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what are learning technology standards?
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Why are learning technology standards important?

How will LT standards affect me?

Standards in learning technology will have a powerful impact on the way education will work in the near future. Whether learning takes place in a classroom or over the internet, the relationships between educators, learners, and study materials will be greatly influenced by the development of standards for learning technology.

For educators, LT standards may make it easier to share course materials with colleagues, and to use materials produced by a much wider range of publishers without worrying about those materials being incompatible with their existing course management software. On the flipside, the applications that develop based on LT standards will also influence the way in which they teach, and if those standards donít take account of the way educators want to educate, then the future for educators wanting to use new technology may be a pretty bleak one.

For students, it may provide the ability for them move between institutions Ė anywhere in the world - with far greater ease than is currently possible, taking their academic record with them. The key issue is what this record contains, and who has access to it, and this will largely depend on how the standards for learner profiles are defined.

For institutions, there are clear benefits to be reaped from connecting up systems for academic records, course delivery, and assessment. Provided of course that those standards are adopted by the key vendors of those systems, and the standards are framed in such a way that the activities and values of the institution are supported. If the standards are adopted by the majority of vendors and those standards donít suit education institutions, then the lack of alternative systems available on the market will either force institutions into changing their practices or purchasing expensive bespoke solutions.

For vendors the adoption of open standards levels the playing field, allowing small and medium sized companies to create education solutions that are compatible with other compliant systems. For example, any vendor could create a virtual learning environment (VLE) that can deliver the same course materials as the market-leading products. This in turn leads to greater choice for institutions, educators, and students.

For publishers standards mean reduced costs and time to market, as content does not need to be developed for multiple VLE/MLE platforms.

What happens if there aren't any standards?

A lack of open standards results in a fragmented market for education products, reducing choice and locking users into proprietary systems.

The very fact you are able to read this article is a demonstration of the difference that standards can make. The explosive growth of the internet is largely a result of the adoption of the HTTP and HTML standards by a broad group of content creators, software developers and publishers. Today anyone can create a web page knowing that people all around the world, using all kinds of different operating systems and web browsers will be able to view it. Importantly, it can be achieved by knowing a single standard Ė HTML. (Of course, there are differences in browsers, but the main point still holds)

Having standards broadens the choice for end users, by allowing small and medium sized vendors to compete on a level footing with the major players. Until now, the market for electronic learning materials has been bounded by incompatible formats and supported platforms; standards for learning content mean that any compliant content will work with any compliant application, vastly increasing the range of materials available to educators and students.

A broad range of standards-compliant applications gives institutions more options when it comes to developing systems. Donít like that assessment package you bought? Get another one Ė itíll still work with your existing systems, provided they all comply with the standard. Rather than being forced into purchasing expensive total solutions, institutions will have the option to mix-and-match components that have the features they want, without having to worry about integration and data format issues.

How do I get involved?

CETIS is tasked by JISC to represent higher and further education institutions in the UK on LT standards bodies. You can use this website to find out whatís happening in LT standards, and you can also get involved with the CETIS special interest groups that deal with particular standards; find out more by clicking here.

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