Educational technology standards, or learning technology standards, as they are also known, have become an increasingly important area of multimedia technology and e-learning over the past decade. These standards have been developed and refined, and have grown to encompass wider aspects of e-learning as the discipline has matured. The scope and reach of e-learning and technology-enhanced systems has increased as a result of this maturing of the discipline. The “holy grail” of e-learning is to enable individualized, flexible, adaptive learning environments that support different learning models or pedagogical approaches to any Internet-enabled user, that these environments should also integrate into the wider MIS/student records system of the teaching institution, and that they should be cost-effective to develop, maintain, and update. The level of functionality of the current systems certainly has not gotten to this level yet, but there have been a number of big improvements made recently in certain of these areas, in particular, in how to make it less time-consuming to develop, more cost-effective, and interoperable. Educational Technology Standards have been in the forefront of these developments. The learning technology standardization process is leading the research effort in Web-based education. Standardization is needed for two main reasons: (1) educational resources are defined, structured, and presented using various formats; and (2) functional modules embedded in a particular learning system cannot be reused by another system in a straightforward way (Anido-Rifon, Fernandez-Iglesias, Llamas-Nistal, Caeiro-Rodriguez, & Santos-Gago, 2001). In this article, the main Educational Technology Standards will be presented, notably, LOM, SCORM, and OKI; their uses and coverage will be outlined; their shortcomings will be discussed; and the current areas of research will be reviewed.
The fundamental concept upon which virtually all current educational technology standards and specifications have been developed is reusable chunks of information. These have variously been termed knowledge objects, content objects, and most commonly, learning objects. These small self-contained objects of knowledge offer the basic ability to enable reuse of content, modularised development of applications, and standardisation between environments.
Learning objects (LO) and the very closely-related learning object metadata (LOM) specifications have become the base level standard for learning technology, effectively the de facto standard for creating learning content. The IEEE describe them as “Any entity, digital or non-digital, which can be used, reused, and referenced during technology-supported learning” (IEEE, 2001).
The key concept behind the LO is that they are designed to be reused, but along with this, that they can be easily delivered via a variety of media, particularly the Web, to enable any number of people to access and use them simultaneously. In this way, they provide a means for efficient development of a large amount of computer-based, interactive, multimedia instruction. Examples of Learning Objects include: multimedia content, instructional content, instructional software, software tools, learning objectives, persons, organizations, or events. On their own, LOs are of limited use. In practice, if they are used to implement any of the operations outlined above or if e-learning systems such as virtual learning environments (VLE) or learning content management systems (LCMS) are employed to implement them and present them to e-learners, they require additional information attached to them. In this context, they also need to have the ability to communicate with the Learning System that organises and manages them. In addition, to enable more complete reuse, each LO has information attached to it that describes its contents to enable easy exchange and searchability through search engines. This information is termed metadata or, more specifically, learning object metadata (LOM).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Metadata: This is background data that is used to assist in the reuse, the classification, and the recording of the intellectual property details of learning material. Learning object metadata can be encoded in either XML or RDF formats.
Learning Objects: This is learning material of different granularity that is used to form part of the content delivered in a learning course or module. Learning objects can be of many types, including Word or PowerPoint documents, tests, multimedia presentations, animations, sound clips, or video clips.
Educational Technology: Also known as Learning Technology, this is, primarily, software associated with Learning and Education. Educational technology is most commonly employed in e-learning and in blended learning environments.
Ontologies: Ontologies are used to logically represent concepts and the relationships that make up the concepts. In learning technologies, ontologies are important because they have the potential to be used, in combination with metadata representations, particularly RDF representations, so that intelligent data systems can apply logic and rule-based reasoning to learning objects.
Reusability: Reusability is the concept that describes how learning objects and learning material is reused between courses, educators, and learners. Learning objects are normally what are reused, and Learning Object Metadata is crucial in enabling reuse of learning objects.
Standards: Standards are used in specifying the content, interfaces, and metadata for Educational Technology environments. SCORM is the main de facto interoperability standard used within learning technology environments.
Interoperability: Interoperability is the concept of enabling heterogeneous software and hardware environments to share learning material. The base level learning material is the learning object; standards and Learning Object metadata play a significant role in enabling interoperability.