Feds reverse course on open education mandate

Ed-tech officials lobbied for a change to a federal grant program.

The departments of Education and Labor have heeded calls from online education experts to change a mandate in a $2 billion grant program that opened last month, meaning grant applicants will have much broader choices in how to share their web-based learning tools freely among educators.

The federal grant program, known as the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) Grants Program, included a requirement to use the Department of Defense’s Sharable Content Object Reference Model, or SCORM, in developing open education resources.

SCORM is an eLearning software standard for self-paced, computer-based learning in the military and business sector.

While SCORM works fine for stand-alone content objects—such as a video clip illustrating how cells divide, or a PowerPoint explication of a sonnet—it cannot be used to define the more collaborative, interactive learning experiences that are typical of today’s Web 2.0-enabled course environments, its critics say.

Online educators and those who track open education initiatives said SCORM was too limiting as a standard for sharing online resources, and after a week of consideration, federal officials announced Feb. 9 that learning content made with TAACCCT grant funding “must conform to industry-leading eLearning open standards and specifications,” but did not single out SCORM.

Instead, ED and Labor included a small laundry list of open standards that educators can use, including the Postsecondary Electronic Standards Council (PESC), Aviation Industry Computer-Based Training Committee (AICC), and Information Management Standard (IMS).

The new grant program rules say that “applicants must identify the industry standard they will use in online course development” in their application.

Rob Abel, chief executive for the IMS Global Learning Consortium, said in a statement that eliminating the SCORM mandate would “help the success of the [TAACCCT] program for all concerned.”

Before federal officials made the change, Abel wrote on IMS’s website that the “requirement to use SCORM for educational content is an outdated regulation that will stifle the intended outcomes.”

Educational content can be created and shared under SCORM, Abel said, but doing so would require a special “authoring environment to manipulate [content].”

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