When learning management systems became a hub for a range of other tools, a consortium of higher education institutions and vendors came together to develop a "learning tools interoperability" standard. LTI created basic definitions for how new learning tools should be developed for easy integration into existing systems.
Vendors had clear incentives for adopting the LTI standard as they developed new tools — meeting integration standards would get them more business. Colleges and universities quickly started including the LTI standard in their requests for proposals to smooth the adoption of new products.
Now, we're at the next standards frontier, and it has to do with data.
Learning management systems generate mass quantities of data that analysts can gather and study. This has contributed to a number of "early warning" systems at colleges aiming to use the patterns they identify to help more students succeed.
But there's a catch. Most third-party tools that pull students out of the actual learning management system keep the data students generate for themselves.
The University of Michigan was instrumental in the creation of the Learning Tools Interoperability standard through its involvement with IMS Global Learning Consortium. More recently, it helped developed a new set of standards addressing a key barrier to holistic data analysis: access. Sean DeMonner, executive director of teaching and learning at the Michigan, said the university has tracked student behavior in the learning management system for many years, coming to conclusions about what students are learning and how.
"As we started bringing in more third-party cloud apps, we started losing that visibility," DeMonner said.
The IMS Global Learning Consortium's Caliper Analytics Interoperability Standard has created a set of common definitions for what constitutes learning activity data and how it is communicated back to institutions. Right now, for example, Michigan can get data from the lecture capture system it uses, but it doesn't play well with other LMS data. If the Caliper standard can become an industry standard, the lecture capture data would be interoperable with Michigan's other student engagement data.
Unfortunately, unlike with the first round of standards developed by IMS, the Caliper standards do not bring the same easy set of incentives for vendors. In some cases, companies have figured out how to monetize the data they collect from institutions. Giving it away for free would inhibit their business models.
DeMonner expects publishers and entities like them to be early adopters. Giving institutions access to data that increases the likelihood they will remain customers is a win-win.
Kaltura's open source video platform was one of the first products to receive conformance certification based on Caliper. Blackboard, D2L, Elsevier, Intellify Learning, Learning Objects, McGraw-Hill Education, and VitalSource Technologies are among the other ed tech providers to achieve conformance certification for their products. In a prepared statement about the certification, Kaltura Chairman, Co-founder, and CEO Ron Yekutiel said one of his company's key values is openness and interoperability.
"We want to make it easy for our customers to get value from their video and their data," Yekutiel said. "Caliper helps to ensure that video-related data is incorporated with other sources of data to provide deeper understanding and actionable analysis."
DeMonner expects the conversation with other companies will come down to a price point for the data. How much will institutions be willing to pay?
Across the board, DeMonner sees the bar rising in terms of what institutions expect their educational technology to be able to do. It has to be accessible, it has to be easily integrated with other tools, and now it has to collect user data and report it in a way that existing analytics structures understand.
The end goal for all of this data collection, at least at the University of Michigan, is to help students self-regulate their own learning by empowering them with data that administrators have monitored for years.
"What we want to do is give students the tools to critically self examine their own performance — where they're spending their time, what they want out of their educational experience — and really try to refine their thinking," DeMonner said.