Tech in EdTech

Upgrade LTI For Better Learning Experiences

October 19, 2021 Magic EdTech Season 1 Episode 6
Tech in EdTech
Upgrade LTI For Better Learning Experiences
Show Notes Transcript

In the 6th episode of Tech In EdTech, Mark Leuba, IMS Global Learning Consortium talks about Upgrading LTI For Better Learning Experiences with Michael Urban, Magic EdTech.

Michael: Welcome to the Magic EdTech Podcast on LTI. Today we're discussing and suggesting an action plan to either implement or to upgrade your integration for LTI to the newest version. I'm Michael Urban - the Vice President of Educational Systems Consulting for Magic EdTech. For those of you joining us today, LTI refers to Learning Tools Interoperability. Learning Tools Interoperability, or LTI is a standard developed by IMS Global Learning Consortium. LTI allows courseware and learning tools from different vendors to be launched within a learning platform most often an LMS or Learning Management System. Today I have with me a wonderful colleague from IMS Global Mr. Mark Luba. Mark is the Vice President of Product Management at IMS Global. Welcome, Mark. I'm so glad to have you with us today.


Mark: Thank you, Michael, I appreciate the invitation the opportunity to talk about our member’s good work.


Michael: Great. Thanks so much. So, Mark, tell us a little bit about yourself your journey in the technology space and how you arrived at IMS Global, which is the leading organization surrounding LTI and creating the standard for interoperability. I know you've had a wonderful career. So please tell us a little bit about yourself.


Mark: Well, thanks, Michael. I've been in IT my entire career as you imagined. And I've had the opportunity to have positions in various industries. So, I have a broad base, but primarily corporate background. And then in 2005, I actually joined American public university system as their Chief Information Officer. And I had the opportunity to really get involved in the education process, including back-office issues related to data and systems connecting to one another. And it was through that experience and some subsequent consulting that I did in the early 2010s, that through maybe 2015, that I started to see the incredible importance of interoperability, and open standards. And I became a proponent and ultimately started working with IMS Global to advance and promote the use of open standards for education technology.


Michael: That's great. Mark, thank you so much again for being here. I feel really privileged that you're able to allocate some of your time for those of us here at Magic. So, Mark, I want to begin with something very important, it's a timing and a planning element for our listeners. Whether you're an institution supporting a platform like an LMS, or provider of tools for those platforms, timing is really of the essence, I understand that all legacy implementations of LTI are being deprecated. And with the most recent security updating framework, which is now LTI 1.3. So, this means that all prior versions are no longer supported. And as of June 30, 2022, providers of educational solutions and tools must evolve to LTI 1.3. Or they can also harness the increased benefits of LTI advantage. We'll talk in more detail about LTI advantage shortly.


Mark: Yeah, thanks for that. Yeah, this is the processes started in 2019. We've been leading up to this transition for quite some time. And we work hard to try to keep the community, our members and the public aware of what's happening with these types of transitions. With changes and different technologies. And of course, the underlying security related evolution of these standards is a natural thing. So, we're working with our members providing resources and assistance and support as much as possible to help with that transition. But there's a lot of great reasons which I'm sure we'll talk about, for why this transition is viable and important.


Michael: Great. So, Mark, what I'm also hearing is that LTI, 1.3 and LTI advantage as an additional option. This represents the new security framework and is IMS Global's most secure option available, and it leverages OAuth 2.0, Jason tokens and the open ID Connect framework. Tell us a little bit more about that commitment to data privacy.


Mark: Sure. You know, IMS came to the realization that we do teaching and learning, Education Technology around teaching and learning. We're not the world's expert in security, and other related infrastructure types of standards or organizations like the Internet Engineering Task Force that publishes OAuth 2, for example, and other organizations that are expert in this work. And with the pace of technology change, we thought it would be more appropriate for us to adopt the industry standard, so to speak in security. And rather than try to invent our own solutions, which were ultimately proprietary, if you think of it that way. So, security was an important component to the decision to migrate the platform along with ease of use.


Michael: Got it, got it. So, let's take just a quick step back for our listeners and give a little bit of history and explanation of what LTI actually is, and what it stands for.


Mark: Well, LTI is a mechanism for, as you indicated earlier, for different products to communicate together seamlessly. And that communication includes the ability to navigate from one window that you may be using to see a subordinate window in the same browser. So that type of integration, or you can launch an experience that's in a different window, and have the data, the contextual data actually transfer among these processes, in a way that not only protects the privacy of the individuals, but also the data integrity. And that's because all the participants have basically agreed to exchange the data using the standard.


Michael: Got it. So, Mark, with the ever-expanding number of cloud-based solutions that we're seeing, and really just a significantly huge growth in the adoption of digital learning environments, especially during the pandemic, and the use of things like learning management systems, or LMS. What problem does LTI and its innovation from IMS Global really solve?


Mark: In the early days, integration used to be very much a customized or a bespoke operation, where different groups would get together and collaborate on a very unique integration. But the downside of that are many downsides, but one particular downside is that tool then is married now with the host platform, if you will. So, if one needs to change, the work needs to be done to bring the other one up to speed and you're constantly in a redo kind of a mode, based on the fact that changes are happening at different times and in different cycles of those separate products. So, think about putting in some intermediary in between the platform and the tool, such that you can actually change out the tool readily. And if that tool also uses the standard, it can plug right in. And that gives you a tremendous benefit as a consumer, as a teacher or the administrator that, you know, offering Teaching and Learning Services and education naturally. Because you're able to have choice, and you're able to substitute products that best meet your needs at the time. And you may have different products that meet the needs of special learning groups as well. So, there's a lot of tremendous benefit to having a strategy that leverages open standards to support your entire ecosystem, and the inevitable change that is going to undertake.


Michael: I get the value right away. So, you know, why LTI versus other approaches to integration, you know, LTI, I know is cross platform. But tell us a little bit more, why this approach to integration?


Mark: Well, it’s designed for education. It's not a commercial, you know, general solution. So, the context of education is extremely important, you know, teaching and learning as a specialized activity that has certain patterns and certain privacy requirements. And so, the entirety of the LTI. And really, the IMS family of standards are informed by the knowledge of our members who are themselves teachers, and administrators and institution, as well as tech companies that provide those services or those products and then like yourselves. So, it's that combined wisdom, working together to solve an education, teaching and learning problem that provides a higher level of quality and functionality.


Michael: Okay, great. So, let's just quickly return to this matter of urgency. What does LTI 1.3 mean for institutions? What does it mean for providers of learning tools and solutions with the understood deprecation schedule that we were talking about? What do providers need to do now to ensure compliance within the overall educational ecosystem that we're seeing today?


Mark: Providers will need to, first of all get comfortable with the specifications themselves and learn about LTI. And we provide free resources on the web for that, as well all sorts of resources are available for the public and a specialized set for our members that we offer. And so, getting knowledgeable in the standard and incorporating the new standard into your tool, we provide testing services that allow for our members to be able to use these testing harnesses, and we make it much easier for them to adopt the standard.


Michael: Okay, that's great. And again, we'll return to this matter of urgency in a little bit. But yeah, give us a little idea of how has LTI matured over the years, you know, were there new problems to solve throughout this journey of evolution?


Mark: Certainly, you know, LTI was groundbreaking at the time, but it's more than 10 years old now, you know, but the idea that you could have a mechanism to allow for one platform to launch multiple different tools, and provide choice for the user was really groundbreaking do it in a consistent way that incorporated privacy and security. But over the course of time, not only have the security needs change, so we've accommodated that by moving to the 1.3 platform, as we call it. But also, we've added services that perform things like building courses, your ability to build a course, using our deep linking, or quickly know what learners are supposed to be in this core section through what's called names and roles, or the process of grading mean is such a critically important component is integrated in with the new suite of LTI services. So, the full usability spectrum, again, where the teaching and learning focus is incorporated in the latest version of LTI from an institution's perspective, from a provider's perspective, something that we we've adopted the standard security patterns, which makes it much easier for them to understand how to implement LTI, because it's implemented just like many other processes that are available out in the commercial domain. So, it is just simply leveraging the libraries that are free and available for people to use to adopt the security model is very helpful for providers. Looking forward, we've really upgraded added a new capability called Dynamic Registration, where a tool provider can automatically connect to a platform. And so, it's really dramatically reducing the amount of technical steps required to associate the platform and the tool when you're installing a new tool. So that dynamic registration is going to dramatically reduce the time and effort necessary, which is even now it's fairly modest, to be honest with you. But it's more going from fairly modest to one click installation.


Michael: That's really helpful. I know our listeners are going to appreciate that. And the context of that evolution and that maturation, of LTI. So, you know, just so I'm clear, you know, LTI is a framework, it's a standard. It's not an app or a product, you refer to it as a platform?


Mark: Yeah, and that's probably a bad use of language from my perspective, it is a protocol, it is an agreed upon way to exchange data, and that exchange happens are two dimensions to that. One is the exchange, I’ll call it orchestration, or the workflow, you know, the roles of the different parties, you know, the provider and the consumer of the data. And then the structure of the data; what is the structure of the data, and both of those components, the workflow and the structure are what LTI is all about. So, if you say you're going to adopt LTI, then that means that you will implement that orchestration and that data transfer model, it doesn't mean that is going to affect how you store the data or your application in any negative sense. It simply is the exchange from one platform to another that that makes it easier for both of us to understand each other. So, in that respect is also kind of like a contract for exchanging data.


Michael: That's a great metaphor. So, you know, let's talk a little bit more about 1.3 specifically. And then I want to make sure that we spend some time on LTI advantage. What are the key features and benefits of 1.3? What changed dramatically other than a few of the things that you mentioned, in the prior versions?


Mark: The security model is probably the most significant decision, and is the ability of the version to host multiple subordinate services. So, the reason I called 1.3 a platform is because it performs certain aspects of the connection, and the security and other orchestration steps. But then it is expecting also to have additional services, as they're called, which add features and functionality that is unique to whatever you need at that time. So, whether you're an assessment platform, you would leverage perhaps assessment upgrade services and names and role provisioning. If you're a content platform, you would gravitate to deep linking, where you're going to be creating courses and constructing courses. And making that easy for the end user to do that. So, the major difference is that it's much more extensible, so that new features, new capabilities that maybe we don't even know about yet, as long as they adhere to the framework of LTI 1.3, then they can quickly be developed and rolled out into the marketplace. And so, our members bring problems to be solved. And maybe it's an institutional member, maybe it's an institution working with a software provider, and they say; Hey, we need to add this new service. So, we, as a collectively get together and work through; Oh, how would that work, and we document that. And that becomes a new extension, as we call it. And that extension can be used selectively, and add it in, and it's basically a building block strategy, that once you have that foundational layer 1.3, you can add capabilities, such as dynamic registration, or potentially proctoring is another type of service that leverages that. So, there are many other possible services that are using a handful of other ones that I won't get into now, because I know we're going to be talking about the LTI advantage.


Michael: Right, right. And I've seen that collaboration of the membership, you know, bringing to the table those ideas for futuristic capabilities. So anyway, let's talk about LTI advantage. This is really exciting for all of us. I understand it's more of a package, or I'm referring to it as a package. You know, I hear things you mentioned deeper integration, deeper linking, and certainly better learning experiences for students, and lifelong learners. So, tell us a little more about advantage.


Mark: Well, you know, we put our headset on for it, put ourselves in a role of a teacher and a student, and we said, what are the key teaching and learning activities that are required in an online environment. Now, of course, you're talking about developing a course, building a course, and then offering a course. And ultimately grading the assignments and the activities related to that course. So LTI advantage is actually a combination of the three services that work together to support a really seamless teaching and learning experience. And we thought it would be important. And again, our primary interest here is institutional users, institutional membership, that we want to make their lives simpler and easier, as much as possible. So, we said; you know, it's best to offer this as a package so that people know what they're going to get. So that if there's a product and it's LTI advantage, certified, then you know, the features that you're going to get, and they're going to work together. And so, it's a degree of confidence for the market in support of a particular set of teaching and learning capabilities.


Michael: So, it's really that reliability in that confidence. So, thanks, Mark. It's great information for those who can tune into this podcast on the LTI standard, and in particular, to learn more about LTI advantage. So, I want to touch upon one topic that's really on the minds of everyone today, PII and learner data privacy, you know, how does LTI address the concerns Personally Identifiable student information, and then privacy in general, if you will.


Mark: You know, IMS is very committed to privacy of learner data. As a matter of fact, we have a trusted apps program, I'd encourage you and your listeners to research that involves a vetting of applications according to our 24-point rubric that's been developed over the course of years by experts, dozens of experts have contributed to that. And so, the vetting allows you as a consumer of, of technology tools to see these actual vendor contributed evaluations as well, as it's not a third party that's evaluating them. It's a combination of us working with the vendors to self-evaluate on a series of criteria. So, that's trusted apps. When it comes to the IMS standards and the exchange of data, we have very strong principles about minimalism, that you we recommend in our specifications, and that we keep the amount of information passing from one product to another to the absolute minimum needed to actually perform that function. We do not support sending everything we much prefer and we recommend in our best practices to use a minimalist approach. But importantly, each user is actually identified with what's called an opaque identifier, so that there's a degree of confidentiality even in that exchange, although there are instances where it is necessary to pass for example, name, pass an email address, that information is encrypted as it goes across the wire, because the standard requires it. And the platforms and tools would not get certified if they weren't appropriately encrypted. So, there's every level of effort is spent to protect the personally identifiable information and other aspects of learner data security.


Michael: Wonderful. Okay, great. Yeah, Magic EdTech. We work with numerous providers of solutions to implement their LTI integration. Some are immersive learning solutions, like simulations and labs, others could be core curriculum providers of E-books or, you know, complete interactive courseware, if you will. So, you know, I really want to pose the question, shouldn't all providers of learning solutions and these types of tools, adopt LTI which is the IMS global standard?


Mark: Yeah, yes. No question. So, institutions should require it in their RFPs, and their purchasing processes, and organizations tool providers, etc., it opens up the market for them, because virtually the entire learning management system, community of products is are LTI compliant. And so, by offering my tool, let's say, as an LTI compliant tool, I'm opening myself up not to just the users that are using canvas, let's say, but Blackboard, D2L, if it's K12. It could be Schoology, and others. So, it's very ubiquitous, really at this stage. And so, you're missing the opportunity in the market, if you have not yet adopted LTI and LTI advantage.


Michael: Okay, great. You know, from the institutional perspective, whether you're in K 12, you're in higher ed, or continuing education. What happens if you make a change in your learning management system or LMS? You've pivoted, you've made a business decision for scalability, you know, or whatever that reasoning was, but as an institution, you know, how can I be sure that a product or an app is LTI certified?


Mark: Well, IMS has a product directory, where every tool and platform that has passed certification is listed. And there's various filters that you can choose from product type, you can look for particular vendors, look for a particular-standards, such as LTI, or LTI. assignment and grades, for example, is very specific. So that's that product directory. And how do I get to that product directory as a tool provider? I have to go through a certification test. I actually bring my product to IMS and IMS and connects to their tool and it processes the data and does an exchange. So that's called the certification suite, and that is its code. It's a system that we have that tests that, that that product actually is or is not compliant. And, you know, we work with the product company to help them get to compliance. And once they have achieved compliance, then they're awarded a certification. And they get the ability to say that they're certified on their website. And then of course, that gets recognized in the market for people that care about the importance of interoperability.


Michael: And then, of course, they're listed in that directory. So, great. So, you know, how can providers and institutions you know, today, find out more about the LTI security framework?


Mark: It's right on our LTI main page, Right on the main page, is reference to the security framework. And it is integrated in the spec. So, there's links to it, etc. I would prefer your technical for your technical listeners, that that's a great valuable resource. And the IMS website has a lot of good information about how our non-technical members collaborate together in a really common network, and exchange information about tools that they're using or problems that they're trying to solve. And together, they collaborate and develop solutions that actually a real world and get implemented.


Michael: This is really helpful and very valuable, Mark. Thank you. So yeah, just as we wrap up what final thoughts or considerations you have for providers of solutions or institution that are deploying these types of learning tools, and are part of the ecosystem overall?


Mark: Yeah, if you're not currently LTI 1.3 and LTI advantage, act now and get that on your roadmap. It's not a tremendously heavy lift, you will be glad that you did. And once you have done that, get it certified, so you get the market benefit, and the entire world can know that you are a plug and play EdTech tool.


Michael: That's great. Thank you, Mark, and I look forward to seeing you soon. For our attendees of this podcast, Magic Ed Tech is a contributing member of the IMS Global consortium as Mark and I discussed, you can visit IMS at You can also reach out to us at for more information and support in your adoption of LTI 1.3 and LTI advantage. Mark, thanks so much for your time today. Very grateful.


Mark: Thank you, Michael. Appreciate it's great to see you again.


Michael: You too.