Standards & Technologies for Digital Learning (part II)

If this is the first relevant post that you’re visiting in my blog, keep the page open and right click here to open the first post of the series before reading this one! As I already discussed, this series of posts came as the answer to my need for organizing some “things” in my head! Too many tools and technologies and standards out there for all of us working on digital learning, so I needed some kind of overview and a point of reference.

In the previous post I briefly outlined standards and specs for (a) content quality, (b) content format and (c) content packaging. So in this one, we discuss metadata, interoperability (slightly addressed already through content packaging) and learning skills, learning goals, competences and the like. Maybe the original categorization is a bit subjective, but this is what comments’ sections are for! Feel free to drop a line with your view. I will be happy to edit the post accordingly to include your input.

Educational Metadata

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Well, metadata have been here for quite some time. In education, we started working with metadata long before the first widely accepted educational metadata standard came out. To this day, most of the educational repositories and related systems, still utilize two of the most prevalent standards out there, DC and IEEE LOM. Fortunately we have covered some ground since them, so to the best of my knowledge, the main standards/specs for educational metadata are the following, with lots and lots of application profiles stemming from them:

  • IEEE Learning Object Metadata: The standard IEEE 1482.12.1-2002 is an internationally recognized open standard coming from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Standards Association. It describes dimensions or elements of the learning object such as its type, its creator, its owner and licenses. More importantly it describes aspects of the object, facilitating its discovery and reusability through a metadata element set that is “educationally” meaningful.
  • Dublin Core Metadata Element Set: Dublin Core contains fifteen generic elements that can also be utilized to describe learning resources. Initially it was designed to describe digital resources with no consideration of learning. Nonetheless, its simplicity and easiness to comprehend, led to its wider use. Some ten years ago, there was a related working group, dealing with DC for education (DC-Ed).
  • Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI): The LRMI specification is a collection of fields and properties that are used to describe digital learning resources. It is based on the extended vocabulary provided by It is led and deployed by all the major search engines and also supported by creative commons. It mainly uses object attributes of the type “” that describe the educational characteristics of Learning Objects (LOs).
  • IMS Learning Resource Metadata Specification (LRMS): This specification is based on IEEE LOM and it’s compatible with it. In addition, it has expanded the IEEE LOM logic, offering instructions for its use and application, in three parts: (a) the IMS Learning Resource Meta-data Information Model tha contains the names, definitions, organization and constraints of metadata elements, (b) the IMS Learning Resource Meta-data XML Binding that contains an XML implementation and (c) the IMS Learning Resource Meta-data Best Practice and Implementation Guide that contains information and instructions on how an application can consume the metadata.
  • Metadata for Learning Resources (ISO/IEC 19788) (MLS): The ISO/IEC 19788 standard, is comprised by a number of parts and is maintained by the subcommittee SC36 of the Joint Technical Committee ISO/IEC JTC1, Information Technology for Learning, Education and Training. This committee was created to tackle the overlapping standards and specifications for digital learning content. It contains a basic framework (19788-1) that defines the main parts of the standard and then a series of parts that concern Dublin Core elements (part 2), the basic application profile (part 3), technical elements (part 4), educational elements (part 5), bindings (part 7), etc. It follows a modular approach offering great extensibility and compatibility with existing approaches that can be incorporated through the introduction of added parts.


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“Interoperability” is a complex concept. To begin with, talking about technologies and standards in any domain, to achieve interoperability, you also have to be using the same underlying technologies and standards. So, using XML, RSS, REST-APIs, SOA, WSDL and SOAP as examples of technologies and standards that also apply in education, is on its own a step towards greater interoperability (will be discussed in upcoming post). On the other hand you also have the technologies and standards that from their conception, aim to facilitate the communication of services and systems. Such protocols/standards/specs are the following:

  • Open Archives Initiative – Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH): The protocol OAI-PMH offers a simple technical solution for catalog services and repositories that seek to offer their metadata to other services deployed with HTTP and XML. The metadata records that will be harvested have to be in a specific format to achieve a minimum level of interoperability.
  • Learning Tool Interoperability Standards (LTI): This is a specification that is being developed by the IMS Global Learning Consortium. The main idea behind it is to create a standard way to embed rich learning applications on platforms like LMSs, portals and repositories or other learning environments. The main use case of LTI is the simple connection of web-based apps to various learning environments without the need for the development of embedding solutions from scratch that require considerable upkeeping.
  • IMS Learning Information Services Specification: The specification defines how systems manage the exchange of information that describe people, groups, subscriptions, courses and results/grades within learning situations/contexts. This specification offers a set of different components/services, such as: Person Management Service, Membership Management Service, Group Management Service, Course Management Service, Outcomes Management Service amd Bulk Data Exchange Management Service.
  • Questions & Test Interoperability (QTI): The QTI specification allows the exchange of content, objects and tests as well as result data among authoring tools, object banks, learning platforms and other related systems. It allows the content to be shared simultaneously on various platforms while offering a data model that defines the structure of questions, evaluations and results. It also has an XML Data Binding that defines the language to facilitate question and content exchange.

Of course, all the aforementioned standards go into greater depth than the one outlined in the previous paragraphs. Nonetheless, it’s not within the aim of this post to go into great detail related to interoperability standards. To really grasp the concepts behind these standards, one has to study them in greater extent.

Learning Goals, Skills and Competences

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Most of the standards and specifications described in this category, can also be considered as part of the interoperability standards/specs, as they also facilitate the communication of different systems through a uniform way of describing learning goals, learning skills and competences.

  • Common Core State Standards Initiative: This is a set of high quality academic standards for math and english. The learning goals that Common Core contains outline what a student has to know and what his/her skills should include in the end of each course/school year. These standards have been created to ensure that all students that graduate from high school have the qualifications and knowledge that is needed to succeed in their college life and/or professional life altogether.
  • Next Generation Science Standards: The NGSS standards are based on the “Framework K–12 Science Education” that was created by the National Research Council of the United States. They include three dimensions that are embedded into the pedagogical practice in all grades. The first is about core ideas that have specific content and thematic areas, the second is about science and engineering practices and the third is about interdisciplinary topics. They are also aligned with the aforementioned Common Core Standards and describe the expected performance of pupils and students on science and engineering topics.
  • Common Education Standards (CEDS): This is a national collaborative effort to develop voluntary, common data standards for a key set of educationa data elements to streamline the exchange, comparison and understanding of deata within and across early learning and post-secondary as well as workforce environments.  They aim to ensure that when a student transfers from one program, institution, district, or state to another, or advances from one sector of the education system to the next, information will accompany him or her to ensure continuity and appropriateness of services provided.
  • Mozilla Open Badges: This is an open online standard that comes from the Mozilla Foundation and extends the notion of digital badges, allowing for the certification of skills, interests and accomplishments and their linkage to the user that acquires the badge. They are also offered through the Mozilla BadgeKit that allows for the creation/assignment/publication of Mozilla Badges. It also offers a set of templates that can be used to create badges along with modular and open templates for publishers of badges.
  • Digital Credentialing Currency Framework: This is a partially technical and partially semantic framework that tries to define the container of digital credentials insted of defining the content of a digital credential. By offering semantic and technological structure to digital credentials, it tries to support their wider use and better understanding. Through the collaboration with institution like the Mozilla Foundation, they try to foster the creation of a larget system of digital credentialing that will include badge publishers, users, consumers, etc.
  • Caliper Analytics Standard: The Caliper Analytics Standard creates a way for the consistent documentation and presentation of metrics and measures of student activity. In turn, this will allow for the deployment of learning analytics systems within and outside traditional LMSs. It also defines a common language to express learning data and it offers a standard way of measuring the effectiveness of learning activities that will also impact their design and deployment in real systems. It is created by IMS and is therefore compatible with all the other standards that it deploys.
  • OneRoster: This is a sub-standard, belonging to the Learning Information Services Standard, which focus on the needs of the schools to exhange information about their student base but also the scores of their students. It includes SOAP and REST-based bindings to facilitate the information exchange related to students, courses and scores. In addition, it offers a secure CSV format that facilitates the exchange of sensitive student information among schools.
  • Metadata for Learning Opportunities (MLO): This is a European standard that defines the characteristics of the digital representation of learning opportunities to facilitate their advertisement to potential students. This model defines three types of resources for which it stores metadata, (a) the provider of the learning opportunity, (b) the specification of the learning opportunity and (c) the description of the learning opportunity.
  • IEEE Standard for Learning Technology-Data Model for Reusable Competency Definitions: This standard defines a data model for the description, reference and sharing of definitions of competences, mainly in online environments of distributed learning. This standard offers a way to express the main characteristics of a competency independently of its use in different contexts. It facilitates the interoperability among different systems by offering to them a common point of reference for the description of competences. It does not distinguish among skills, knowledge, behaviours or learning goals, but it can be used to describe all of them.

Again, this post, exactly like the previous one, came out to be a bit lengthier than expected. Nonetheless, it feels like it was necessary to cover the basics of the categories of digital learning standards I wanted to cover. Apart from the metadata-related part that lies in the center of my research interests, I think that the topic of digital credentialing is already gaining traction (I remember talking about this as back as 2010 in an event in San Fransisco) and it’s really promising. Learning Analytics is hot as we all know, but when it comes to linking learners’ behaviour with solid learning goals and achievements, digital credentialing will definitely offer concrete solutions. Especially with the evergrowing offer for online courses that will need to be accredited in a uniform and consistent way, solutions like Mozilla Badges will definitely spread.

If you’re done reading the first two posts, in this link you may find the end of this trilogy. I hope it won’t disappoint you as it has happened with the third part of more than one trilogies I can bring to memory! 😉




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