Any industry that has a large audience of stakeholders (such as education) inevitably faces problems concerning interoperability. Specifically, how does one stakeholder transfer information or products to another stakeholder in the industry, in a way which is repeatable and can be consumed easily by any party? The answer to these issues is to implement industry-wide standards which are agreed upon by the stakeholders.

In an industry as large as education, however, the process of implementing standards can be very challenging. The stakeholders range from schools and universities, to parents and students, and even local and federal policymakers. The wide breadth of stakeholders through all aspects of the education sector makes standardization a harrowing process.

There have been several attempts to create industry-wide standards that allow educators, schools, software vendors, and other stakeholders to easily share share and interpret data between one another. In this article, we'll take a look at several of the groups who are trying to create data standards to improve interoperability and compatibility between the varying stakeholders of the education industry.

CEDS (Common Education Data Standards)

The CEDS was started as an initiative by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) to provide a standard "language" that would allow for consistent data handling between different state and federal education agencies. The CEDS publishes a vocabulary of standard definitions, sets, and technical specifications that allows stakeholders in education to communicate with one another. Many agencies, programs, organizations, institutions, and vendors collaborate to further develop and maintain the CEDS. The definitions and schema of metadata within other standards are often aligned with those of the CEDS.

ED-Fi Alliance

The Ed-Fi Alliance is a non-profit organization funded by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation to provide standards and software which can support actionable insights for schools and state agencies which support K-12 education. The Ed-Fi standard enables interoperability between student information systems, learning management systems, and assessment systems through a unifying data model. Ed-Fi also provides tools to its members, which as its Operational Data Store and API, which allows school administrators the ability to pull information from all of their platforms into one database with a user-friendly dashboard.

Access 4 Learning (A4L)

A4L, formerly known as the (Schools Interoperability Framework Association) is a non-profit collaboration between over 1000 members, including government agencies, institutions, organizations, and software vendors.

A4L publishes the SIF (Schools Interoperability Framework) specification, which is used to enable interoperability between a diverse collection of applications. SIF is comprised of two components: the Data Model and the Infrastructure. The Data Model is a list of XML schemas that define objects based on a country's specific education model. The Infrastructure defines the architecture for sharing data between institutions.

A4L also supports the Unity standard, which contains a comprehensive data model that supports other commonly used standards. Unity provides an implementation blueprint to support existing, widely used security controls and API standards.

IMS Global Consortium

The IMS Global Consortium® is a non-profit organization dedicated towards advancements in interoperability between institutions and vendors. IMS Global offers standards and frameworks which support initiatives around content integration, credentialing, analytics, and assessments. Some of the major standards that are developed by IMS Global include LTI®, OneRoster®, Open Badging, and Caliper Analytics®.

Postsecondary Electronic Standards Council (PESC)

The PESC is an association of software vendors, universities, government agencies, and organizations dedicated to the development of standards to facilitate information transfers between post-secondary institutions. The PESC promotes the use of various technologies (such as JSON, PDF, XML, and EDI) in the creation of standardized data exchanges, such as in the use of transferring high school and college transcripts. The PECS also governs the Edexchange service, which allows PESC members to exchange data and documents in a secure, peer-to-peer network.

Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative (ADL)

The ADL is a program of the United States Department of Defense (DoD) that works closely with public and private organizations to study emerging learning technologies and to develop methods for enhancing interoperability. The ADL is one of the main contributors to the Shared Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) and the Experience API (xAPI, also known as the Tin Can API).

SCORM is a standard used to distribute digital content into learning management systems. Many different e-learning platforms support SCORM. xAPI is a specification used to capture data about a learner's online and offline experiences. This standard allows different systems to communicate learning experiences using a common vocabulary.

Dublin Core Metadata Initiative (DCMI)

The DCMI, a project of the Association for Information Science & Technology, supports innovation in metadata design. The DCMI is also the steward for the development of the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LMRI). LMRI is a specification for tagging digital learning content and is aligned with the CEDS in the use of its common vocabulary.

International Organization for Standardization (ISO)

The ISO is an international standard-setting NGO that is composed of various national standards organizations. The ISO covers standards across a wide range of technologies and industries, including education. In 2018, the ISO published ISO 21001, "Educational organizations – Management systems for educational organizations – Requirements with guidance for use". This standard defines how an educational organization should implement a management system to meet the needs of their learners. The requirements of ISO 21001 are generic and designed to be used by any organization that produces a curriculum to support their educational directives.

Project Unicorn

While Project Unicorn is not a standards organization, they do promote the use of standards between their members to improve educational interoperability. Project Unicorn does not focus on supporting an individual set of standards, but does highlight widely used standards such as those maintained by CEDS, the Ed-Fi Alliance, A4L, and IMS Global. The goal of Project Unicorn is to advocate for the secured and controlled exchange of educational data.


As online technologies continue to grow, so too does the need to develop and apply new standards. Many of the aforementioned organizations are constantly researching how new advancements in security and data interoperability can be implemented throughout the education industry. This effort will need to be collaborative between all stakeholders in education.

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