Because we have 20 years of experience, we are not going to produce something traditional.

Anything but traditional

We are not:

  • A link collection: LON-CAPA is not simply a collection of links to external materials that are maintained and managed by other people. Content in LON-CAPA resides in a repository, where it is managed and persistently maintained. We provide a safe and sustainable home for granular, flexible content.
  • Some “political” or ideological consortium: While we have a strong ideology about making learning content available, we are about building a system that actually works, not about soap boxes.
  • A black market for intellectual property: Content creators put licenses on content for a reason. While we encourage open licenses, we respect the choices of the authors and publishers. It’s a market, but not a black one. We work with content creators, not against them.
  • Another educational digital library: Digital libraries can have their benefits, but only too often they are closed, limited, ill-maintained, and unsustainable. Besides, what’s the point if a simple search on the open web yields better and more useful results than several searches within the confines of most any educational digital library? Cataloging data needs to be more than static “index cards,” and today it can be so much more.
  • Posted static course materials: It is frustrating to see “open courses” around the web which are nothing more than a series of static links to static documents. What year is this?
  • A graveyard for digitized dinosaurs: We are maintaining granular, flexible, re-usable content, which can be seamlessly woven into various educational environments.


Content is key for LON-CAPA.

Starting out

Fortunately, the new system will not start at zero:

  • LON-CAPA will support content developed in the LON-CAPA model system, which will give immediate access to 450,000 online content elements, including 200,000 online homework problems.
  • Content will be imported from OpenCourseWare.
  • In addition, LON-CAPA will support back-of-chapter homework problems and other electronic content from leading textbook publishers.
  • Finally, LON-CAPA will support import from other course management systems.

Going forward

LON-CAPA accepts content from faculty authors, grant projects, publishing companies, and independent content producers. We let the content creators decide the licensing and make sure that it is respected. We believe that this diverse content can coexist and be woven together in a coherent fashion. Recommendation mechanisms will make sure that depending on the context, the most appropriate content is moved to the front and quality is assured.


Textbooks, lecture slides, handouts, homework sets, lecture scripts, movies … learning content comes in many forms, but in recent years, most of this content is moving into the online realm. However, it still does not converge there.

Some learners are independent and self-directed, most are not. It is the role of educators to weave together content for their learners and guide them through logical sequences. However, educators cannot possibly create all of these materials themselves, so traditionally, they assigned pre-woven textbooks or ebooks written by groups of other educators. These come at a high price, both monetarily and in terms of pedagogical flexibility.

Increasingly, educators self-publish materials. The power of crowd-sourcing allows coverage of wide areas of scholarship using open and freely available content, which combined with licensed and commercial content would allow for more flexible, tailored, and integrated learning experiences. We are creating the venue to make cross-institutional content creation and sharing possible.


A shared repository

All content is held in a shared repository, just like in an online music store, from all different sources and at all different levels of granularity.

The repository maintains a permanent link for all content materials, so you can rely on selected content to be available. It provides versioning, so previous versions of content can be retrieved and changes tracked, and it provides replication to avoid bottleneck situations.

Finally, it provides cataloging data (“metadata”) for the content, both static (title, keyword, subject, taxonomy, …) and dynamic (usage, context, accesses, difficulty, …) – data that will feed into the recommender.

It’s possible!

Will this actually work? We know it does, since it does in LON-CAPA, where over the years over 450,000 pieces of content have been contributed to a common repository. This content is going to form the base of LON-CAPA.



Less than a decade ago, you went to a bricks-and-mortar music store to buy a CD of your favorite artist. The CD had some tracks you liked, and almost certainly some tracks that you didn’t. In any case, you had to buy the whole CD, which had all tracks, in the order set by the publisher.

Today, most music is sold through a single music store, namely iTunes®, that sells music by most artists from all major publishers; you buy the individual songs that you like, and put together your own playlists in the order that you want. Those playlists work on your computer, your music player, in your car – everything syncs up seamlessly and reliably. Most bricks-and-mortar music stores are closed, and almost all proprietary publisher-specific online music stores are on their way out. The word for this kind of change is “disruptive.”


Now, think about the textbook sector: books and ebooks are CDs; chapters, pages, homework problems are songs. Imagine going beyond proprietary publisher storefronts that let you combine chapters from only their books. Even go beyond just publisher content, and imagine a place where you can sequence granular educational content from a wide variety of sources into playlists for your learners, into customized online coursepacks that reflect your values. Imagine getting recommendations and sharing playlists with your colleagues who teach the same subject. Imagine these playlists working seamlessly and reliably in your course management environment, combined with online assessment, discussions, and social networking.

There you have it: LON-CAPA.

Fine granular modular content (pages, images, homework problems) gets seamlessly woven into lower granularity content (modules, chapters, lessons), and eventually into your courses: reusable and exchangeable at every step. In the end, the course management system is merely the player device for your content, its iPod®.