result of our systems, not the process. We want different ways of doing things, but to have the result to be comparable. We have no intention of changing education systems that have grown through centuries. The commission will not undermine traditional academic values - standards, academic freedom, etc - the commission is sympathitic to the view that transnational education should be done according to the values of the educational sphere.

Regarding enlargement: we have already completed enlargement in education and trading - our programs are already open - they have alread had first-hand experience of European education. Tthey are very positive and bring in something. They are the solution to the problem and not the problem

Multimedia means new markets for educational suppliers - there are opportunities to be siezed. This conference is about networking. We will provide information on our initiatives - da Vinci and Socrates - and the new portals - and more.

The European commission is actively working toward the modernization of the education system, but we can only achieve this through partnerships because you cannot achieve success by top-down reform, you need the support of the teachers and the sector.

"Education for all, ladies and gentlemen, is more than just an ambition for all. It is a vision... it is not a utopia, it is based in European values... of freedom, and democracy."
We promote a society of inclusion, of participation, where education is more than just preparing for a job, it means preparing for life.


The message speaks for itself, I think.

As I was listening to the talk it seemed to me that my own nation - Canada - has more in common with the European approach to education than with the American.

Canadian industry minister John Manley suggested this weekend that post-secondary education should be free for all Canadians. While there were those who dismissed the idea, it was on the basis of cost, not on the belief that there is something wrong with the idea in principle.

We need to convince people, especially those in the private sector, that there are many more opportunities to be had when the people are educated and have a yearning for education.

The vision outlined by the EU commissioner is very much what I would hope would be adopted not only in Canada but around the world.

Panel Discussion: Waiting for Godot - The State of Digital Content Development

Fabricio Cardinali
CEO, Giunti Interactive Labs

The next big thing is narrowcasting, which is defined as "delivering content just in time to communities of practice."

The first generation of e-learning was vendor based. We are now approaching the third genmeration, which is services based...

As the core of this approach is standardization. Content will be in repositories, delivered as needed. "You must not tie your content to a specific platform and/or a specific medium."

"We as publishers we are quite fed up of reinventing content every time a new media comes out."

The principle of RIAD content: Reusable, Interoperable, Accessable, Durable...

There are three major features of the (new) Copernican revolution:

  1. Content objects (learning objects a subtype) - chunking of information to extract and place content, structure and semantics into separate boxes.

  2. XML and the semantic web - the boxes are standardized in terms of their labeling. You create a standard format and then create thousands of instances - then just change your style sheet - there is widespread agreement on this - convergent standards.

(Yes, I know he said three, but...)

But "the great difficulty is that governments and institutions that should actually pay for the understanding of standards aren't committed yet."

The move toward standards goes through three levels:

Level 1 - pioneering R&D - For example, ARIADNE, Learning on demand or bilearn.

Level 2 - Early adoption - go through specification bodies to aggregate people.

Level 3 - mass market adoption - go through (government) sector profiling bodies. Examples include SCORM, eGIF (UK government specification), OKI.

After level 3, standardization bodies adopt the specification and formalise it. Examples include IEEE LTSC and ISO-JTC1 - ISO / CEN.

So we have a new publishing scenario, a new publishing ecosystem: the right time, the right information, delivered in the right place.

There is no interoperability yet at the content level. Providers are concentrating on content hubs and digital repositories. But, "Don't buy single-vendor turn-key solutions."


Cardinali's comments are accurate so far as they go, but there is a lot unsaid in his message.

If we look at standards strictly from a production point of view, then there is nothing to coding content to meet the standards agreed upon by various vendors of viewing applications. And these vendors might even let producers view the standards!

But of course we could do that simply enough with HTML and style sheets. Where standards are supposed to take us is into the realm of 'the right information, to the right person...'

It's not so clear that this is simply a matter of getting the standards right. But there is more to this panel, and this topic, so....

Ana Penn
CEO, International Business Law Services

The main message: not all content should be free, and advertising revenue will not suffice. Content is the lifeblood of the publishing industry.

But there are objections to this view. Why wait for e-content? Why spend money when it's for free? Online content has little value.

Here are some answers:

  • it's not all free, some is subscription based
  • there are legal issues concerning the use of free content for commercial purposes

The main question is, how do you determine the cost of online content. The user determines the value, and so the cost depends on individual perceptions. What counts as a reasonable price will vary. Also, there is a difference between searching the web and searching indices and abstracts in subscription-based services the cost of the content in this case is the time spent looking aorund the web for the same information.

People who value content the most are end-users who get content integrated into their business. So we have focused on high-end content instead of consumer-oriented content. We also focus on the quality that well recognized brand name brings.

We must also ask how to market e-content. To begin, distingish between free and paid. Content that is of higher value is paid content. This ensures that there is plenty of free information, but this model holds back the most desirable content, which becomes premium information.

We need to understand content as mechandise. We want to add value. "To simply throw raw content onto a website is insufficient." For example, we add value when we index or summarize the content.

As we were building this global database we were building online learning which we were marketing. While it is true info is everywhere on the internet, it is hard to find. People will pay for quick access to quality niche information. There is a market for 'must-have' information.

When will all this come together? When there is attractive content at an affordable price.


What this talk amounts to is a recognition that there will always be some free content on the web, that the publishers no longer have a monopoly. This, in itself, is an important step forward.

Penn also recoignizes that publishers must "add value" if they are to be relevant. So far so good. But she is mistaken if she believes that providing summaries and indices will do the trick.

Consider Edu_RSS, for example. It already provides summaries and an index. And it is free. New technologies, such as RSS, are automating this process.

Publishers are going to have to look more deeply to find a model that will save their businesses.

Some interesting engineering in the German pavilion...

Harold Boies
Acting Director General, Canadian Culture Online
Heritage Canada

Outline of 'The Canadian Model.'

3 major objectives:

  1. create a critical mass of quality digital content
  2. increase the visibility and build audiences for this content - we are building a cultural portal where all Canadian citizens and the world will have access
  3. create the right environment for content creation through (1) DRM - to access content through credit cards - the first of these clearance systems will be online in the fall - (2) and to encourage R&D eg. into First Nations, French and English speaking Canadians - half our funds for the creation of French language content on the internet; youth, authors and artists.

Approach to e-learning this this: every client is asked not only to digitize content but also to create learning resources, such as teachers' guides, games, and lesson plans. These resources are offered free of charge to teachers through the internet. We have also launched specific programs (in partnership with Telus) to make $200,000 available to private sector companies for content development.

There are challenges. In Canada education is a provincial responsibility, which means 13 systems. The market is therefore very small and quite fragmented. Schools are very well equipped but sometimes outdated. The school system is going through major changes. Teachers don't have the time. They need tools. E-learning is underfunded; most money goes to school books.

In response, we first promote accessibility. Canadian teachers are not aware of the availablity of the materials. We need need metatadata standards for facilitate accessibility. But organizations are not committed - we have developed standardization guidelines and are trying to encourage them.

It is difficult for private sector. There is no solid business model. We need to address copyright issues and awareness - for example, copyright act prohibits teacher from making a presentation using a single computer - we need to work on this with Industry Canada.

We are also trying to enable e-learning growth. To do this, we need government - private sector partnerships. For example, we ask cultural institutions to work with new media producers to add value. Museums don't necessarily have the knowledge in the latest multimedia technology. We want to create an environment for the creation and use of new content through such partnerships. But... the private sector needs to understand users' needs and demands.

To advance, we need:

  • broadband access
  • metadata and common tech standards
  • resolution of digital copyright issues
  • a way to integrate e-learning culture and tools into teacher training

Looking at revenue models, it is still difficult to identify models that work. Some models are emerging (in order of decreasing viability):

  • partnerships between public and private sectors
  • licensing of online products for use in class
  • sales of CDROMs to specific school boards
  • access / subscription fees
  • corporate and private sponsorships
  • cross-promotion
  • advertising

Who will own what, who will author what? Copyright should remain with creators. We want to allow creators to negotiate within an access framework where content is to be made available for 5 years and authors are compensated. Measures need to be put in place to prevent people from reproducing content. And information about copyright clearance must be made available. Aaccess to content facilitated through copyright clearance - this is the purpose of the copyright fund.

Generally speaking, digitized content should be free for content produced by institutions and not-for-profit organizations. This content should be free because taxpayers have already invested in these products. Canadian Heritage is contributing up to 75% or total project costs, and we help find partners for remaining needs.

Digital content created by the private sector follows different rules. The exposure of private sector is more important. The level of risk is important. The sector needs revenues for core business purposes. But price to buy content sometimes undermines the profitability of commercial ventures.


Commercial content producers will like the government's partnership program; it puts some real cash into their pockets. However, they may view Heritage Canada's program as a whole less enthusiastically, since it essentially involves the creation of a large and very useful library of content available for free to Canadians and the world.

Tough. As Boies said, we - the taxpayers - paid for this content, and it is only right that we are able to view it for free. If anything, we should be looking at ways to offer access to even more taxpayer supported content. More on that later.

Ellen Wegner
Director, Higher Education

"We're interested in empowering evrybody to ceate great content"

250 mb of content is being produced per person per year - doubling ever 14-18 months.

Without the right content at the right time delivered the right way on the right devices to the right people, strategies stall, opportunities are lost. The challenge for all of us is creating value.

Learning cointent is a means of achieving ends - the value of learning content comes in its appication. Learning content value is defined by context and intention. Value is increased by tagging content assets with information to determine what they are worth. Distribution is key to value realization. As with any capital asset, learning content must be managed if value is to be maintained - and sustained - over time.

There are multiple contexts: data layer, business logic layer, presentation layer. These lead to lead to multiple uses: users, devices, etc.

Some Transformations:

- 'any time any place' to 'just the right stuff'
- 'searching' to 'finding'
- 'instructor-centric' to 'learner-centric'
- 'time to learn' to 'time to performance'
- 'occasional' to 'continuous'
- 'consistency' to 'diversity'
- 'mass production' to 'mass customization'

MOTO gives value to learning content (from David Moschella):

- Metadata - subjective or objective data about people, places and things
- Objects - smallest unit of text, image; conceptually includes peoples' skills, etc.
- Taxonomies - general principles of classifications
- Ontologies - relationships between items classified in taxonomies

In the emerging e-business of e-learning content, the audiences remain the same (education, training, certification, certification, personal development, professional development). But the businesses change: content production, aggregation, management, (self-)publishing. The commercial product in this model: MOTO.


I think Wegner's statistics are compelling. With that much content being produced daily - most of it free - it's hard to see where the value for commercial content comes in.

But I think Wegner is mistaken in thinking that there's a good business model in MOTO, at least in the long term. We are rapidly approaching the age when metadata is produced automatically by our authoring tools. Why, then, would we pay people for it?

Paul Lefrere
Policy Analyst IET
Open University

The question for commercial content producers is how to stay in a market that is characterized by subsidy, people giving things away. The challenge is to find ways to blend social learning and lifelong learning with e-learning.

The response is simple: faster, better, and cheaper e-learning. Every year the barriers are lower for people who want to create free content. The commercial industry is looking to create a sustainable business model with digital rights management.

Will this help? The creation of the metadata needed to make this work represents a cost. This must be offset against income. It makes the products more, not less, expensive.

Instead: to grow, offer users more. Producers need a knowledge-based approach. Show me what I don't know relates to what I know (if students have to repeat stuff, they're bored). Products must take cognitive load into account - for example, take into account learners' schooling. It's the equivalent of readibility, it's the equivalent of ergonomics (makes learning faster and more effective). It can be done. Products must also take a whole-life perspective, to become, in effect, personal knowledge management.

Also: to grow, cut producer costs. The old model (the model of putting up money in advance and recouping through sales) is dead. The new model is to create content when needed, creating at time of use. This leads to lower up-front costs, but it requires higher tecnnology - need tools for reusing and repurposing content, maintaining narratvive, personalization.

Also, content producers must drive down cost by a factor of 10 and by another factor of 10 two years from now. And DRM mut be done in absoloutely transparent fashion - get rid of those business processes - think of them as things that have to be taken care of in seconds, not weeks. And extend use: support users' 3rd party additionals, annotations, re-structuring.


Content producers may not like these remarks, but they are the closest thing to realistic this panel saw.

I have long been arguing that information technology should lead to a two-times order of magnitude reduction in the price of information. Yet the cost of digital content is greater than the cost of the same content in paper form. How can this be?

Publishers need to look, not at the short term, but to the long term. Look at where the trends lead. 250 megabytes of new content per day. Doubling every year and a half. Content production getting easier. Where do you think all this is headed?

The internet will create a wealth of opportunities. Selling content is, for the most part, not one of them.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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