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Why Edtech Needs Open Standards

What does an “open” product organization look like in practice?

Openness means developing products that work together. In the education space, this is critical since already time-strapped educators and administrators with limited budgets are being asked to do even more with less. With countless edtech tools in use at each institution, the last thing they need is to spend time trying to get tools to communicate with each other.

Openness also means making products that increase accessibility for learners everywhere. Adopting open standards makes it possible to accomplish these lofty objectives. At Instructure, we believe adopting open standards is crucial in addressing current and future teaching and learning challenges. That’s why we’re committed to helping encourage and shape the future of open standards. We think it's important enough to make it easier for everyone to adopt, whether customers, partners, or competitors.

“For edtech applications and learning platforms to improve teaching and learning, they need to work better together, delivering a seamless, safe experience while providing real-time data to support student success,” said 1EdTech CEO Rob Abel. “1EdTech members, like Instructure, collaborate on developing and certifying to 1EdTech standards because they understand that a commitment to open standards enables a responsive and innovative plug-and-play ecosystem that puts the needs of faculty and learners first."

Open standards improve interoperability, enhance security and privacy, lower the barriers to innovation, and ultimately increase accessibility to meaningful learning experiences. That’s why we want to make it easier for everyone to adopt them. Below, I’ll expand on some of these benefits and how we’re working to help shape the future of open standards.

Improving Interoperability

As we develop new tools to improve the teaching and learning experience, it’s critical for institutions to have an open ecosystem with tools that work together seamlessly. Instructure has always been committed to open standards, something that is more important than ever in our modern learning environment. As we evolve the Instructure Learning Platform, we align our own development on 1EdTech open standards, which have become the standard. And we’ve created tools to help our provider partners also develop against these standards. We’re committed to open standards-based product development. We support the LTI® Advantage standard and have seen over 750 million LTI launches just since the beginning of this year.

Lowering Barriers to Innovation

By prioritizing interoperability, we ensure our products not only communicate but deliver a seamless experience for students. That’s why our main focus as a product organization has been on developing a true learning platform that builds on the strength of our bespoke solutions yet leverages our long-standing open-ecosystem ethos to enable a frictionless, interconnected learning environment for educators and learners. With open standards, developers can focus on creating better tools rather than spending time on integration. In my experience, integration work is one of the biggest impediments to a company’s ability to deliver products quickly. This is why we’re making a suite of solutions available to edtech providers to make it easier for them to align rostering, data, and verifiable credential standards with the Instructure Learning Platform.

Open Badges

The future of learning will likely involve portable, stackable credentials that demonstrate skill mastery. This competency-based approach allows for flexibility in the way that credit can be earned and provides students with personalized learning opportunities. Standards for badging, such as 1EdTech’s Open Badges format, is an important area where the edtech industry is working together to create standards for how we communicate learned skills. Instructure’s Canvas Credentials product adheres to the Open Badges 2 standard, and Open Badges 3.0 was released in May of this year, so we’re working to implement that standard. Whatever standard the industry eventually aligns on, we’ll see a shift towards skills that can be independently verified and a learning record that institutions utilize.

What’s currently needed is a comprehensive record of all learning, both academic and extra-curricular. The Instructure Learning Platform already houses learning progression in the LMS and maps those competencies and skills into pathways and verifiable credentials that map to learning and earning outcomes. This sets it up to help students explore paths, suggests skills to concentrate on, and shows potential job outcomes based on current backgrounds, as well as outlines other possible paths based on added skills. This tool would move the current landscape from a fractured and inconsistent experience to one that facilitates a much better learning experience in which the desired career outcome drives the learning.

This is an area that is evolving rapidly. The real measure of success will be when employers routinely hire based on these credentials. I’m excited to see the first group of college graduates that benefited from these credentials.

Privacy and Security

Open standards support privacy and security in the edtech ecosystem because they reduce risks for students and facilitate transparency in data usage, sharing, access, and identity management. These standards have the potential to give students greater control over their learning journey. We support this by ensuring our products are secure and privacy-centric. We demonstrate and validate our practices through third-party certifications such as the 1EdTech TrustEd AppsTM Seal of Data Privacy, ISO/IEC 27001 certification, and TRUSTe Enterprise Privacy Certification.

Standardized Data Models

With the explosion of information being collected at every interaction, it has become increasingly critical to unify data in order to generate insights to help institutions. We see the clear need in education for ease in collecting, translating, correlating, and visualizing data, especially in a multi-node learning ecosystem. Caliper Analytics®, which we have supported since its inception, helps to address this by efficiently transmitting learning data from multiple vendor sources to institution data repositories. By aligning data, you can then map student learning activity to performance outcomes, ultimately identifying opportunities for improvement.

I recently spoke with Bart Pursel, Chief Technology Officer at Unizin, the non-profit consortium that consults with many of the top universities in the United States about their IT strategy and procurement, about why this is so important.

According to Bart, “Following unified standards is essential as we support our member institutions with scalable learning solutions to improve learning outcomes. Our member institutions can deploy customized implementations such as Canvas with confidence that they’ll work seamlessly with other ed-tech products since the Instructure Learning Platform is built on these standards.”

The Data Access Platform that’s part of the Instructure Learning Platform is designed to provide scaled institutions with a current stream of all data to power their data decision-making. For institutions that prefer it, we have enabled them with a robust suite of reporting that is included by default with their LMS implementations.

We work closely with folks in the education community already leveraging Caliper but are helping drive more widespread use among fellow edtech vendors and educational organizations of all sizes. We are part of the working group at 1EdTech, helping define the next generation of data standards that align with the most stringent right-to-be-forgotten data privacy standards.

The Road Ahead

As the use of technology in education continues to grow, it's important for developers and educators to embrace open standards to ensure all students have access to the tools and resources they need to succeed. Instructure is committed to helping edtech provider partners and other industry leaders to adopt standards, help shape the future of open standards, and ultimately benefit teachers and learners everywhere.

About the Author

Shiren Vijiasingam

As Instructure’s Chief Product Officer, Shiren Vijiasingam leads the products powering the Instructure Learning Platform that is used by learners, educators, administrators and solution providers across the globe. He brings deep education experience from institutions like The College Board, Newsela, and General Assembly and has built engaging learner-centric, and educator-empowering products used by millions of users. Shiren is passionate about the use of technology to enable equitability and inspire lifelong learning for all.


Published on 2023-08-30

PUBLISHED ON 2023-08-30

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Shiren Vijiasingam
Chief Product Officer
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