Personalized learning just might be the holy grail of education. Most educators agree that tailoring instruction to meet every student's individual learning needs is the pinnacle of pedagogical approaches. Given the reality of steep budget cuts and high student-to-teacher ratios, however, true student-centered learning has so far remained elusive for the majority of U.S. classrooms.
And yet, it's not out of reach. One of the biggest pieces of the personalized learning puzzle is student data. If we use technology to fully harness the power of data, educational pundits say, we can start identifying each student's strengths and weaknesses in real time. Then we can use metadata — data about data — to search the internet's vast stores of educational content and zero in on the learning resources that will best meet each student's needs.
Of course, if you've ever searched Google for a learning resource, you know that finding just the right one can be a challenge. In recent surveys, two out of three educators expressed frustration with finding educational materials online because it takes so long to wade through the rushing river of irrelevant search results. You know what you're looking for is probably there, but you just can't find it.
The Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI) was created to help solve this problem. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and co-led by the Association of Educational Publishers and Creative Commons for the past three years, LRMI has worked to make it easier to publish and find educational materials online by creating common standards that content providers can use to tag and describe their learning resources. Each piece of content can be tagged for such criteria as subject area, age level, intended use and alignment to specific standards, providing a behind-the-scenes way for search engines, learning management systems and other tech-based educational tools to quickly identify the pedagogical intent of a resource and, in turn, deliver more relevant search results to educators.
Search that works
How can metadata tagging help you? Imagine you're an elementary teacher looking for resources to help teach the concept of dividing fractions. You can Google dividing fractions, but you'll get more than a million results. Good luck finding a lesson that's tailored to your students in that glut of information! That same search using the LRMI-guided Illinois Shared Learning Environment (ISLE) platform, in contrast, returns a much more manageable — and relevant — 74 entries.
ISLE is just one educational platform that uses LRMI metadata to make its repositories of open educational resources (OERs) more accessible. The online platform, currently in pilot, uses LRMI tags to guide its search function, content descriptions and " "More Like This" " links. Anyone can submit their own educational content and search more than 220,000 learning resources in the ISLE repository, including materials from National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, BetterLesson, Khan Academy, CPALMS and more.
In addition to using metadata, ISLE lets educators use paradata, or usage data such as comments, reviews or ratings, to narrow down results and help them decide which resources are most likely to meet their needs.
The Learning Registry, a joint project of the U.S. Defense Department and the Department of Education, also uses LRMI tags with its more than 400,000 resources. Steve Midgley of the Department of Education's Office of Technology likens the Learning Registry to a card catalog in the cloud. Like the Library of Congress cataloging system's paper cards, this site uniformly labels learning information so it is universally readable. While the Learning Registry is directed more toward educational publishers and developers, educators are allowed to use its tools as well as those on contributors' sites.
The future of educational search
LRMI became officially recognized in April 2013 by Schema.org, a consortium of search engines, including Google, Bing, Yahoo! and Yandex, that is working to establish common metadata tagging across the internet. Although the search giants haven't started to implement this option yet, educational publishers are already preparing. According to a LRMI survey, more than half of publishers who are familiar with the initiative are tagging their resources, and many more have plans to begin within the next year.
Several Race to the Top states are also realizing the potential power of metadata tagging. A collaborative of nearly a dozen states is involved in the Multi-State Content Tagging Initiative, which is trying to create a common framework so that the descriptions and tags that content creators assign to resources will have the same meaning across states. The consortium, which began as an effort to develop a collection of resources for instructional improvement systems, is using LRMI as the basis for this framework. Now other states are looking to jump on board because they have seen the potential benefits for educators and students.
Although LRMI's grant cycle came to an end in September, the initiatives will soon be transferred to a long-term steward. In the meantime, you can continue to use ISLE, the Learning Registry and the Multi-State Content Tagging Initiative to search a vast repository of learning resources using LRMI metadata. And as more resources are tagged and more states get involved, educators at all levels will get the chance to use metadata tagging to find the best resources for their students. And that increased efficiency can go a long way toward making anytime, anywhere personalized learning a reality.
" "In the life of a classroom teacher, 10 minutes is too valuable to waste searching the internet," " says Tim Farquer, superintendent of the Williamsfield Schools in Illinois. " "LRMI was designed to help teachers find precisely what they need when they need it. But the LRMI not only helps teachers find the best resources publishers have to offer, it also creates the potential for a new set of exciting tools to help teachers and families move student learning forward like never before." "
Dave Gladney is director of communication technology for the American Association of Publishers' PreK-12 Learning Group. He served as project manager of the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative for the Association of Educational Publishers from June 2011 through September 2014.
To learn more about LRMI, visit www.lrmi.net or contact Dave Gladney at 267.351.4329 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you'd like to create your own educational resources to meet the Common Core and ISTE Standards with help from your peers, join Project ReimaginED, ISTE's new collaborative online community for K-12 educators.