The wider context for IMS Learning Design

What are the strengths of IMS Learning Design

There are strong arguments for why we need IMS Learning Design, or something like it. For example:



What this enables

It is enables us to design a very wide range of learning activities

It is possible to create courses which would not be possible in typical Virtual Learning Environments

It can define properties and conditions, which can control the learning flow, content and data

You can create adaptive learning modules as well as more traditional courses

It is an abstract model of a lesson plan which is also executable

A Unit of Learning is a lesson plan, which makes the pedagogic approach used explicit. At the same time it is a set of instructions to a server which makes resources and activities available to the right people at the right time.

It is interoperable

It can be used as a way of transferring activities between systems which understand the specification. You can have multiple views on the same lesson.

It is open

a) If you want to have open activities with open educational resources then you need to have an open specification to run them with, so that you are not dependent on particular file formats and systems.

b) You can compare the teaching methods used in different places, and examine the detail of what the teachers and learners did.


On the other hand, the specification was published in 2003. But although it has been used in a lot of research projects, and has been included as a file format in some major applications, it has been used very little in day to day teaching. So this raises two questions:

  1. if the specification is so valuable, why isn't everyone using it?
  2. if it is not being used very much, why are we talking about it in this course?

Let's look at the second question first, because it is good idea to ask why we are doing something before we start thinking about how to do it.

Why is Learning Design significant?

In the IEC we talk a lot about Learning Design and IMS LD, and we have written a lot of papers about it. We have also made a big development effort to produce tools, some of which have been very successful. Why should a technical specification create this interest? I think it is because the specification helps in working on a number of much wider questions. For example:

  • Can programmed learning activities take the place of a teacher?
  • Can educational technology help to provide more education for less money?
  • Can Open Educational Resources or Learning Objects stand alone, or do they need to be embedded in learning activities? If so, what kind of learning activities?
  • How can external online services be coordinated and consumed by an educational application. This question led directly to the development of the Wookie widget server by IEC, now in the Apache Foundation Incubator.
  • What is the best way of modelling learning activities so an educational institution can document them, manage them, reproduce them and support them with technology?

I do not claim that IMS LD is the answer to these questions, although I believe it has the potential to help. I am saying that:

  1. thinking about the use of the specification raises lots of interesting questions about technology and education
  2. when we are trying to answer questions like the ones above, it is worth thinking about how work with Learning Design could help.

Why isn't everyone using IMS Learning Design?

There are two answers which are often given to this question.

  1. The tools are too difficult to use and should be improved. According to this answer, the specification is very complicated, but this is only a barrier to use because the tools are not good enough.

This is like the question “Which came first the chicken or the egg?”. Is it the specification that makes implementing tools difficult, or is it the tools which make use of the specification hard? This discussion can become technically quite complex. Some people argue that the problem of creating tools is because the specification is too big and difficult to implement. For example that it would be better if the specification was broken up into parts. .

Others, including my colleague Professor Bill Olivier, argue that this is irrelevant. For example, the specification for Microsoft Word is extremely complicated, but you only know that the specification exists when something goes wrong with your computer. Why should this be different for IMS LD?

A lot of the work which we have done at IEC has been aimed at creating tools which make the specification easier to use. I think everyone would agree that we have made some progress, and also that there is more work to be done!

  1. The model of teaching and learning in Learning Design is too difficult for teachers. According to this answer, the ideas of IMS Learning Design are too complicated for teachers to understand. I was involved in some research led by some colleagues in Austria which indicates that this is not main problem:

I have recently been thinking through a third possible answer with my colleague Mark Johnson.

  1. The level of description of IMS Learning Design may not be appropriate for some aspects of teacher led education. IMS Learning Design was initially intended to be used in distance education, but because it offers so much valuable functionality people want to use it in face to face education. Perhaps there are problems in applying the Learning Design model to the face to face education process because we haven't understood either the model or the educational process well enough. This may have implications both for the way we try to use Learning Design, and for the design of Learning Design applications.

In summary: IMS Learning Design is an important technology in eLearning, and in my opinion it has a lot to offer researchers, educational institutions, teachers and learners. But at the same time it is not being used extensively.


Last modified: Sunday, 13 January 2013, 6:59 PM