Open Source Collaboration for Mobile Learning
On a recent cold winter’s morning, I set out by train from Oxford, England, to Olympia, outside London, to attend the Learning and Development (L&D) Exhibition and Conference—Europe’s leading showcase of organizational learning and the technology used to support learning at work. With more than 7,000 attendees, I established a few objectives ahead of time to ensure I made the most of my day. The main one was to determine how Bixal can most effectively continue to contribute to and benefit from the open source e-learning community. A key result of my digging was the discovery of opportunities (and great need!) for non-developers to offer skills to open source projects.
To understand how non-developers at Bixal and other organizations can contribute to open source technology projects, it was helpful for me to get a complete picture of a sample open source project lifecycle. Sven Laux, the mastermind of the popular Adapt framework and e-learning authoring tool, sat down with me to describe how this particular open source product is revised, evangelized, and maintained at professional quality standards through the contributions of individuals with a diverse set of skills.
The Adapt framework was the idea of a core team that identified the need for a responsive, multi-device e-learning authoring tool that would adhere to accessibility standards. The team turned this into a solution. Once the first iteration was complete, the team posted the solution online with unrestricted access to the code and documentation for others to explore, reuse, or repurpose for their own projects, and in doing so, become Adapt “Community Members.”
Simply using open source code as a Community Member is a huge contribution to the Adapt project. The more the product is used, the more its name spreads organically and the larger its open source community grows. “The power of an open source project is its community and brand,” explained Sven. All around the L&D Exhibition, companies were demoing their e-learning solutions and many explained how they use the Adapt framework to create solutions for their clients.
Sven explained how invigorating it was to discover so many Adapt Community Members at the conference. It is a fundamental Adapt principle to maintain a “low barrier to entry.” Therefore, Adapt users do not have to provide any information about themselves before using the product, and the core team only finds its Community Members when they share experiences in blogs, in other forums, or at conferences.
As a next step to improve Adapt and expand its reach, the core team takes note of any visible contributions made by the community, and occasionally reaches out to contributors to become Adapt “Collaborators.” Collaborators are companies who agree to dedicate time of at least one of their employees to work under the direction of the project steering committee on special projects.
While most would think an open source project like this requires a slew of sleepless IT developers, Sven acknowledged that Adapt’s biggest need right now is for instructional designers and content specialists. Indeed, most open source technology initiatives, like that of Drupal, an open source CMS, benefit from an array of non-developer contributors, such as:
- user experience designers to improve the interface;
- linguistics experts to assist in making the program usable for non-English audiences or translate documentation in other languages;
- experienced users to provide other users with advice on forums; and
- anyone willing to organize and host meet ups where the community can gather and learn more.
With this expanded view of who can contribute to open source project, I can broaden my scope as to who at Bixal can contribute to e-learning or other web development open source project. We’d love to hear about your experiences contributing to open source communities and benefits you’ve received!