Lots of News in the IMS Standards World

Update: Scott Wilson rightly pointed out to me that the IMS produces specifications, not standards.

This week was the annual IMS Learning Impact conference, and it brought with it a slew of announcements about progress on education-specific technical standards:

  • Learning Information Services v2.0 Public Draft Released: Well, this took waaay longer than expected, but the full draft is now ready for public review. I have written about this standard a few times before. Basically, it fixes many of the current problems with SIS/LMS integration and provides a more general means of provisioning class roster information into any application that needs it. LIS makes it easier for schools to move to support multiple LMSs, move to a different LMS, or make it easier for faculty and students to use non-LMS collaboration tools for classes. Expect more announcements about increased adoption of the standard in the coming months.
  • Basic Learning Tool Interoperability Finalized: This is a standard for proxying learning tools into your LMS/portal/PLE/whatever-unified-learning-environment-you-please. Think of Basic LTI as a lightweight, cross-platform answer to Blackboard Building Blocks/WebCT PowerLinks/Moodle Modules/whatever. Full LTI, which supports more complex use cases at the cost of a more complex implementation, is in the works.
  • Access For All 2.0 Finalized: AFA is an accessibility standard that has actually been around since 2003. However, it has since been submitted and adopted as an ISO standard and was modified significantly in the process. AFA 2.0 harmonizes the IMS standard with the ISO version of the standard.
  • Common Cartridge Adopted by Textbook Publishers to Support Tennessee Board of Regents: This is pretty big news. Standards generally don’t get traction unless customers demand that they be supported by their vendors. In this case, the Tennessee Board of Regents told the various textbook publishers that they expected course content for the high-enrollment general education requirements courses to be published in Common Cartridge format. Common Cartridge, if widely adopted, means the end of platform-specific course cartridges. It also potentially means that faculty migrating their courses from one system to another, either because they change schools or because their schools are changing LMSs, will have a much easier time of it. This latter bit will only happen if and when LMS platforms support Common Cartridge export, so be sure yo demand this from your vendor or your open source community.
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About Michael Feldstein

Michael Feldstein is co-Publisher of e-Literate, co-Producer of e-Literate TV, and Partner in MindWires Consulting. For more information, see his profile page.
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One Response to Lots of News in the IMS Standards World

  1. Rob Abel says:

    I’d like to point out that Scott is sort of technically correct, but materially wrong about what IMS produces. IMS uses essentially the same processes as W3C and OASIS – who are widely recognized as producing standards, not specifications. I think the term “specification” is pretty much a useless phrase except to a few formal international or national standards bodies – like ISO or BSI in the UK – who have to have a name for something they ingest in order to create a “standard.” However, you could just as well call what ISO or BSI produce specifications – they just have a different set of folks voting then in a consortium like IMS, OASIS,or W3C.

    So, let’s stop debating a set of useless terms. IMS now produces specification documents, XML bindings, code libraries, open source reference implementations, and even facilitates adoption projects. And, yes, our work has been taken up by formal national and international standards bodies. But, so what? The benefits occur to ed institutions and suppliers from what we deliver because it “standardizes” data and content interchange and is voted on by a more diverse group than if say Google, Apple, or Amazon come up with something on their own and say it’s an “open standard” just because they publish an API.

    The national and international standards bodies generally rubber stamp what we offer and generally publish less (for instance, no bindings, no code, no implementation advice) then IMS does and also charge for the documents (which we don’t). So, I’m just a “little” tired of hearing about a distinction (between specifications and standards) that is absolutely meaningless and even implies that somehow what groups like IMS, OASIS,and W3C are somehow less complete than what say ISO or BSI produce – when in fact just the opposite is the case.

    Hopefully that helps to clarify and let me know if I can clarify further.


    -Rob Abel