Standards for Learning Objects and Learning Designs

Standards for Learning Objects and Learning Designs

Morag Munro (Dublin City University, Ireland) and Claire Kenny (Dublin City University, Ireland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-861-1.ch041
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E-learning standards are a contentious topic amongst educators, designers, and researchers engaged in the development of learning objects and learning designs. There is disagreement regarding the relative benefits and limitations of standards, while the relevance of standards to some education and training contexts has been questioned. It may be difficult for designers and educators to be sure that they need to implement standards, let alone to choose the most appropriate one from the plethora available. This chapter aims to provide individuals involved in the design and development of learning objects and learning designs with a wide-ranging critical overview of e-learning standards. It first traces the evolution of standards, and then examines their application in the present day. Finally, the chapter considers some of the limitations and criticisms of current standards, and suggests some possible directions for future development.
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Opinions vary regarding the importance and relevance of e-learning standards for learning objects and learning designs. Some view standards as nothing more than buzz words, and have difficulty seeing the relevance to K-12 and tertiary education of standards that have, so far, been used to support a limited range of pedagogical models in commercial and military training contexts. Others consider standards to be pivotal in facilitating sharing, reuse, and interoperability of resources across all training and education sectors. Whatever your opinion, it is clear that standards are difficult to avoid.

So, what are the most commonly used e-learning standards and why have standards become so important? How do standards benefit instructors, education providers and students? Should “standards compliant” e-learning be the “Holy Grail” for the e-learning developer? How should one select the “correct” standard(s) from the plethora available? How much time and effort does the designer or educator need to invest in order to apply e-learning standards correctly? This chapter examines standards related issues relevant to current and future development of learning objects and learning designs. It aims to provide both the novice and more experienced standards implementer with a wide-ranging overview of e-learning standards by:

  • Outlining the history and evolution of standards, in which we consider the rationale for the development and application of standards, provide definitions of the most prevailing standards, and outline the evolutionary process behind each one. Standards are categorised as part of this process.

  • Detailing, with the aid of case studies, the present use of standards in a variety of education and training contexts.

  • Explaining how the various standards are applied by offering practical advice for practitioners involved in selecting and deploying standards.

  • Outlining recommendations for the future directions of standards. In particular, we examine some of the limitations and criticisms of current standards and discuss the applicability of today’s standards in future e-learning contexts in which a wider range of technologies and pedagogical approaches are likely to be employed.


Evolution Of Standards

E-learning standards originated in the military and commercial training domains in the early 1990s, in order to allow learning objects produced by different vendors to operate on different technical platforms. More recently there has been interest in the possibilities offered by e-learning standards for enabling the sharing and reuse of learning objects and designs in K-12 and tertiary education contexts.

Today’s e-learning standards typically strive towards achieving economies of scale, by facilitating the reuse of e-learning content and activities in different education and training domains, subject areas, and geographical regions. The allure of cost savings and efficiency gains has resulted in a number of countries investing in organisations responsible for the promotion of e-learning standards, for example the UK’s Centre for Educational Technology Interoperability Standards (CETIS) and Canada’s EduSpec initiative.

Standards apply not only to learning objects and designs, but also to learning management systems (LMSs) or Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs). Compatibility must be present such that content and designs conformant to a particular specification or standard can interoperate with an LMS that also conforms to the standard. This interoperability is of great importance for the sharing of resources and materials, allowing, for example, an organisation to “mix and match” content developed by a range of vendors with resources developed in-house and deliver these via a common LMS. A standard may also describe how units of learning material should be compiled as single file. Such file formats allow content to be easily migrated from one LMS to another.

Key Terms in this Chapter

xIMS SS (Simple Sequencing): This specification outlines the route a learner can take through a particular unit of instruction, based on previous actions and behaviour within a unit.y

AICC CMI (Aviation Industry Computer-Based Training Committee computer managed instruction): The CMI specification details the communication between a lesson and the learning environment, the storage of the data communicated, and the movement of a course between multiple CMI learning environments.

IMS LD (Learning Design): IMS LD aims to enable the sharing and support of a range of pedagogical approaches, including collaborative approaches to learning.

ADL SCORM (Advanced Distributed Learning Sharable Content Object Reference Model): SCORM is a suite of specifications, combining IMS Content Packaging, AICC Computer Managed Instruction, Metadata, and, in the most recent version, IMS Simple Sequencing.

ARIADNE (Association of Remote Instructional Authoring and Distribution Networks for Europe): Concerned with the development and use of metadata, a specification submitted by the association to the IEEE was harmonised with a similar specification submitted by the IMS to form the basis of the IEEE LOM standard

DCMI (Dublin Core Metadata Initiative): DCMI develops interoperable metadata standards primarily for an online environment.

IEEE LTSC LOM (Learning Technology Standards Committee Learning Object Metadata): This standard focuses specifically on the syntax and semantics of digital or non digital learning objects.

IMS CP (Content Packaging): This specification outlines the manner in which learning content can be combined and organised, and how this larger unit of instruction can be moved from one learning environment to another.

IMS QTI (Question and Test Interoperability): This specification seeks to define a generic means of defining tests, thus allowing the exchange of tests and results between learning environments.

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