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Learning Impact Blog


Community leadership for more effective use of technology in service to education

#2 of a series in preparation for May 2016 Learning Impact Leadership Institute

In the 2015 EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative research paper on the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE) the familiar metaphor of legos is once again called upon to represent user configurable learning environments:

“Since no single application can deliver in all those domains, we recommend a “Lego” approach to realizing the NGDLE, where NGDLE-conforming components are built that allow individuals and institutions the opportunity to construct learning environments tailored to their requirements and goals.”

The reason I say “once again” is that the lego metaphor has been called upon many times before since the early days of e-learning (last half of 1990’s) when it was used to describe reconfigurable “learning objects” that could potentially be chained together to meet personal learning preferences and goals.  There was a lot of coverage and development around the learning objects concept - showing some magazine and articles here that I was personally involved with.

While the use of legos as a metaphor in learning is very convenient and one that IMS has used from time to time (for instance see the cover of the 2014 annual report), legos are really not adequate to describe what is really needed. Of course, it depends on exactly how one thinks of legos. I tend to think of them as preconfigured shapes that can be joined into a whole.  However, the connections are rather rigid and very localized.

A lot of evolution has occurred in the last 20 years. Of course the learning “platform” (software that enables a learning experience and environment beyond simple interaction with content) has become a prevalent component in education.  But perhaps the most important evolution has been from “content that moves around from system to system” to “content that is hosted and accessible via a web interface.” That later category of content might also be called a web application or just “an app.” An app typically contains its own “learning platform” of some sort, meaning the web application is typically intertwined with the content and not as broad in its ability to support “LMS-like” features. 

In creating next generation learning environments the connections that need to be supported are among a cooperating constellation of these web applications.  How exactly they cooperate is of course key to interoperability, but a logical starting point is via the education institutional platforms, such as an LMS, a portal, an app launcher, a student information system, or some combination of these.  Thus, another metaphor we have used in IMS is a configurable constellation of connected apps.  I’ve been using that metaphor in IMS since 2007 – and shown here is one of those uses from a 2008 presentation made for ELIG in Europe.

It should also be noted that some things HAVE NOT changed much since the first use of legos in e-learning. One that is very important to keep in mind with respect to the vision of user configurable NGDLE is that even though the concept of fitting learning objects from different sources sounds good that it is nearly impossible to do in any automated fashion. There has been success in configuring personalized learning paths from content modules from a single source in an automated fashion (like an adaptive learning application) but generally all attempts at automating content reconfiguration across suppliers have fallen short because stuff has to be designed to really work well together.

The NGDLE research paper also comes to the conclusion that the architecture is a “confederation” and that the right model for the architecture may be a “mash-up.” This is a model that we like a lot in IMS.  Indeed, in the earlier days of Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) Dr. Chuck Severance spoke a lot about the user paradigm for LTI being a “mash-up” of web applications, much like Google maps appears in any web site.  More recently we like the user paradigm of the learning platform that can be invoked across apps, like a familiar toolbar that floats on top of any app, rather than the container in which things must be placed.  We’ve seen a couple of nice early prototypes of this idea in IMS, including in the Learning Impact Award nominations.

In summary, what we have learned in the last 20 years is that users can sort of deal with a pallet of apps (like those on your phone or tablet) that they have chosen, and that suppliers, even publishers of content, like this approach to offering and selling products. But, configuring a set of independent apps is a lot easier than configuring a cooperating set of apps.  The interoperability needed is much more challenging and certainly in education there needs to be some “learning design” across the connections performed by a human (a teacher, an instructional designer, a student). In addition, the user interface/usability of this educational app mash-up of sorts is a really important aspect of the design.

Next up: What type of interconnections will next generation digital learning environments require?

#1 of a series

There is a lot of excitement and curiosity regarding the concepts introduced in the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) research paper on the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE), which was based on focus group interactions with some 50-100 higher education edtech leaders.  I attended most of the focus group sessions myself, which also had great representation from IMS member organizations.

The plenary sessions for the upcoming May 2016 Learning Impact Leadership Institute are going to focus entirely on next generation digital learning.   I am writing a series of short topic blog posts beginning this week for the next several weeks with some of my thoughts on next generation digital learning environments to help get ready for the big event.  In this weekly blog series I want to write about how I am thinking about NGDLEs – with the hopes of spurring thoughts from others inside and out of the IMS community.

The LILI16 plenary lightning talks will be grappling with the concepts and the realities of next generation digital learning. And, in true IMS fashion, we will also be hearing from a panel of institutional leaders to get their pragmatic take on everything that was said.

So, what would I like to cover in this first post of the series? I want to cover a bit on the road that led us here and the road ahead. 

One of the cool things about the work of IMS is that while we are improving connectivity of edtech products today we are also establishing the foundation for better connectivity of learning apps, platforms, and resources for tomorrow.  This point is brought home in the ELI NGDLE research paper:

  1. Interoperability is the linchpin of the NGDLE. The ability to integrate tools and exchange content and learning data enables everything else.
  2. At the built layer, the NGDLE will be a confederation of IT systems, including content repositories, analytics engines, and a wide variety of applications and digital services.  One key to making such a confederation work will be full adherence to standards for interoperability, as well as for data and content exchange.

In a recent EDUCAUSE Review Viewpoints column entitled Foundations: Past and Future I describe how the NGDLE follows a prior paper helping to set the stage entitled A New Architecture for Learning. In the same column I highlight several of the most promising areas of interoperability for the NGDLE, which I will summarize here:

  1. Seamless integration of learning apps and learning platforms: Arguably, without the success so far of Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) it is unlikely we would take seriously the idea that the NGDLE could be a “confederation of systems” that can be “mashed-up” by users. However, LTI has some road to travel to fully support the NGDLE.
  2. Publishing, sharing and finding learning apps & resources: What is the success model for this today in the consumer app world?   Allegiance to a single platform from a pretty limited set of platforms.  In education, how do we leverage the power of LTI with truly cross-platform curating of educational resources?
  3. Cross-application learning analytics: Confederation of systems sounds great. But to enable better learning we need confederation of actionable data and information.
  4. Accessibility and personalization:  To support accessibility and personalization across a confederation of apps and systems there needs to be a common language across those systems describing accessibility and personalization needs and capabilities.

The summary?  NGDLE requires cross-platform and cross-application integration that goes way beyond what is typically happening today in either higher education or K-12 IT departments. 

Despite the successes of standards like LTI to date, there should not be any irrational exuberance about the likelihood of magical interoperability that will enable NGDLE tomorrow.  Instead, we need to consider carefully where we are going and how we are going to get there – taking into account the realities of the edtech sector. Thinking through that path is what this blog series is all about.

Next up in the series: What is the right metaphor for thinking about Next Generation Digital Learning Environments?  See you then.

Believe it or not we are now already 2 months in to 2016. I’m happy to report that these 2 months have already been very high velocity at IMS Global.

For those of you that missed the quarterly meetings last week at UMUC – or perhaps were there but couldn’t be in 4 tracks at the same time – here is a summary of some of the key takeaways IMHO.

If you’re an IMS member and would like some help getting involved in any of these activities, please contact one of the staff or make a web inquiry.  If you’re not an IMS member yet, consider joining up.

OneRoster = Fastest Adopted IMS Standard Ever

We’re pretty proud of LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability) at IMS – but OneRoster, after 2 years, is where LTI was after 5+ years.  Adoption of OneRoster has strong support as evidenced by some 25 leading edtech suppliers gathered for the OneRoster bootcamp and demonstration showcase. Several leading districts were also in attendance and we have no doubt that Fall 2016 is going to meet or exceed expectations for OneRoster implementations.  Make plans to attend LILI 2016 in May for another day of OneRoster preparation featuring version 1.1

LTI: Rating Integrations from Lovely to Incredible

Yes, it’s the latest craze and even has it's own bookmark! Using LTI services and/or LTI 2 to achieve dramatically more seamless and usable integrations.  While the success of LTI as a simple “launcher” of apps/single-sign-on has been impressive, with over 70 learning platforms now certified, the leaders in the market are moving on.  Time to use the advanced services and features of LTI for more seamless integrations: LTI outcomes, LTI memberships, LTI content item.  This is the focus of IMS workshops on LTI at the meeting and going forward.

IMS Higher Education Executive Board Your Time Has Come

We’ve learned that a little bit of cooperation on open standards by some leading institutions can go a long way.  That is now happening for real in terms of higher education institutions in IMS.  With great leadership from Karen Vignare (UMUC) and Sean DeMonner (University of Michigan) IMS is forming what will evolve into the true leadership board of IMS in higher education.  The IMS Board of Directors has to be limited in size and has to be focused on the “business” of IMS. The new HED Executive Board will become the group that prioritizes IMS HED work from the institutional perspective. Every IMS Contributing Member will have a seat on this board,  There are already four strong HED communities of practice forming to put some legs into this: LTI, analytics, digital credentials/CBE, accessibility.  The exec board will address long term and near term priorities.

The Next Hockey Stick Up – Already Beginning

Historically there have been some close connections between adoption of IMS standards and the next most successful company. We are seeing it happening again now in both HED and K-12.  There is a handful of organizations that are adopting the latest IMS standards, very visible at the IMS meetings, that are likely to be the next hockey stick up phenoms.  Of course IMS standards by themselves are not enough – they are just the enabler. So, in HED these are suppliers that are bringing new capabilities like analytics and advising, In K-12 they are bringing recommendation engines and assessment.  All a lot more scalable with standards.

The Next Hockey Stick Down – Already Beginning

All I can say is woe to  suppliers who are known to be capable of implementing the latest IMS standards buy are sitting on them and not releasing them to the market.  All IMS members are friends of IMS but the institutions who bought your product thinking you would be a leader in IMS standards – and now it turns out you’re not – well, that is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  There is tangible angst, regret and remorse out there that is coming for some of the more established vendors who were once enabled by standards and are now turning their back on them. Ouch!

George Kerscher of DAISY Consortium kicks off EDUPUB Alliance meetingPartnerships that Will Change Everything: EDUPUB, Ed-Fi, Soon To Be Named

A major focus of this quarterly was the EDUPUB Alliance work combining Epub3 and IMS standards, with a major focus on accessibility.  Lots of great work by some great people is going to be felt big time in the education sector in the next 2-5 years.  Stay tuned for some new high impact collaborations on accessi On another front the collaboration with the Ed-Fi Alliance is off to a great start.  The combination of IMS and Ed-Fi represents a 10x over any past attempts at end-to-end standards development and adoption in K-12 education.  And, another major partnership session occurred at these quarterlies with a to-be-announced IMS partner/new member organization that should substantially accelerate adoption of standards in at least one of the IMS key initiative areas.  Stay tuned!

Caliper Analytics Transitions to Next Phase of Growth

Caliper v1.1 is in the “heads down” mode as this next release is highly anticipated after the strong set of Caliper v1.0 certifications.  As often happens a couple years in to an intense project the leadership of the workgroup will now be revitalized by a new set of people and organizations. The need for real-time data processing has had a major impact on Caliper – and you will be hearing a lot more about developments there.

CBE OBEE Wan Kenobi

What? Three full days of meetings on digital credentials, competency-based education and open badge extensions for education (OBEE)?  You bet.  There is a lot of different work and investments going on to design a better transcript and to capture competencies, experiential learning, co-curricular activities, etc. IMS Global is in the middle of it all - developing the technical foundation upon which it can happen.  IMS will be bringing to market in 2016 the conformance certification framework that will help to bring the so far different worlds of edtech, competencies, badges and transcripts together. 

Turning Japanese I Really Think So

A distinguished delegation of six leading Japanese organizations attended the quarterlies.  We held discussions to complete the draft MOU to form the IMS Japan Society, consisting of leading Japanese suppliers and institutions.  IMS Global has been collaborating with representatives from Japan for some time, including workshops in Japan on Caliper and EDUPUB in recent times.  While there are still some final approvals needed, we are hoping to launch the IMS Japan Society very soon.

aQTI: Next Phase of Venerable Spec Will Preserve Success of QTI v2 and APIP

When a specification gets used a lot and has strong participation/contribution from the marketplace the definition of a new revision is likely.  Such is the case with the amazing ramp in adoption of QTI v2.1 (now v2.2) and  its accessible cousin, APIP (Accessible Portable Item Protocol) to solve state/national level summative e-assessment challenges.  The plan for the next version of QTI – the combination of APIP and QTI meant to address more reproducible rendering and additional accessibility features end-to-end – has been agreed upon by IMS’s Executive Board on Assessment (EBA).  The best news is that aQTI will  provide a forward compatible path from QTI v2.2/APIP – thus leveraging the large investment that has been made.

Setting Up a First Set of Community App Sharing Nodes

Based on the groundbreaking work of UCLA and several other IMS members, we have decided to explore setting up a first set of nodes, including connection to the IMS product directory, for the Community App Sharing Architecture.  The idea is to get these ready in time for the Learning Impact Leadership Institute in May. The value proposition for CASA is still evolving . . . lots of great ideas are emerging.