eXact learning solutions engages in the eTernity initiative for Educational Textbooks Standards

At this year’s Online Educa Berlin (OEB) event – learning technologies’ premier event in Continental Europe – Fabrizio Cardinali, Chair of the European Learning Industry Group (ELIG) and Senior Vice President of Global Business Development at the world-leading online and mobile learning solutions provider, eXact learning solutions, will be announcing his company’s engagement in  a new initiative from the Workshop Learning Technologies (CEN WS-LT) sub-group of CEN, Europe’s Committee for Standardisation. This new initiative defines open interoperability standards for the European digital textbooks  marketplace.

The initiative, named eTernity (European Textbooks Reusability, Networking & Interoperability),   aims to provide a common reference framework based on a selection of existing and newly developed interoperability specifications based on Europe’s educational needs and formats, to support  European public policy makers, academic bodies, private publishers and technology developers. The initiative aims to reshape the digital educational content marketplace towards more open and interoperable architectures and formats – to increase access, affordability and the quality of learning in Europe.

Professor Jan M. Pawlowski of the University of Jyväskylä, Chair of the CEN WS-LT, commented: “The development of standards for digital educational content in Asia, especially in South Korea and China – with a corresponding weaker emphasis in Europe on digital educational content publishing – is putting pressure on European stakeholders to act. There’s a need to develop a European position on ‘eTextbooks for education’ and ‘digital learning content’ along with similar initiatives – and, potentially, agree a standard or a profile using European best practices in this field.”

Tore Hoel , Vice Chair of CEN’s  Learning Technologies working group and Head Advisor at Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, added:  “The creation, inter-mediation – or ‘curation’, distribution and varied use of textbooks must be based on open architectural and technical standards which will make the marketplace more interoperable and scalable. The CEN WS-LT will work with other international standard bodies to achieve a global consensus about educational requirements for digital textbooks.”

Fabrizio Cardinali, announcing eXact learning solutions’ engagement in the initiative, explained: “We welcome any initiative that wants to move the European market from a world based on siloed and closed proprietary architecture to an ecosystem where smart, collaborative and innovative vendors can interoperate across different distribution channels and devices,   delivering the right learning experience where and when the learner needs it. And, if it’s starting from Europe, we are extremely pleased to support it.

“Europe needs new means for accelerating our kids’ education and our workforce re-skilling and up-skilling – and textbook distributers must adapt in a more global and ever-evolving market,” believes Cardinali. “First priority for any smart policy maker is to see new opportunities – do it first and do it right, before others do it better and put us in a less competitive position in the highly challenging skills development marketplace.”

Jan Pawlowski, on behalf of CEN’s Workshop on Learning Technologies, along with Fabrizio Cardinali, will be giving a full presentation of the eTernity initiative during the FD3 event (Societal Challenges, Policy Priorities and TEL) at OEB on the afternoon of 28th November. They will also present a summary introduction during the ELIG Reception Network, on 29th November at 16:10 at Berlin’s Hotel InterContinental, in Budapester Strasse.

To register, visit: http://www.online-educa.com/pre-conference-events

The project’s technical activities will be formally inaugurated by the CEN WS-LT at its January meeting, scheduled for 17th January 2013 in Brussels.  The day before, the 16th of January a full day workshop will explore all technical issues related to this project. Anyone who is interested in the eTernity initiative may join by contacting the CEN WS-LT at http://etextbookseurope.eu/   contacting the WS-LT officers – see http://www.cen.eu/CEN/sectors/sectors/isss/activity/Pages/wslt.aspx

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About the eTernity initiative

Learning technologies – and learning technology standards – have developed greatly in recent years, particularly with the increasing popularity of tablet computers and smartphones.  Among other things, this has prompted publishers to develop a range of electronically-enriched learning materials in addition to traditional textbooks.

Today’s market for digital learning material is volatile and established business models are under pressure. The European Union is now embracing Open Education and many EU initiatives are encouraging new marketplaces for publishing and sharing educational digital resources.

UNESCO sees Open Educational Resources (OER) as a means to widen access to education at all levels, both formal and informal, in a perspective of lifelong learning, thus contributing to social inclusion, gender equity and special needs education. OER is changing the publishing model, making the learners and their teachers more prominent in content development – and promoting a redefinition of the content creation and use life cycle.

The global market for electronic school materials will grow significantly in the next few years, providing huge opportunities for European publishers but there’s no guarantee that new technical infrastructures will build on standards that fit European markets and educational needs.  Indeed, the adoption of non-European standards in, for example, the film, media and publishing industries have already presented challenges to European producers.

If this happens in the educational textbook market, the results could constrain  Europe’s economic future, since learning materials and textbooks standards will affect the pedagogical and business distribution models, along with Europe’s future skill base and competency framework.

Interoperability standards are important enablers in this market. The standards EPUB3 (governed by The International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF)) and, to some extent, HTML5 (governed by W3C) play an important role, but there are also:

  • DITA, an OASIS specification, designed to streamline content production to different platforms.
  • IEEE Learning Object Metadata (LOM) for repositories.
  • Metadata for Learning Resources (ISO/ IEC 19788), a standard designed by ISO/IEC to support finding and use of learning resources on the web.
  • APIs from the SCORM community to allow the exchange of tracking information gathered through the use of resources (see: www.scorm.com/tincanoverview).
  • Standards to describe course offerings (CEN EN 15982 – MLO-AD), question and tests (IMS QTI), and competences (CEN WS-LT project Integrating Learning Outcomes and Competences – InLOC).

The learning technology standardization community in Asia – in particular ISO/IEC JTC1 SC36, the committee for standards for ‘Information Technology for Learning, Education and Training’ – is discussing two approaches to establishing a specific standard for digital publications. China has proposed an approach based on its national eTextbook/eSchoolbag specification and South Korea has a competing approach, based on a Digital Smart Content specification, which is a national profile of EPUB3 extended with IMS Question and Test Interoperability, IMS Tools interoperability specifications and other national specifications.

These groups have few participants from Europe – and no participation from the European publishing industry at all. So those behind the eTernity initiative aim to:

• Bring together the key players from the European publishing industry and other stakeholders interested in the market for digital educational resources
• Develop a framework for digital learning materials based on accepted international standards, taking into account European pedagogical and learning-specific aspects
• Strengthen European publishers’ position
• Foster collaboration with Asian partners to open up the global market for the digital publishing industry for schools and higher education 

About eXact learning solutions (www.exact-learning.com)

eXact learning solutions, formerly Giunti Labs, is a leading online and mobile learning content management and digital repository solutions provider, which offers a wide range of tools and services for content development, content management and content delivery, covering:

•             Learning content management and digital repository platforms
•             Mobile learning technologies
•             Consulting and professional services
•             Multi-language bespoke learning content production

The company has over 15 years of experience and more than 100 customers worldwide. Its technological innovations allow enterprises to improve their organisational performance in learning content production and management, and achieve significant reductions in business costs.

For more information, please contact:

Minna Leikas, eXact learning solutions, Marketing Manager
Mobile +39 347 4435167; Office +39 0185 4608; Email m.leikas@exact-learning.com

Bob Little, Bob Little Press & PR,
Office +44 (0)1727 860405; Email bob.little@boblittlepr.com