There are a number of standards, specifications, recommendations and "wannabe standards" that apply to learning technology. Conformance with standards can dramatically reduce the cost and time to specify, design and deploy learning technology solutions. For example, if content conforms to SCORM, most of the cost of integration of the content with a learning management system is eliminated. The ROI is higher for content developers as well as for the enterprise that uses the content, and the time to deployment can often be reduced from several months to a few minutes. Other standards and specifications that have become de facto standards exist or are being developed for metadata (data that describes learning resources or content), for learner information, to describe an individual's special needs for accessibility, to describe a competency or learning objective in a generic way, for competency records, and so on.
The bottom line is this: The judicious application of the relevant standards can save a lot of time and money.
Standards are thus extremely valuable, but they can be difficult to interpret without guidance, and they are not all equal in quality or relevance. In fact, some of them may be obsolete or demonstrably flawed, but are still being referenced and promoted to preserve existing investments, or sometimes because of simple ignorance. The ideal standard meets real world requirements, is economical to implement, and guarantees interoperability because every aspect of conformance can be verified. Sometimes, poor quality in a standard means that there are ambiguities that interfere with interoperability, or that it contains so many features that implementation is too expensive, or that it is so complex that full conformance is not verifiable.
Sometimes, standards can get in the way. At that point, one has to reconsider. Sometimes there is just no workaround but the business demands conformance. Sometimes conforming to the standard is just not worth it. But often all it takes is a new, creative approach to the problem to allow the functional and learning design goals to be achieved, while still conforming to the standard. This, in turn, requires experience, deep knowledge of the features supported in the standard, and the ability to look at all aspects of the problem with a fresh eye. This is why bringing in a consultant for as little as a few hours can pay off handsomely. Of course, this consultant should be independent and open-minded. If the consultant is suspiciously pushing a particular product or vendor, get a second opinion.
The ideal path to standard development is well
Practice -> recommendation or specification -> validation in the field -> accredited standard
Some recommendations or specifications never make it to the standard stage, but are nonetheless in such wide use that they become a de facto standard. Much of the Internet is built on such recommendations and specifications from the World Wide Web and the Internet Engineering Task Force, and learning technology standards often reference some aspects of those also.
Some standards initiatives applicable to learning technology include:
ISO/IEC is the pre-eminent international standards organization. Its members are nations, not organizations or individuals. The scope of ISO standards encompasses all technologies and business processes.
A committee of ISO/IEC, ISO/IEC JTC1 SC36 (http://jtc1sc36.org/), has been working on learning technology standards, and several of the other standards organizations mentioned above have been submitting their specifications and standards to that body for ultimate publication as an ISO standard. Various ISO/IEC standards are referenced in other learning technology standards, which means that implementers of the learning technology standards must be able to look up those standards as well.
The ISO standards documents must typically be purchased. However, some of of the ISO/IEC standards are freely available (http://isotc.iso.org/livelink/livelink/fetch/2000/2489/Ittf_Home/PubliclyAvailableStandards.htm).
See the Resources page for more resources about current standards.
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