Common Learning Middleware
The Common Learning Middleware (CLM) serves as a mediator between interoperable educational infrastructures. More specifically, it acts as the go-between for all relevant components of state-of-the-art learning management systems, including user interfaces, course content from different repositories, service logic, AI components, as well as different databases. Furthermore, the middleware serves as a ‘translator’ between common but alternative specifications. As such, the CLM is the first middleware of its kind and addresses the needs of educational institutions by facilitating the development of interoperable software architectures for long-lasting adaptive learning environments. Instead of monolithic learning platforms, it enables microservice infrastructures and the Best-of-Breed paradigm.
Challenge: Composition of compelling learning environments
Digital learning systems became more popular in recent times in order to enrich education for students, educators, content creators and HR. There are several different types of technologies and platforms that offer diverse approaches in developing learning materials, facilitate learning processes and enhance human resource teams. Adaptability and personalization become more and more crucial and can be integrated through learning recommendations, Chatbots, gamification elements, social- /peer-learning and virtual/ augmented reality. However, these components can only reach their full potential when offered seamlessly and without any barriers.
Nevertheless, it is a challenge for education providers to create such compelling learning environments, due to the fact that most services are developed as isolated technical solutions without appropriate interfaces or data formats. Due to the market fragmentation and diversity of technologies, it is nearly impossible to combine different learning repositories and advanced technologies (such as learning analytics, learning recommender or virtual learning systems) into one centralized learning experience.
This diversity is why open specifications are necessary for enabling interoperable infrastructures:
- Easier access to learning materials and educational services via standardized content launch approaches: such as LTI and cmi5
- Persistance of well-structured metadata: such as the well-known but outdated SCORM, and newer specifications such as Common Cartridge, LOM and QTI
- Well-structured definitions of learning records: such as xAPI and CALIPER.
Within the context of educational learning environments, FOKUS also offers workshops and training sessions for open specifications, interoperability and microservice infrastructures. Moreover, FOKUS researchers analyzed over 50 popular learning management systems (LMS), most of which, are monolithic and hardly expandable by state-of-the-art services. These systems support, if at all, only a few of the significant open specifications. This is where CLM comes into play.
Solution: Sustainable Connections via CLM
CLM is based on open standards and specifications for educational technologies, including standardized interface definitions and persisting activity data, metadata specifications for content structures, learning objects and quizzes. Not only is it the mediator between user interfaces and contents from different LMS’s or personalization services, but CLM also translates common but alternative specifications, which makes it the first middleware of its kind. Thus, it can be seen as the glue between user interfaces and applicable services and databases.
It is developed as a multi-tenant middleware for different educational stakeholders and institutions. Through its User Enrollment Service, the Common Learning Middleware allows management of user roles and enrollments in learning objects or entire courses, and handles access control for learning tools.
In cases where you may have a complex technical environment that consists of several specialized components, or you plan to massively expand your educational infrastructure in the future - CLM becomes essential for such scenarios.
It can also be connected to existing services, such as:
- LMS’s: that may act as repositories for learning materials and/or as user interfaces
- Existing user directories and Single-Sign-On solutions
- Data management and other external components: e.g., learning analytics, machine learning models, compentencies, portfolio management, HR tools, etc.
Use case: Creating Individual Learning Environments with Fraunhofer CLM
In the underlying conceptual design, elements that can be integrated into the learning environment, be it a piece of text, image, video, dashboard or virtual reality, are abstracted as a tool. The different servers act as tool providers and can publish and subscribe their offers to the middleware. The tool itself can be (but does not need to be) transferred to the middleware or user interface. It can be linked via the LTI or cmi5 specifications and thus be accessed directly on the original tool provider. All in all, CLM enables providers and educators to create more diverse learning environments that are easily accessible and can be well-tailored to their respective learning contexts, without the need of any technical skills.
Various institutions have already tested the middleware and Fraunhofer is successfully using it in several of its courses, such as the Fraunhofer Academy. In response to the high demand, these technologies are also available for external companies. For example, six different educational institutes from the fields of crafts, computer science and general school education have been linked together, which solidifies synergies between the institutes. As a result of this synergy, courses on bookkeeping and accounting only needed to be developed once and automatically utilized by all institutions in their respective learning platforms. At the same time, more advanced components (e.g. learning analytics, gamification, learning paths and a learning recommender system) were realized as tools and offered for their respective courses via the middleware.