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XML: The "glue" that ties e-learning together

In this article Ed Tittel discusses how XML is playing a critical role in supporting an ever-richer set of e-learning tools and environments.

I just finished researching and writing the cover story for the forthcoming March issue of Certification Magazine...

(for which I am technology editor). Entitled Adventures in E-Learning, it recounts recent and interesting technology developments that are helping to make e-learning more interactive, interesting and effective. In researching this story, it came as no great surprise to me to observe that XML is playing a critical role in supporting an ever-richer set of e-learning tools and environments.

In my research, I learned about a package named Presenter, from Articulate Global Inc. Presenter is designed to enrich PowerPoint presentations with narration, animations, interactivity and more. The secret to this radical (and partially automatic) transformation is, of course, based on XML -- in this case, on the availability of XML Schemas for key MS Office applications. This includes creative extensions to the PowerPoint schema, like that used in Presenter to add to what PowerPoint can do by itself.

As I surveyed what was going on in the field of e-learning, this kind of phenomena kept recurring. The same thing is increasingly true of Macromedia products, whose Dreamweaver, Authorware, Director, Breeze, Flash, RoboDemo (now called Captivate) and RoboHelp products integrate increasingly well with all kinds of XML-based content management and e-learning delivery platforms, thanks to widespread use of XML on both sides of that street.

In addition, XML standards are now available that are designed to do the following e-learning related things:

  • Capture courseware content

  • Represent, deliver (and even score) test questions way beyond basic multiple choice, single-answer or multiple-answer question types

  • Represent course content items or elements, relationships among such items or elements, flow, and delivery/tracking mechanisms

  • Track student activity and progress through courseware, including modules completed, quiz and exams scores, pointers to essays submitted, and so forth
  • In fact, there's an XML-based infrastructure for e-learning emerging that can help courseware developers use best-of-breed tools when building courseware components, without forcing them to worry about how to fit the various pieces and parts they build together.

    I'm hopeful that XML can help to usher in a powerful new age of online interactive courseware that matches or beats the best possible classroom experiences currently available. Though only time will tell if this is inevitable or just another pipe dream, I'm hopeful that XML can help steer things toward providing better education for everybody.

    Ed Tittel is a full-time writer and trainer whose interests include XML and development topics, along with IT Certification and information security topics. E-mail Ed at with comments, questions, or suggested topics or tools for review. E-mail Ed at with comments, questions, or suggested topics or tools for review.
    This was last published in January 2005

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