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Does IMS Have a Strategy?

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Please excuse the long time since the last blog folks.  IMS is adding a lot of new members and staff supporting an unprecedented array of exciting initiatives – which has kept yours truly very busy the last few months.

We are now in the final push toward our annual Learning Impact event, May 5-8 in New Orleans, USA. While this is also a busy time we’ve got a great chance at the event and before to be talking about where we are and where we are going in IMS. We hope you will join the conversation! Consider this a first installment.

The (perhaps) provocative title of this post is actually one that we are sometimes asked. After all, IMS is very much a “bottoms-up” meritocracy, like many other organizations that develop interoperability standards. Most of the ideas in IMS, and certainly the best ideas, come from the individuals that are participating on behalf of their member organizations.  And, IMS is a true membership organization (legally organized as such) that provides a level playing field for organizations of all sizes – a construct that we think provides a very good structure for what we do as previously described here. So, when the members speak – we listen – and usually act.

IMS does have a strategy. IMS has an elected Board of Directors that helps formulate the strategy. But, the strategy is very organic, flowing and dynamic. New ideas brought forward by the members go through a certain “due diligence” that occurs by putting the idea in front of key stakeholders – those most motivated to act – and adjusting accordingly (including sometimes putting on the shelf until further interest). Having much experience in the venture capital world I will tell you that it is much like the funneling of ideas/business plans that every VC firm goes through in terms of the process of looking at the risks and opportunities involved.

So, the resulting IMS strategy is a function of bubbling up, testing (against the critical concepts of adoption and learning impact) and organizing into something as coherent as we can make it given what is actually happening in the sector and various sub-segments.  And occasionally adding some key missing pieces that for whatever reason have not bubbled up – like for instance members not willing to share in an area that is actually good for them to share.

For several years past this process unfolded into an IMS strategy centered on what we have called the “Digital Learning Services” standards, focused on (but not limited to) Common Cartridge, Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) and Learning Information Services (LIS).

The strategic theory behind the DLS focus was that together these standards would solve a very large percentage of the integration challenges in/with the education enterprise.  And, in fact, while different pieces have evolved and been adopted at differing rates, we think this thesis has largely turned out to be on target.  See the accompanying charts on growth in IMS membership during this strategy and growth more recently in the conformance certifications that are the market adoption proof point.  Notice the 97 certifications in 2013 – almost 2 a week. So far in 2014 we are averaging close to 3 a week. In other words, this strategy is still taking hold, but clearly it is taking hold in a big way!

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However, the IMS strategy has definitely shifted beyond DLS in the last year or so. First of all, e-assessment, an area IMS has had some activity in for a long while via QTI (and a subset of which is covered in Common Cartridge) became a hot area. The very simple idea that electronic assessments if done right are much more affordable and scalable than paper assessments coupled with the very obvious idea that there should be open formats to enable the e-assessment ecosystem of suppliers and states has come of age (both in the U.S. and other nations such as the Netherlands). Second, now that the IMS DLS standards are working – radically reducing cost, time, complexity of seamless integration – our attention is naturally now turning to what can be enabled with the standards.

While there may not be complete agreement in the IMS community (given its size and diverse nature) over what we should be enabling with the standards, here are the current thoughts – and thus, the strategy going forward:

  1. The power of LTI (first v1 and now v2) to reduce cost and time of achieving seamless integration by 10-1000x will soon lead to 1-click integration.  IMS-enabled applications will be auto negotiating which IMS services are supported – thus revolutionizing the ease with which standards-based applications will be incorporated into the teaching and learning process.
  2. #1 enabling a very diverse open ecosystem of new types of learning platforms and applications and potentially rearranging the ordering of  integrations – very much an “app to app”  model of cooperation with or without a learning management “system” in the middle.
  3. Merging LTI with the IMS work on student information (LIS) and course planning and scheduling (CPS) exchange to continue to open up the educational enterprise via easy to use standards.
  4. Establishing and growing the “educational app community” – like an open source community on steroids that builds things that work across platforms (the “things” may be open source or not, but there should be tools to enable this that are open source). This is a remarkable new type of community indeed – suppliers and institutions working together across platform – kind of like the worldwide web but focused on the education vertical.
  5. Enabling what most refer to as e-books or e-texts as a highly interoperable format across a wide variety of e-readers/mobile devices for the needs of learning and education.  See EDUPUB.
  6. Making instrumentation / measurement of learning activities easy to enable collection of analytics – big and small data. See Caliper Analytics.
  7. Including everything we’ve learned and are learning about e-assessment across #4-6, meaning that we’ve got the standards to enable innovative assessment apps, enable assessment in e-text and the enable easy instrumentation of assessment in learning platforms and apps (via Caliper and the outcomes standards developed on QTI/APIP).
  8. Utilize the standards to create an open source reference implementation for a peer-to-peer app sharing framework that can be used to do, well, what it says – share apps with trusted partners and encourage using standards to do this – thus, the enabling of a standards-based “app store” or “app sharing” equivalent to iTunes, etc. See CASA.

Perhaps though, most importantly, IMS is making great progress with our end-user/institutional led groups to ensure that all of these initiatives are in fact getting them where they want to go.  Our K-12 district advisory board (I3LC) continues to grow and our new HED connected learning advisory board is shepherding the app community, the app sharing architecture, analytics and competency-based learning initiatives.

Hopefully you will see the evolution of the IMS strategy in the above. The IMS community is making change happen in some very substantial ways and I invite you to partake at the May 5-8 Learning Impact event – where the breakout tracks mirror the strategy areas above and the plenary sessions undertake the broader discussion  of “why” we are doing this in terms of the emergent models of education that we wish to enable.

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