A New Acronym in Education: LTI, Part 1

T&L discusses the IMS Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) framework with IMS Chief Executive Officer Rob Abel.
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T&L discusses the IMS Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) framework with IMS Chief Executive Officer Rob Abel.

You may have heard of SIF, the standards interoperability framework that has been around since 1997. Now, there is a new acronym related to helping systems play well together: LTI. The principal concept of the IMS Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) framework is to establish a standard way of integrating rich learning applications (with platforms like learning management systems, portals, or other educational environments. What does this mean for K-12 schools? Tech & Learning interviewed IMS Chief Executive Officer Rob Abel, to find out.

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TL: Why is LTI important to K-12 schools?

Rob Abel: LTI enables a seamless user experience across a wide variety of learning apps for teachers and students, making it easier for them to use new digital learning applications and also track student progress and outcomes digitally.

Digital content and learning tools ("apps") from different suppliers don't integrate together easily. Integration requires a lot of expensive custom programming work, meaning that it usually doesn't happen. That means that the many (average 50-100) grade- & subject-specific digital content, assessment, and learning tools all require separate logins and aren't accessible from a single primary system (such as a portal, learning management system, content management system, or instructional management system)--both major hurdles for usage by teachers and students. It also means that those same products don't provide student progress data in one place or system. It is scattered across all the myriad products, making it very difficult for teachers to synthesize.

The net result is poor usage/adoption of digital learning content/learning tools because there is no easy way to access and make use of them.

LTI is a standard that is relatively easy for edtech vendors to implement that allows them to "plug and play" into primary systems like SAFARI Montage, Blackboard, Moodle, and more. This makes the "user" experience of the tools seamless, easy and useful for teachers and students alike. LTI handles the "single sign-on" in a standardized way behind the scenes as well as passing of context information (such as the students who are in a class together to do collaborative work) and returning of student progress data (gradebook or score data). LTI makes learning tools, content and applications "plug and play."

TL: What has been the industry response to this initiative?

LTI has already been very successful. The catalog of vendors shows a listing of the products that have achieved IMS conformance certification for LTI (and a related standard called Common Cartridge) for making digital content interoperable. There are over 60 certified interoperable products. In addition to the platforms listed above (tools "plug in to" platforms), there is a growing set of tools, content sources (like e-textbooks) and applications. There are at least another 50-60 tools that have implemented LTI that are not officially conformance certified.

The reason suppliers have been so enthusiastic about LTI is it saves them a lot of time and resources. Previously, that they all had different custom "APIs" (Application Programming Interfaces) that had to be breached one by one for each pairing of platform and tool. Now, a tool provider can "write once and run anywhere"--meaning they can plug into any LTI conformant platform.

TL: How have K-12 schools responded?

They love it. In addition to the usability issues addressed in the answer to the 1st question, the districts save substantial integration costs--regardless of the district size. New York City Department of Education estimates that using LTI for integration has been 8-10 times less cost than their previous approach (a SAML-based custom integration) to integrating content sources and tools. Smaller districts, such as Forsyth County in Georgia, are using LTI and Common Cartridge to transition from a learning management system they no longer wanted to SAFARI Montage for a fraction of the cost it would have been without the IMS standards. Use of LTI by districts enable greater choice, innovation and prevents single-vendor lock-in. To implement personalized or individualized learning, which typically involves use of digital assets from a range of suppliers, requires the LTI standard to implement in an agile, cost-effective and instructionally effective manner. So, districts see use of LTI as building for the ultimate goal of improving personalized teaching and learning while saving resources in the short term.

TL: How does the scope of the LTI initiative differ from the SIF initiative?

LTI is much "smaller" in scope than SIF. LTI provides plug and play by focusing on a direct connect between a "tool consumer" (like a learning management system) and a "tool provider" (a specific application or tool). LTI can support many tools plugged into tool consumer. LTI does not attempt to address the larger issue of synchronizing data objects among many different types of systems. LTI is compatible with SIF, in that data generated from the launch of an LTI-based tool could then be synchronized with other systems using SIF if that is desired by a district or state. IMS and SIF are close partners.

TL: What are IMS's long-term goals for this initiative?

A growing number of districts are making IMS conformance certification to LTI and other IMS standards an important consideration for doing business with any supplier. We believe that LTI is a fundamental strategy for every school district in terms of transitioning to digital education. The goal of the IMS membership (see member list: http://www.imsglobal.org/membersandaffiliates.html ) is to make LTI (and other IMS standards) ubiquitous. This will save the U.S. education segment hundreds of millions a year that can be put toward investing in more innovative products. It will enable the promise of digital education--actionable data that helps teachers and students achieve personalized learning --to be realized. The IMS members are actively releasing new versions of LTI about once a year that include additional capabilities such as enhancements to progress and outcomes reporting.

For an educators’ perspective of the LTI framework, read our interview with Joe Griffin, CTO of Keller ISD (TX) and Jill Hobson, Director of Instructional Technology at Forsyth County Schools (GA) HERE.

Watch our video interview with Rob Abel from the HERE.



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A New Acronym in Education: LTI, Part 2

T&L interviews Joe Griffin, CTO of Keller ISD (TX) and Jill Hobson, Director of Instructional Technology at Forsyth County Schools (GA, about their impressions of the IMS Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) framework.

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