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International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning
(October - 2002)
11. International E-learning Specifications
Campus Alberta Repository of Educational Objects (CAREO)
A previous report in this series discussed the classification of online
course delivery systems according to the Advanced Distributed Learning
Partnerships (ADL), and the international standards accepted by the ADL.
The standardisation of courseware in this manner is necessary for the
development of inter-institutional course sharing and quality control.
The present report gives further definitions of the criteria applied by
international standards organisations, and lists the principal
specifications/ standards bodies now in operation.
The following definitions have been adapted from Webopedia
*/Specifications/* are less evolved than standards and attempt to
capture a rough consensus in the user or implementer community.
Specifications enable people to get on with the job of system and
content development. It can take a long time before specifications are
finally approved as standards.
*/Standards/* are definitions or formats that have been approved by a
recognised standards organisation, or are accepted as /de facto/
standards by the industry. Standards serve a regulatory function and
have been created for programming languages, operating systems, data
formats, communications protocols, and electrical interfaces.
*/Application Profile/*is a simplified and interpreted version of a
standard or specification that is created to serve the needs of a
particular community of users or implementers. Application profiles can
combine elements from more than one specification or standard into a
single profile, but should not modify these in such a way that would
impact interoperability negatively.
*/Metadata/* is data ?about data.? Like a card or record in a library
catalogue, metadata describes a resource (e.g., a book, document, video
clip, application), but unlike a library record, metadata can either be
embedded in the resource it describes, or be located separately from it.
Metadata can be generated either manually or automatically, but is most
often structured according to semantically understood elements ? access
points such as author, title and location.
*/Interoperability/* is the ability of systems or components to work
together, without unnecessary human intervention. In the case of
metadata, interoperability refers specifically to the ability to
exchange information and to process information that has been exchanged.
True interoperability would allow users to search and otherwise make use
of systems in a seamless manner ? despite their location, origin, or
*/XML/* is the acronym for /Extensible Markup Language/, a specification
defining syntax for tagging that often looks similar to HTML. But unlike
HTML, XML allows developers to create their own custom tags. This makes
it possible to label the purpose of particular elements in a document ?
instead of simply specifying the way these elements might appear in a
Web browser, as is the case with HTML. A set of tags or elements created
in XML that specify the kind and format of permitted data is known as a
DTD (Document Type Definition) or Schema. XML documents that actually
contain this data are known as XML records.
*/Dublin Core/* (http://purl.oclc.org/dc/) is named for Dublin, Ohio,
not Dublin, Ireland, and has been described as the most broadly based
metadata specification. It coexists comfortably with the other metadata
sets and is intended to facilitate interoperability between the
semantics of metadata specifications. /Dublin Core/ metadata is
syntax-independent, and can be encoded in a number of ways ? in metatags
in the header of an HTML document, in XML documents or in RDF/XML
markup. /Dublin Core/ consists of only fifteen optional elements such as
Title, Description, Creator, Subject, etc.
*/IMS/* (http://imsproject.com), the acronym for Instructional
Management Systems, was established by /EduCom/ (now /EduCause/) in
1994. The mandate of IMS is to serve as a catalyst for the development
of instructional software, the creation of an online management
infrastructure for learning, the facilitation of collaborative learning
activities and certification. Its members include /Apple/, /Cisco/,
/IBM/, /Industry Canada/, /Microsoft/, /Oracle/, /Sun/, and the US
Defence Department. The /IMS/ has been developing a number of
specifications for the community of e-learning developers: i.e., content
packaging, digital repository interoperability, and learning design.
Included with these is a metadata specification that both incorporates
and extends the /Dublin Core/. Bindings or encodings are available for
/IMS/ metadata in both XML and RDF/XML. Although the /IMS/ metadata
schema represents an important activity, the /IMS/ is /not/ just a
metadata schema. The /IMS/ is involved in the development of other
learning application specifications.
*/ARIADNE/* (http://ariadne.unil.ch/), the acronym for The Alliance of
Remote Instructional Authoring and Distribution Networks for Europe, has
fostered the sharing and reuse of electronic pedagogical material by
universities and corporations. It attempted to create a European-wide
repository for pedagogical documents called the Knowledge Pool System.
It has also acted as a co-author of the /IMS/ metadata structure.
*/ADL SCORM/* (http://www.adlnet.org/Scorm/) is the Advanced Distributed
Learning Network Sharable Courseware Object Reference Model/,/ supported
by the US Department of Defence and the US government. It combines and
interprets a number of interrelated technical specifications built upon
the work of the /AICC/, /IMS/ and /IEEE/ to create a unified content
model. This model specifies the behaviour and aggregation of modular,
interactive learning components, and makes extensive use of XML. Like
/IMS/, /SCORM/ is /not/ simply concerned with metadata, but combines
metadata with a number of other specifications that deal with a variety
of aspects of learning content and management.
*/IEEE LTSC LOM/* (http://ltsc.ieee.org) is the acronym for The
Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers Learning Technologies
Standards Committee//, which// creates and supports standards and best
practices related to the technical aspects of e-learning. The /IEEE
LTSC/ is releasing the Learning Object Metadata, referred to as IEEE
LTSC LOM P1484.12, as an approved standard. This standard is almost
identical to the /IMS/ metadata specification, and is compatible with
/Dublin Core/ metadata.
*/ISO/* (http://jtc1sc36.org/#terms_of_reference) is the acronym for the
International Standards Organization, a network of the national
standards institutes of some 130 countries responsible for coordinating
the development of international standards of all sorts. The Information
Technology for Learning, Education, and Training Committee of the /ISO/
supports the standardisation of information and communications
technologies for learning. This sub-group liases closely with the /IEEE
LTSC/. The standard number being used for educational metadata is
There are other organizations working on metadata that conforms to
international metadata specifications. Because the purpose of metadata
is to enable interoperability between systems, organisations involved
want to conform to emerging metadata standards. For example, the
Canadian Core// Metadata Application Profile, or /CanCore/, is an
attempt to interpret and simplify the elements of the /IMS/ model.
*/CanCore/* (http://www.cancore.ca) is the acronym for The Canadian Core
Learning Resource Metadata Application Profile, and// is primarily
concerned with the vocabularies and semantics associated with /IMS/
metadata elements. Users of the /CanCore/ protocol know that their data
will conform to the emerging international standard for educational
metadata based on and fully compatible with the /IMS/ Learning Resource
Metadata Information Model. /CanCore/ has defined a sub-set of data
elements from this IMS model for the purposes of the efficient and
uniform description of digital educational resources. It is intended to
facilitate the interchange of records describing educational resources
and the discovery of these resources. /CanCore/ is at the leading edge
in providing both semantic and syntactic guidance to the implementation
of the /IMS/ and /IEEE/ Learning Object Metadata specifications.
*/AICC/* (http://aicc.org/). The Aviation Industry Computer-Based
Training Committee created early guidelines and recommendations for
online learning systems. It provides guidelines for interoperability
using metadata and protocols.
*/ALIC/* (http://www.alic.gr.jp/). The Advanced Learning Infrastructure
Committee, Japan, works with other international standards bodies for
metadata. It facilitates interoperability within Japan and outside.
*/CEN/ISSS/* (http://www.cenorm.be/isss/). The European Committee for
Standardization Information Society Standardization System provides for
both formal and informal standardisation. This includes guides to best
practice as well as full standards. It works by consensus among industry
and consumer groups. It covers a broad constituency and is flexible in
*/CSystems RLO/ RIO/* (http://www.cisco.com/). Re-usable Learning
Objects/ Re-usable Information Objects are based on chunked reusable
objects that form a complete lesson. The objects incorporate metadata
that conforms to the IMS/SCORM specifications.
*/CLEO/* (http://www.cleolab.org/) is the acronym for Customized
Learning Experiences Online, and is a one year long research
collaboration between corporations including /Cisco Systems/,
/Click2Learn/, /IBM Mindspan Solutions/, /Microsoft/, and /NETg/. Using
the /ADL SCORM/ specification, /CLEO/ focuses on applied research on
technical and pedagogical issues.
the acronym for The Machine-Readable Bibliographic Information
Committee, is the body within the American Library Association
responsible for developing official /ALA/ positions on standards for the
representation in machine-readable form of bibliographic information.
/MARBI/ focuses its attention on the development of the /MARC/ format.
*/MARC 21/* (http://lcweb.loc.gov/marc/). The Machine-Readable
Cataloguing record is a library standard for the representation and
communication of bibliographic and related information in a
machine-readable form. It is comprised three elements: (1) record
structure, (2) content designation, and (3) data content of the record.
Supported by the Library of Congress Network Development and /MARC/
Standards Office, /MARC/ consists of dozens of metadata elements, yet is
generally not considered flexible enough for the cataloguing of Internet
resources. /Dublin Core/ is perceived by many as a substitute for /MARC/
in this area of distributed digital resources.
*/Microsoft LRN/* (http://www.microsoft.com/elearn/support.asp). The
Microsoft Learning Resource Interchange is a specific implementation of
the /IMS/ content packaging specification, . /1.0/. /Microsoft LRN/
incorporates the /IMS/ metadata and provides a toolkit.
*/OAI/* (http://www.openarchives.org/) is the acronym for the Open
Archives Initiative, which advances interoperability standards that
facilitate the propagation of content, and increases accessibility to
intellectual content. Among the most important of the /OAI/ initiatives
is the metadata harvesting protocol, a means of systematically sharing
metadata records across distributed databases or repositories. The /OAI/
is supported by the Digital Library Federation and the Coalition for
(http://www.dlib.org/dlib/july96/lagoze/07lagoze.html) has not been
widely accepted, but remains significant for metadata generally. Warwick
Framework provides a higher-level context for Dublin Core, nesting
components or packages of information in containers, thus facilitating
interoperability. It allows for the selective manipulation of data.
/Z39.50/ (http://www.loc.gov/z3950/agency/). The International Standards
Maintenance Agency and the Library of Congress Network Development and
/MARC/ Standards Office support this information retrieval protocol that
facilitates communication among different information systems. /Z39.50/
allows users to search multiple, heterogeneous databases from a single
interface or point of access in real time. It is widely used in
libraries and it supports /MARC/ records and other types of metadata.
Learning Object Repositories
The metadata employed by these repositories may not conform fully to the
international standards. They are given here as working examples of
learning object repositories.
*/CAREO/* (http://www.careo.org) is the acronym for the Campus Alberta
Repository of Educational Objects, and has as its primary goal the
creation of a searchable Web-based collection of multidisciplinary
teaching materials for educators across Alberta and beyond. /CAREO/ is a
project undertaken jointly by the University of Alberta and the
University of Calgary in cooperation with Broadband Enabled Lifelong
Learning Environment// (/BELLE)/, Canadian Network for the Advancement
of Research in Industry// and Education// (/CANARIE)/, and the
University of Calgary Health Education Cluster project.
*/GEM/* (http://www.thegateway.org/). The Gateway to Educational
Materials is learning object repository housing un-catalogued
educational materials. It is supported by a consortium of more than 200
organizations and individuals under the aegis of the US Department of
Education and /ERIC/.
*/JA-SIG/* (http://www.mis2.udel.edu/ja-sig/) is the acronym for the
Java in Administration Special Interest Group, a collection of
interactive online learning materials written in the Java computer
language. It was created before the emergence of international
specifications in the area of educational metadata.
*/MERLOT/ (http://www.merlot.org) is the acronym for the Multimedia
Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching, a project of the
California state university system under the Distributed Learning and
Teaching, and Multimedia Repository initiatives. /MERLOT/* houses a
collection of high quality interactive online learning materials, many
of which have been evaluated by professionals.
*/TeleCampus Online Course Directory/ (http://telecampus.edu). The
/TeleCampus/* metadata repository has a data structure that conforms to
international specifications. It consists of Web links to more than
55,000 courses, modules, and lessons in over 30 countries. Note that it
houses only the metadata and not the actual lessons, modules, and
courses. It links to the institutions that own them.
*/Edutella/* (http://edutella.jxta.org/servlets/ProjectHome) is a
peer-to-peer exchange network for metadata. /Edutella/ is based on the
well-known /GNUtella/ open source application, and its development is
supported by the Wallenberg Global Learning Network, a partnership of
organisations in Sweden and Germany.
*/EML/* (http://eml.ou.nl/introduction/) is the acronym for the
Educational Modelling Language, a system for codifying pedagogical
experiences created by the Open University of the Netherlands in
partnership with /CISCO/. It defines a document type in XML that allows
for the modelling of units of study in terms of roles, relations,
interactions, and activities.
*/PALO/* (http://sensei.lsi.uned.es/palo/) is a Spanish initiative
similar to EML. It is expressed in XML and has different levels for
content, activities, structure, sequencing and management.
This series of software evaluation reports will continue with reviews of
other online collaborative tools.
*/N.B./* Owing to the speed with which Web addresses are changed, the
online references cited in this report may be outdated. They can be
checked at the Athabasca University software evaluation site:
http://cde.athabascau.ca/softeval/. Italicised product names in this
report are assumed to be registered trademarks.
JPB. Technical Notes, Series Editor
Copyright © 2003 by /Athabasca University ? Canada's Open University/.
All rights reserved. No portion of the contents may be reproduced in any
form without written permission of the publisher.