LETSI and the Future of SCORM

How 2.0 is being groomed by a wide-ranging coalition of stake-holders

The International Federation for Learning-Education-Training Systems Interoperability (LETSI) has established a goal of assuring that the next wave of on-line learning is based on open software standards. For technology to have the kind of impact on education and training that it has had in other sectors, dramatic changes will be required — changes to vendors’ product lines, to publishers’ business models, and to the institutions themselves.

In corporations, one might deliver new product training to an international sales force or offer instructions for filling out the new travel expense voucher. The cost effectiveness of on-line training versus classroom instruction is driving growth.  In public schools, e-learning adoption has been slow. However, there is an exploding use of e-learning in home schooling, private schools, and for-profit online programs. These innovators use technology to offer a broader curriculum that they otherwise could, and to assure that their offerings meet specific state requirements. These new educational institutions are finally starting the technology-driven revolution in schooling we’ve expected for 30 years. It is ironic that technology has changed every other aspect of our lives, from shopping to finding a mate, but has yet failed to realize its full potential to improve learning throughout the world.

Amazing technical innovations are being explored in different parts of the learning industry:
>> simulation-based learning activities in aviation and health-care training;
>> game-based learning scenarios in military training;
>> talent management systems and skill’s portfolios in corporate HR;
>> virtual worlds as educational forums for employees and customers;
>> Web 2.0 technologies for collaborative learning in college courses;
>> catalogs of on-line learning activities from textbook publishers;
>> One Laptop Per Child and wireless networks for the developing world.

Taking Another Step
But technological innovation alone will not ensure that e-learning finally realizes its potential. Schools and their supporting industries must evolve, or else succumb to competition that uses technology more effectively. Trying to protect the status quo by tying up key intellectual property won’t work any better in education and training than it did in the music industry. And yet major software companies, textbook publishers, and institutions of higher education are tempted to define proprietary software standards that attempt to lock in their current business models.

LETSI is not a typical trade association. It is a coalition of e-learning vendors, adopters, associations and policy-makers who believe that open standards and an open source software community are key to realizing technology’s promise in education and job training. It sees the unrealized potential of learning technology and believes that a modern, open software community is the way to break through the barriers. 

Open standards and shared infrastructure accelerate evolution of products and allow organizations to experiment with less cost and risk. They leverage software investments being made by product vendors, systems integrators and large adopters — to everyone’s benefit. And everyone is free to innovate without central control. 

LETSI’s first order of business is a modernization of the widely used SCORM model, the de facto global standard that allows learning materials to be ported across today’s authoring tools and learning management systems. LETSI is assuming responsibility for the future of SCORM, which has outgrown its original home at the U.S. Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative.  This summer, through an open solicitation of white papers, dozens of online discussion threads and public working meetings, LETSI has initiated an open process for defining SCORM 2.0. The next SCORM will enable innovators to use techniques and technology being developed in all corners of the e-learning world.

Why It Matters

But why does the matter to you, a technology user? Actually, the future of learning technology depends on you. Interoperability efforts like LETSI’s have two important consequences for organizations with serious e-learning strategies:
First, interoperability lowers the barriers to entry for innovative software products, who can interchange data with installed systems in standard formats and reach the broad market quickly.
Second, standards lower the cost and risk involved in trying out a new way of doing things with a new software system; innovative new products can be integrated with less re-work on existing systems and learning assets.

LETSI believes that a lot of technical innovation is still needed before e-learning really works the way it should. It is committed to helping practitioners get from where they are today to where they want to be. A lot of innovators will bring new products and services to market. Implementers in all parts of the e-learning world will be exploring how to apply the new technologies to their e-learning strategies. Many existing institutions and product vendors will be threatened and will likely resist the kind of change required. But the potential for Web-based learning is too great to remain just a vision.

So, the next time you consider buying a system or contracting for learning materials, ask about standards conformance. Open standards will benefit your e-learning strategy in the long run, and will help the entire industry mature. And when you hear about a new proposed standard, ask yourself who’s behind it and what their goals are. Finally, if you care about open standards for e-learning, visit the Website at letsi.org.

—The author is communications chair of letsi.org, the official Website of the International Federation for Learning-Education-Training Systems Interoperability. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

About LETSI
The International Federation for Learning-Education-Training Systems Interoperability (LETSI) is a forum for harmonizing innovative work in diverse e-learning communities around the world: corporate, government, military, compulsory K-12, higher education, and professional training and certification.
LETSI’s goal is to assure that the next wave of online learning is based on open software standards. LETSI’s sponsors hope to catalyze the creative destruction required to finally see technology have the impact on education and training that it has had on so many other aspects of our lives.
The Founding Sponsors of LETSI are: Adobe Systems, Aviation Industry Computer-Based Training Committee, Booz Allen Hamilton, Computer Society of the IEEE, Fraünhofer Institute Digital Media Technology, IEEE Learning Technology Standards Committee; Korea Institute for Electronic Commerce, El Instituto Lationoamericano de la Communicación Educativa, Masie Learning Consortium, MedBiquitous, Schools Interoperability Framework Association, and U.S. Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative

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