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The Newbie: Learning Tools Interoperability

We’re educational technologists, which generally means two things:

  1. We like to develop tools for teaching and learning;
  2. We have an on-campus Learning Management System (LMS) for which we have often developed;

The above has now been complicated by the inevitable: Our LMS will be changing in the future, and that LMS is, er, unknown at the moment. There are a wide variety of candidates, to be sure: Blackboard, Moodle, Sakai, and Canvas, to name a few. So which one to develop for? Or do we simply stop development, take some time off, and head out on vacation? The latter, alas, isn’t an alternative. And since we don’t know, exactly, what we are writing for, we’re implementing stand-alone web applications at the moment. It’s nice to be doing so, but it would also be nice to easily integrate these applications into whatever LMS the University ultimately decides upon.

Enter Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI), a specification by the IMS Global Learning Consortium. The specification attempts to establish a standard way for rich learning applications to be integrated with other platforms, such as, say, an LMS. In LTI lingo, the “rich learning applications” are called Tools (delivered by a Tool Provider) and the LMS is called the Tool Consumer. The goal is that users of the LMS can connect to your external, web-based application without disrupting their experience by having to travel outside the LMS. For developers, it means “write once, use anywhere.” That seems ideal. But we know how well “write once, use anywhere” often goes.

Nevertheless, we’re starting to explore LTI, and, fortunately, Instructure, the makers of Canvas, have an entire course for developers, and several of the assignments are devoted to learning LTI (just click on the “modules” link of their course site). Additionally, the MSDLT Blog has a good article on writing a basic LTI tool provider, which lists several links that all developers should be aware of, and shares their early thoughts on LTI. And we’ll (hopefully) continue to share our own thoughts on LTI as we delve into it.



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