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Standards: The Sooner the Better

I like it when you plug things in and they work. That's why I found it nerve racking when I bought a new cell phone and had to swap one gaggle of perfectly good travel chargers, car adapters, and cables for another twisted pile of the same stuff. Cell phone makers go out of their way to make sure their plugs don't work with different phones.  

Whether we are discussing cell phones or education software, technology works best when it works well together. That is why the nonprofit group IMS Global Learning Consortium is developing standards to address this type of problem for the education technology community.

Since 1999 dozens of specifications have been developed to ensure interoperability for the many different education technologies available today. The one downside is that the speed of development and the adoption of standards across the industry has often been slow-going.

It is time to change that, and for technology companies and academic institutions to make standards a priority. This is not an easy, fast, or inexpensive endeavor; however it's one that is necessary and in the long term will provide great benefits to the education community. It will mean the time and resources currently spent adapting solutions and customizing integrations can instead be used on developing new tools.

There is a big opportunity with the recent development of learning tools interoperability standards. In simple terms, learning tools interoperability is about enabling learning technologies to seamlessly interact with course management systems. It's something that is easy to get excited about since it increases options for schools when selecting learning applications, reduces support costs for institutions, reduces development costs for learning application providers, and ultimately spurs the kind of innovation that improves education.

Students Will Win If The Education Community Insists Standards Be Adopted

In order for these standards to be effective, educational institutions need to be involved in the process of not only creating the standards, but also driving them into use. If large universities and consortia do not add learning tools interoperability as criteria in their process of selecting a learning application partner, vendors will have little incentive to invest the time and resources to develop within and adhere to the standard.

To cause standards to be broadly adopted, there needs to be a commitment not only from vendors but also by their customers, educational institutions. Once widely followed, standards will allow campuses to streamline the delivery of multiple learning technologies, resulting in a richer educational experience where students are put first and sharing of knowledge is at the forefront.

Education technology standards are not an end unto themselves. They are a critical means to an end. These standards will give learners, instructors, and institutions greater choice in the way learning is done, eliminate the barriers to implementing valuable tools, and increase choice. When you enable ecosystem components to work better together and you increase choice, more innovation will follow.

Let's choose to make the wide variety of technologies used in education work better together. Sure, standards will give solution providers clearer guidelines for navigating the marketplace. But in the end, if we create technologies that easily plug into each other more time can be spent spurring the kind of innovation that will yield the greatest rewards for students, and less time will be wasted dealing with compatibility issues and re-inventing the wheel.

About the Author

Annie Chechitelli is senior director of product and industry marketing for Wimba, a provider of collaborative learning software applications and services to the education industry, and she is actively involved with the IMS Learning Tools Interoperability Working Group.

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