Instructional Management Systems (IMS) Will Change How Education is Designed and Delivered

Instructional Management Systems (IMS) will change the way we design and deliver education. Distance and distributed learning have become accepted methods to deliver education and training. The next step is toward creating learning objects and a movement away from thinking that instructional design must produce a linear product.

The Change in the Course Preparation Scenario

You want to put together a new course to offer as a classroom resource, to accompany satellite or cable broadcasts, or to offer on the Web. Through Web-based IMS libraries with searchable meta-data tags, you quickly locate and view the best learning objects for the course. You select materials that you can use (re-purpose), some that need editing, and decide that you need to create others.

You review the copyright and cost tags and generate a purchase order. You drag everything into an IMS learning environment system, create the new learning objects and drag them in. You complete the object sequencing, view the objects for learning style and multiple intelligences appropriateness, and check links.

The course is ready for students to log on from a school, office, home or road site. The IMS learning environment recognizes the student by ID, learning styles, modules completed, or other special needs. It creates a Web page individualized for each student on the fly. The system provides the administrative tracking for registration, assignments, grades, and portfolios. The systems will be highly interactive, provide e-mail, chat rooms, audio, streaming video, videoconferencing and other technology based learning methods as they become available.

It's an ideal way to deliver individualized instruction to learners and it assists them in their progress toward self-directed learning.

IMS Systems

The IMS system is based on national/international libraries of resources defined by meta-data tags. There will be many vendor created learning environment software applications but they'll all operate on international standards.

Meta-data is data about the data. It's a list of information about one learning resource that could be as small as several seconds of video or as large as a book. Tags are simple but more explicit than current numeric library codes. Meta-data tags are the search tools that will manage the information glut and find the materials that we need.

General information includes a title, language and description. Life cycle data focuses on the version and contributors. Technical Information covers format and location. Rights includes cost and copyright. Classification covers purpose and keywords. Educational tags include interactivity type and level, learning resource type, semantic density, intended end user role, learning context, typical age range, difficulty, and typical learning time. There are other tags.

At the top of the hierarchical view is the "root" element that contains many sub-elements. Using the tree metaphor, there are "branches" and "leaves" which can be used to provide information about pedagogical/andragogical methods. When you start the resource search, you'll fill in a meta-data form which allows significant detail. It will reduce the materials presented to you from the thousands that current search tools present.

Why is IMS necessary?

It will allow us to easily find materials. It provides the copyright and cost information so it saves search and negotiation time. The IMS libraries are reusable resources for all of us. There's no need to create English 101 again (and again, and again). Linear materials such as video and text can be broken into chunks of material - learning objects, that will allow their reuse by many educators and institutions. If you want to sell the learning objects that you've created, this is the way to do it.

Many groups are already going through their existing materials, editing them, and getting ready to provide them as repurposed learning objects. It provides information management through automated methods which discover, catalog, sequence, deliver, and maintain the available data. It is standards based and provides online infrastructure to manage access to materials and learning environments.

EDUCAUSE (formerly Educom) launched the initiative in 1994. It identified the common need among educational institutions to develop Internet strategies, to customize and manage instruction, and to integrate content from multiple publishers in distributed learning environments. Increasing access, improving quality, and reducing costs of learning environments requires the development of a substantial body of instructional software.

Making learning environments learner-centered without such an environment is difficult. That is the main reason that so many Web-based courses are poorly done. The lack of standards has impeded sharing across institutions and across a wide range of technical environments. The platform dependence on the Web has substantially improved access to learning material, but the access is limited at best. Finding relevant, valuable, and interesting information is difficult without embedded data that allows searching. Learning portals which boast thousands of courses are an interim solution to provide access, but they don't provide individualized instruction.

The Web has become a content repository that leads to the perception of interaction rather than a space that supports collaborative and necessary interaction for learning. Interactive technologies are developing to augment standard HTML, but translating the resulting content across sites requires a significant expertise and time. The development of online learning environments has been hampered by the lack of electronic commerce solutions to compensate the production and distribution of content or programs.

The incentive to use IMS will be apparent when you first see prototype systems such as TVOntario's video-on-demand, TEC/PLS' Personal Learning Profile online learning style assessment, or Oracle's iLearning. The IMS Project standards and tools are a better way to deliver distributed learning for all areas of education (


from "Prism on the Future," Teleconference Magazine, November 22, 1999, by Carla Lane, Ed.D.