Classrooms today exist as much online as they do in brick-and-mortar. But for years, digital learning has been cumbersome for both educators and students in many school districts. Why? Districts use a variety of third-party content, platforms and digital tools for learning, as well as open educational resources, and many have struggled to create learning ecosystems in which those tools can seamlessly exchange information and operate together.

“It’s not unusual to go into a school where students and teachers have multiple user names and passwords for various different digital programs,” said Lynn Meyers, digital transformation strategist at McGraw-Hill Education, a leading learning science company. “The problem is that there are a lot of disparate systems, and if those systems are not talking to each other, teachers and students wind up having a very disjointed experience in the classroom.”

In addition to a cumbersome user experience, when learning systems are inflexible it’s more difficult for teachers to process a variety of student data and analyze it to make the kind of pedagogical adjustments necessary to ensure individual academic success. Districts, schools and teachers meanwhile, spend unnecessary funds and time manually updating records.

“Interoperability gives districts the ability to create open learning ecosystems and enables the seamless sharing of data, content and services.”

Creating an open ecosystem

Recently, the education landscape has been shifting, and education technology vendors and publishers are among those leading the way in adopting universal interoperability standards. Interoperability gives districts the ability to create open learning ecosystems and enables the seamless sharing of data, content and services among systems and applications — in a seamless, effective manner.

Today, more organizations and individuals that develop learning applications or tools are adhering to IMS Global Learning Consortium’s interoperability standards, which are fast becoming the industry standard for ed-tech interoperability paving the way for more data to be shared across a variety of learning tools and applications.

“The impact this has on teaching and learning is to provide teachers and students the opportunity to focus on the learning and not get bogged down with the complexities of ensuring multiple, disparate systems are working together,” Meyers said.

More time for learning

Schools across the country are now experiencing the difference interoperability makes.

“Interoperability empowers schools to fully hone their data, to report on it in ways that meet their contextual needs and ultimately make it more effective,” said Jake Firman, director of education technology at Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST) Public Schools. “It has the ability to add incredible efficiency for all the stakeholders along the way — mainly teachers, but also school leaders, students and families.”

DSST uses one digital system that collects real-time assessment data, and another that tracks classroom culture data. While both systems are valuable on their own, they are even more powerful when they come together and add context to each other.

“We’ve built a system that allows academic advisors to have a one-stop shop for data on how their advisee is doing. It gives them warnings if their advisee is getting disengaged. In our model, we’re able to pull data from all our tools and organize it to build a report that gives a full picture,” he said.

School districts and ed-tech companies have more work to do to make learning ecosystems like the one at DSST commonplace. Fortunately, the momentum seems to be moving in the right direction, as more educators, parents and school administrators are learning about the benefits of interoperability and advocating for its adoption in schools around the country.

“A few years ago if you’d asked superintendents about interoperability they would have deferred to their chief technology officers, but the priority is understood at all levels and is becoming much more ubiquitous now,” added Meyers.