4. Blackboard pledges its support to common ed-tech standards, which could prove critical in making content usable on any platform.

Common standards for online learning became much more viable last January after Blackboard Inc. announced that it would support an open database initiative that could make educational content usable on any platform.

Blackboard, in a Jan. 10 press release, said its market-leading learning management system (LMS) would provide “full support” for ed-tech industry standards known as Common Cartridge and Basic Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI).

The standards were developed by the IMS Global Learning Consortium, a nonprofit organization that advocates for greater use of educational technology through interoperability. IMS officials certified the Common Cartridge and Basic LTI standards in November 2010.

Blackboard’s commitment means faculty members could use online exams, for example, on a variety of web platforms, instead of being limited to the LMS their college or university uses. Using Common Cartridge standards would mean professors and their students would be able to log onto several websites through the same account, because the platforms would be integrated.

Common Cartridge is supported by a host of publishers, vendors, and LMS platforms, including McGraw-Hill and Pearson.

Rob Abel, chief executive of the IMS Global Learning Consortium, said standards designed to span across the educational market “are much more effective when market share-leading organizations are committed to their success,” because participation from a company like Blackboard “motivates the many partners of such leaders to also implement the standards.”

The common standards apply to Blackboard’s Learn 9.1 platform, the company said in its announcement. Applying IMS’s standards to that platform would mean educators could use digital learning tools from other companies’ LMS software and could share the tools more easily.

“This is a big milestone for us and for our clients, and a sign of the maturity of the education technology industry,” said Ray Henderson, president of Blackboard Learn and a member of the IMS board of directors.

If a professor uses Desire2Learn to create a course platform, for instance, the standards would allow her to “reuse the learning content” if she is hired to teach the same course at another college that uses Blackboard.

Without the standards, the professor could not import her course from one platform to another, meaning she would have to spend hours recreating the course online.

Applying the standards to Blackboard’s platform made good business sense as campus technologists and educators continue to look for more flexible online learning tools, said Charles Severance, a faculty member at the University of Michigan’s School of Information and a developer network coordinator for IMS.

“Strong support for standards and interoperability is very much in Blackboard’s best interest, and for me it always felt like it was only a question of when it would fit into the Blackboard development cycle,” he said, adding that the company’s pledge to Common Cartridge and Basic LTI could mark the first step in Blackboard assuming an active role in advancing standards. “Beyond Blackboard’s customers, I hope that this is the beginning of Blackboard taking increasing leadership for the entire marketplace in terms of standards and interoperability.”

Blackboard’s commitment, Abel said, could be a money saver for college and university IT departments that have seen deep budget cuts in recent years.

Custom integrations that bridge many learning systems are expensive, Abel said. But Basic LTI would allow applications to be shared from one LMS to another without IT staffers spending hours—or days—completing customization.

See also:

Blackboard backs ed-tech standards

Blackboard reassures education customers after acquisition

New Blackboard notifications: Customizable, quick, and mobile


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