IMS Global Europe Summit 2019

A few lifetimes ago, I spent quite a bit of time engaged in IMS Global activities– be it bi-weekly workgroup meetings, regional presentations, or the annual Learning Impact conference. IMS Global was something I was steeped in. It had been years since I spent time in that space, but when I had a chance to go to Barcelona to attend CanvasCon Europe 1 and IMS Global Europe Summit, how could I refuse? Educational Technology and Tapas? Sign. Me. Up.


The summit took place at the beautiful Palau Macaya. The 112 attendees of the IMS Global Europe Summit were primarily from various countries in Europe, but the attendees also included the US, Asia, and Africa. Of late, IMS Global has seen incredible growth in its European membership, with more than 60 organizations headquartered in Europe. This number doesn’t include organizations and vendors with a European presence, such as the large LMS vendors or VitalSource, who all contribute to the standards community.

One of the largest success stories of IMS Global is the widespread adoption of the Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) standard. LTI has seen wide adoption with institutions and vendors alike, leveraging it for the tools and applications that they want integrated within the platforms that they use. It’s been successful because it allows tools to be used in multiple independent learning platforms, overcoming what used to be heavy lifting for each vendor having to develop custom code for each platform, with each platform’s custom integration interface. Instructors and learners now expect this seamless learning experience that LTI enables.

LTI Advantage

Now, LTI Advantage, a package of LTI services by IMS Global, looks poised to be even bigger than LTI’s current version (1.3), and based on this year’s Summit, it is a clear priority for the members of the consortium. The IMS Europe Summit agenda was primarily focused on the success stories of the ease of use of LTI Advantage from large and small vendors alike. LTI Advantage is a package of three services: Deep Linking (Content Item in LTI), Names & Role Provisioning (Membership Service in LTI), Assignment and Grade Center (previously Outcome Services in LTI), each to be more easily configured and controlled.

LTI Advantage’s history, however, is related to the recent abandonment of LTI 2.0 specifications. Michael Feldstein has a good summary of what went wrong there:

Interoperability standards, being multilateral trade agreements, are rarely innovative or sexy if they are done right. Once in a while, a working group may come up with a new spin that is generative. But this is always a risky proposition. The technologists and product designers on these working groups, being creative people, want to come up with cool stuff. But “cool” isn’t what drives their employers to adopt. There always needs to be a cost/benefit analysis for each potential adopter. If that analysis doesn’t look good, then no amount of coolness will matter.

As far as I can tell from the outside, this is precisely what went wrong with LTI 2.0.

Originally it appeared that LTI Advantage might be a hodgepodge of leftover standards meant to help recover from LTI 2.0. But it is now apparent that LTI Advantage is more than that, and most importantly, there seems to be broad buy-in and adoption of the standard.

In my past experiences with IMS Global meetings, there was always an energetic yet cordial gathering of folks looking to discuss integrations and uses of standards within education technology. For a non-coder/techy type the discussions could become somewhat dry, they also could become very lively. In my past, there always seemed to be those one or two guys that are frustrated with how a standard is working within their platform and make sure the group knows it. Maybe I have been gone too long, but I did not hear one naysayer on LTI Advantage. Instead, there was an apparent consensus of how well the standard is working for the early adopters.

To date, there are currently 28 LTI Advantage certified products. This status has been made possible through the hard work of the IMS Global members meeting twice weekly for several months, to make sure that the release of the standard was where they wanted it to be. I heard more than one tool provider say that the integration took less than an hour to complete and that it was the most straightforward process they have experienced with a standard. To prove this point, IMS Global had 30 companies volunteer for lightning talk presentations highlighting the plug-and-play ecosystems using LTI.

The lightning talks did lead to some eyebrow-raising (or in my case, open-gaping mouth) moments during the panel session where a panelist described that LTI is so easy to implement, it passes the “mom or wife test”. Yep – even those moms and wives could do it. 2 While I understand the point that LTI Advantage is poised to take interoperability to the next level, there is a cultural issue worth calling out. Women were under-represented at the conference, which is fairly common for a conference like IMS. On one hand, that panelist needs to understand that it’s 2019. On the other hand, we need more participation from women in education technology (among other areas) to counteract these types of sentiments.

One reason LTI Advantage is off to just a great start is the active role the LMS vendors have taken from the beginning of the development of the new standard. For the Europe Summit, both Blackboard and Canvas were top sponsors, with leaders from both companies playing a major role at the conference itself.

IMS Global Europe 2019 sponsor list - Blackboard, Canvas, Knowbly, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, VitalSource, Accredible, Electric Paper, Explorance, Surf, Tao, QC, Kimono ReadSpeaker

IMS Global Europe Summit 2019 Sponsor Logos

Given what looks like a successful launch of a new standard, it will be interesting to see how widespread LTI Advantage becomes and how this interoperability will change the EdTech landscape for educators and students.

1 That post is coming, likely in conjunction with Phil’s report after he attends Global MoodleMoot, also in Barcelona.

2 Eye roll