More on IMS Standards and Data Interoperability

  • 2
  • March 9, 2016

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”


I’m a fan of this Einstein quote and of anyone who can take complex ideas and communicate them succinctly. Speaking of complex ideas…

The following is part 3 of a running series on ‘Understanding Data Interoperability Standards’. (i know what your thinking, so much for being succinct!)

Even with all the available information on data interoperability, it’s difficult to make sense of the different data standards affecting K12. Below are some visual aids for the BIG 4 Data Standards from IMS Global. Surely there are other data standards out there, but this primer will get you started.


1. LTI (a.k.a. Learning Tools Interoperability; LTI Link; LTI Launch Link; LTI Connector)

LTI is a Standard for authenticating a user into another system and getting back specific content. There are multiple editions of this Standard (v1.0, v1.2, and v2.0) and they are all active. The classic use case for LTI is that someone currently logged into one system, e.g. an LMS, can click an LTI link which instantly delivers targeted content from another system, e.g. an e-text or some other content repository. The LTI link contains enough information to authenticate the user to the content repository and request a very specific bit of content, such as a specific paragraph of text, a video, a document, etc. As you might imagine, if everything had LTI links available, users could effortlessly hop from content to content without any hurdles of signing in and searching for the intended content. Life with LTI everywhere would be grand!



2. Common Cartridge (a.k.a. CC)

Common Cartridge is a zip file that contains a Manifest File (i.e. an index file) and various other content links and files (i.e. pdf files, video files, html files, etc). Common Cartridge allows publishers to breakup their content into ‘nuggets’ that can be delivered to schools and inserted into a Learning Management System (LMS) or Learning Object Repository (LOR). The vision here is a school can selectively acquire Cartridges from various publishers and assemble them into a sort of ‘play list’ that suits their unique instructional needs. A single subject course could use Cartridges from multiple publishers, and because the Cartridge includes the content, you never have to ‘leave’ your LMS or LOR to access the content, it’s all in the Cartridge.

3. Thin Common Cartridge (a.k.a. TCC)

Thin Common Cartridge is zip file that contains an LTI link (to authenticate), a standard weblink to targeted content on a publisher’s servers, and two types of metadata (Learning Object Metadata and Curriculum Standards Metadata). Thin Common Cartridge is essentially a simpler Common Cartridge (CC) because it doesn’t include content files. Where CC requires publishers to create, update and constantly send big zip files that may be laden with content, TCC does not. Where CC requires schools to build giant content repositories to store all the CC’s, TCC does not. TCC also addresses the potential reluctance of publishers to cut up all their content into pieces and send it everywhere around the world in open zip files. Because a TCC file can be much quicker to produce and require fewer updates (weblinks stay the same and content changes are made on the publisher’s servers) there is a growing appeal among schools and publishers to use TCC over CC.

IMS-Understanding Common and Thin Common Cartridge


4. OneRoster

OneRoster is an agreed upon CSV template and REST API for sharing class rosters between a Student Information System (SIS) and any another system (typically a content application or an LMS). Systems that adopt the OneRoster standard allow schools to stop the madness of manually creating unique class roster data extracts for every web publisher and platform provider. The OneRoster standard defines two ways schools can send these universal rosters, either through csv templates or through web delivery. With accurate rosters, publishers can prevent missing student accounts and incorrect class groups, which are major stumbling blocks to using online resources in the classroom. With OneRoster, schools can pave the way for digital resources for teaching and learning and eliminate problems before they happen.




There you have it. A simple translation of the BIG 4 IMS Global standards for K-12. IMS is always growing and no doubt this list will grow in the future. For now, a working knowledge of these four will cover you in a data standards conversation or at your next data interoperability cocktail party. (If it hasn’t happened to you yet, just you wait!)

Happy translation day,


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