There are two main reasons why a serious games developer/researcher should care about e-learning standards:
1. Compliance with standards is a requirement of the development contract.
2. Reducing development hidden costs.
One of the main buyers of serious games is the Public Administration who, in order to effectively maximize the return of investment, require in public grants and contracts to be compliant with standards and specifications, some examples are: the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) (DoD Instruction, DoDI 1322.26 ), some grants of U.S. Department of labor , and different Spanish Administrations’ public contracts [3-5] require that the products or results must be compliant with ADL SCORM .
Why?, users are particularly tired of spending (wasting) money buying software and educational content that only works in a particular platform (usually also provided by the same vendor) or if the platform changes, it is required to buy an update for the same software / content too. Moreover, the software/content must work in a similar but not equal IT environment, that is, different schools and training departments might use different tools, particularly e-learning platforms, so it is desirable that the software/content work in these multiple environments. Finally, educational content and tools are usually bought in advance and made available through Open Educational Resource Repositories , where these repositories usually take advantage of standards (like IEEE LOM) to facilitate the index creation (software/content vendor can describe the resource using the different metadata categories, and the repository read this metadata when the resource is uploaded into the system).
So, as a serious games developer, why should I care about standards?
Read more to find out…
How e-learning standards can help me with the interoperability concerns?
Since at least 10 years, there has been an interest by the e-learning community to ease the interoperability between e-learning tools, in particular the following standards and specifications arose:• IMS Content Packaging (IMS CP) .• IEEE Learning Object Metadata (IEEE LOM) .• ADL Shareable Content Object Reference Model (ADL SCORM).
IMS CP aims to facilitate the packaging and interchange of e-learning content. In addition, the version 1.2 of this specification was taken as a basis for the current published ISO/IEC 18275 standards family and then elevating IMS CP to an international standard.
Nowadays, IMS CP is widely supported by e-learning tools and its main use of is the packing of e-learning content (that may comprise several physical files) inside the authoring tool and upload that bundle to the e-learning platform. Moreover, the package contains a manifest that describes the (hierarchical) structure of the e-learning content, in particular, the manifest allows the definition of several organizations (hierarchical structure descriptions) and, hence, allowing the definition of different views for the same content. So, How can I use IMS CP with serious games?
If your game is web based (or more specifically embeddable in a web page) it is possible to create a bundle compatible with IMS CP that is ready to be used in e-learning platform like Moodle, SAKAI, etc. In addition, if your game offers different paths or starting points, it will be possible to describe this structure with IMS CP and the e-learning platform usually renders a table-of-content or tree-like structure to show the different elements of the package.
IEEE LOM This standard aims to facilitate the interchange of descriptions’ of e-learning content. IEEE LOM defines a set of categories and vocabularies that can be used to described an e-learning content from different perspectives. How can I use IEEE LOM with serious games?, well a serious game can be seen as another type of educational content hence it is possible and valuable to describe the an educational resource, even if the game itself it is not web based it would be possible to describe it using IEEE LOM. But, why do I need to describe the serious game with IEEE LOM?, as previously said, usually e-learning contents are uploaded to repositories that use IEEE LOM metadata to index the content and even to provided a search form using the elements of the IEEE LOM, hence if your serious game is described with IEEE LOM it would be searchable in these repositories.
ADL SCORM  is an application profile (a compendium of specifications bundled together and customized to provide a coherent view of all of them) that comprises IMS CP, IEEE LOM but also (and more interesting) includes the IEEE ECMAScript Application Programming Interface for Content to Runtime Services Communication (IEEE 1484.11.2) and IMS Simple Sequencing. Until this point, e-learning platforms treat e-learning content as blackbox elements, that is, the e-learning platform distribute the content to the learner but does not interact with the content (at least in a generic way). However one of the main uses of serious games is as an assessment tool, the game can generate a tremendous amount of information that can be gathered in order to evaluate the student during the game play but if the serious game does not offer a means to simply the harvest of this information, the teachers must look over the students’ shoulder to estimate the students performance, so it will be a an added value for the serious games to simplify this process. So, how can I use SCORM API to store student game play / performance? If your serious game is web based, it is possible to use SCORM to both package it and whenever the student play the game it is possible to send tracking information to the e-learning platform.
But wait a moment, the main assumption in the previous paragraphs is that the serious game must be web based or web embeddable in addition, although the reader may not be aware of it, the use of the previous specifications and standards also requires to launch the serious games through the e-learning platform so, what about desktop or tablet/smartphones games?, the answer is that it is not possible to use these standards, because they not were envisaged for these new models of content distribution. However, there other specifications like IMS Learning Tools Interoperability (IMS LTI)  and ADL Experience API (xAPI)  (formerly known as TINCan API) that, in summary, address the following issues:• Decoupled content distribution models. With IMS LTI and xAPI the content is not required to reside even inside the e-learning platform. This allows the game developer to have more control (e.g. security and DRM management, updates, etc.).• The serious game can be the entry point for the student. One of the main objectives of the xAPI is to allow an unstructured interaction model, where the educational tools (in our case the serious game) can be used in isolation but still they can collaborate with other tools, for example, the educational tool can collect some tracking data that can be share with the e-learning. With a careful design it would be also possible to achieve the same result with IMS LTI.
e-learning standards and hidden development costs
As previously said, serious games will be put into practice in collaboration with the e-learning platform, in particular, in relation to the gathering of students’ grades, so this requirement involves the development of a particular communication module between the serious game and the e-learning platform, and thus adding a hidden development cost. This can be problematic due to the huge number of available platforms, thus requiring one integration module per each of the available platforms. How serious games developers can face this problem in an effective way?, again e-leaning standards can help with this problem too, even if not all platforms support the same standards, and hence requiring being compliant with a set of standards, the development costs are reduced if the number of e-learning platforms to support greater than the number of standards to support.
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