Learning tools Interoperability in Open Learning Environments

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Educational institutions use different technological resources to support their teaching and learning activities to promote and enhance active learning. In today’s world learning management systems are trying to cooperate with each other and research has been done on various protocols and standards for information exchange between these learning management systems. This creates opportunities for teachers and students to connect, collaborate and share information in their learning practices, which makes it more relevant in an open learning environment, an interaction between teachers and students is crucial. This is an introduction to the thesis work and an international paper published on this topic in ICDL 2019 which can be found at ResearchGate. Data were derived from IMS Global’s Website and official websites for respective software vendors.


Choudhury, Barnali Roy ; Singh, Rupinder

Learning Tools Interoperability: Paradigm shift of Open Learning Conference

International Conference on Digital Landscape: Digital Transformation for an Agile Environment, The Energy and Resources Institute, New Delhi, 2019, ISBN: 978-81-7993-698-6.

Abstract | Links | BibTeX

Introduction to Interoperability

Present drifts in technology are modernizing the ways in which people communicate, exchange information, and learn. Web 2.0 tools have made it easy for masses to not only consume information but also to contribute to the existing pool of knowledge and also to contribute new information. Web 2.0 has presented a great leap in creating de facto standards for information exchange and linking in internet-based E-learning environments. Institutions of higher education are underway to become accustomed to new technologies giving their students, access to high-quality educational practices and resources. Learning Object Repositories, a form of digital libraries, are being created to house digital learning objects and Learning Management Software (LMS) provide new ways to visualize and present course materials for both classroom and online education. This E-learning experience implies a more active, engaging role for students and teachers. This type of learning ecosystem lets the student connect with their teachers, and teachers can collaborate with their peers for knowledge sharing. Though there are many Learning Management Systems available in the market and institutions are choosing as per their requirement. But the problem with different platforms and vendors is they use different standards. These systems need to interact and integrate and exchange information with each other. Because these tools and platforms are also written in different coding languages, and work on a different architecture, it required a great deal of programming and coding changes in the software in order to connect it to other external services.
A Non-profit organization that is working to standardize the education sector called IMS Global Learning Consortium has come forward to make an interoperability standard for Learning tools, which is called Learning Tools Interoperability.

Concept of Interoperability

Interoperability can be defined as the ability of software or a hardware system of one computer network to communicate with another system on other computer networks, each running on different underlying technologies and protocols. According to Technopedia, Interoperability is the property of software that allows the unrestricted sharing of resources between distinct systems. Interoperability with regards to Learning Management Systems (LMS) and Learning tool provider(TP) means that the LMS and TP are able to communication and exchange important data with each other irrespective of the platform or the programming language on which they are running.

What is API

Many other methods are available to interconnect the LMS with TP and various other web applications, one of which is Application Programming Interface (API), this is a software intermediary that allows two applications to talk to each other, and borrow functionality and data from each other automatically, without doing repeated work.

Learning Tools Interoperability

Learning tools Interoperability IMS Global is a non-profit collaborative organization working in formulating the future of education and learning technology. Learning tools interoperability (LTI) is an open standard, developed by IMS, which allows courseware and learning tools from different vendors to be launched from within an application i.e. Learning Management System.
According to IMS official website, “The IMS Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) standard prescribes a way to easily and securely connect learning applications and tools with platforms like learning management systems, portals and learning object repositories on your premise or in the cloud, in a secure and standard manner and without the need to expensive custom programming.” LTI was created as a tool to standardize the interconnection of contents between learning management system platforms like Moodle, Blackboard, Canvas, etc and third-party tool providers to incorporate and accommodate everything to work harmoniously.

Tool Provider is an application that delivers features that others can connect and access from the LMS. It can be quizzes, games, simulation, video, etc.
Tool Consumer is an application that can link with the 3rd party Tool Provider to borrow functionality and data from it. For example, Moodle, Sakai and other LMS can be tool Consumers.

LTI FrameworkBefore the external learning tools/resources were linked to institutions Learning Management Software by writing an application-specific program or making direct changes into the Code of the LMS Software, which was a very tedious job and was to be done by the Programming experts or software developers only. With LTI, (which acts as a mediator between the LMS and LT) the external learning tools and learning management software are much easier to integrate and work so smoothly that it appears like the external learning tools are part of the LMS itself.

Features of LTI

Objectives of LTI

Learning tools interoperability provides a standard way for tools to be launched from multiple learning platforms and that way it allows teachers and students to have a seamlessly integrated experience. It allows the functionality of learning technology to be delivered by a variety of platforms like Moodle, Blackboard, Canvas, etc. The benefits of LTI standards as per different perspectives are as follows:

  • Students: It allows students to use the only single sign in to perform all activities in the LMS, so they don’t have to create and provide credentials for each course they take, and all its resources they use.
  • Teachers: it allows the teacher to include third-party applications in their courses (resources of other simulations, mock tests, MOOCs for example) that are stimulating for the students and which were not available in the LMS internally.
  • Developers: it allows the developers to develop a single interface or method for interconnection with various Tool Consumers and Tool Providers, and saves the time which was earlier devoted to rewriting new code for each new application.
  • Administrators: The system administration can effectively integrate, control and monitor the external tools integrated with the LMS. It also makes Upgradation and migration much easier.

LTI provides a common way to perform integration with a vendor-neutral approach and allows synchronization to enable the rapid deployment of enterprise applications. This simplifies self-registration, enhances data integration and expanded the LMS capabilities. At present, there are many applications and products available for LMS that have some of the different IMS certifications for interoperability standards, like (Moodle, Canvas, Sakai, Blackboard, Desire2Learn, etc.), portfolio tools (Mahara, Chack & Wire, etc.), eBook (Course Smart, Course Load, etc.), collaborative tools (elgg, Piazza, etc), Grading tools (Turnitin). Companies such as Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Wimba, and open source tools like Moodle, Sakai, have certified their products with the different versions of LTI.

Versions of LTI

Like any software, LTI has evolved over time and what it is able to do continues to mature, which is why there are different versions. And IMS global is tirelessly working and adding new layers of security and functionality to this specification. The following are the versions launched by IMS global.

Version Release date functionality
1.0 Basic LTI 2008 A secure connection between the Tool Consumer and Tool Provider
1.0 Full LTI May 2010 Unidirectional communication with Tool Consumer and Tool Provider.
1.1 March 2012 Added functionality to fetch grades and results, and Basic Outcomes.
1.1.1 June 2012 Added functionality of role provisioning
2.0 July 2013 Used Tool Consumer, Proxy and Auto-Registration
1.3 (LTI Advantage) 2017 Use of REST, JSON web tokens and OAuth2

Who is using LTI standards? :

The usage spectrum of LTI is rapidly increasing worldwide many universities, educational institutes are using LTI compliant LMS and many organizations are actively engaged in the strategic development of their tools and resource to comply with LTI standards. For an empirical research paper published in ICDL 2019, the data from various institutional websites and IMS global official website is gathered and analyzed. complete tables and graphs can be found in the full text which is freely available on Research Gate. A great increase is seen in the advancement of Open Education Resources in the last decade.

A list is compiled from the IMS global website listing their affiliate member institutions, which shows various educational institutes that have an established Learning management system that is in compliance with LTI standards and also making use of the technology. The list also shows the learning management system being used by the institution. This covers the Open Educational Resources (OER) and commercial resources as well. The usage is shown in the following graph

LMS market share using LTI Standards
40% of the institutions are on Canvas, while Blackboard is having a total of 17% percent of the total market share, Sakai is on the hot spot with a market share of 11% and seven percent.


Due to major technological advancements, the institutions of higher education have upgraded their e-learning environments are complying with the latest standards. My study found that the United States of America is the leader in adopting the LTI certified learning tools in their educational ecosystem. A study conducted by Phil Hill shows that 87 percent of institutions and 91 percent of student enrollments rely upon either Canvas, Blackboard or Moodle. Learning tools interoperability has great possibilities in the E-learning ecosystem and is more relevant in an Open Learning Environment. Although many foreign universities have adopted interoperability standards to promote active learning in their educational systems, much more work is yet to be done. but we have not found any Indian educational institute, not even content providers like NDL, EPG Pathshala. Although MHRD and RBI have taken some initiative by proposing LTI compatible systems in their specific domains, these are yet to be formalized. Looking at the vast horizon of possibilities only thing we can now say is that we have a long way to travel. A detailed study can be found at my Researchgate profile.

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