Common Cartridge is cool; LTI is even cooler

I spent Monday and Tuesday at the IMS Learning Impact conference in Austin Texas. I got to see a few folks who I often see at learning technology industry events. Folks like Chuck Severance, John Lewis (Unicon), John Blakely (Unicon), Michael Feldstein (Oracle), Linda Feng (Oracle), Mick Silvecko (IBM), Annie Chechitelli (Wimba) and even Bob Alcorn (Bb, who was the 2nd best bowler at the last IMS meeting I attended in Sept. 2007). Chuck, as you may have read (you’ll need to scroll down the page), is working part time for the IMS, so he was all suited up and looking and sounding very official.

The special treat, though, was to get to see Zach Thomas of Aeroplane Software. Zach wasn’t able to attend Newport Beach, so most of the Sakai community hasn’t seen him since Amsterdam. If you’ve been following the CalDAV/Zimbra work you’ll know that Zach is the lead on that project for GeorgiaTech.  I asked Zach to attend the IMS meetings on behalf of the Sakai Foundation because he lives in Austin and because there is a Common Cartridge test fest this Thursday.  Zach has helped with the CC “proof of concept work” inside Sakai.  As you may know, I think Common Cartridge is a pretty important standard that Sakai should support (once it becomes final). We should see a blog from Zach sometime soon on his thoughts about supporting Common Cartridge in Sakai.

On Tuesday afternoon there was a Common Cartridge panel moderated by Ray Henderson of Angel Learning. Angel is really ahead of the curve on Common Cartridge (You may have seen Jim Farmer’s guest blog post on e-Literate), which is really helpful in advancing the standard. It’s important to have someone take the plunge before the standard is widely adopted (or even final!) and hopefully drag the rest of the industry along. So a tip of the hat to Angel for their leadership in this area.

At the end of the panel Ray asked several of the publishers in the audience (Pearson, Elsiver, Cengage, McGaw Hill) about their support for Common Cartridge. The response was interesting and telling. I’m sure Ray was expecting something like “Yeah, common cartridge is really important and we’ll definitely be supporting it whole-heatedly.” While he did get expressions of support, at least two of the publishers mentioned that their “cartridge” business was flat or declining.


Well, I don’t know this for a fact but based on my discussions with some publishers it is pretty clear that their highest value content is becoming more and more interactive and immersive. Engineering simulations. Math workbenches. Molecular modeling tools. That sort of thing. Often this means a custom platform for these activities to run on, which means a complicated bit of server-side technology, which is not something you bundle into a .zip file and import into a CMS.

This is why, in the long run, I think the Learning Tools Interoperability Specification (LTI) is more important. Being able to launch a remote “tool” (probably not a good word to use, maybe “application” is a better one), have the tool and the LMS platform communicate during the learner’s session, and finally have results from the user’s interaction with the tool fed back to the LMS is what we really need (SCORM does much of this, of course). It is where I think publisher “content” is headed, at least for those publishers who understand how the digital world is changing their business (I think most of them do, actually).

Chuck is the resident expert on LTI and the Sakai Google Summer of Code project is focused on LTI. Anthony Whyte is also a member of the working group. So contact either of them if you want to learn more.

Of course LTI is further out than Common Cartridge and will provide more tangible results sooner. It’s also probably the case that LTI will eventually be part of the Common Cartridge specification (a remote application being one of the components that makes up a course cartridge). CC definitely deserves our consideration and support. But I’m really excited about what LTI can bring the entire industry.


8 Responses

  1. Great post.

    One of the things that bothered me about the Common Cartridge discussion is that there doesn’t seem to be any clear conceptual bridge between learning “content” and learning activities (even if we will eventually have a technical bridge between Common Cartridge and LTI). After spending years struggling to figure out just what the heck a re-usable learning object would look like, I have come to the conclusion that there is no such thing. The term “learning object” should be considered harmful because it reinforces an artificial distinction between content and activities. There was no sign this week that the higher education community as represented at Learning Impact is ready to reframe the problem (or even fully recognize the need for reframing it) in more productive terms.

  2. Oops. I seem to have left off or malformed the second link, which should have gone here Sorry.

  3. […] Last week I was at IMS Learning Impact 2008 just up the road in Austin. The Sakai Foundation generously sponsored me to go, since I have been involved with Sakai’s support for IMS Common Cartridge for a couple of years. Michael Korcuska’s blog post about the event is here. […]

  4. Michael, I’m disappointed that you’re plugging these standards. “If you standardize it the content will come.” Sure.

    Learning standards remind me of Paul Wolfowitz’s infamous comment that, though weapons of mass destruction weren’t the real reason we invaded Iraq, it was nevertheless made the reason because it was “the one issue that everyone could agree on.”

    Wouldn’t you agree that SCORM is almost never used in higher education?

  5. Disappointed? You sound like my father 🙂

    Seriously, though, I’m all in favor of interoperability standards–things that make a learning experience communicate with a tracking system. I’m not an advocate of standards for the learning experience itself.

    SCORM, in it’s approach, had both aspects I never liked SCORM’s effort to try to make “shareable” or “reusable” content–it implied a vision of de-contextualized content. Blech. But being able to use an LMS to save student state in my simulation and to report results back to that LMS is very useful in getting my simulation adopted. So I like that part very much. This is why, in many ways, I think SCORM 1.2 is more important than SCORM 2004. The fact that higher ed hasn’t used it is more a factor of how assessment/certification is done in that context. But I digress.

    In any case, if you look at LTI I don’t think you’ll find anything pedagogically limiting there. But maybe I’m missing your point.

  6. My main point is that it’s unfortunate that the tech standards guys hog all of the attention, both in the trade press, and with the academic LMS vendors. I remember when our LMS vendor trumpeted its new SCORM compliance, and our reaction was, whoopie.

    And I would not single out any one vendor… over and over again, with different LMSs, I’ve seen new features added that are cool in theory but impractical to use in the real world, e.g. because no school has the time/expertise/staff/businessreason/whatever to use it.

    Maybe it’s silly to wish it could be otherwise, but it’s too bad instructional designers don’t have more of a voice. It might move the industry ahead faster, and maybe the purchasers at universities would be less confused.

    I admit I haven’t looked at LTI, and take your word that it is a good interoperability standard. But is it fundamentally much different from the old AICC standard, really? Should I be excited about it? Is it going to cause more learning applications to get built?

    Hope that’s clearer. 🙂

  7. One other, less philosophical thought. More and more commonly, we may see a model where learning applications are web-delivered rather than installed on the client, _and_ the application is hosted and managed by the application developer/publisher.

    In this case, user state is most likely to be saved on the publisher’s website, rather than the LMS, because different applications will have different architectures and data structures etc, and different requirements about what data or objects to save. I don’t think the application and the LMS will communicate during the student’s session.

    In the academic world at least, all that people will need is a web-services gradebook API that lets the publisher directly write grades for students into the LMS gradebook. I’m not sure how consistently gradebooks are implemented across different academic LMSs. Is LTI the right protocol for this?

  8. […] so that students could log onto several web sites through one account. In Michael Korcuska’s sakaiblog “Common Cartridge is cool; LTI is even cooler” he suggests that CC will not provide what […]

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