Using metadata to promote personalized learning.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

David GladneyThis may sound technical, but it has a lot to do with everything, quite literally. And the idea is very simple. Dave Gladney (pictured) is the project manager for the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI), a project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a standard metadata framework for tagging instructional materials on the web. Dave oversees the efforts to build awareness and encourage adoption of the LRMI throughout the educational resource community. Here, Dave discusses what the LRMI is in a nutshell, why educators should be concerned, how it benefits educators and students — and what’s next. What exactly is metadata and why should you care? Read on.  

Victor: For those unfamiliar with the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI), how would you explain it?

Dave: In a nutshell, the LRMI is a standard that makes it easier for educators and learners to make informed decisions about the content and resources they use—much like the nutrition labels we see on most food products in the United States today. As a metadata standard, it’s applied to digital resources—or online representations of physical resources—to make it easier for technologies such as search engines, recommendation engines, personalized learning platforms, and resource portals to determine the educational intent of the content. Consequently, content that is tagged with LRMI metadata is more easily sorted and filtered, making it easier for the user to find exactly the right resource at just the right time.

Consequently, content that is tagged with LRMI metadata is more easily sorted and filtered, making it easier for the user to find exactly the right resource at just the right time.

Victor: Why the LRMI and why now?

Dave: We like to say that the LRMI resulted from a “perfect storm” of sorts—the movement toward common curriculum standards (such as the U.S. Common Core State Standards), the structured web data standards encouraged by the major search engines (known as Schema.org), and the emergence of educational resource registries (such as the Learning Registry). The common education metadata schema developed by the LRMI lies at the intersection of these three movements, which in turn facilitates the advancement of personalized learning technologies.

Victor: How has the LRMI evolved since its beginning in June 2011?

Dave: The early work of the LRMI focused on the development of the specification, or the set of metadata properties that would best enable description of a resource in terms of its educational intent. This first phase concluded with the submission of the LRMI properties to Schema.org—a consortium of search engines Bing, Google, Yahoo!, and Yandex to establish standardized tagging of web pages across the Internet. LRMI co-leaders Creative Commons and the Association of Educational Publishers (now the 501(c)(3) arm of the Association of American Publishers) are now focused on building awareness about the project and supporting publishers of educational resources in tagging their content with LRMI metadata.

Victor: What did it mean for the LRMI when it was adopted by Schema.org?

Dave: Schema.org adoption means that the LRMI properties are now part of the structured metadata that major search engines index in their searches. In the same way that you can now search for recipes on Google using criteria such as ingredients, cook time, and calories, you may eventually be able to search for learning resources using criteria such as content area, age range, and alignment to educational standards. Schema.org adoption does not, however, guarantee immediate use by search engines. The best way to encourage search engines to incorporate the LRMI specification is for providers and curators of educational content—both commercial and OER resources—to begin publishing LRMI metadata on their websites. When a large number of materials are tagged in this way, search engines will see the importance and value of incorporating the LRMI specification.

Victor: In your opinion, what are the greatest benefits for educators and students as the LRMI is implemented?

Dave: Once search engines begin to incorporate LRMI metadata, teachers and students will benefit from a streamlined online search process that allows them to find just the right instructional resources to meet their specific needs. Imagine a fourth-grade teacher seeking materials to help students learn the concept of multiplying fractions. A simple Google search of “fourth graders multiplying fractions” yields more than 1.8 million results. Using LRMI tags, educators could quickly narrow the search using criteria such as resource type, length of lesson, and alignment to specific educational standards. In the meantime, a wide array of other platforms and applications will be able to leverage a universe of well-described learning materials to deliver new tools and technologies. For instance, the Illinois Shared Learning Environment (ISLE) uses LRMI metadata to power its Learning Map system, which brings to life traditional static curriculum map documents, turning them into dynamic tools to promote individual student growth.

Victor: You’ve recently released the survey report, Ease and Discoverability: Educators and Publishers on the Search for Educational Content. What are the key findings from this survey?

Dave: Both educators and publishers of learning resources see limitations with current methods for finding educational content online. Educators cite concerns about irrelevant search results, as well as the time involved in sorting through endless possibilities to find the materials best suited to their specific needs. Learning resource providers, meanwhile, want to improve the online discoverability of their products and services. The LRMI holds the promise for meeting all of these needs and more.

Victor: What’s next for the LRMI?

Dave: The LRMI has several exciting projects under way. We’ll be holding a free webinar November 20 to discuss project updates, as well as feature case studies from a few publishers who have begun tagging with LRMI metadata. We’ll also be releasing updated versions of the popular user guides, The Content Developer’s Guide to the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative and Learning Registry and The Smart Publisher’s Guide to LRMI Tagging. An LRMI knowledge base is another project in the works with a target release date of early 2014. Finally, LRMI leaders are exploring funding and governance options to keep the initiative going after grant funding ends in April 2014.

[Ed. note: Reach Dave at dgladney@publishers.org. To learn more about the LRMI, visit www.lrmi.net and also check out this video.]

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com