Enabling Self-Organization of the Educational Content in
Ad Hoc Learning Networks
Ioan SUSNEA1, Grigore VASILIU1, Daniela Elena MITU2
1 University “Dunarea de Jos” of Galati, Romania
Domneasca Street 111, Galati, 800201, Romania firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
2 Constanta Maritime University, Department of Naval Electromechanics
Mircea cel Batran Street 104, Constanta, 900663, Romania
Abstract: This paper describes a simple solution to create self-organization of the educational content in learning networks by enabling stigmergic interactions between learners. For this purpose, the learning objects have been associated with a special type of metadata, based on the concept of “virtual pheromones”. By accessing the learning objects, users create trails of virtual pheromones, which are interpreted as an implicit recommendation for other learners to use those objects. The resulting system operates as a simple recommender system based on collaborative filtering in ad-hoc learning networks. We also suggest the possibility to implement such system in a P2P file sharing environment, as a solution to improve the sustainability of open education systems.
Keywords: Learning networks, open education, recommender systems, stigmergy, self-organization.
CITE THIS PAPER AS:
Ioan SUSNEA, Grigore VASILIU, Daniela Elena MITU, Enabling Self-Organization of the Educational Content in Ad Hoc Learning Networks, Studies in Informatics and Control, ISSN 1220-1766, vol. 22 (2), pp. 143-152, 2013.
The school-as-a-factory paradigm in education, theorized in 1911 , proved to be extremely enduring, as it is still in effect in many of the western education systems.
It took almost a century until the European Commission launched the Lisbon Strategy – a massive action plan for the reform of the European education according to the concept of “lifelong learning” , seen as a major pillar of the knowledge based society, and a key element for sustainable economic growth.
According to Drachsler  the concept of lifelong learning breaks several axioms of the school-as-a-factory paradigm, in what concerns:
- time: the learners access the educational materials asynchronously, and learning is no longer associated with a particular age group,
- space: learning activities are not necessarily linked to a certain place – a school or university,
- group uniformity: learners can be extremely heterogeneous in what concerns age, culture, educational background, motivation etc.,
- curriculum: learners are no longer bound to follow a particular educational content in a predefined sequence,
- role of participants: learners become the central players in the educational process. In a lifelong education system learners are free to choose what, when, where, and how to learn, and sometimes it is also possible to switch roles: learners may become tutors and vice-versa.
While more and more users get involved in various forms of lifelong learning, the open education movement produces a vast amount of open education resources (OER), defined as “openly produced educational resources, enabled by information and communication technologies, for consultation, use and adaptation by a community of users for non-commercial purposes” .
OER include: open educational content (courses, curricula, tutorials, access to journals, etc.), software tools (learning management systems, content development and editing tools, e-learning platforms, tools for searching and organizing educational content, etc.), and open repositories to store and deliver the educational content.
The result of this collective effort is a huge, dynamic, totally unstructured, uneven in quality, and difficult to search pool of educational material.
Finding solutions to structure this material is a major challenge for the research in this field.
Another issue is sustainability. Though OERs are free for the consumer, significant funding is required to produce and distribute these resources. Downes provides in  several examples of open education projects that cost hundreds of million dollars. Even Wikipedia – the classic example of collective OE achievement – still needs a few million dollars per year to operate.
Considering the fact that these materials depreciate with time – pretty fast in some knowledge areas – it results that important financial resources are needed to sustain any serious OE initiative.
Under these circumstances, the idea of creating self-organizing and self-sustainable OE systems seems to be an ideal solution.
This paper attempts to outline solutions for the above formulated problems. After a brief review of the main concepts and technologies related to open and lifelong education, we propose a simple solution to enable stigmergic interactions between users in order to create self organization of the educational content in ad hoc learning networks. We also explore the possibility to obtain sustainability of such system, by distributing the task of creating, storing and delivering the educational content to the users themselves.
Beyond this introduction, the paper is structured as follows:
- Section 2 presents the basic concepts used to describe the OE environment,
- Section 3 reviews the main approaches on organizing the educational content,
- Section 4 describes a simple method to enable stigmergic interactions between users in ad-hoc learning networks, in order to create self-organization of the shared educational content,
- Section 5 is reserved for conclusions.
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