In a post entitled “Standards for Technology Enhanced Learning” Erik Duval gives his thoughts on the issues related to the standards which have a role to play in providing technology enhanced learning.

Erik feels that:

  1. The main issue is no longer that we do not have sufficient standards. Rather, we have maybe too many and, more importantly, we don’t make use of them in very advanced ways… Tools are lacking or too much let the standard shine through, rather than focusing on the user experience.
  2. We should avoid continuing the ‘not invented here’ approach that  has made us develop learning specific standards when there may be quite appropriate standards already out there or being developed.
  3. Standards should not be research oriented but rely on proven practice. Of course, standards enable deployment at large scale, and  therefor make it possible to do research on global infrastructures.
  4. Standards enable openness, and that enables innovation – that is another way for standards to be relevant to research.

I would not only agree with Erik’s comments, but suggest that they are relevant beyond the e-learning environment.

Erik’s comment that “Standards should not be research oriented but rely on proven practice” does, I feel, need to be reflected upon by the research community and by organisations such as W3C.  I’ve comment previously on the failure of W3C standards to have any significant impact, and I feel antibiotics online no prescription that this is due to a failure to take into account practical issues in preference to developing innovative or elegant solutions.  And I feel that there may be problems with funding streams which seek to encourage the development of new standards (which will, of course, promise a whole set of rich possibilities) at the expense of encouraging greater uptake of standards which are already available (and failing to exploit the rich possibilities which bright them abpout in the first place).

Erik’s suggestion that there’s a need to “rely on proven practice” does, to me, emphasise the need to engage with the software developer community. In the past recommendations of standards had been taken by policy-makers, often with little involvement of those engaging in using such standards. But now, I feel, this is beginning to change.  And I’m particularly pleased to see that JISC are sponsoring Developer Happiness Days in February 2009.  I hope we will see more of such events – and that these will provide an opportunity to share proven practice. And if the proof demonstrates that standards don’t work or are too complex to use, that will have been valuable in itself.

And finally when Erik “We should avoid continuing the ‘not invented here’ approach” I would suggest that we need to ensure that standards evolve slowly, with only minor fixes – and the fifth edition of the Extensible Markup Language (XML) 1.0 provides a good example of this. It’s good that we aren’t at XML 5.0, with a new generation of tools needing to be developed to support each new version.