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IMS Learning Design reaches public draft stage

In a close vote, members of IMS accepted Learning Design as a public draft. Now that it can be implemented, the specification promises to be a comprehensive and powerful way to design learning experiences on-line. Not just that, it aims to allow educators the greatest possible freedom in designing these experiences, while still promoting content re-use and exchange.

Though IMS Learning Design is brand new as an IMS specification, the principles behind it have been around for a few years in the form of the Open University of the Netherlands' (OUNL) Educational Modelling Language (EML). The difference is that IMS Learning Design is simpler in some respects and is designed to act as an integration of a number of other existing IMS specs; chiefly IMS content packaging, IMS Metadata/LOM, IMS Question and Test Interoperability (QTI) and IMS Simple Sequencing.

The main goal of both EML and IMS Learning Design is not to support just one, or even none, but as many pedagogies as possible, while still allowing complete Units of Learning to be exchanged between Learning Management Systems (LMS), or Learning Designs between different courses or subjects. It is specifically suited to exploit collaboration between participants and personalisation of the learning experience, although it presupposes neither per se.

A tall order indeed, that begs the question how all of this is to be achieved. To support many pedagogical approaches, the OUNL people looked at a very large number of pedagogical models to see what they had in common. The fairly abstract commonalities they found where then used as the basic conceptual elements that provide much of the structure of IMS Learning Design. That is, people that participate in a Unit of Learning, are assigned either one of two types of Roles (e.g. teacher and learner), and a Method then calls for a number of Activities in specific order. This takes place in an Environment that contains objects (e.g. text, audio or pictures) and provides services (e.g. chat, conference). Educators that make Learning Designs can direct all these elements in theatre-play-like structures with acts and role-parts.

To support portability and re-use, the structure that is defined in the play or set of plays (i.e. the Learning Design) is relatively separate from the content. That means that proven, successful learning designs could have their subject-specific content taken out, tweaked, and populated with content for another topic. For exchange, a complete Unit of Learning is packaged using the widely supported IMS Content Packaging spec.

To support sophisticated collaboration, personalisation and adaptability, whilst not making the spec too complicated to implement, IMS Learning Design is not defined in one single XMLSchema, but three progressive ones. Level a provides all the basic elements, level b adds a lot of the personalisation and adaptability functions, while level c provides a function for all of these elements (including the humans!) to communicate outcomes of events in the learning activity. LMSs therefore don't need to necessarily support all of the functions all in one go.

Though the IMS Learning Design spec has been accepted as a public draft, it may be another while before the spec documents become available at the IMS website. More information on EML is available at the EML site of the OUNL.

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