Category Archives: Learning Impact Conference & Awards

IMS Global Learning Consortium conducts a unique annual conference and global competition to assess progress in adoption of technology in improving education and addressing key challenges of access, affordability & quality

Big announcement: IMS Global getting into Badges!

IMS partners with Mozilla Foundation to accelerate adoption and interoperability of badges in the education and workforce sectors.

“We are pleased that IMS has decided to partner with us to help with the evolution, adoption and promotion of Mozilla Open Badges,” remarked Mark Surman, Executive Director, Mozilla Foundation. “IMS has a unique focus on educational technology worldwide that we’re sure will enable substantial progress.”

The What?

We’re calling it the IMS Digital Credentialing Initiative (announced today here), IMS DC, but most people are probably just going to call it IMS Badges.

Many thanks to our friends at Mozilla Open Badges, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Badge Alliance for helping make today’s announcement possible.

Everyone knows that IMS is always leery of technology that is overhyped in the education sector (see Learning Impact keynote focused on “disruption” and the hype cycle). New technologies are just tools. It’s really all about how those technologies support where education needs to go.

Two hot topics that are receiving a lot of hype these days are Competency-Based Education (CBE) and Badges (meaning digital badges ala the Mozilla Open Badges specification).

Interoperability is the thing IMS tries to get right for our community/eco-system. Interoperability is all about enabling innovation at scale. Lot’s of great stuff can happen at small scale – but it is a foundation of interoperability that enablies leveraging of a community investment. Jumping in early in the cycle is not necessarily a bad thing – indeed, being somewhat ahead of the market is good for interoperability. But, our IMS members expect us to make good decisions with respect to what we focus our time and resources on. So, we are always using all our market engagement to determine if something receiving hype “has legs” and can “cross the chasm” into mainstream adoption.

However, IMS had already jumped into Competency-Based Education in a very big way and NOW will be making a substantial new investment (hiring 4 additional staff, the leaders from the group known as the Badge Alliance) partnering with Mozilla to advance educational badges.

The Why?

IMS thinks that CBE and Badges are probably going to become intertwined as both progress into the future. CBE, at its most broad interpretation, is about relaying information about what a person is capable of doing, ideally including evidence. The current Mozilla Open Badges specification is, in our opinion, the best work so far in enabling a digital representation of the accomplishment and the rubric. So, IMS believes we can do something good with the combination of these two ideas, something that can apply to all levels of education (K-12, HED and Corporate Education/Training).

IMS also believes that that Badges have an obvious role to play in terms of what they seem to be used for mostly now – capturing some sort of extra-curricular activity that can be vouched for in some way.

What IMS will bring to this in addition to our 300 member organizations, our partnerships with AACRAO and C-BEN (Competency-based Education Network) is that we know a thing or two about interoperability. We also happen to have some leading specifications that are all about enabling capture of educational progress and data (IMS ePortfolio, IMS Learning Tools Interoperability, IMS Caliper Analytics, IMS Question & Test Interoperability) – see architecture diagram below.

Thus, our goal is to see if we can help establish badges as a common currency in educational credentialing in at large scale by providing the necessary interoperable foundation. In short, we think this is going to be a very productive marriage!

See the initial public web page for this work here.

If you wish to join in, we will be talking a lot about our plans and ideas at the upcoming Learning Impact Leadership Institute, May 4-7 in Atlanta. Or, email imsbadges@imsglobal.org

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Proud of the IMS Global Member Community!

2014annualreportcoverWith the release of the IMS Global Annual Report for fiscal and calendar year 2014 I wanted to pass along a few heartfelt words of appreciation to the IMS members – a group of organizations that is reinventing the EdTech sector literally every day.

IMS Global is a very unique collaborative in which a collection of organizations that compete in the education sector agree to work together to advance the effective use of technology to serve education. Each IMS member organization, especially the Contributing Members (the voting members who are paying substantially greater annual dues and driving the IMS work agenda), understand that the goal is to help advance the entire sector.

Of course there are lots of other non-profit organizations where collaboration of various kinds occur. But in IMS the stakes are higher than most. IMS is constantly pushing the envelope on how to make educational technology more open and seamless across a myriad of suppliers and institutions. This goes against the grain and traditional wisdom of the platform dominance strategy that has been witnessed in much of the computing industry thus far in its relatively brief history (since the 1980’s or so). This sort of platform dominance is not going to happen in education as I have written about many times (see for instance here).
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But, most importantly, the IMS members don’t just understand, they act. Everyone knows that the IMS staff is the best in the world at what they do. But, it is the development and adoption led by the IMS members that has gotten IMS to over 450 conformance certifications, including over 40 learning platforms.

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Indeed, the growth curves for IMS Global are indicating that the IMS community is succeeding in deploying the shared architecture for educational innovation. In 2014 IMS Global added a net 56 new members against what had been a very consistent track record of adding a net of 20 a year for the prior 8 years. Twenty a year may not sound like much, but it is quite good for a standards consortium like IMS in an age that is dominated by “single-company standards” that are propagated for free under various tactics that support the originator’s platform dominance strategy. Even many “standards” activities and organizations are cleverly organized to give the appearance of distribution of control when closer examination shows a few primary beneficiaries. That is not the way IMS has ever worked or works today. IMS is truly a member-based consortium that seeks to provide benefit to all of our members (now approaching 300 as of this writing). And in IMS the voting members are equally weighted among institutional members (end-users) and suppliers.

So, my sincere “thank you” to each of the IMS members for paving the high road in developing the educational technology sector, and along the way enabling breakthroughs for how we all are thinking about “an architecture for educational innovation.” It has been a great honor for the IMS Board of Directors, the staff, and myself to play a small part in your momentous achievements so far – with many more to come!

See you at Learning Impact May 4-7, Atlanta! If you’re not going you are missing probably the BEST benefit of being an IMS Member . . . The Future of EdTech Starts Here!

Thanks for your leadership,

Rob

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Learning Impact Leadership Institute 2015 Key Themes: Digital Curriculum Strategy, Enabling Data 2.0, Integrated Assessment & Digital Credentialing Options

A little more than a month away, we could not be more excited about the 2015 Learning Impact meetings! May 4-7 in Atlanta, GA USA

Every year the overall theme is “Learning Impact” – which is IMS’s branding for how to apply technology to better support effective teaching and learning. Every year we look at innovative educational models, innovative technologies and the application of IMS’s ecosystem and open architecture to better enable these. We call it a “leadership institute” because leadership in EdTech requires understanding how new models, technologies and architecture are going to come together to enable the future – either within your institution, your products or your nation state.

As we get close to the event the IMS staff and members are working to hone in on the “hot topics.” For us this is about not just understanding but taking forward-looking action to advance the open architecture to enable educational innovation.

This year for the first time there will be a special set of wrap-up meetings at the end of the conference, one for the IMS technical community (see the IMS Technical Congress Summit) and the other for the IMS institutional community (see The K-20 Institutional Priorities and Collaboration Summit).

Here are some of the key themes we will be focusing on at Learning Impact 2015:

Digital Curriculum Strategy

What is your digital curriculum strategy? Answering this question is the leadership you need going forward. In addition to a lead off keynote from one of the world’s foremost experts on science and technology education, Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, President of University of Maryland Baltimore County, we will have a killer K-12 curriculum leadership presentation and panel led by LeiLani Cauthen, CEO of the Learning Counsel (who has traveled the country engaging superintendents on the curriculum strategy challenge). Dr. Hrabowski’s presentation and challenge to the IMS community will coincide with the release of a new book he has written on the topic, “Holding Fast to Dreams.” The book shares a holistic view on how we must work to support the educational success in science and technology for all students. Attendees can get a signed copy immediately following his opening keynote.

K-12 community leadership in IMS on the digital curriculum strategy issue has been nothing less than phenomenal over the last year, receiving quite a bit of media attention. This leadership has lead directly to several breakthroughs in interoperability, namely Thin Common CartridgeTM and OneRosterTM. And, there are two other initial implementations that are likely to turn into IMS standards: mobile single-sign-on LTI and LTI search service. K-12 suppliers are responding nicely with a next generation of interoperable platforms, content and tools. Yes, there is a long way to go, but the directions are very promising – the right conversations are happening at leading institutions and the technology infrastructure is taking shape. 

HED has only had small pockets of institutional leadership on digital curriculum strategy, since most decisions are made at an individual faculty level in HED. But strong leadership is occurring via organizations like the University of Phoenix and the Unizin Consortium. The strongest trend we are seeing in HED is the rising of the academic technology support groups to help faculty integrate, and in some cases develop, a variety of innovative learning tools (using LTI® of course!) to fit their needs. I expect that we will see and hear about lot’s of exciting developments from both traditional and up and coming publishers working on HED digital curriculum as we do each year.

Enabling Data 2.0

Data analytics is a hot topic in education in general and perhaps the hottest topic in HED. IMS is helping move the sector to what we call “enabling data 2.0.” What was data 1.0? Where we are now? Educational institutions have been largely figuring out what they can do with what they have, namely a lot of dirty data and ad hoc dashboards/alerts in a myriad of products. Going forward the question will be, “What is your institutional data architecture?”

IMS has been working with suppliers and institutions via the IMS Caliper AnalyticsTM initiative to provide both a framework and usable code to enable institutions to answer this question and suppliers to fit in. Caliper has made incredible progress over the last year with fielded systems now generating millions of Caliper events a week – all based on a framework that a diverse set of suppliers and institutions could agree on from the start. This has huge potential ramifications on getting beyond today’s dirty data machinations.

However, IMS is also tackling the issue of meeting the today’s dirty data world half way. IMS recently launched Caliper RAM (real-time analytics messaging) led by a marquee group of universities who have their own ideas on how to apply Caliper to rapidly evolve existing systems, such as learning platforms and data warehouses, to something much more useful to institutions than what they can do today. In the next year we will see the beginnings of profound changes in the data architectures of leading IMS institutions and edtech suppliers.

In K-12 we are already seeing movement of leading suppliers toward Caliper. However, institutions are primarily interested in getting enough “data” to power recommendation engines and support the overall trend toward greater flexibility in curriculum resources (see next item on Integrated Assessment).

What do we mean by Enabling? Simply that the effective use of data in education is in its infancy and therefore, while IMS has plans for scale, we are constantly honing in on big impact from very focused and simple data constructs – epitomized by something we have been calling the “engagement profile” (but really probably needs a better name).

Integrated Assessment

In the U.S. since 2000 there has been an obsession with “no child left untested.” While the intentions were good there have been some unintentional consequences, namely focusing on tests rather than learning. In recent years the attempt to improve the situation with better thought out approaches, namely the Common Core standards and the Race to the Top Assessment initiative (which feature better curriculum models and much more innovative testing constructs) have been met with a lot of resistance because they still look like the same thing to most people.

In the meantime other parts of the world have come to the realization that paper testing that can be replaced by e-assessment should be, because of dramatic improvements in time to feedback and saving of processing costs.

From the IMS perspective there has been some very good news out of all of this that the IMS standards have had no small role in. Interoperable assessment alternatives make it possible to do what we are seeing convergence on, namely utilizing assessment of myriad types in myriad ways during instruction to get the data to students, parents and teachers – and thus help them directly. Some would call this “formative” assessment or “authentic” assessment. Interoperability of diverse assessment tools and item banks via standards like LTI, Common Cartridge, QTI and APIP are bringing together instruction with assessment in ways that gets us away from teaching to tests and toward rapid feedback to those that need it.

While much of the benefit of the above is in K-12, HED is also experiencing a resurgence of interest in e-assessment. Some of this is simply better integration, and therefore usability, of assessment products (formative and summative) – one of the strongest holdouts in terms of being “silo’ed” within the academic enterprise. But there are other areas of innovation in HED including adaptive content systems and emergent e-assignment products (areas of strong participation in IMS for years).

Digital Credentialing Options

Competency-based education (CBE) is another hot topic in HED. IMS is leading the way on interoperability of competency constructs for use within institutions. This includes digital extensions to the traditional transcript motivated by the very obvious fact that CBE will be most valuable to students if they can claim such on the official student record. IMS is working closely with registrars, academic leadership, IT and suppliers to move this forward in a pragmatic fashion. 2015 will be a year of substantial progress.

However, the above CBE/transcript innovation is really potentially a subset of a larger trend, sometimes referred to as “badges,” but what IMS likes to call “Digital Credentialing.” There is a strong move afoot to capture digitally a wide range of human accomplishment in many settings, including education and training. IMS has a long history of standards that are connected to this space, such as IMS e-portfolio, learner information packaging, etc. IMS is actively moving on plans in this area to be highlighted at this year’s Learning Impact.

And the Future Learning Platform Will Be . . . .

All of the above folds into our penultimate panel regarding the future of the learning platform, this year entitled, “What Will Become the Core Learning Platform for K-20 Education?” moderated by Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed. Please note that this panel has traditionally been a great predictor of where the mainstream will be in about 3 years (for instance see this summary blog post providing analysis that indicates Canvas is moving in the right direction and why).

As discussed elsewhere, we are expecting big movement in the next three years with respect to learning platforms in K-12, HED and cutting across. Some be a fun and insightful Learning Impact! The Future of EdTech starts here!

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LMS Smackdown 2015 Preview: A very different future for the LMS in HED and K-12 is upon us

More than nine years into the IMS and I have to say that right now is the most interesting time regarding “the future of the LMS.”

Every year at the Learning Impact Leadership Institute we have an ending panel that is the place where attendees can hear the leaders of the LMS industry “tell the truth” (quoting Pearson executive from prior year). However, we no longer call this panel the LMS Smackdown because some prior participants objected to that connotation. So, this year’s session is entitled, “What Will Become the Core Learning Platform for K-20 Education?”

IMHO the future regarding the LMS has never been more uncertain across K-20 than it is right now. Here’s why:

Higher Education:

  • Canvas seems to be taking market share from everyone – high end and low end – but does Canvas have a sustainable business model? Is Canvas in market share grab mode much like WebCt, Blackboard, etc in the early days with the price increases coming down the road?
  • Does Canvas success mean the beginning of the end for the open source models of yesterday, Moodle and Sakai?
  • EDUCAUSE and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have neared completion of phase one of the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE) project – explicitly looking at what comes next. EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative Leader Malcolm Brown who has led this effort is moderating this year’s panel. Having participated in all three NGDLE face-to-face meetings I can tell you that there is unanimous agreement from institutional leaders that major evolution is required.
  • Alternatives are numerous. There are now over 40 Learning Platforms certified as IMS LTI consumers and growing. They include traditional LMSs, MOOCs, learning object repositories, competency-based learning platforms, portals/mobile app launchers, instructional management systems and custom institution-specific learning platforms. Thus, evolution is happening at a rapid pace.
  • Working on the NGDLE and seeing what is transpiring in IMS it is very clear that institutions want more than their ANY LMS can currently provide in many areas, a key one being as a provider of analytics. And they want it now. In some sense this makes one wonder why so many seem to be switching horses now when it is unclear how they get to what they want?

K-12

  • Leading districts are adopting K-12-oriented Learning Platforms to organize their digital content – an absolute necessity going forward. School districts have 100’s of grade and subject specific learning resources moving to digital. The standard functionality they require is different than the HED LMS, but has some overlap. There are no clear front-runners or market share leaders yet in this new category.
  • Due to the large number of digital resources noted in the previous point, the K-12 sector is AHEAD of the HED sector in several critical areas as it relates to content and platform interoperability. The K-12 sector is pushing the envelope when it comes to interoperability for mobile apps, metadata, search and recommendation engines. Things are moving much faster right now than the traditional HED LMS ecosystem is used to. Can the HED LMS’s keep up? Some are, some are not.
  • e-Assessment, whether summative or formative, is much more important in K-12 than HED. Integration of world-class assessment is a critical success factor for K-12. But, there appears to be renewed interest in e-assessment integration in HED now, too.
  • Since IMS standards allow all types of apps to interoperate, whether via an LMS or not, some districts are wondering if they need an LMS at all? Or just a portal/learning object repository?

HED + K-12

  • Despite some differences, it is very clear that there is potential for convergence in terms of the learning platforms that could support HED or K-12. The HED LMS is short some key functionality needed to serve K-12 – but not too far off.
  • It is 100% crystal clear that the developments in each sector are affecting the other. For instance, K-12 leadership in e-assessment and content interoperability is enabling advancement in HED e-assessment.
  • The content as the LMS? IMS Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) has enabled content to be both the application and the learning platform. It is very clear that smart publishers will be providing lots of LMS-like functionality from within their content.
  • More bespoke and customized learning environments. Interoperability make it easier to roll your own portal or LMS. Indeed IMS interoperability makes it possible to configure a set of the 40 certified learning platforms and 100’s of tools to configure a comprehensive set of functionality, old and new – including the multi-LMS institution.

Net-Net

In summary, my sense is that right now is when institutional leaders should be paying attention because we are rapidly moving into a new phase of “LMS.” It is time to understand what is possible and how the leading suppliers are enabling the future.

For suppliers my simple advice is that this new phase will require working very closely with your customers and future customers to give then what they need. You are going to need to move faster than in the past. Being able to adapt rapidly to your customer’s needs is going to be more important than large stacks of features built in.

We are very pleased to be at the forefront in IMS in making those conversations happen, and more importantly, putting the technical foundation in place that makes sustainable progress possible.

Understanding the Big Picture of the Five Ed Tech Trends Highlighted in the 2014 Learning Impact Report

This week IMS Global released the 2014 Learning Impact Report which summarizes trends we are seeing in the ed tech sector based on the current year and historical winners of IMS’s annual Learning Impact competition. Many thanks to those that participated in the competition from around the world and, of course, the evaluators and editorial panel! Ed tech researchers or leaders interested in helping with the Learning Impact work in the future please contact us!

The executive summary of the report highlights five key trends out of the 15 or so we have been following since we began the program in 2007. One of the challenges of the ed tech sector is that we don’t have a common vocabulary to describe key developments, and frequently when a common term emerges, like LMS, MOOC or analytics – they become overloaded and frequently lose their usefulness. For that reason, we have focused the LIA process and terminology around what an institution is hoping to achieve with the support of technology – rather than the buzz terms for the technology itself – and focus on actual use of the technology at an institution (i.e. real examples of implementation).

In this blog I will briefly give some of my thoughts on each of the five key trends highlighted, not to repeat the specifics of what is in the report, but rather to help clarify why these are indeed key trends worth watching – and how they relate to the “big picture.”

Trend #1: Growing ecosystem of educational apps are enabling rapid integration of innovative learning tools for teachers and students

Diversity of need and diversity of offering is the future of education. Massification is not the future – it is the past (leading nations and societies will find ways to move beyond the current massified, one size fits all educational systems to the next phase). Over the long haul this trend to support diversity will be the most disruptive factor in the global education sector. The consumer mobile platform providers have taught us a thing or two about how to enable the “long tail” ecosystem of apps. Education will also move in this direction to support the need for diversity. IMS Global is right in the middle of enabling this trend via standards like LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability). We have evolved to 32 learning platforms that can “consume” LTI apps and about 100 certified apps. We estimate that there are 2-3x that number of apps that are actually using LTI, but not yet certified. Why can’t we just have 3-4 platforms like in the consumer world? Apple, Android, Microsoft, Amazon? The answer is self-evident when you consider that “the educational ecosystem” must encompass integration INTO and ACROSS the world of consumer devices and apps. How will the education sector manage to stay platform agnostic while bridging this gap? No one knows for sure but an obvious solution is for the much smaller (i.e. smaller than Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft) education sector participants (the suppliers and institutions) is to ban together and offer a set of bridging standards that enable any platform/any app to integrate with the platform agnostic educational ecosystem. Indeed, that is the direction that the IMS work is already taking and we are now seeing examples of things like Facebook/LMS integration using LTI.

Trend #2: Emphasis on student success and outcomes-based learning paving the way for GPS-like products

For students to do better they need better data about how they are doing and what their path alternatives/recommendations are: pretty obvious idea. Indeed, most learning management products are course/teacher focused – not helpful for students or advisors focused on the academic journey/program. Institutions, entrepreneurs and the Gates Foundation are getting this in the last few years – and a range of products are emerging. D2L acquired a product called Degree Compass that fits into this category. It is still relatively early days on this trend because there are many things to be worked out institution by institution. But, the motivation to do so is now apparent for those institutions that are either experiencing marginal success (due to the changing demographics of students and employment challenges) or looking to build new relationships with employers. One of the key buzzwords today in HED is competency-based education (CBE). Competency-based programs have become closed associated with being able to get college credit for life experiences/previously acquired skills. However, as educational systems evolve “competencies” (such as critical thinking, communications, teamwork) become the explicit components of describing the goals and progress of an educational path. But, I would also argue that ability to define and deliver on competencies that are relevant to specific partnerships with corporations (such as the much heralded partnership with Starbucks and ASU Online announced within the last year) will become a key competitive advantage for colleges in the future.

Trend #3: Gaming and simulation entries reinforce the power of games to improve student engagement through experiential learning

Eight years of Learning Impact Awards have produced an impressive group of medal winners in the educational gaming category. And, many have experienced some very excellent and mainstream games/simulations in niche areas such as graduate business schools. Yet, we continue to indicate in the Learning Impact Project Matrix that gaming/simulation in the educational sector is a ways off from being mainstream. The reason for this, of course, is that producing effective educational games that scale is expensive. The good news is that some of the award winners have been from institutions that indeed work at large scale, like Florida Virtual School. The matrix shows an interesting contrast in position with what has proven to be a learning impact leader: Adaptive learning and online homework. This category has been widely adopted due to the investment of publishers. Interestingly, we are now seeing products that feature programming frameworks that enable development of adaptive learning content. We have seen entries that have attempted to do the same for gaming and simulations. It is worth noting that there is an opportunity for publishers or institutions to invest in potentially scalable educational games/simulations. After all, isn’t this an obvious next vista for “educational authorship” beyond textbooks? LearningImpactProjectMatrix14

 

Trend #4: Evolution of robust digital learning networks that are scalable and flexible continues thanks to learning platform innovation and open infrastructures

The “Digital Learning Networks” category has been a shining star of large-scale impact of technology in the LIA contest since 2007. This category covers groups of institutions (national level, state level, district level, ad-hoc consortia, etc) collaborating to build out some form of technology architecture that accelerates educational progress across the group. Gartner Group’s  July 2014 report on the Hype Cycle for Education covers something called “Exostructure Strategy” –  leveraging interoperability to enable more friction-less partnering – whose description includes several IMS standards as the enabling technology – as having transformational potential.  While we would agree with Gartner that this type of strategy is not mainstream in most institutions we would point out that this type of collaborative strategy has been very successful around the work for many years now – and is not especially difficult to implement from a technical perspective. The challenge is really cultural. A great example of an emerging collaboration of this category is Unizin – institutions cooperating to put in place a framework to ensure they can share content and leverage data.

Trend #5: Scaling pedagogical knowledge and practice to help teachers innovate in the classroom is gaining significantly in K-12 via new digital platformsTrend #5

What is your digital curriculum strategy? What will become the core learning platform in K-20 by the year 2020? What does sharing pedagogical knowledge have to do with digital curriculum strategy and learning platforms? Everything. Luckily K-12 education understands the need for professional development. Unluckily, higher ed does not. Who is responsible for developing the K-12 teachers? Higher ed. Whoops! Many, many higher ed institutions have put in place web sites for faculty to collaborate – but, these efforts have stalled out due to the cultural issue of faculty independence. K-12 is now taking the lead in digital curriculum – because it has to – and it starts with helping the faculty make sense of the options available in the digital world. Since most K-12 districts invest more in curriculum than information technology it makes huge sense that the products to help faculty in this regard are accelerating. Learning platform support for professional development, including sharing of pedagogical knowledge is a key improvement area for the future. Whether or not this will be accomplished via plug in learning tools or apps versus the core platform remains to be seen.

Clearly the future is coming. Wishing you the best of luck in being an important part of making it happen.

All five of these areas have some pretty obvious effects on each other. We will leave that as homework for the reader ;-).

Can the Education Sector Lead Learning Tech Impact (and Tech Stds)?

Many thanks to Michael Feldstein of the e-Literate Blog for the insightful post on IMS progress entitled The IMS Is More Important Than You Think It Is.

Michael and Phil Hill have been so successful with the e-Literate Blog because of their intimate understanding of the education technology sector.  The funny thing about the title of this recent blog post about IMS is that even I, as the guy sort of in charge over here at IMS, often have the same sentiment – namely that IMS may be more important than even I think it is!

To explain I will highlight a few statements from Michael’s writing and elaborate a bit – all under the category of sort of a teachable moment. The key foundation here is to understand that when we reorganized IMS beginning eight years ago we took a pretty radical approach (while trying not to appear radical) of turning a technical standards organization upside down. So, rather than focusing on standards for educational technology as the most important thing we took to heart that standards are only a means to an end. That end is what we termed “Learning Impact” which is the impact that technology can have on transforming/improving education and learning. If that seems a bit ethereal to you, it’s not: The event Michael wrote his impressions from is our annual meeting called the Learning Impact Leadership Institute. This is NOT a meeting of standards geeks (even though we all have a bit, or maybe a lot, of that in us) but rather a meeting of those wishing to lead educational transformation.

Michael: “I have long argued that the development of technical interoperability standards for education are absolutely critical for enabling innovation and personalized learning environments. Note that I usually avoid those sorts of buzzwords—”innovation” and “personalized learning”—so when I use them here, I really mean them.”

Rob’s elaboration: Michael gets that IMS is all about innovation, but lot’s of folks misunderstand what goes on in a standards organization like IMS. Some standards are about picking one of several options of a technology already developed. My favorite example is picking a gauge to standardize railroad tracks. However, IMS standards are for technology that is new. These type of standards are all about enabling distribution of innovative practices and technologies. Thus, some will fail but others will enable wider innovation.  Working in IMS is as much or more about defining the innovation and enabling it as it is about locking down a potential standard.

Michael:  “But arriving at those standards often feels . . . painful, frustratingly slow, and often lacking a feeling of accomplishment. It’s easy to give up on the process. Having recently returned from the IMS Learning Impact Leadership Institute, I must say that the feeling was different this time.”

Rob’s elaboration: We’ve figured out a few things over the years that have helped improve the process of developing standards. First we try to separate the participants into groups that emphasize different things. Some folks like to work on developing specifications. Most, however, prefer to implement. Others, especially institutional types, like to work on reviewing to understand and ensure the benefits and resulting policies. The trick is to create some separate spaces and bring them together at the appropriate times. IMS is far from perfect at orchestrating all of this – but we are constantly working at it.  When it all comes together and you have the institutions and suppliers all working together toward the same end it is truly a beautiful thing. I think probably Michael sensed some of that at the meeting.

Michael: “The first indicator that things are different at the IMS these days is the health of the community.  Membership has quadrupled. Interestingly, there was also a very strong K12 contingent at the meeting this year, which is new. This trend is accelerating. According to Rob, the IMS has averaged adding about 20 new members a year for the last eight years but has added 25 so far in 2014. Implementations of IMS standards is also way up.”

Rob’s elaboration: To us IMS is an organization that enables the education sector to collaborate in the leadership of educational and learning technology. Seems like a strange thing to say, but as I pointed out in a 2007 EDUCAUSE Review article (see Innovation, Adoption and Learning Impact: Creating the Future of IT), the education segment does not invest much R&D compared to other segments and without collaboration every institution (all very small businesses – even the largest) spend most of the time and effort they do invest in reinventing what their colleagues at other institutions are doing. This is still a lesson that we are all learning. But, our approach to IMS has been to lay this out to the sector and basically say, “Hey, we can give you a platform for collaboration, but it’s up to you to fund it and make it succeed.” If you’re not supportive it will fail, if you are it will succeed. So far, IMS has grown from a very small standards activity to being on par with the largest and most stable in the world including horizontal and vertical standards organizations.

Michael: “The IMS is just knocking the cover off the ball in terms of its current and near-term prospective impact. This is not your father’s standards body. But I think the IMS is still just warming up.”

Rob’s elaboration: One does get the sense that despite very strong growth the last eight years that IMS may be accelerating.  My personal view is that there is an enormous opportunity for institutions and suppliers in the segment to shape the future right now as digital support for learning and education is accelerating. The concept that is the foundation of IMS, namely that true cross-platform plug and play apps, content and data in support of greater personalization, more distinctive educational programs and more effective educational programs, is a game changer. And, this is truly a charge that educational institutions can and should lead.  After all, who should be inventing the future of education? And, I also expect that much of this IMS work is going to make its way into more horizontal application across other industries (not education only) and the general web.

Hap’s Got Apps! FAQ regarding the IMS Connected Learning Innovation Community and Challenge

IMS announced today the winners of our first (of what we expect to be many) annual connected learning innovation challenge (aka app challenge – but this is a bit of a misnomer because the challenge is as much about platforms and tools as apps). And, our eternal hats off to Instructure Canvas for creating the idea for an App Challenge and conducting the first ever last year in conjunction with their annual conference.

We say “Hap’s got apps” because Hap Aziz is the IMS wrangler for this emerging education and learning app community.

Here’s an FAQ about the challenge, including plans going forward.

Q: How many entries and how many winners were there?

A: There were 22 entries and 5 top apps were selected as the winners.

Q: Where can I see the entries and the winners?

A: The winners are summarized in the press release and on the App Challenge Winner web page.  The winners and the other entries are also listed toward the bottom of the LTI certified product web page. You can also sign-up to get the (roughly) monthly CLIC (Connected Learning Innovation Community) newsletter here – which will have features on the winning and other notable apps as well as community news.

http://developers.imsglobal.org/catalog.html

Q: Who chose the winners and how were they chosen?

A: Many thanks to a panel of expert evaluators , primarily institutional leaders, but a few suppliers, who developed a rubric for the evaluation. My understanding is that there was excellent convergence on the winners.

Q: Are these “apps” like the kind of apps available on Google Play or iTunes?

A: No – these IMS app challenge apps are generally a lot better because they are powered with LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability). That’s because these are apps that can connect into over 25 different learning environments/platforms including all of the major learning management systems. Thus, these are “cross-platform” apps, unlike Apple or Google apps which generally only work on Apple. Or Google. In addition the IMS app challenge apps exchange highly useful information with the over 25 learning environments/platforms, such as user information, rosters, progress data, etc. So, the IMS app challenge apps are real enterprise learning apps and not the sort of limited individual user apps  people download to their mobile device from PlayStore or iTunes.

Q: “Could” mobile apps such as those downloaded from Google Play or iTunes become IMS LTI Apps?

A: That’s a bit of a complicated question because it involves software architecture and software architecture limitations of the operating systems involved, but the general answer is ‘yes’. The web-hosted “back-end” of mobile apps as well as the apps themselves could potentially leverage LTI (and/or other IMS standards) to connect to learning environments/platforms. To date we have not had any great examples of this but it is only a matter of time before it will happen.

Q: Was there money or other recognition involved in the Challenge?

A: Yes, each of the top five will receive a $1000 prize and also will be recognized at the IMS Learning Impact Leadership Institute May 5-8, 2014 in New Orleans.  There will also be a plenary panel and entire track on connected learning at the event, facilitated by Hap Aziz, with many of the entrants and evaluators as participants.

Q: Where did the money come from?

A:  A huge debt of gratitude is owed to the organizations that were financial supporters of the challenge and community. They made it possible.  Cengage Learning, Ellucian, Follett, Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne, Instructure Canvas, McGraw-Hill Education, Oracle, Pearson, University of Maryland Baltimore County, and Vital Source.  The initiative requires ongoing support and if your organization would like to sponsor in the future, please contact us at leadingchange@imsglobal.org.

Q: Were you pleased with the quality of the entrants and winners?

A: Very much so. The winners were a mix of small (including tiny) and larger organizations. The top vote getter, Hoot.me, was an extremely innovative combination of the educational enterprise with Facebook. This reflects a trend in which innovative faculty want to take advantage of existing non-educational applications, but couple them with their campus software platforms.  And, all five of the top winners were similarly highly innovative in terms of what they enable faculty, students and/or administrators to do – and that’s what this is all about – making innovation easier!

Q: Isn’t a non-connected app just as innovative?

A: Nice try, but not really. “Innovation” is not just about whether an application is novel.  It also has to be useful (in fact some definitions of the word take into account adoption/usage as a critical aspect of innovation). Apps that are easy to access and use are a lot more useful in the education space than those that aren’t. Having to enter student roster data or having separate logins or going to a different URL for an app is not at all cool. But, more importantly, these extra steps detract from the innovativeness. Faculty and students need to focus on learning and not on configuring software.

Q: Is the IMS Connected Learning Innovation Challenge going to become an annual thing?

A: Yes. We are on an annual schedule of app boot camp for developers at our August quarterly meeting, promotion at Fall EDUCAUSE, promotion at Winter EDUCAUSE ELI and announcement of annual winners during the run-up to the annual Learning Impact event in May.

Q: Is IMS going to do more to make it easier to find apps than the current LTI catalog web page?

A: Yes. The Connected Learning Innovation Community is also sponsoring the Community App Sharing/Store Architecture (CASA) project. Indeed, CASA is more than a whitepaper!  It is open source software that is being developed by a collaborating group of IMS HED institutions, led by UCLA and the University of California System.  CASA is a breakthrough. It’s a peer-to-peer app sharing architecture that will enable institutions or suppliers to partake in a network of  cross-platform educational app sharing. The very first public demonstrations of CASA will occur at the IMS Learning Impact Leadership Institute May 5-8, 2014 in New Orleans. For more background on CASA see this post.

Q: Is the Connected Learning Innovation Community (CLIC) meant to be an open source community?

A: Yes. IMS expects that for those institutions or suppliers that wish to share and collaborate on open source apps, tools or platforms that implement the IMS standards CLIC will evolve into a vibrant software collaboration. We like to say that this is like “an open source community on steroids” because the software developed will run cross-platform. So, whereas the current open source collaborations like Sakai and Moodle have been and will continue to be great, this is a different kind of community that adds a completely new dimension of cross-platform/cross-community.

Q: Where is the K-12 community in this?

A: IMS expects that K-12 institutions and/or states will begin to participate – it’s only a matter of time and resources.  HED has taken the lead here because HED institutions are developing lots of LTI apps on their own. And, HED is more used to these sort of development collaborations. But K-12 is coming.

 

Why Does IMS Global Learning Consortium Publish an Annual Report?

Today IMS released our annual report for the calendar and fiscal year 2013.   See the press release.  See the annual report.

IMS annual report 2013 cover

Producing an annual report is a lot of work – and these days when it seems like very few people have time to read one might ask why do we take the time and effort to do this?

We first published an annual report for the year 2009 – so 2013 is the fifth edition.

IMS annual report 2009 cover

I think there were really two catalysts that got us to publish the report.

The first was that after I came into IMS as the CEO in 2006 it became obvious that not even the Board of Directors much less all stakeholders in IMS were getting accurate financial data and other metrics on the organization. First we corrected the situation for the Board but then the Board also vowed that we should be providing this information to the members and the stakeholders.

The second catalyst was Jan Posten Day, who at the time was with Blackboard, and is now with Pearson. As a member of one of our leadership committees in IMS Jan was adamant that IMS should have an annual report. At the time Jan suggested this we were struggling to keep the organization afloat and I pushed back on the idea because it just seemed like we could not pull it off.  But Jan’s insistence made an impression on myself and the other staff – and I think it was within a year or so that we dug deep and got out the 2009 report.

As you will see in this year’s report, IMS has been growing nicely now for eight consecutive years.

ims growth through 2013

 

In fact, even though there has been quite a bit of churn in the member base over that time, the consistency in the net growth has been a little scary. It’s scary because we have looked long and hard and have not found any other similar growth pattern in organizations similar to IMS. Indeed during this same period most other organizations classified as “standards consortia” have generally been flat to declining. And, if you look at the historical patterns for standards consortia they tend to grow very rapidly when first originated and then flatten or tail off.

So, IMS is an organization in unchartered territory. In my mind it is all about leadership in terms of which way it will go. IMS has provided a viable organization for those organizations, institutions and suppliers, who wish to evolve an unprecedented collaboration to new heights. Or, those afraid of the disruption that IMS is enabling may slow it down. Everyday I see forces on both sides of that equation and think it’s going to be very interesting indeed as we go forward.

However, I assure you that, means willing, IMS will be publishing the report whether or not the results are as rosy as they have been.  Indeed when we began publishing the report we had no idea that the chart data would keep going up for the next 5 years!

But, here’s why I think the report is useful and why you should give it a look:

  1. In one relatively short document you get a full view of the work of IMS – which is not easy to see if you are focused on one or a few IMS initiatives.
  2. You can see how the organization is doing in terms of building momentum and in terms of financial strength.
  3. You can get a great a very summary of the major thrust of IMS and the key initiatives – and a concise commentary on why we are doing what we do.
  4. You can see the individuals and organizations that are leading IMS.
  5. It is a format that can be easily shared with someone else whom you might want to introduce the organization to or update on IMS progress.

IMS architectiure

Hopefully the experience of perusing the report should give you a sense that IMS is indeed a non-profit organization worthy of your support because IMS is changing the education and learning sectors for the better.  And, if you look at the range of initiatives that IMS is undertaking you can feel pride in that your support has made this progress possible. I assure you that without your support this work would not have happened – not only not have happened in IMS, but most likely would not have happened anywhere. IMS is that unique in the leadership and collaboration for progress to the education and learning sectors.

As with most “things IMS” the annual report is a testament to leadership. Not the leadership of the IMS staff, but the leadership of the IMS members, both organizations and individuals (like Jan Day above) who are insistent that we must do better in enabling the next generation of education and learning!

IMS community

 

Does IMS Have a Strategy?

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!

IMSmembergrowth

 

IMScertgrowth

 

IMSpackagegrowth

 

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.

IMSLearningImpact