Standards for interoperability are increasingly important as platforms, applications, systems, and technologies for learning and education proliferate. Many readers of this magazine are already familiar with SCORM and the Experience API (xAPI), learning management systems (LMSs), and Learning Record Stores (LRSs) because of the attention that government and corporate organizations have given them.

But what about the education field? The challenges for communicating information and for application compatibility become even greater there as educators strive to comply with national and state initiatives, such as (in the United States) Race to the Top and Common Core.

The IMS Global Learning Consortium (IMS GLC) is an international organization that develops open standards to meet these challenges. In this article, I offer a high-level overview of the group: a brief history and statement of its mission, its major standards, and a glimpse of where it is headed. The intent is to follow up in later articles with more in-depth looks at the major initiatives of IMS GLC.

History and mission

The IMS GLC began in 1995 as an EDUCAUSE project, part of the National Learning Infrastructure Initiative. In 1997, it became the Instructional Management Systems project, with a focus on higher education. Over time, the scope of IMS has grown to address the interoperability needs of K-12 education and corporate and government training.

According to its formal profile statement, “The IMS Global Learning Consortium (IMS GLC) is a global, nonprofit, member organization that strives to enable the growth and impact of learning technology in the education and corporate sectors worldwide.” Membership in IMS GLC is growing and currently includes over 190 organizations, including learning technology product suppliers and publishers, institutions of training and learning, and government and professional consortia. Nearly half (47 percent) of the member organizations have headquarters outside the United States.

Standards and certification

IMS GLC at this time has developed and supports 50 standards, covering issues that include meta-data, content packaging, enterprise services, competencies, access for all, ePortfolio, learner information, resource list, sharable state-persistence, vocabulary definition, and learning design. Each standard or protocol is public and available to any organization or institution wishing to adopt it or incorporate it into products.

As of October 2013, over 200 products in the marketplace have IMS conformance certification. Conformance certification is not a requirement for any product, however, IMS encourages its members to obtain and maintain IMS certification for their products, from learning management systems to clicker tools. There are actually more products available that have incorporated various IMS standards but have not been through certification.

Five of the 50 standards are widely adopted. Here is a summary of these five:

The Learning Tools Interoperability Standard (LTI) is the most widely adopted and used. LTI covers the integration of digital applications, content, tools, and educational apps into learning management systems. This addresses exchange and easy transfer of grades and information between the LMS and the educational application, and the content used for teaching and learning. LTI is the most widely adopted standard in higher education, and is becoming more widely adopted in K-12 education.

Common Cartridge is all about the exchange of digital content. Many organizations and institutions may be using multiple learning management systems, learning platforms, and tools. If an organization writes content in a particular application and the content conforms to the Common Cartridge standard, the organization can easily exchange or move that data between systems, platforms, and tools. It’s almost like “write once, publish multiple places.”

The Learning Information Services (LIS) provides integration between the back-office student information system (ERP) and the LMS. This covers passing of grades, and information about the student between the LMS and the ERP system or student information system. Suppliers that are adopting the LIS standard are primarily those in higher education. IMS GLC is just starting to see K-12 LMSs beginning to show interest in adopting the LIS standard for applications. In addition, the big players in higher education, such as Oracle, Ellucian, and Jenzabar are the primary companies that are adopting and developing it.

The last two of the five widely adopted standards are the ones with the most active involvement of the K-12 school districts: the Question and Test Interoperability (QTI) and the Accessible Portable Item Protocol (APIP). Those two standards focus on assessment. K-12 education has driven the development of those two specifications in an effort to move from paper assessment to digital assessment, as required for the Race to the Top initiative and the Common Core initiative at the state level.

As a result of Race to the Top and Common Core, evolving personalized learning for K-12 students has become a concern of a very large contingent within IMS membership: state education systems, school districts, and assessment providers. However, more higher-education institutions are beginning to have an interest in the QTI and APIP standards, where in the past they’ve been more focused on LIS, LTI, and Common Cartridge. Interest in QTI and APIP standards in higher education is the result of the need for access to learner analytics around digital content: what content is a student reading, accessing, and utilizing. This will support educators knowing what is working and what support to provide that will help students succeed, and will personalize learning for students in higher education.

Other IMS GLC initiatives

There are several IMS GLC initiatives that will be of interest to educators and trainers across organizations in all segments, including government, corporate, and non-profit. These may be the subject of more in-depth articles in Learning Solutions Magazine in 2014, but for now, here are some links to overviews and videos about them on the IMS Global web site.

The IMS Open Innovation Revolution

The Open Innovation Revolution is an effort by IMS GLC to develop and bring to market a set of open standards that will make educational applications, content, and data “plug and play.” This will resolve many of the issues involved in adopting new technology, and make it possible for teachers to focus on teaching. The Open Revolution is intended to make for greater efficiency, effectiveness, and innovation across all levels of education, from kindergarten to post-graduate.

The I3LC K-12 initiative

The I3LC K-12 initiative aims to support “continuous instructional improvement, innovation, and personalized education.” This initiative is intended to provide four main benefits:

  • Standards and competency focused curriculum
  • Actionable data across tools from multiple suppliers
  • Easily utilized remediation resources
  • Personalized learning

Connected Learning Innovation Challenge

This challenge may be the most intriguing of all. The purpose is to foster a “connected-learning mindset” that establishes connected IT architectures and policies and encourages connected-learning applications, platforms, and development tools. Think IT integration of applications in a day, “one-click” combination of tools into a course, and unrestricted flow of analytics data between learning resources and apps.


Higher education leads research and development in learning and learning technologies, but support is growing in K-12 education. Corporate and government training organizations are also continually engaged in the creation of new approaches to learning and performance support. The IMS GLC board of directors states that it is committed to supporting lifelong learning across all segments.

The work that IMS GLC and its members are doing is critically important because it breaks down silos within education and between educators and learning technology product suppliers and publishers. By defining standards for interoperability, IMS GLC is also making it possible for educators to innovate solutions that support learning. This in turn provides examples and applications that are usable in many learning contexts.