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It's a LOM binding, Jim, but not as we know it

For most people who have to describe digital learning resources, IMS Meta-Data is just the ticket. It provides almost everything: the model for the record, the method of encoding it and the means of checking the record. With the new IEEE LOM XML binding, that will change in some subtle ways.

The IEEE LOM datamodel — the abstract model for a LOM record — standard has been out for a couple of years already, but probably had little impact on practice for most people. Because the IMS Meta-Data spec was the most widely used expression or 'binding' of the LOM datamodel standard, people could continue to just use IMS Meta-Data like they used to.

Now, however, the IEEE Learning Technology Standards Committee (LTSC), after a very, erm, thorough and lenghty process, has published the LOM XML binding. Officially, that means that the IEEE LOM datamodel and XML binding is to replace the venerable IMS Meta-Data spec from which it (partially) sprang. But is it really the same thing that does the same stuff?

Well, no, not completely. In most community's metadata practice, you'd make an application profile to determine which elements to use and define community specific vocabularies. All the grubby business of constructing the records in interoperable ways could be taken care of by using all the documents from the IMS specification. That gave the datamodel, binding instructions and a schema to validate records against. The latter was crucial, because that's what most developers used to build tools with and check them.

Now, the IMS Meta-Data spec continues to provide best practice, and the two IEEE LOM standards, the datamodel and the binding instructions. But the IEEE doesn't really provide a single schema to validate records against. That is effectively the job of the community now.

To be sure, the IEEE does provide a whole herd of very nice schemas, but those, like the standard they're from, are designed to help a community's techies build their own validating schema, not to check a common or garden learning object metadata record against.

To take it to the down and dirty XML level for a sec: before, you could just have a look at some IMS Meta-Data record examples, be sure to copy the name space and schema location, stick your own data in, validate the result and you were on your way. Now, you'd have to use the new IEEE LOM XML namespace, but you or your community would have to roll your own schema, and point schemalocations in records to that DIY effort.

Fortunately, the new IEEE LOM XML binding will tell you exactly how to roll your own schema in great detail. Furthermore, the schemas provided are likely to require some thought, but few tweaks in most cases.

But there is another difference with IMS Meta-Data: unless your library has a subscription arrangement, all IEEE standards will cost you money. The LTSC is well aware that that is a problem in this sector, and is actively exploring ways around it.

For a lot of practitioners, the question might well be moot, though. The main documents that they require will have to be provided by whatever profile they use: guidance, some examples, a list of element restrictions and a schema. Strictly speaking, only one person per community will have to raid the library or shell out the seventy-odd dollars to go get the standard itself. In the interest of ubiquitous and unrestricted learning, though, everyone concerned agrees that a free download of the whole standard would be better.

Apart from money and licences, the differences between IMS Meta-Data and the two IEEE LOM documents illustrate some of the differences between specifications and standards. The IMS specification was completed much quicker, is simpler and was delibarately designed to be specific enough to give a fair amount of direct interoperability. The IEEE set is much more abstract, and therefore more flexible and of maximal applicability.

Resources

The 1.3 version of IMS Meta-Data will go from public draft to final any day now. It gives a lot best practice and some transitioning tools.

Draft 8 of February 2005 of the IEEE LOM XML binding (PDF, 432K) is available from the IEEE LTSC site.

The official 'IEEE 1484.12.3 Standard for eXtensible Markup Language (XML) Schema Binding for Learning Object Metadata Data Model' can be ordered from the IEEE store.

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