OER and Standards

Speaking of that $2 billion initiative by the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education that everybody is buzzing about, it turns out that, not only does it mandate a license for the educational resources it funds (CC-BY), it also mandates an interchange format. Namely SCORM. Rob Abel, CEO of IMS, has posted a long rant about why he thinks this is a bad idea. I don’t endorse all of Rob’s criticisms of SCORM, but I strongly agree with the point that SCORM and IMS Common Cartridge (the other main contender for a standard educational content interchange format) have substantially different affordances that are appropriate for substantially different use cases.

I understand why the Federal government wants to mandate a particular standard for content reuse, but I think it’s a mistake in this case. Educational content re-use is highly context-dependent, which means that no one standard is going to support all or even most of the relevant use cases. There will be times when SCORM is the best, times when IMS Common Cartridge is the best, times when RSS/Atom is the best, and times when just plain old HTML is really all that you need. Imposing a SCORM requirement for all resources¬†will substantially increase the labor involved in producing them without necessarily bringing a payoff. The likely result will be fewer grantees will produce OERs and fewer of the OERs produced will be re-used.

The better thing to do would be to require that grantees include in their proposal a plan for promoting re-use, which would include the selection of appropriate format standards.

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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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10 Responses to OER and Standards

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  2. Rob Abel says:

    Michael,

    That is a great suggestion: “The better thing to do would be to require that grantees include in their proposal a plan for promoting re-use, which would include the selection of appropriate format standards.”

    You are right, I would not need to “rant” about SCORM if there were a balanced perspective coming from the U.S. government on this. But, that is not the case. So, permit me to rant a bit until we get some understanding in Washington DC. The mandates for SCORM have been very costly, and in the case of education, pretty much non-sensical to this point in time. I cannot tell you how many suppliers I have talked to that have been forced to implement “SCORM solutions” due to government mandate that never exhibit even a bit of reuse once deployed. To me, this is very bad for standards in general – it poisons the well for guys like us who require voluntary adoption in the market. Luckily, we are succeeding now. But it hasn’t been easy. SCORM, while potentially having a role, as you say, has created a significant headwind for us.

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  4. It’s the same in the UK where the Learning Platform framework for schools included a requirement for SCORM. So few people really use it effectively, it’s a complete waste of effort…

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  9. I’ve posted some detailed thoughts on my own blog. I’m also supportive of content being packaged as openly as possible. I’m concerned that this focuses too much on a runtime instead of open materials. As an example many SCORM packages are heavily dependent on Flash. Good luck playing that on your iPad. It would be better if the focus was on using open technologies e.g HTML5 rather than a runtime. IMS cc is the most open format for packaging up these resources and sharing them. This is a bit like mandating distribution of music in an 8-track format.

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