E-Learning Standards?

Any one stepping into the world of e-learning and LMS is bewildered by the question of standards what they are and what do they do and why they are needed and how are they formed. So here goes in the most simplest of terms…………………

What are standards?
E-Learning standards are a set of common rules for content, authoring software and Learning Management Systems (LMSs). These rules or specifications specify how courses can be created and delivered over multiple platforms so that they all operate seamlessly together.

How are Standards Formed?
Before a rule can become a “standard,” it is called a “specification.” Specification is a detailed, exact statement of the functional requirements and particulars for something to be built, installed, or manufactured. Some specifications are further developed to the status of an accredited standard; it has to pass certain criteria’s to become an accepted standard. There are four common steps for gaining acceptance:

R&D: Research and development is conducted to identify possible solutions. Ex The Learning Federation, overall research at universities, corporations, consortia, etc.

Specification Development: When a tentative solution appears to have merit, a detailed written specification must be documented so that it can be implemented and codified. Ex AICC, IMS, and ARIADNE (Europe).

Testing/Piloting: The specifications are put into use either in test situations or pilots to determine what works, what doesn’t, what is missing, customer reactions, etc.Ex ADL SCORM plugfests.

Accredited and International Standard Status: The tested and complete specifications are reviewed by an accredited standards body. If approved, the specification receives official certification by the accredited standards body and is made available to all through this body.

Currently, e-learning standards are being developed by four main organizations: AICC, IEEE, IMS, and ADL.

Criteria’s for Standards?
There are main three areas for a standard

  • Communication Interface or API–how resources communicate with other systems,
  • Meta-data–how to describe e-Learning resources in a consistent manner,
  • Content Packaging–how to gather resources into useful bundles,

Communication Interface or API – The communication interface is how learning resources exchange information dynamically. These standards allow different system components to share information about learners across multiple system components. Learner profile information can include personal data, learning plans, learning history, accessibility requirements, certifications and degrees, assessments of knowledge (skills/competencies). In addition, systems need to communicate learner data to the content, such as scores or completion status.

Metadata- Metadata can be thought of as the subjective and objective data that describes the attributes and characteristics of not only content or “data,” for which it most is often noted, but also people, places, and things. Learning content and catalog offerings must be labeled in a consistent way to support the indexing, storage, discovery (search), and retrieval of learning objects by multiple tools across multiple repositories.

Content packaging- Industry use of the term “packaging” often refers specifically to gathering and describing the resources for a course. Content packaging specifications and standards enable organizations to transfer courses and content from one LMS to another. This is critical because content can created by one tool, modified by another tool, stored in a repository maintained by one vendor, and used in a delivery environment produced by a different supplier. Content packages include both learning objects and information about how they are to be put together to form larger learning units. They can also specify the rules for delivering content to a learner.

What Standards Do?
The objective of standards is to provide fixed data structures and communication protocols for e-learning objects .This enables interoperability between applications, such as an LMS and third-party or in-house developed content, by providing uniform communication guidelines that can be used throughout the design, development, and delivery of learning objects. LMS standards define LMS and courseware interoperability so that an organization can switch to a different LMS that adheres to the standards with minimal or no impact on courseware.

Why we Need Standards?
The e-learning industry continues to evolve, change and advance continuously, every day, and common methods and tools necessary to create and maintain content and infrastructure applications is critical, hence the need for standards.

Common standards for things such as content metadata, content packaging, API, interoperability, learner profiles, etc., must be in place and widely accepted for the knowledge economy and the future of learning to realize this vision. Products that adhere to standards will provide consumers with wider product choices and a better chance that the products in which they invest will avoid quick obsolescence.

E-learning standards are constantly evolving, like it or not you have to be geared up to educate yourself about developments among the standards organizations that create the guidelines as well the suppliers that use them to develop their products to be successful in the e-learning world.