Notes on the IMS Learning Impact Conference

This year’s Learning Impact conference was the best attended that I can remember. The conference is also getting closer to what I would consider to be a healthy balance between vendors and university folks. This post is going to hit some quick standards news items that emerged out of the conference. I will follow up with a separate post on my musings regarding learning analytics that were inspired by a panel discussion.


Blackboard demonstrated interoperability with both SunGard and Oracle. To my knowledge Blackboard is now the first LMS to demonstrate interoperability with both SIS vendors. The exciting part is that, once Blackboard achieved LIS interoperability with SunGard, the Oracle LIS integration just worked. No code changes were necessary on either side. This something that standards groups always strive for, of course, but it’s hard to actually achieve. Enormous credit goes to LIS working group chair Linda Feng and working group zookeeper Colin Smythe for getting the standard to this point.

One of the next steps in this effort is to produce a conformance test harness. Right now, if you want to test your LIS implementation, you have to partner with a vendor or open source project that implements it already. And there’s no official, blessed implementation that can be used to definitively determine conformance. Colin has been working on some sort of super-duper oscillation overthruster that can take UML input and spit out a test harness in SOAP, REST, or whatever. This means that, in the near future, new IMS standards will be able to get conformance test suites much more quickly, leading to faster standards approval and better interoperability.

Of course, once you have a standard, you still need an ecosystem to support it. A company called Psydev now provides Java libraries and consulting services to help software development teams implement LIS quickly. This is now the second LIS consulting shop on the block. The first was Unicon, which developed the LIS integration for Sakai. This standard is definitely coming along.

That said, there is still a lot more to be done. Most of the LMS providers so far have implemented only the core conformance profile. That buys you near-real-time provisioning of course roster information from your SIS to your LMS, but it doesn’t provide support for grade return or multi-section and cross-listed courses (a.k.a. section association). Hopefully that next level of support will start showing up in the next year or so.

Common Cartridge

I’m pleased to note that Cengage (my employer) won a Gold Learning Impact Medal for it’s Course360 IMS CC solution. Separately, we announced that we have certified our first batch of Common Cartridge titles against the IMS conformance test. We had been producing CC packages previously and tested them with various LMSs but had not run them through the official certification test.) My sense of the future of Common Cartridge is that it will become more about providing a least-common-denominator interchange format for faculty to move their course content between LMSs than the dominant format for textbook vendors to provide course materials (more on that below), but for the present, it’s important for faculty to have the option of getting their course materials in this format.


I missed the sessions providing updates on the ongoing progress toward full LTI (as opposed to the current Basic LTI standard), so I’m going to have to find some way to get current. (Paging Dr. Chuck….) Once I do, I’ll let you know what I’ve learned. In the meantime, I’m happy to say that Cengage will be joining the LTI working group. The LMS isn’t really a great environment for presenting a lot of curricular content, so it’s important that it should be able to interoperate with more specialized environment (like MindTap, for example). LTI should be able to provide pretty rich interoperability, not only with educational content systems, but with a wide variety of specialized educational tools. The working group already has a great success on its hands with Basic LTI (and in record time, I might add). I’m very much looking forward to the gains we’ll get from full LTI.

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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 Notes on the IMS Learning Impact Conference

  1. The last 18 months have been a whirlwind of standards activity at Blackboard and in the industry. It was very positive to see commercial vendors like Blackboard, McGraw Hill, SunGard, Cengage, Oracle and others able to demonstrate rich integrations using these technologies.

    As a longtime standards advocate at Blackboard, it is nice to be able to stand at learning impact and hear from customers and partners that Blackboard is now where it should be, at the leading edge instead of standing outside. We were able to present Common Cartridge 1.1 import and export, LIS integration and LTI integration with McGraw Hill.

    I think that the next phase of IMS standards adoption will be about ubiquity of the core standards. We need to work collectively as standards advocates to ensure that there is a baseline of compliance and conformance. We also need to make sure that IT departments and others are looking to these standards as the first step in integrating technologies, not just a paper checkbox on an RFP. Lower the barriers, drive adoption of standards in implementations and the resulting savings will allow the market to expand as educational institutions can lower the costs of bringing in new tools. This expansion will naturally drive a lot of change in our industry and create new possibilities for innovators out there to bring ideas to educators.

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