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IMSLD Announcement Significance Draft

In case you missed it, which of course is only true for a very small percentage of you, OpenACS/.LRN recently announced that it was the first software platform to support the new IMS LD standard.

What is this all about, and why should you care?  Here's the short version:

Online learning, whether as an extension of offline learning in a classroom or as a pure proposition itself, has become a big deal and will continue to grow in importance.  One of the things that will continue to drive this is the growing availability of free, open, high-quality educational content online.  A popular example of this is MIT's seminal OpenCourseWare initiative, which in addition to becoming an incredibly useful resource itself around the world has also spawned other similar efforts.  But OpenCourseWare initially consists largely of static content -- syllabi, tests, etc.  What about interactive learning materials?

To make sure that interactive content developed by one instructor could be "played" by other instructors using different learning management systems, The US Defense Department and several other organizations setting standards for information technology in education, including a 300-member consortium called IMS, published a specification called SCORM, short for Shareable Content Object Reference Model.  So if you have a "SCORM-compliant LMS", that means it can play interactive learning content, like self-guided tutorials, and certain simulations.  Very cool! .LRN's LORS package, authored principally by Ernie Ghiglione, is one example of a SCORM-compliant player.

Many learning experiences, however, are open-ended -- meaning it's the interaction between and among instructors and students, and other players in the learning experience (patients for example, in a medical setting, or clients in a law school moot court or business school project) that really drives the value students derive from a course.  SCORM doesn't do a very good job of modeling an open-ended process, or integrating the collaborative tools that participants use online to support such experiences.

Enter IMS LD ("learning Design").  This is a more sophisticated specification that provides a pedagogically neutral language for modeling such experiences.  And now OpenACS/.LRN is the first LMS to support the specification by providing a player for IMS LD-compliant content.  In addition to "expressing the "base content" itself, the OpenACS/.LRN player allows integration of the many collaboration tools our platform provides into the learning experience experienced through the player.

Professor Carlos Delgado Kloos of Madrid's Universidad Carlos III (UC3M) kindly provided this link to instructions for accessing a working instance of IMS LD running as part of a .LRN instance; this documentation for administrators on using the package is also very helpful to read.

Now why should you care?  Online massively-multi-player (MMP) gaming, online communities, and e-learning are all increasingly central to the worlds of education and entertainment, which themselves are inextricably intertwined, especially for younger generations.  And, IMS LD represents an effort to create a lingua franca for developing content for the nexus of these three phenomena.  What, concretely, do we mean?  Consider, for example, how such a capability might be used in a law school.  We could model the legal system, with "players" acting in different roles to advocate, adjudicate, and dispense justice, using collaboration tools like chat for lawyers to examine witnesses and present arguments, polls for juries to reach verdicts, and wikis for judges to write decisions collaboratively. 

Huge, right?  It's even more significant if this experience can be developed with the knowledge that it can reach a really broad audience, which is what an open specification makes possible.  The hard part is keeping things simple enough that people can learn the format and develop for it, while keeping it flexible and "abstract" enough to encompass a large enough "possibility set" that people won't be tempted to fork so far for their own tweaks that they can't get back to something everyone can run.  I'd expect a cottage industry will emerge in which participants will author libraries of "LD templates" of different pedagogical approaches that instructors could then easily configure for their teaching needs.  Right now, though, that's a bit further ahead in the future.

So we'll see how this unfolds.  See immediately below, as well as in the comments on this page for excerpts from some very helpful further comments by some colleagues in the .LRN community:

From Professor Jesus G. Boticario of the Artificial Intelligence Department of Spain's Universidad Nacional de Educacion a la Distancia (UNED):

"Let me add that I'm looking forward to reading the comments from Luis and Jopez on this. I presume that they will clarify a key issue regarding IMS-LD, which is the description, in a non-dependent pedagogical way (i.e., open to any pedagogical approach) of learning activity workflows. Moreover, this opens up a standard approach to deal with a recurrent open problem in learning, which is to take into account individual needs and preferences while interacting with learning activities. In particular, the LD designer can describe a learning activity to be delivered, using any pedagogical approach applicable (e.g., a very simple one: first provide the examples then a related explanation, or the other way around, first introduce the subject at hand then provide examples, and provide one or the other considering if the learner has an inductive or deductive learning style).

Furthermore, the fact is that the IMS-LD specification expands opportunities for re-use of learning designs by enabling interoperability among compliant learning management systems is what makes it so powerful (Buzza, Bean, Harrigan & Carey, 2004). Available at:

 IMHO, another relevant issue here is to remark the R&D projects which have been using IMS-LD in conjuction with dotLRN. On our side these are as follows:

- EU4ALL (October 2006-September 2010)
European Unified Approach for Assissted Lifelong Learning
Funded by the EC under the 6th FP: IST-2005-034778

- ADAPTAPlan (January 2006-December 2008)
Adaptation based on machine learning, user modelling and planning for complex user-oriented tasks
Funded y the Spanish Ministry of Science and Technology: TIN 2005-08945-C06-01

- FAA (February 2005 – July 2007)
Open and Accessible Training
Funded by the Xunta of Galicia (Spain): PGIDIT-05-SIN-011-E

- aLFanet (May 2002-April 2005)
Active Learning for Adaptive Internet
Funded by the EC under the 5th FP: IST-2001-33288 to cover de full life cycle of adaptive e-learning



From Professor Gustaf Neumann, Head of the Department of Information Systems at Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration:

"Hi Folks,

A few comments from my side concerning IMS LD.

 - first of all, i think that it is great, that we have one of the best IMS LD supports
  available in .LRN

 - however, we should not overemphasis it, since IMS LD has as well many weaknesses, at least for university usage with a blended learning approach:

 * most teachers are not able to develop a useful IMS LD design in the time they want to devote for this

 * IMS LD is designed with an "ex-ante course design" in mind, which is "re-played" in a class situation. At least in our university, this would not work, since we seldom run the exact same design multiple times. It looks to me, as if the mindset behind IMS LD is that the course designer is typically not the teacher  in a class.

  * The suitability of IMS LD might be much better for highly standardized courses such as for driving licenses, ecdl, etc. or for university targeting on distance education.

 - in our environment agile content development and flexible content reuse together with some learning-activity management (similar to ad-hoc work flows) are much more important. Teachers want to react immediately to pot. weaknesses in their materials and course designs...

Interesting enough, the community base approach of .LRN makes it easy to define online learning communities,which are suitable for both, distant and blended learning. So I would recommend emphasizing this aspect as well sufficiently.

best regards


From Jose Pablo Escobedo Del Cid at UC3M:

"Hi, Jesus,

You are right about the pedagogical issue. The IMS-LD specification provides a generic and flexible language to capture the pedagogic structure of an online learning experience and it is designed to enable many different pedagogics to be expressed. (More info on how to model different didactical scenarios can be found here: Daniel Burgos, Rob Koper, 2005, "Practical pedagogical uses of IMS Learning Design's Level B ". IMHO, the flexibility of the IMS-LD spec, not being bound to any pedagogy, is one of its major advantages. The levels B and C (which introduce the conditions, properties and notifications) enable the automation of learning flow activities, which are triggered by the completion of tasks and the value of the properties that change during the run, rather than the learning flows being pre-planned by the course designer. A consequence of this dependence on runtime events is that the activities set to learners are no longer wholly predictable, they depend on the course of the collaboration.

I hope this helps!


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