IEEE to lift SCORM, IMS Content Packaging to standard status, clarifies LOM future.
Wilbert Kraan, CETIS staff
February 03, 2003

Though proper standards bodies like IEEE are supposed to be more cautious and slow than specification bodies, IEEE's Learning and Teaching Sub Committee (LTSC) is anouncing a raft of new standards and initiatives for 2003. LOM will get new bindings, the Architecture and Reference Model and the gubbins that define SCORM are nearly standards, Competency Definitions and Digital Rights Expression Language are in various stages of completion and with a bit of luck, the ongoing copyright issue over IEEE standards might get resolved.

Certainly since it was released as a full standard in July last year, IEEE LTSC has been mostly identified with the LOM. But that neither means that the LTSC is getting bored, nor that metadata is necessarily the exclusive domain of the LTSC, and that's exactly what's been addressed at the LTSC's last meeting in Copenhagen.

Apart from the fact that the LTSC always had more working groups than just the one that did LOM, the 'P1484.12 Learning Objects Metadata WG' is actually rather busy, thank you, with binding the LOM to a variety of standard data formats.

Because LOM just specifies the various categories in which a learning object can be identified, it is not restricted to any particular way of writing that metadata in a file. Hence the fact that it already has been 'bound' -i.e. has been expressed in a standard way- to XML by IMS. An XML binding is going to be formalised pretty soon, as will a binding to ISO 11404; a standard most often used for programming languages. Slightly further off is a binding to RDF, the W3C recommendation for the semantic web. Not because there's no interest (people have actually already deployed LOM bound to RDF), but because LOM is not a straightforward fit to RDF.

But other specification bodies are (were?) also making moves to standardise learning object metadata. Or 'learning resource metadata', as the ISO JTC1 SC36 standards body prefer to call it. Though the actual people in IEEE LTSC and ISO JTC1 SC36 know each other well, and are often one and the same, there was a danger that ISO's version would turn out very similar, but slightly different. Which defeats the purpose of the standard a bit. Hence the fact that the LTSC put up a clarification in which it proposes to keep coordinating LOM development, though "The IEEE LTSC deeply appreciates the expression of interest in cooperation by all interested parties such as those expressed by ISO JTC1/SC36 and equally appreciates the excellent technical comments made by SC36 members." and invites national SC36 members to contribute to the LOM effort at IEEE LTSC.

Meanwhile, one of the LTSC working groups on architecture and reference model has, after extensive and hotly debated consultation, put its draft to a vote. It is almost certain to become a standard round about now. The working group is therefore taking steps to ensure continued maintenance after approval.

The Computer Managed Instruction Working Group is equally far along with approving the 'ECMAScript API for Content to Runtime Services Communication'. That's the bit of JavaScript that takes care of the communication between a SCORM learning object and the VLE that runs it. The general idea was started by the AICC, then picked up by ADL for SCORM, and is now in re-circulation as a candidate IEEE LTSC standard. The equally AICC and SCORM derived data model is not far behind, and expected to become a standard in the second or third quarter of 2003.

After that, the working group aims to have a look at promoting IMS Content Packaging as a standard. Not just that, both the ECMAScript API and the data model will get XML bindings and a Web Service for runtime communication will also be looked at.

The Competency Definitions working group is more at a crossroads. They can either continue working on the current set of drafts for a standard, or else adopt and build on IMS RCDEO. Given the likely uptake of that specification, it might provide the requisite practice mileage before it will be considered a proper standard candidate.

The DREL group has just released a well received white paper on the digital rights expression languages already out there, and has therefore gotten the backing to start work on a technical report that will set out what a future DREL working group will do.

Last but not least, the LTSC appears increasingly aware of the unease in the community about the pretty strict copyright terms that attach to IEEE standards. LOM, for example, will cost $77.00 as a PDF for a non member, and it is unclear whether derivative works (IMS Meta-Data, CanCore) are permitted, and if so, in what form. The LTSC itself would like its own standards to be freely available, have authorised derivatives and be royalty free, but it hasn't crossed all the 't's with IEEE central yet. We'll keep you posted.

More details are available from the IEEE LTSC website.