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Links considered too difficult for online education software


At work I have been implementing the IMS content packaging specification, mainly so we can feed content from our publishing system to our new Distributed Learning System, but here again we are running into the 'anti web'. Basically the IMS package lets you put all your stuff (in this case HTML pages and images, MP3s and so on) in a directory structure, add a manifest file to say what's there and zip it all up. The most important bit of the manifest is the organizations section, which lets you provide multiple tables-of-contents or other navigation for the materials. There is also a place to put metadata, if you are optimistic enough to think it might be useful later, and boring but necessary lists of files.

But how to deal with links? The IMS Content Packaging specification does not seem to mention links between content items at all. Maybe I missed something. I can't comment on what commercial or technical pressures caused this, but the situation is, um, sub-optimal.

Googling got me this useful (PDF) resource on the basics of content packaging. Here's a calm and reasonable explanation for why you can't have links.

To make an IMS Package that is truly reusable, however, you need to be careful about how you author the content within it, as it may be used in a different context.

For example, if your resources contain hyperlinks to other resources it makes it more difficult to separate the resources and reuse them in another way. Instead, you can use the Organizations section of the IMS Package to provide a navigation structure for the user without the need for hyperlinks in the resources themselves. The CETIS Educational Content Special Interest Group has support materials available to help you with writing reusable content (see People, Products and Services).

Without the need for hyperlinks? Oh dear. And what about plain old linguistic references — you know, talking about something covered earlier in the course. Do I need to get rid of that too?

One of the things our clients like about our system is that we allow them to link between resources explicitly, inline, where they want a link. We also add navigation to every page to supplement the typically-basic LMS navigation.

This is the web, you know.