Potent Alphabet Soup: How SLI, LR and LRMI Will Shape Education Technology Content

By Frank Catalano     Nov 2, 2012

Potent Alphabet Soup: How SLI, LR and LRMI Will Shape Education Technology Content

Imagine how you would feel if, while you’re focused on upgrading yourhome’s fixtures and appliances, the underlying plumbing was plotting to re-configureitself.

In a household metaphor, that’s the situation education technologyapplication developers face with three major but little-understood multi-stateor national digital education initiatives. All three plumbing efforts are foundation-or association-driven. And all will demand at least some of your attentionbetween now and next spring – whether you’re an established company or awanna-change-the-classroom startup.

What makes the triumvirate of Learning Resource Metadata Initiative,Learning Registry and Shared Learning Infrastructure confusing isn’t just thealphabet soup of acronyms. It’s the fact that the three separate initiatives,launched in roughly the same time frame, have become inter-linked and somewhatinterdependent.

This confusion led to the development of my proprietary IndustryCluelessness Factor (ICF), based on a gut check of how many in the industryreally understand what each is. Needless to say, the simpler an initiative isto explain and the more “real” it is today, the lower the ICF.

To start to grok the three, think of the first two as being aboutdigital content – paid or free – and the last about digital data plus that content.

Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (ICF =50%) is spearheaded by the Association of Educational Publishers and CreativeCommons. It provides a taxonomy to consistently tag digital learning content soit can be easily found in web search by teachers. LRMI’s version 1.0 spec hasbeen submitted to Schema.org, and when approved, means it will be used by Google,Bing and Yahoo in delivering search results. Digital content is already beingtagged as proof-of-concept by McGraw-Hill, Pearson, CK12, Curriki and others.

Learning Registry(ICF=70%) originated from the U.S. Departments of Education and Defense. Itprovides a structured index – not a repository – of digital educational contentfrom various free and paid sources and can present a visual map of availablecontent directly in a browser or from within other tools. That makes it easierfor teachers to find, in one place, related content and lesson plans bysubject, grade level or other criteria. (Entrepreneurs of a Certain Age mayrecall the analog equivalent: a library card catalog.)

As an index, it can be replicated in real-time across the web incopies called “nodes.” One key point: the Learning Registry recognizes LRMItags. It also applies other kinds of tags to content, reflecting how thecontent is used and how it might be rated by teachers. The Registry waslaunched a year ago and is technically in beta, but has content from NASA, theSmithsonian and more sources.

Shared Learning Infrastructure(ICF=90%) was instigated by the Council of Chief State School Officers and isdriven by the Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation under the aegis ofthe Shared Learning Collaborative. The SLI provides a data warehouse in thecloud for all kinds of student data, and links that data, through Common Corestandards, to digital educational content.

Key fact to remember here: the SLI does not store digital learning content.It only stores data (assessment, behavior, attendance, standards mastered,etc.). The content part of SLI is actually a bunch of pointers to content from SLI’s node of theLearning Registry and/or that may be identified with LRMI tags. And,importantly, the SLI has open APIs that let edtech products interact with thestudent data and content info, critical for layering on data analytics, personalizationengines or other learning apps that interact with what SLI stores.

While the SLI is far too complicated to explain well in brief (seethis MindShiftpiece for more detail), it’s currently in alpha with a production releaseslated for the end of the year. Pilots are underway in districts in five states(Massachusetts, New York, Illinois, North Carolina and Colorado), developerscan now play with fake data in a sandbox environment, and pilots will be addednext year in four more states (Louisiana, Georgia, Delaware and Kentucky).

Connecting the bits of all the initiatives: LRMI tagging is used bythe Learning Registry, and both LRMI and Learning Registry are referenced by thepart of the Shared Learning Infrastructure that has to do with CommonCore-aligned content. And SLI also stores student data.

So what’s an entrepreneur or established edtech enterprise to do,today?

If you’re a content company, you should pay attention to LRMI and, toa lesser extent, the Learning Registry – especially once Schema.org approvesthe LRMI spec and Google is using it. If you don’t use LRMI tags, your digitalcontent may not be as discoverable in the major search engines where manyeducators begin looking for classroom materials. Dave Gladney, who works onLRMI for AEP, says an automated tool is in development to make content taggingfaster. Not taking part in LRMI may hurt your content's SEO.

Learning Registry’s immediate importance is harder to determine. RichardCulatta of the Education Department’s Office of Education Technology sayssomeone with programming skills could publish a list of content to the Registryand its nodes in literally half a day, at the simplest level of participation.But the big if is whether teachers or districts will start using the LearningRegistry, or tools that embed it, in significant numbers to find chunks of content.Still, with a promised low bar to entry – and the fact it gets anorganization’s digital learning content in the SLI – the question ofparticipation may more likely be, “Why not?”

Finally, if you’re an assessment or student information tools company,you must pay attention to SLI (lucky content companies get a mostly free rideby taking part in the Learning Registry and/or LRMI). SLI is the most complexof the three and, as a result, the most time-consuming for a company to evenunderstand (Stephen Coller of the Gates Foundation figures it will take one totwo people in engineering up to two to three weeks, including integration). It also could present a newbarrier to entry.

Should a district or state adopt SLI as its data storage solution andrequire all educational apps to exchange data with it through SLI’s open APIs, productsor services that remain closed could be locked out – as at least one pilotdistrict has already flatly stated. However, the Shared Learning Infrastructurefaces its own hurdles due to its audacious vision and complexity, and itsspread depends on the nine pilot states fully adopting it.

Love them or hate them, the education industry can’t safely ignore theLRMI, Learning Registry and SLI efforts. And only time and educator adoptionwill determine if the three related initiatives all orbit the Happy FluffyBunny Planet – or some kind of edtech Death Star.

FrankCatalano isan industry consultant, author and veteran analyst of digital education andconsumer technologies. He's a columnist for the tech news site GeekWire, aregular contributor to the NPR/KQED education site MindShift and generallytakes a practical nerd’s approach to tech. He tweets @FrankCatalano and consults as Intrinsic Strategy. He presented similar thoughtsabout LR, LRMI and SLI at the EdNET conference in earlyOctober.

Potent Alphabet Soup: How SLI, LR and LRMI Will Shape Education Technology Content

By Frank Catalano     Nov 2, 2012

Potent Alphabet Soup: How SLI, LR and LRMI Will Shape Education Technology Content

Imagine how you would feel if, while you’re focused on upgrading yourhome’s fixtures and appliances, the underlying plumbing was plotting to re-configureitself.

In a household metaphor, that’s the situation education technologyapplication developers face with three major but little-understood multi-stateor national digital education initiatives. All three plumbing efforts are foundation-or association-driven. And all will demand at least some of your attentionbetween now and next spring – whether you’re an established company or awanna-change-the-classroom startup.

What makes the triumvirate of Learning Resource Metadata Initiative,Learning Registry and Shared Learning Infrastructure confusing isn’t just thealphabet soup of acronyms. It’s the fact that the three separate initiatives,launched in roughly the same time frame, have become inter-linked and somewhatinterdependent.

This confusion led to the development of my proprietary IndustryCluelessness Factor (ICF), based on a gut check of how many in the industryreally understand what each is. Needless to say, the simpler an initiative isto explain and the more “real” it is today, the lower the ICF.

To start to grok the three, think of the first two as being aboutdigital content – paid or free – and the last about digital data plus that content.

Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (ICF =50%) is spearheaded by the Association of Educational Publishers and CreativeCommons. It provides a taxonomy to consistently tag digital learning content soit can be easily found in web search by teachers. LRMI’s version 1.0 spec hasbeen submitted to Schema.org, and when approved, means it will be used by Google,Bing and Yahoo in delivering search results. Digital content is already beingtagged as proof-of-concept by McGraw-Hill, Pearson, CK12, Curriki and others.

Learning Registry(ICF=70%) originated from the U.S. Departments of Education and Defense. Itprovides a structured index – not a repository – of digital educational contentfrom various free and paid sources and can present a visual map of availablecontent directly in a browser or from within other tools. That makes it easierfor teachers to find, in one place, related content and lesson plans bysubject, grade level or other criteria. (Entrepreneurs of a Certain Age mayrecall the analog equivalent: a library card catalog.)

As an index, it can be replicated in real-time across the web incopies called “nodes.” One key point: the Learning Registry recognizes LRMItags. It also applies other kinds of tags to content, reflecting how thecontent is used and how it might be rated by teachers. The Registry waslaunched a year ago and is technically in beta, but has content from NASA, theSmithsonian and more sources.

Shared Learning Infrastructure(ICF=90%) was instigated by the Council of Chief State School Officers and isdriven by the Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation under the aegis ofthe Shared Learning Collaborative. The SLI provides a data warehouse in thecloud for all kinds of student data, and links that data, through Common Corestandards, to digital educational content.

Key fact to remember here: the SLI does not store digital learning content.It only stores data (assessment, behavior, attendance, standards mastered,etc.). The content part of SLI is actually a bunch of pointers to content from SLI’s node of theLearning Registry and/or that may be identified with LRMI tags. And,importantly, the SLI has open APIs that let edtech products interact with thestudent data and content info, critical for layering on data analytics, personalizationengines or other learning apps that interact with what SLI stores.

While the SLI is far too complicated to explain well in brief (seethis MindShiftpiece for more detail), it’s currently in alpha with a production releaseslated for the end of the year. Pilots are underway in districts in five states(Massachusetts, New York, Illinois, North Carolina and Colorado), developerscan now play with fake data in a sandbox environment, and pilots will be addednext year in four more states (Louisiana, Georgia, Delaware and Kentucky).

Connecting the bits of all the initiatives: LRMI tagging is used bythe Learning Registry, and both LRMI and Learning Registry are referenced by thepart of the Shared Learning Infrastructure that has to do with CommonCore-aligned content. And SLI also stores student data.

So what’s an entrepreneur or established edtech enterprise to do,today?

If you’re a content company, you should pay attention to LRMI and, toa lesser extent, the Learning Registry – especially once Schema.org approvesthe LRMI spec and Google is using it. If you don’t use LRMI tags, your digitalcontent may not be as discoverable in the major search engines where manyeducators begin looking for classroom materials. Dave Gladney, who works onLRMI for AEP, says an automated tool is in development to make content taggingfaster. Not taking part in LRMI may hurt your content's SEO.

Learning Registry’s immediate importance is harder to determine. RichardCulatta of the Education Department’s Office of Education Technology sayssomeone with programming skills could publish a list of content to the Registryand its nodes in literally half a day, at the simplest level of participation.But the big if is whether teachers or districts will start using the LearningRegistry, or tools that embed it, in significant numbers to find chunks of content.Still, with a promised low bar to entry – and the fact it gets anorganization’s digital learning content in the SLI – the question ofparticipation may more likely be, “Why not?”

Finally, if you’re an assessment or student information tools company,you must pay attention to SLI (lucky content companies get a mostly free rideby taking part in the Learning Registry and/or LRMI). SLI is the most complexof the three and, as a result, the most time-consuming for a company to evenunderstand (Stephen Coller of the Gates Foundation figures it will take one totwo people in engineering up to two to three weeks, including integration). It also could present a newbarrier to entry.

Should a district or state adopt SLI as its data storage solution andrequire all educational apps to exchange data with it through SLI’s open APIs, productsor services that remain closed could be locked out – as at least one pilotdistrict has already flatly stated. However, the Shared Learning Infrastructurefaces its own hurdles due to its audacious vision and complexity, and itsspread depends on the nine pilot states fully adopting it.

Love them or hate them, the education industry can’t safely ignore theLRMI, Learning Registry and SLI efforts. And only time and educator adoptionwill determine if the three related initiatives all orbit the Happy FluffyBunny Planet – or some kind of edtech Death Star.

FrankCatalano isan industry consultant, author and veteran analyst of digital education andconsumer technologies. He's a columnist for the tech news site GeekWire, aregular contributor to the NPR/KQED education site MindShift and generallytakes a practical nerd’s approach to tech. He tweets @FrankCatalano and consults as Intrinsic Strategy. He presented similar thoughtsabout LR, LRMI and SLI at the EdNET conference in earlyOctober.

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