Get Ready for OLC MERLOT Innovate June 15-26

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Don’t forget … Innovate 2020 will take place online, from June 15-26.  We look forward to having you join us for this fully online event, and will be reaching out with complete details and the updated program shortly.

This fully virtual conference will include over 300 sessions including keynotes, featured sessions, education sessions, discovery sessions and industry showcases.  The program also includes four (4) targeted summits – HBCU, Research, Community College and the Leadership Network. All recordings are available for a year post-event.

Moving our face-to-face conference to a fully online format presents us with the unique opportunity to spotlight the best of what the online modality affords – meaningful collaboration and the ability to reflect and connect with colleagues around the world. We hope that you will join us for this reimagined event, and celebrate our collective resilience and dedication to forging connections without boundaries.


OLC and MERLOT look forward to welcoming you to the Innovate 2020 Virtual Conference in June, and we are here to help you however we can with questions and requests for support.  Please feel free to reach out to us with requests related to OLC Innovate at

What You’ll Miss if You Don’t Register for OLC Innovate 2020

olc chicago

Advancing education innovation requires continuous, visionary, and interdisciplinary leadership. We invite you to join us!

When: March 31 – April 3, 2020
Where: Sheraton Grand Chicago | Chicago, IL

Join us for the OLC Innovate 2020 conference, focused on innovations in research, practice, leadership, and technologies in online and digital learning, March 31-April 3, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois.

Attendees can choose from over 400 sessions spanning a wide variety of topics and special interest areas including many from the MERLOT team.  In addition, online teaching and learning, ed-tech, leadership accessibility, gamification, K-12, equity and inclusion, OER, HBCU Affordable Learning Summit, and the Community College Summit.  This year’s keynote speakers for OLC Innovate 2020 include:

wed keynote Wednesday Keynote:
A Pedagogy for the Digital Age
Zeynep Tufekci, associate professor at the University of North Carolina, author, and opinion writer
thurs keynote Thursday Keynote:
Empowering Students to Engage and Learn
Flower Darby, Director of Teaching for Student Success at Northern Arizona University
friday keynote Friday Keynote:
Bridging Critical, Digital, and Open Pedagogies Rajiv Jhangiani, Associate Vice Provost, Open Education at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in British Columbia, and an internationally known advocate for open education

In addition to the onsite attendee option, OLC also offers virtual attendee options, which allow participants to view over 70 live webcast sessions from the conference.  The virtual options include individual, buy 2 get 1 free, and an unlimited group package.  Special rates for these options are available for OLC Institutional members.  For additional information, please contact Matt Norsworthy at

We hope to meet you – onsite at the Sheraton Grand Chicago, at Booth 609 in the exhibit hall or virtually – at OLC Innovate 2020 in Chicago! Additional information about the conference, including registration information, virtual attendance options, and the detailed session schedule can be found on the OLC Innovate 2020 website.

Please reach out to with questions! If you’re an OLC member, you get special member pricing ($150 off) on all OLC conferences and events.


Beyond the Art of Developing eLearning – It’s Time to Professionalize

You’re an instructor and have been told that next semester you must start teaching your first-ever online course.  You know that all your colleagues have been doing this for years, but you’ve managed to avoid doing it yourself.  Where do you start?

Well, if you’re lucky, your institution provides training for faculty in your situation, but if yours is like many other resource-scarce colleges, you might be on your own.  Of course you can try to pick the brains of your colleagues, but most of them are probably already overburdened with their teaching and research and don’t have much time to help you.  You could visit your LMS-support center, usually part of your school’s IT staff, and they can show you the bells and whistles of their LMS du jour, but that doesn’t really help you with the task of adapting your traditionally taught content and instructional methodologies to the world of online learning.  Finally, you do what every Internet-connected human being does these days, – you ask Google for help, and you search for “develop eLearning courses.”  Within .46 seconds, Google returns, as it did for me, 339,000,000 results!  OMG! What to do?  Why are there so many solutions to this problem?  It seems like every expert has devised his/her own approach to this matter.

It’s too bad that this is the case because there is a well-developed set of practices common among professional software developers who have for decades been confronted with similar challenges when they develop software systems and applications.  And after all, building an eLearning course really is an instance of application software development.  So why not employ the techniques of professional software developers – techniques that are well-defined in the practices of a discipline called, software engineering – for the development of eLearning instruction?  Software engineering (SE) has been evolving since the late 1950’s when companies, realizing that computers could make their day-to-day operations more efficient, began to develop software to do that.  And as computing has evolved over the decades, so too, based on many, many lessons-learned over those decades of software development, have the practices defined by SE also evolved.

Today, traditional software engineering practices are defined in an open access document entitled, Software Engineering Body of Knowledge (SWEBOK) developed and maintained by the IEEE Computer Society.  SWEBOK is the bible for traditional software development.  And the tables of content of most SE textbooks used in Information Systems and Computer Science curricula track closely to the contents of the SWEBOK document.  Major changes in traditional SE practices began to take place about 15 years ago when business entities felt that traditional SE practices were resulting in too many budget overruns and schedule delays in the development of complex software.  A second school of SE called “agile” development emerged as an alternative to the original so-called “waterfall” practices.  While the methodologies of the two schools are quite different, adaption of either to the development of eLearning instruction could provide a pathway for instructors who are otherwise lost in their quest to develop effective online instruction for their students.

Isn’t it time, after more than 75 years of programmed learning/programmed instruction/computer assisted instruction/distance education/eLearning/etc. that we stop experimenting and start to professionalize the development of online learning?  Adoption of SE principles will go a long way to making this happen. I know with a certainty this will work. The MERLOT ( development team adopted SE methodologies about 10 years ago and because of this has been able to quickly and regularly release new and better versions of the system during that time.  Without software engineering, this would have been impossible.

I propose the development of instruction-focused methodologies and tools, based on sound and proven software engineering principles, to help instructors develop online teaching and learning environments that best suit their own teaching preferences.  By ‘instruction-focused methodologies and tools’ I mean those that are devoid of the arcana of software engineering terminology, but instead are defined and directly related to the world of online teaching and learning.  Instructors need to focus on being teachers rather than software developers.  This is how it can happen.


– Dr. Sorel Reisman

MERLOT’s Best Kept Secret

Have you ever wanted to quickly throw together a website for a class project?  Or wanted to assign a web-building assignment to your students but were stymied about which tool to give them that wouldn’t require a steep learning curve? Or maybe you simply needed to create a site for personal reasons but your institution won’t host sites like that.  MERLOT has the solution.

About 10 years ago MERLOT acquired the KEEP Toolkit from the Carnegie Foundation.  KEEP was a rudimentary web development application used by thousands of educators to create web-based teaching and learning materials.

Through the acquisition, Carnegie provided MERLOT with the KEEP open source code, the KEEP user base, and the database of all the KEEP-developed teaching and learning assets.  Initially, MERLOT worked with Carnegie programmers and users to transition the system to MERLOT’s IT infrastructure. The newly interfaced system was renamed the MERLOT Content Builder (CB).  MERLOT provided users with single sign-on capabilities to both MERLOT and CB.  Legacy KEEP users continued to have access to their old KEEP web materials, but now accessible in CB as well as the ability to create new ones.

Over time, MERLOT refined the Content Builder with a better “MERLOT-looking” user interface as well as improved user functionality.  One of the early additions to the CB was the requirement that all CB-developed assets that “go public” must have a Creative Commons (CC) license.  (MERLOT does not dictate which license a user must declare.)  Any user can create a web page or site in Content Builder but until they make it public with a unique URL (and CC license), it is “private.”

Another early addition was the integration of Common Cartridge and HTML functionality to enables user to transfer their CB-developed websites/pages to almost any Web-based application that supports Common Cartridge technology – notably all popular learning management systems.

Over the last 10 years CB has become more and more sophisticated, providing users modern, accessible, and easy-to-use functions and controls that truly enable ‘quick-and-dirty’ webpage/website construction and deployment.  Today thousands of MERLOT Members have submitted more than 2,000 CB-built public materials to the MERLOT collection, with many others using MERLOT to develop thousands of uncatalogued websites for private classroom and other uses In fact, the California State University’s Cool4Ed Affordable Learning Solutions (AL$)  project and the Course Redesign project have both used CB to build hundreds of web pages to showcase their project’s objectives’.

The Content Builder is an essential part of MERLOT’s strategy of promoting the use of OERs around the world.  Accordingly, MERLOT will continue to refine and redefine how users can easily use CB to do that.   To access CB, select ‘Create a Material’ in the middle of the MERLOT homepage at If you aren’t a Member, you’ll be prompted to join – an easy process (or go to

Remember, CB is free, and all the websites and webpages you build with CB are hosted by MERLOT, including all the images and files related to your work – all with unique URL’s.  What could be better?

For more information and how-to instructions on using MERLOT Content Builder, the user’s guide can be found at

If you’re already a happy CB user, share your thoughts and comments with us. 



MERLOT is Better Than Before. Much Better.


As I promised just last month, get ready for another new MERLOT, but this time with an old label.  We are returning to our roots and dropping the “II” from our name, calling it just “MERLOT.”  But there’s nothing old about this new MERLOT.

Available as of March 14, 2018, the newest version of MERLOT has a completely new user interface, modeled after the most popular Web search site on the face of the planet.  (Guess what that is!)  In our continued effort to make it easier and easier for you to find online learning materials, we are providing an even more familiar and simple way to access our powerful search engine to find useful OERs anywhere on the Web.

And while it’s unlikely that you’ll need assistance to find what you need, or to access MERLOT’s rich function set, we have completely redesigned our context-sensitive help to guide you through any issues that arise while you’re using our newest MERLOT.  Of course our webmaster will continue to be available at in the unlikely event you need even more help.

In our last release we introduced our proprietary Smart Search to automatically help focus search results for the kinds of specific needs you might have.  Given the limitless ways a search can be constructed, it’s possible or even likely that you might not conduct a search using the best set of parameters possible to meet your needs for specific learning materials.  Our new ‘recommender’ infers your search objectives and provides additional results relevant to your original search.  Don’t be surprised, when you see the recommender’s recommendations, to hear yourself say, “Hey, that learning material is a good recommendation. I never thought to search that way.”

And in keeping with the growing trend towards mobility, MERLOT has been reengineered using responsive web design (RWD) which, according to Wikipedia (, is an approach to web design which makes web pages render well on a variety of devices and screen sizes.”  So if you are out and about and suddenly have a craving for a new OER, just grab your smart phone or tablet, launch your browser and go to  And lo and behold, depending on the speed of your network, the new MERLOT will be immediately recognizable as if you were working on your laptop or desktop computer.

So here we are, in our 21st year, not as good as ever, but a whole lot better.  And we intend to keep getting better and better!



Welcome to MERLOTs Third Decade

Well, we are at it again.  No sooner do we release a new and improved version of MERLOT than we start working on an even newer and even more improved version.  Last year we improved your access to more and more OERs with our Smart Search.  Smart Search expanded MERLOT users’ search for useful online learning materials beyond our own extensive and high quality repository of over 80,000 materials.

Smart Search now offers a quick and easy way to search about a dozen other, ‘related’ learning material libraries as well as a focused search of the World Wide Web – right from within our own website. And if you find something you like, you can add it directly to the MERLOT repository for our discipline editors to consider reviewing.  While these features have really broadened MERLOT’s utility for our 1,000,000+  annual visitors, we are soon going to make things even better.  In the next few months we will once again be updating MERLOT’s user interface (UI), incorporating new UI concepts that have evolved since our last update only 3 years ago.

It’s interesting to note that in the 21 years of our existence, we will have changed/improved/modernized that UI more 7 different times, while continuing to add more and more easily accessible features.  Remember when MERLOT was available only for English language users?  Today our system is accessed by members of an international community from more than 25 countries!  And remember when we only had a handful of academic discipline editorial boards reviewing content.  Today we have 25, each with its own community of subject matter experts, in 2017 adding two new ones – Computer Science and Information Technology.  A short while ago we added the recommender feature that offered: “People who viewed this material also viewed …”  Look for a release this year that will be even smarter, recommending materials appropriate to individual user profiles as well as materials similar to ones a user discovers in an initial search.

So don’t go away.  We’re working on our third decade and will be making things better and better, and more useful than ever before.  Thanks for being a member of the MERLOT Community.


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Hey MERLOT, “Can you hear me?”

So you’re looking for OERs and don’t know how to do it.  I’ve written about this elsewhere in this blog –  it’s not hard to find OERs these days, especially as repositories, ostensibly like MERLOT’s, are popping up all over the Web.  More and more, as OERs become the essential building blocks of course content, it will be easy to search for them, but not so easy to find the ‘right stuff.’   But…

… with Siri and Cortana now inhabiting our phones, tablets, and computers, and with the likes of Alexa and Google Assistant invading our homes, it won’t be uncommon for instructors to engage MERLOT in dialogues like the following, between Kelly, an instructor, and MERLOT:

KELLY: Hi MERLOT; I need OERs for a new course that’s been assigned to me.  Can you help me?

MERLOT: Hi Kelly.  I’d be pleased to.  Is this a search we’ve done before, or a new one?

Kelly:  A new one.

MERLOT:  OK. Please tell me more about the course.  For example, what’s the academic discipline, what grade level, etc.?

KELLY: It’s a freshman math course.

MERLOT: Is this for high school or college?

KELLY: It’s college level.

MERLOT: Are there any specific math topics that you will covering in the course?

KELLY:  It’s essentially an introduction to calculus

MERLOT:  I presume you would like the OERs for your intro calculus freshman course to be in English


MERLOT:  Do you want these OERs to be available only for mobile devices


MERLOT: Do you have any preference for the kinds of OERs you want?

KELLY: What do you mean by the kind of OER?

MERLOT: I mean things like e-texts, online courses, animations, etc.  Or I could show you a list of all the possibilities.

KELLY:  I would like only e-texts and animations.

MERLOT:  Any particular format for the e-texts and animations?

KELLY:  What kinds of formats are there?

MERLOT:  For e-texts the most popular are PDF and Microsoft Word.  I could show you a list of all the possibilities.  For animations there are lots of possibilities.

KELLY:  PDFs for the texts, and just find animation OERs.  I will pick what I want.

MERLOT: Will you want to modify or customize any of the materials?

KELLY: I’d like the option to do that.

MERLOT: Do you care if the materials have a cost associated with them?

KELLY: Yes. I’d like them to free.

MERLOT:  OK.  I will search all relevant OER sources, starting with my own repository which is far and away the best one available, and then I’ll generate a list for you. I will display that list, including relevant hyperlinks here, and if you want, I can also email the list to you.

… Pause for a second or two …

MERLOT: I’ve found 44 e-texts and 54 animations in the MERLOT collection.  If you like, I can broaden the search to other relevant collections and even to the World Wide Web.  Would you like me to do that?

KELLY:  No. Just show me the MERLOT list.

MERLOT (Displays the 98 items):  Is there anything else you need now?

KELLY: No thanks

MERLOT: Would you like me to save this search?

KELLY:  Yes please.

MERLOT:  OK, it’s saved. Next time, just ask me retrieve your last “math” search. Talk to you later Kelly.

KELLY:  Thanks, MERLOT. I can’t imagine what I’d do without you!


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MERLOT in any language is still MERLOT


A few years ago, MERLOT was approached by a Partner who told us that if we were really an international community, we should be able to handle foreign language users and learning objects.  At the time, English was MERLOT’s only language of use.

One of the metadata that has always been part of the MERLOT taxonomy has been “language.”  That meant, the language in which a learning resource was written.  So if you wanted to contribute, for example, an Arabic learning material to the MERLOT repository, you could do that. But you had to describe it completely in English, noting that the material was written in Arabic.  It was not possible to search the repository with any other character set than one in English.  To be truly international, it was important for MERLOT to allow users to submit and search for learning materials using any international keyboard.

Accordingly, the MERLOT development team reconsidered the design of the Oracle database that had been originally deployed more than a dozen years earlier.  That deployment had not taken into account the possible need to deal with non-English (US) character sets.  After all, who would have thought, more than 20 years ago, that MERLOT would become so popular and useful around the world?

So, the MERLOT team undertook the redesign of the database so that all entries would use the UTF-8 character encoding standard.  This meant, from a practical standpoint, that MERLOT could process all character sets on the planet – or stated another way, the characters sets of any international language.  Users from any country could now submit learning resources in their native language; and users from any country could search for learning materials in their native language, using their own native language keyboard.  (If you want to learn more about UTF-8, visit

While most users would not see the effort that this development required, the effect was considerable.  Today, the user-base from around the world has expanded dramatically because of this seemingly trivial change in the system – one that took many months to complete and thoroughly test.

In addition to this change, at the same time, the MERLOT team deployed the Microsoft translate API (Application Program Interface) allowing users to translate any browser page to the language of their choice.  Not too long after that deployment however, Microsoft withdrew support of the API, and MERLOT replaced it with the Google translate API which does the same thing as the Microsoft API.  Today, MERLOT continues to provide that translate function for all the webpages in the MERLOT system, including pages users build with the MERLOT Content Builder.  Interestingly, because MERLOT uses a Google function, Google functionality is blocked in some international countries.  When users from those places access MERLOT, MERLOT detects that and disables that functionality in those countries.

We are all aware that the WWW is a rapidly evolving environment.  Functions that could not be conceived of only 5 years ago are today considered common, and even ‘old hat.’  After all, in Internet years, a year is like a real-time decade.  Today, translation to/from languages is very common and very good.  The Google translate mobile app has gotten many international travelers through predicaments that years ago might have taken years to resolve.  “How much is this?” in English is easily translated into any language in any foreign country.  “I didn’t mean to make that (illegal) left turn,” can easily be explained to a traffic cop in any foreign country!

So as such changes evolve, MERLOT too continues to evolve.  Insofar as our use of Google translate, we are now considering dropping it from our design.  After all, every popular browser now detects the user’s location and asks if the browser should switch to the local language of use.  Including countries in which Google is now blocked!  Have you tried to translate a page in MERLOT?

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MERLOT announces Smart Search, a significant upgrade to its searching capabilities and a new UI to Content Builder, the web development tool

MERLOT announced the release of the MERLOT Smart Search. This search extends access to online learning materials well beyond MERLOT’s curated and peer reviewed collection.  Smart Search helps to answer the pervasive and nagging question, “Where can I find OERs?”

new hitlist pageSmart Search searches the World Wide Web specifically for the kinds of learning materials that typical MERLOT users seek. It uses a proprietary MERLOT user profile design to find the newest and most popular learning materials available in learning materials libraries and also on the WWW.  While these resources are not peer reviewed or curated, users can contribute materials that show up in the hit list, to the MERLOT collection for subsequent curation and peer review by our 25 MERLOT Editorial Boards.  And materials discovered by Smart Search can be added to users’ MERLOT Bookmark Collections.  Smart Search is easy to use: just click on the tab that describes the universe of resources you want to explore, and MERLOT does the smart searching for you.

Watch for more exciting extensions to the MERLOT Smart Search in the future.  We intend to make MERLOT your first and last stop when you need to find quality and up-to-date OERs for your teaching and research.  MERLOT help provides more information on the new Smart search.

A New user interface experience for MERLOT Content Builder.  MERLOT is releasing a new interface design for its popular Web development tool, Content Builder.  Originally built and supported by the Carnegie Foundation, MERLOT adopted and integrated the system into “main MERLOT” about 10 years ago.

new CB screenshot
Since then we have refined the functionality of the Content Builder, and with this latest release, have made the user interface even more intuitive.  Join the thousands of Content Builder users and try it!  Simply click on the “Create Materials with Content Builder” tile on the MERLOT home page (  For assistance in getting started, check out the Content Builder User’s Guide.

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Innovate 2017 – A Joint Conference Presented by OLC and MERLOT

Education innovation. It’s how we, as a community, continue to thrive in this rapidly changing learning environment. It’s how we respond to and guide student success and satisfaction. Whether embracing emerging tech, incorporating intelligent learning management systems, or designing blended classrooms, now more than ever it is imperative that academic leaders, faculty, and administrators alike come together to ensure that our pedagogies are progressive and continually break new ground.

Join us at Innovate 2017, April 5-7 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  There will be a series of engaging hands-on workshops aimed at promoting interactions and collaborative cross-disciplinary problem solving.  You’ll have the opportunity to explore emerging technologies and adapted teaching behaviors aimed at informing policy, inspiring leadership, and evolving practice at all levels impacting institutions, universities and colleges. Advancing education innovation begins with you. And it all starts at OLC/MERLOT Innovate. Please be there. New Orleans, April 5-7, 2017.  And if you are unable to attend, consider the Virtual option.  Find out more at