The Questions Addressed by This Chapter
Within the field of learning design and learning objects, IMS Learning Design (IMS LD) (IMS Global Learning, 2003) is the only interoperability specification which enables users to implement learning activities for multiple users while maintaining the flexibility to implement a wide range of pedagogical structures. Because of this, IMS LD based approaches and systems have rightly received a great deal of attention as a possible solution to a number of different challenges facing education in the early years of the twenty-first century. This multifaceted relevance, however, creates its own problems. The experience of the authors is that many people when they first come to IMS LD see it in terms of the problems which they themselves would like to solve. For example, they may see it as being a modeling language, or as a data format, or as “what you do when you use an IMS LD compliant application?” As a result, it is often difficult for users to get an overview of the full potential of the specification, or to assess what has been achieved with it. This chapter does not provide an introduction to IMS LD, as this is available in Koper (2005b) and Olivier and Tattersall (2005). Nor does it focus on classifying and describing tools for IMS LD, as analysed by Griffiths, Blat, Garcia, Vogten, and Kwong (2005). Rather it seeks to support relative newcomers to the specification in understanding the opportunities which IMS LD offers, the achievements which have been made, the constraints under which it operates, and the prospects for the future. It also aspires to offer reflections which will provide some new perspectives for those who have worked with the specification for some time.
From one perspective, it might seem that the contribution made IMS LD and its predecessor educational modelling language (EML) is straightforward, as described in the preface to Koper and Tattersall (2005, p. viii):
The basic idea of EML and LD...is in essence simple. It represents a vocabulary which users of any pedagogical approach understand, and into which existing designs can be translated. The core of LD can be summarised as the view that, when learning, people in specific groups and roles engage in activities using an environment with appropriate resources and services.
In the same volume, Koper sets out the requirements for a learning design language (Koper, 2005b). These include that it should provide sufficient detail for the teaching–learning activities to be carried out, be sufficiently flexible to be able to describe learning designs based on all kinds of theories, and should provide a formal language for learning designs that can be processed automatically. Thus, IMS LD is a language which can be used to define designs for teaching and learning activities. Nevertheless, the specification itself is not as straightforward as this might suggest. As Olivier and Tattersall (2005, p. 21) point out: “To be usable by computers, this language has to be given a concrete syntax and semantics, and this is provided by the Learning Design specification. The documents which make up the specification can be quite daunting.”
IMS specifications are typically composed of a set of three documents: a best practice and implementation guide, an information binding, and an information model, and in the case of IMS LD, these documents are considerably more extensive and complex than most of those produced by IMS. According to Olivier and Tattersall (2005, p. 23) who were involved in the authorship of the documents, they are “intended to be read by technical domain specialists, learning technologists and learning and instructional designers.” It should be noted that end users, such as teachers, learners, and those running educational institutions, are not mentioned in this list. These end users would no doubt find the LD specification opaque, and indeed the experience of the UNFOLD project (Burgos & Griffiths, 2005), which we discuss below, suggests that this is the case for many “learning and instructional designers” too. Thus, it was always intended that most actors would use IMS LD through the mediation of a layer of tooling. In this, LD is similar to other document formats which are rarely edited or even seen by anyone other than a technical expert, even in the case of a relatively simple mark up language such as HTML. Consequently, the degree to which IMS LD tools have succeeded in hiding the complexity of the specification from the user has been, and remains, a key factor in constraining or enabling the achievements and opportunities for effective use of the specification.
In an earlier publication (Griffiths, Blat, Garcia, Vogten, & Kwong, 2005), we discussed the categories of tools which are required to work with IMS LD, the factors which influence their development, and types of tools which were being produced. The categorisation of tools which is provided there remains applicable, although readers interested in an alternative approach are also directed to Sodhi, Miao, Brouns, and Koper (2007). Since 2005, a substantial effort has been put into the development of IMS LD tooling, and in this chapter, we will be mentioning much of the key work carried out. The development of IMS LD compliant tools and specifications is not, however, an end in itself. To be of significance, they should be used by someone for a purpose, and make a difference in the world, and so our discussion is informed by the questions:
With this in mind, we do not here tell the story of the work carried out, and the software engineering, design, and usability issues which have arisen (interesting though these topics may be). Rather, we identify the ways in which IMS LD can be used, giving illustrative examples of the tools and implementations which have been developed. On the basis of this discussion, we offer our assessment of the current status of IMS LD for each of the modes of use. We then move on to engage with a critical reflection on the role that IMS LD is equipped to play in the evolving technical context, discussing the question: