Metadata for Learning Resources: An Update on Standards Activity for 2008
- The IEEE LOM: Recent History and Future
- The DCMI / IEEE LTSC Taskforce: LOM, RDF and the Dublin Core Abstract Model
- Dublin Core Education Application Profile: A Modular AP
- Next Steps for the UK: The JISC LMAP Scoping Study
- ISO Metadata for Learning Resources: A Third Standard?
- Harmonisation of Metadata: The PROLEARN Paper
- Author Details
In 2002 the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) published the IEEE Learning Object Metadata standard (IEEE LOM) , superseding the IMS Learning Resource Meta-data specification , which had been developed and used through several versions since the mid-1990s.
Over the same general period, the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative (DCMI) had established the Dublin Core (DC) as a standard for describing all kinds of web-based resources . The Dublin Core Education Working Group  emerged as one of several special interest groups  developing specific metadata elements  for the use of their communities.
Both of these standards have seen wide uptake since their establishment, together with a growing body of both practical implementation experience and applied research into their application. National and international standards bodies involved in educational technology have maintained interest in supporting them, and various communities of interest and organisations have attempted to achieve some measure of interoperability through development of a number of application profiles. For example, two national profiles of the IEEE LOM, CanCore  in Canada and the UK LOM Core , alongside the international ADL SCORM profile (Advanced Distributed Learning Sharable Content Object Reference Model), were central to a flurry of activity in the development of learning object repositories and related initiatives for the creation and sharing of metadata and resources within education and training in the first half of this decade.
However, in 2004, CanCore released its most recent version, CanCore 2.0, and the UK LOM Core stalled in its development before reaching a stable version 1.0. After this, development of the IEEE LOM and its profiles has been somewhat in abeyance, much to the frustration of many implementers, for whom wide use has inevitably revealed certain limitations.
Similarly, within Dublin Core, the acceptance of several new metadata elements relevant to education was followed by a gradual decrease in activity within the DC-Education Working Group. Its development of a DC application profile for education slowed down as the wider DC community came to grips with the need for: an overarching abstract model; for guidelines on developing application profiles for the new Web 2.0 world; and for some kind of harmonisation between the DC and IEEE LOM models.
However, in the past year or so, perhaps due to interest in educational metadata passing some kind of threshold as the number of implementations requiring it has expanded, there has been a creative outburst of activity in the standards and profiling arena, with a number of initiatives due to bear fruit in 2008/9.
This article does not aim to be a critical look at such initiatives; it simply aims to give readers with an interest in educational metadata a snapshot of the current landscape, both for easy reference, and to encourage wider participation in these standards activities. The major areas of development covered in this article are:
- LOM Next: plans for the next version of the IEEE LOM .
- The Joint DCMI/IEEE LTSC (Learning Technology Standards Committee) Taskforce: bringing together the two major metadata standards used for learning resources, and providing an RDF translation for the LOM .
- DC-Education Application Profile (DC-Ed AP): a modular application profile purely looking at educational aspects of resources, based on community requirements .
- The United Kingdom's Joint Information Systems Committee Learning Materials Application Profile (JISC LMAP) scoping study : working alongside a number of similar projects looking at application profiles for repositories in other areas, e.g. images.
- International Standards Organisation Metadata for Learning Resources (ISO MLR): based primarily in Canada, this international standards body is devising a new international standard for educational metadata, in response to perceived limitations of the IEEE LOM .
- The European Commission's PROLEARN Harmonisation of Metadata project: a study into the issues and challenges of achieving harmonisation in metadata, given the heterogeneous landscape .
The IEEE LOM: Recent History and Future
The IEEE LOM is a multi-part standard, currently consisting of a data model  and an XML schema , but with further parts currently under development as noted below. In addition, the IMS Global Learning Consortium maintains a set of best practice guidelines that accompany the LOM .
The LOM's history is intimately bound up with the history and development of the IMS e-learning interoperability specifications (e.g. IMS Content Packaging ), and with the history of the ADL SCORM reference model, which profiles the LOM alongside other specifications. It is worth noting, however, that the most recent development in the content interoperability domain within IMS, the IMS Common Cartridge specification , profiles Dublin Core metadata within its packages, albeit using a LOM mapping of Simple Dublin Core.
There are four areas of work for the onward development of the LOM:
- Re-affirmation of the data model part of the LOM standard.
- Correction of errors in LOM v1.0.
- A standard for expressing the LOM as DC using the Dublin Core Abstract Model.
- LOM Next: deciding where to go next with the LOM in a Web 2.0 world.
LOM v1.0: Re-affirmation of the Standard
In 2007, the process of re-affirming the IEEE LOM standard was initiated . This five-yearly IEEE administrative process ensures that obsolete standards do not fall off the radar and remain inappropriately in the standards catalogue. In spite of any limitations to the LOM noted by implementers in recent years, the take-up of this standard is considerable; the re-affirmation ballot was successfully completed in April 2008.
LOM v1.1: Corrigenda
The first order of business with improving on the LOM has been some much-needed work on correcting minor errors that slipped through the net when the standard was first published. An IEEE Project Authorization Request (PAR) for a corrigenda of the data model part of the standard (LOM 1484.12.1) was approved as of 27 March 2008, and will soon be released as v1.1. An interim list of errors being corrected is available on the public wiki .
LOM Next: Where to for a Next-generation IEEE LOM?
In light of not only a fast-evolving Web 2.0 environment within which providers of educational resources now operate, but also the need for harmonised metadata for education, the IEEE LTSC (Learning Technology Standards Committee) is going back to first principles to decide on a way forward for the LOM . Under the leadership of Erik Duval, a number of open Web conferences and email discussions are under way to establish the best approach for a next-generation educational metadata standard. One key question under discussion is whether the IEEE LTSC should simply improve the existing LOM 1.0 standard, or whether an entirely fresh approach should prevail, perhaps taking into account such issues as attention metadata (e.g. user reviews and recommendations, usage data) and Web 2.0 functionality such as social tagging . Determining the answer to this question will involve gathering requirements from the international community of LOM implementers and users. There is a significant cross-over between those involved in this work and those involved in the DC-Education Community working on the DC-Ed AP and the DCMI/IEEE LTSC Taskforce, as both groups strive to prevent any further 'silo-isation' of educational metadata, for the sake of future interoperability.
The DCMI / IEEE LTSC Taskforce: LOM, RDF and the Dublin Core Abstract Model
Development of a draft RDF binding for the LOM, intended eventually to be part P1484.12.4 of the standard, was completed by Mikael Nilsson in 2002. However, the work is now halted, although early materials are still available . This RDF representation of the LOM relied heavily on the Dublin Core element set, which already had an early RDF representation available; it was also a first attempt to start thinking about harmonising the LOM and DC.
However, difficulties became apparent with the compatibility of RDF with the LOM, and work began on developing a formal DC Abstract Model (DCAM) based on the principles of RDF . This led to the current DCMI/IEEE LTSC Taskforce initiative to explore harmonisation between DC and the LOM, which is proposing recommendations for expressing the LOM using the DCAM. The resulting document is intended to be ratified by both the IEEE LTSC as a recommended practice and by the DCMI as a recommendation. The work is nearing completion, and brings with it a de facto RDF binding for the LOM, which is technically more a translation than a binding, being somewhat lossy due to the inherent incompatibility of the models involved .
On 27 March 2008 the IEEE approved two Project Authorization Requests (PARs), one for the recommended practice for expressing LOM using DCAM (which will take on the 1484.12.4 designation), and one for the RDF translation of the LOM (which will become a new part of the standard: 1484.12.5). Both the DCMI and IEEE recommendation documents will provide expressions of LOM elements and vocabularies that are reusable within DC metadata, which is good news for the DC Education Application Profile.
Dublin Core Education Application Profile: A Modular AP
As mentioned above, the original incarnation of the DC Education Working Group established some Dublin Core elements specifically related to education , namely:
- conformsTo as a refinement of the Relation property. This enables a 'reference to an established standard to which the resource conforms' which may include 'educational standards, accessibility standards, or any other established standard that is relevant to the use of the resource.'
- educationLevel as a refinement of Audience. This enables a 'general statement describing the education or training context. Alternatively, a more specific statement of the location of the audience in terms of its progression through an education or training context.'
- Mediator as a refinement of Audience. This enables identification of a 'class of entity that mediates access to the resource and for whom the resource is intended or useful'. For example, 'a teacher might be designated the Mediator for a resource intended for use by a teacher in a classroom of students of a particular level or sharing other similar characteristics. Resources intended to be used directly by those same students would not include a Mediator.'
- instructionalMethod. This element, which may in the UK be assumed to cover pedagogy or pedagogical approach, is for describing a 'process, used to engender knowledge, attitudes and skills, that the resource is designed to support.'
The DC-Education Working Group then turned its attention to development of a DC Education Application Profile, initially intended to be a complete application profile, covering description of all properties of an educational resource, along the lines of the successful DC Libraries AP . However, this work proved slow, and a number of developments within DCMI promised solutions to some general problems that were worth waiting for, namely: closer links with the IEEE LTSC ; publication of the DCAM; and plans to establish DC guidelines for application profile development.
By the DC2005 Conference, the focus had moved to description solely of educational aspects and contexts of resources, in hope of creating the first AP that could be plugged into other APs: a modular AP. There seemed little point in developing an AP which included definitions of how to express titles, authors, etc., when these could be covered by other application profiles depending on the resource (e.g. images) or its context (e.g. metadata for a library catalogue).
Between the Dublin Core conferences of 2006 and 2007, the DC-Education Community worked on two major aspects of the AP: recommending vocabularies for educational use of the DC Type and instructionalMethod properties, and finalising the functional requirements and domain model for the AP.
DC-Education AP Vocabularies
Community members worldwide suggested vocabularies for inclusion in the AP, which were collated in a single document . The reports produced by the JISC CETIS Pedagogical Vocabularies Project were invaluable, forming a comprehensive basis for the initial collation of vocabularies . There was some discussion regarding the criteria for inclusion of vocabularies in the AP. In an attempt to encourage vocabulary providers to establish and maintain interoperability and reusability for their vocabularies, the following criteria were suggested:
- The vocabulary is openly available.
- The vocabulary includes definitions.
- A standard encoding is available for the vocabulary (e.g. SKOS, ZThes).
- URIs have been assigned to the terms and/or the terms are registered.
However, feedback from the community made it clear that these criteria, while generally felt to be laudable goals, were too far ahead of existing practice. Many felt that sticking strictly to these criteria could mean the exclusion of valuable existing vocabularies that could be of use to the wider community. Even the LOM standard vocabularies did not meet these criteria, although the DCMI/IEEE LOM Task Force work noted above will eventually provide a solution to this.
A descriptive rather than prescriptive approach was therefore taken; the current draft AP includes all vocabularies collated for Type and instructionalMethod, with indications of which of the four criteria they meet, and to what extent. At present, it is hoped that a similar exercise can be carried out for education-specific vocabularies for the Subject and Audience elements, although this is taking a back seat to overall development of the AP proper at the time of writing. New metadata elements requiring vocabularies may also emerge from the current AP requirements phase.
DC-Education AP: Singapore Framework
While the DC-Education Community developed some high-level use cases and requirements in 2006-2007, the DC Architecture Working Group was finalising what was to become the Singapore Framework for DC Application Profiles . This framework defines a number of optional and mandatory components for a DCMI application profile. At the DC2007 Conference in Singapore, the DC-Education Community decided to use the framework as a basis for focussing more closely on gathering a wide range of detailed use cases and building on these more specific functional requirements and a domain model. According to the framework, these building blocks will form a solid basis for the description set profile detailing elements of the AP, and any usage guidelines for these elements.
An AP Task Group was formed with the aim of presenting a draft AP to the DC Usage Board for consideration at the DC2008 Conference. The Task Group, under the enthusiastic hand of Lara Whitelaw of the UK's Open University, has gathered some 30 use cases and usage scenarios from around the world, and has begun the process of analysing them in order to establish detailed functional requirements. Serendipitously, JISC funded a Learning Materials Application Profile Scoping Study in October 2007, which has been working closely with the AP Task Group, particularly on the domain model component.
Next Steps for the UK: The JISC LMAP Scoping Study
The LMAP Scoping Study: Progress
The JISC Repositories Programme , which started in 2004, had, by its second phase, identified the need for work on national application profiles for a variety of resource types, for university and college repositories. A number were funded, with a proposal for a scoping study on a Learning Materials Application Profile being given the green light in October 2007. The fact that both the IEEE LOM and the Dublin Core Education Community were in a state of flux, with great things promised on the horizon but not quite having reached fruition, meant that it was deemed unwise to go ahead and develop an actual application profile, as some of the other AP projects were doing. The LMAP Project Expert Group met on 5 March 2008, to assist with developing the study's final report, which is likely to be released mid-2008.
The scoping study started by acknowledging that educational materials can come in any format or resource type, and can emerge from any domain. Experts in various metadata domains were interviewed to give an overview of the advice, guidelines and metadata standards these experts would recommend to a learning materials repository manager. One of the study's preliminary findings was that, still, not enough was known about community needs for educational metadata to make any firm recommendations about application profiles, element sets or vocabularies. In addition, the study produced a straw man domain model  for educational resources in repositories, and is continuing to work with its Expert Group and the DC-Education AP Task Group to further refine this.
Working Together: LMAP and the DC-Education AP Task Group
In the meantime, the DC-Ed Group had gathered some 30 use cases as part of its requirements gathering phase. Because these use cases were sought from on-the-ground implementers and managers of metadata, many of whom have had several years experience working with both the LOM and Dublin Core metadata in real-world implementations, they represent a significant body of evidence pointing toward functional requirements for an educational AP. The next stage in the DC Singapore Framework model is building a domain model on these functional requirements, employing any community domain models that may be in use. The Task Group now has some of the evidence needed by the LMAP Study, while, as noted, the Study has started work on building a domain model; both groups have agreed to continue this collaboration.
A Note About the UK LOM Core
As previously noted, the UK LOM Core, which was widely lauded as a useful tool for UK Higher and Further Education, eventually stalled in its development. However, this did not prevent its uptake, in draft form, in the UK e-learning domain. Particularly useful were the development and recommendation of a number of UK-specific vocabularies, some developed in projects such as the RDN/LTSN collaboration which gave the RLLOMAP profile  of the UK LOM Core, subsequently also taken up by the Jorum national learning object repository project  and others. Use of the UK LOM Core has never gone away; nor has the hope among UK e-learning metadata practitioners and implementers that some kind of formally funded support of the AP will emerge.
While the LMAP study makes no reference to the UK LOM Core, the work it is doing involves a number of key players in the UK LOM Core's development and subsequent uptake. It is not yet clear whether the final recommendations of the final report of the study will make mention of further development of the UK LOM Core. However, in working closely with both LOM Next and DC-Education, the study's authors are intent on ensuring that the UK Higher and Further Education repositories community is well supported in future with regard to educational metadata.
ISO Metadata for Learning Resources: A Third Standard?
While the above-mentioned developments have been under way, a separate group interested in improving on the LOM began work under the aegis of the International Standards Organisation (ISO) . The major concerns being addressed were providing support for multilingual capability and alternate resources, e.g. for accessibility purposes. The standard will be in two parts: a framework, and a set of core elements. While clearly borne out of similar frustrations as have been felt in the LOM communities around the world, this has occasioned some consternation in the rest of the e-learning standards domain, as it seems a third standard, which is not immediately interoperable with the other two, may be on the horizon . Furthermore, the ISO standardisation process works through discussion and ratification by national standards bodies; so ways in which individuals and organisations can take part are unclear.
However, the ISO MLR group has come forward to collaborate with the DC-Education AP Task Group, expressing a willingness to develop cross-walks with DC and LOM metadata, taking part in the Group's email list, contributing its own use cases to the requirements-gathering process and attending the first Web conference.
Harmonisation of Metadata: The PROLEARN Paper
There will be no discussion here on the challenges and possibilities for harmonising the metadata standards discussed. This is because Mikael Nilsson of the EC-funded PROLEARN Project, has already produced a near-perfect paper on this topic , in collaboration with Ambjörn Naeve, Erik Duval, Pete Johnston and David Massart, plus a broad consortium of organisations.
As noted at the outset, this article's modest ambition has been to introduce readers with an interest in educational metadata to recent and planned developments. The PROLEARN document provides a critical analysis (which will be difficult to improve upon) of what needs to happen to achieve true harmonisation of current metadata standards, particularly those relevant to education. It simply remains to me to conclude by encouraging interested parties to get involved in these initiatives. Standards must reflect community needs and experiences, and, clearly, the time is ripe to make your presence felt.
- IEEE LTSC WG12: Learning Object Metadata http://ltsc.ieee.org/wg12/
- IMS Global Learning Consortium, IMS Learning Resource Meta-data Specification http://www.imsglobal.org/metadata/
- Dublin Core Metadata Initiative Web site http://dublincore.org/
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- Nilsson, M (Ed.), Harmonization of Metadata Standards, PROLEARN Deliverable D4.7, January 21 2008 http://ariadne.cs.kuleuven.be/lomi/images/5/52/D4.7-prolearn.pdf
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- JISC Repositories and Preservation Programme Web site http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/programme_rep_pres.aspx
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- Powell, A., RDN/LTSN LOM Application Profile (RLLOMAP) Version1.0 http://www.intute.ac.uk/publications/rdn-ltsn-ap/
- Jorum Web site http://www.jorum.ac.uk/
- ISO/IEC JTC1 SC36 It for Education and Training WG4 Management and Delivery Web site http://mdlet.jtc1sc36.org/
- Nilsson, M (Ed.), Harmonization of Metadata Standards, PROLEARN Deliverable D4.7, January 21 2008
Dublin Core Education Community