This article will address the issue of multiple Learning Management Systems discussing some of the history, effects, challenges, and current usages of the LTI Protocol by IMS Global.
Winning The Battle Of Multiple Learning Management Systems
Here is how to win the battle of multiple Learning Management Systems (LMSs). Let us start with part one, the pre-LTI era.
Part One - The Pre-LTI Era: Background And Challenges
The Learning Management System for EDU space is very crowded and there are literally hundreds of other Learning Management Systems which trickle the EDU space worldwide. However 90% of the market space is controlled by some of the major players such as BlackBoard, Canvas by Instructure, Moodle, Pearson Learning Studio, Sakai, and Desire2Learn. There has also been some consolidation recently with companies like BlackBoard buying Learning Management Systems such as Angel as well as several major Moodle Hosting Companies Worldwide.
Challenge #1: Uniqueness of each set of APIs. Each one of these Learning Management Systems has their own set of APIs. Each one has a unique interface and course structure. Integrating with all these Learning Management Systems poses a major challenge for learning application developers such as ourselves. Each one of these Learning Management Systems has their own set of APIs. Each one has a unique interface and course structure. Not only would this require companies like ourselves to create an application from scratch for every Learning Management System, users would expect us to maintain and support our application every time a Learning Management System provider releases a new version. Companies that would want to integrate their product and solution into the Learning Management System would have to spend tremendous time and resources to develop their application uniquely to each Learning Management System.
Challenge #2: Application deployment. Learning applications often are required to be installed on the Learning Management System hosting server. In addition to the sometimes cumbersome installation process, this would create additional considerations such as security threats, and potential financial resources to the hosting companies for the approval process. With many organizations hosting their Learning Management System by using a Learning Management System hosting company, this would bring another party to the table, posing an additional hurdle for the learning application developer when attempting to bring their platform and solution to the education community.
Part Two - Solution: Multiple Learning Management Systems Welcome LTI
LTI stands for Learning Tools Interoperability. It is a specification developed by IMS Global Learning Consortium and has since been adopted by almost all EDU Learning Management System including Blackboard Learn, Moodle, Canvas, D2L and Sakai (check IMS Certified Product Directory for a comprehensive list).
The concept behind LTI is to establish a standard to easily integrate learning applications with the Learning Management System.
All of the major Learning Management Systems support LTI. This means that we can now invest all of our resources in developing a quality solution, and using LTI make it available to almost all of the education and corporate training community in one go. No need to start from scratch for every Learning Management System, no need to maintain multiple applications, no need to watch applications break over and over again with each new Learning Management System release.
While this may not appear like headline news, this completely changed the approach when integrating learning applications within Learning Management Systems. Rather than having to install the learning application on premise, the application could now be hosted in the cloud. A few short minutes of entering a URL, key, and secret (specific LTI terminology) into the Learning Management System administration panel and you can link to the learning application anywhere in the Learning Management System. This dramatically simplified the installation process. Delivering the application as a SaaS service allows the ability to push updates automatically to the user without a need to ever bother the Learning Management System hosting company in the process.
To the user, LTI links appear like any other link in the Learning Management System course page. The magic starts when the LTI link is clicked. The LTI link seamlessly connects the user to the learning application, without ever leaving the Learning Management System. Further, LTI will send the user’s information, including name and Learning Management System role to the learning application. Thus, the learning application can identify whether it has been launched by a student or teacher and can therefore handle further requests accordingly.
Part Three - Development Of LTI Integrations: Technical Considerations
There are a few things in mind when developing your learning application for LTI.
First, while LTI is a standard in most Learning Management Systems today, there are some minor technical differences in the ways it has been implemented across Learning Management Systems (or Tool Consumers in LTI terms).
Some LTI parameters won’t be supported in all Learning Management Systems. Additionally, some LTI parameters are optional and might not be passed to the learning application at the discretion of the Learning Management System administrator or user. Some roles such as Administrator or Teaching Assistant are not supported in some Learning Management Systems. These need to be taken into consideration when designing the LTI wrapper for your learning application (Tool Provider in LTI terms), and we do recommend testing your LTI learning Tool with each Learning Management System.
Secondly, while delivering your learning application as a SaaS service has many advantages, you should note that this will require the maintenance of your cloud infrastructure. Among other things, this will require planning server capacity to take peak usage into consideration, IT maintenance, uptime guarantees, notifying users when server downtime is expected, regular backups, and planning server costs.
Lastly, we still need to remember that LTI has its limits. It will pass some basic information to your learning application, and it can optionally pass minimal grading data back into the gradebook, but that’s pretty much it for now. Anything more then that will require some creative design or will not be possible for now across all the Learning Management Systems.
LTI has completely changed the Learning Management System integration landscape. Rather than building a unique solution for each Learning Management System, learning applications can now be connected with almost all EDU Learning Management Systems using one standard. With LTI applications already an integral part of the Learning Management System experience in many leading online learning programs, these are exciting times for the community’s learning application developer.