Future of interoperability: food for thought…
I spent Monday and Tuesday in Bolton, for a meeting of the CEN/ISSS Workshop on Learning Technologies and a CETIS day on the Future of Interoperability Standards.
I arrived late on the first day, but it seemed to proceed like a regular CEN workshop meeting: I have doubts about the relevancy of some of the work, but things do progress and have some traction.
The second day attracted more people than expected: the good news is that quite a few people seem to care about the future of interoperability standards. The bad news is that the day was organized because of the feeling of dissatisfaction with how standardization of learning technologies is taking place. Seems like quite a few people share that feeling then…
Of course, the standardization process is far from optimal: it is slow, doesn’t always lead to results, or at least not always to results that matter to folks outside of these meetings. On the other hand, I am an optimist: in ARIADNE, we now have more than 400.000 learning objects with LOM metadata: that is not even near where we want to be, but it is much better than 5 years ago when nobody had more than 10.000!
In the introductory session, I mentioned some of my concerns:
- fragmentation: too few people work on too many different things in too many different organisations – there may well be more organisations than people in this area! I think that one of the reasons is that involvement in the development of a standard can be listed on a cv, whereas the work behind the scenes to develop infrastructure is often … rather hidden behind the scenes. A standard should really not be a goal, but more a last resort when we have a problem to make things work together.
- consensus: This is inherently a difficult type of process: it is a lot like “herding the cats”. In other areas where consensus is the norm, things move forward in a rather messy way too. I kept thinking throughout the day about the United Nations or the Global Warming Summit. Maybe the standards process is a bit like democracy in that respect: more kind of the least bad system… At least, the future of humanity or our planet doesn’t depend on what we do. (Then again, I happen to think that learning is important…)
- Don’t stop too early: Many of the “standards people” move on to something else when a standard is finished. (Incidentally, around 80% of the participants said that they were paid to develop standards. That feels odd to me: it seems to position standards as a goal rather than as a means…) I think that we should pay more attention to what happens after a standard is finished: LOM was finished more than 6 years ago, but we are still very much working with all kinds of communities on the deployment of application profiles, back-end infrastructures and front-end tools. And making progress – slower than expected maybe, but real progress: more on that later.
There was a lot of interesting discussion over the day – you can actually follow it quite nicely on twitter. I’m not sure that the discussion helped us to make a lot of progress. I certainly had a strong “them is us” kind of feeling: if we want to get better at developing standards, we need to agree on how we will make that happen… And we need to move beyond the “we should all work better together” stage…
In any case, there is some Good Stuff in the position papers on the web site and I’d love to hear your comments and feedback: what are your ideas on how to improve the standardization of learning technologies?