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More Than the Sum of Their Parts: Case Study and General Approach for Integrating Learning Applications

2017; MODSIM; Freed, M.; Folsom-Kovarik, J.T.; Schatz, S.

Learning system interoperability standards let applications share or connect infrastructure, reducing development costs, administrative burden, and user friction. We propose a more comprehensive form of interoperability that supports shared user data, user interfaces, and session management services. This will let applications leverage differences in how and when they are used to achieve better learning outcomes than is possible with only native capabilities. To demonstrate this concept, we integrated two complementary learning applications. PERLS is a Personal Assistant for Learning phone app that supports adult self-regulated learning. It recommends learning activities across a range of applications and devices and provides a coherent user experience for learners as they progress through parallel trajectories varying in topic, timespan, intensity, and (in)formality. PALMs is a web service that uses flashcard-like interactions to train visual knowledge. It accelerates learning by adaptively optimizing the content sequence based on a model of learning rate and retention. The applications were integrated to let PERLS recommend and launch PALMs content, then seamlessly hand off interaction control so that users are unaware of switching applications. PALMs was able to schedule user interactions in future PERLS sessions, making it possible to space practice on a longer timescale to increase retention of PALMs content. Without PALMs, PERLS has no principled way to accelerate visual knowledge learning. Without PERLS, PALMs has no way to extend its retention enhancing model to long timescales. Integration required substantial time and cooperation to define objectives, co-design APIs, and synchronize engineering across organizations. The Total Learning Architecture (TLA), currently in development, will reduce integration requirements with the goal of making cross-application cooperation more common. In this paper, we describe our technical approach to combining PERLS and PALMS, then describe how TLA, treating this effort as a use case, could reduce barriers for comparable future integration efforts.