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Reusable Competencies moves from IMS to IEEE

In a move that is meant to be the first more, IMS donated the Reusable Definition of Competency or Educational Objective (RDCEO) specification to the IEEE Learning Technology Standards Committee (LTSC) for development as a standard. Apart from enabling wider adoption of RDCEO, the decision represents a streamlining of the specification-to-standard process that has been widely touted for many years.

In most any overview of the e-learning interoperability standards field (including the one on this site), there will be the diagram of a whole heap of acronyms and logos, neatly connected with arrows. The diagram represents the journey of a technology from idea, via experiment, to specification body, and on via wide implementation to standardisation body and universal adoption.

Now that the first tranch of e-learning technology has reached maturity, and the IEEE LTSC has started churning out a fair few standards (three, at the moment), the formal transition of spec to standard has become quite urgent.

While the move of an existing spec to a standardisation body seems quite straightforward in theory, there are a few gotchas in practice. The main ones have to do with copyright and specification and standard maintenance. It is for this that a cunning plan had to be drawn up between IEEE LTSC and IMS.

The copyright part is largely the sort of thing lawyers get very excited about, and they have done their thing now: the LTSC will use the existing IMS RDCEO spec as a base document for the IEEE LTSC 1484.20 Reuseable Competency Definitions standard. After the LTSC working group has converted the IMS spec into IEEE format, the document will go straight for ballot.

And then the choreography starts. The IEEE process is fairly involved, and meant to achieve two basic things: as broad and representative a consensus as possible, on a spec that is as bug free as it can be. Which means that there are likely to be a few changes to the RDCEO spec before it rolls out the other end as a full standard. Hence all ballot comments and their resolutions will be communicated from the IEEE LTSC to the IMS RDCEO group, and vice versa for all comments the IMS receives on its existing spec.

Then there is there is the biggest potential sticking point: the maintenance issue. The trick here is to, on the one hand, avoid a divergence of the IEEE standard from the IMS spec, while, on the other, preserve the integrity of the standard/spec building process of both organisations. So any maintenance issues that the IEEE LTSC group receives will be presented to the IMS group for first refusal. i.e. they can deal with, and the result will then be put back into the IEEE LTSC process. If that doesn't happen for whatever reason, the IEEE still has the ability to deal with the maintenance issue on its own. Same thing the other way, although that is less likely, as the expectation is that IMS will effectively mothball the RDCEO spec and point to the LTSC standard once that has come out. This is not entirely certain at the moment, but would parallel what happened to IMS Meta Data versus IEEE LOM.

In the context of the general process of transforming a spec to a standard, a few questions remain, though. The IMS RCDEO spec is pretty young, just a year old, with implementations only just starting to appear. Hence it is, if anything, a little early for the full formal weight of a standard. A standard is supposed to codify mature, widespread industry practice, after all.

The other little 'if' here is how repeatable this IMS spec - IEEE standard move will prove to be. There is little doubt that it should work for RDCEO, but then the IEEE LTSC Reusable Competency working group is essentially the same set of people as the original IMS RDCEO project group. Also, there was no substantial input from other bodies in the spec writing process, so the agreement involves just the two organisations. Other e-learning specifications involve three, four or even more contributing organisations (e.g. CMI/SCORM).

For more information, both IMS and IEEE LTSC issued a joint memo (15 Kb, pdf).

To learn more about the Reusable Definition of Competency or Educational Objective specification, see the RDCEO pages on the IMS website, or the newly revamped IEEE LTSC website.

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