IMS Learning Design

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IMS Learning Design (IMS LD) is a formal pedagogical standard, a (educational modeling language) to describe technology supported pedagogical scenarios based on rich instructional design models. Currently, it represents the most "popular" formal language to describe learning designs. Some systems with educational design languages can produce IMS LD output. However "popular" in the literature on learning design doesn't mean "adopted" or "end-user ready" as we shall explain below.

IMS Learning Design as opposed to IMS Simple Sequencing/SCORM focuses on the organization of learning activities.

IMS LD evolved from Educational Markup Language (EML). IMS LD was formally published in 2003. As of April 2008 there is no end-user ready implementation of an authoring tool or a delivery platform. In Europe, several research communities use IMS LD as a basis for various kinds of projects. Since development of reference implementations are continuing, we may expect to see some day an friendly end-user solution à la LAMS. - Daniel K. Schneider 25 April 2008. As of May 2009, there exist some more user friendly tools, e.g. the Recourse editor. However, use of these tools still requires understanding the LD standard and user-friendly players still don't seem to exist.

As of Spring 2011, we have the impression that this standard is quite dead, e.g. only used as target format for some PhD work in applied computer science. No user-friendly editing, no real-world server in sight. The situation is the same in 2014...

The theatre metaphor

In IMS LD terminology a pedagogical scenario is called a play. Major components of this design are:

  • roles that are performed by learners, teachers, tutors etc.
  • activities
  • environments including services (e.g. a forum) and learning resources
  • The scenario itself is called method and contains play, act and role-parts.

The play is presented in a series of acts, in which roles are played by those taking part, for example learner, tutor, mentor, and so on.

  • People playing the roles undertake a series of activities within an act. For a learner these might include discussing with classmates the relative merit of a piece of source material. A tutor’s activity may be to comment on their conclusions.
  • Each role is presented with its own learning objects and services (e.g. communication tools) within an activity.
  • An act is completed after all the activities of a specified role, or roles, are finished. Alternatively, a time limit may be set, after which an act completes.
  • When one act completes, the next act is started. The play finishes when all the acts are completed; the learning design finishes when all the plays are completed.
(Jeffery and Currir, 2003)

The play metaphor has probably been chosen because as in a play LD scenarios can be played differently, with different actors and different props.

Conceptual Structure of the Learning Design

A level architecture

According to the CETIS Briefing on Learning Design:

  • Level A contains the core of IMS Learning Design: people, activities and resources, and their coordination through the method, play, act and role-parts elements. This simply provides for a series of time ordered learning activities to be performed by learners and teachers, using learning objects and/or services.
  • Level B adds greater control and complexity through the use of properties and conditions.
Properties may be internal (local) or external (global). They are used to store information about a person, such as test results or learner preferences; a role, such as whether the role is for a full-time or part-time learner; or a learning design itself. Internal properties persist only during a single run of a learning design, while external properties retain their values beyond the end of a run, and can be accessed from different runs and/or different learning designs.
  • Level C offers the opportunity for more sophisticated learning designs through notifications (messaging), which allow for notification of new activities to be triggered automatically in response to events in the learning process. It enables the automation of learning flow activities, which are triggered by the completion of tasks, rather than the learning flows being pre-planned.
For instance, a teacher may be notified by email that an assignment has been submitted and needs marking; once the score has been posted, the learner may be notified to undertake a new activity according to the result.

An overall view

An official UML class diagram summarizes the LD modelling language:

UML diagram of IMS Learning Design

An easier to understand picture has been made by Gilbert Paquette and/or Michel Léonard as an example ontology for their MOTPlus authoring tool:

IMS Learning Design as MOTPlus concept map, by Gilbert Paquette and Michel Léonard

Major learning design elements

The following table (copied from the Reload WebSite (18:43, 11 December 2006 (MET)) summarizes the hierarchy of the learning design elements.

learning-design The base level container
A title for the learning design
What this unit of learning achieves
Whether there are dependencies?
The reusable elements of the learning design - this is the key level of granularity
The Role List
The Activity Container: Activities (can) have objectives, prerequisites and metadata.: They have an activity description (typically a web page containing instructions for how to perform the activity). If the activity is offline, then no further content is needed.  if online, there would also normally be reference to an environment.
e.g. view this learning object
A reference to the environment for this activity
A narrative description of the activity
e.g. pose question to class
A reference to the environment for this activity
A narrative description of the activity - usually a web page,: This is kept separate from the resources in the environment, and so the runtime system can treat it differently - perhaps keeping it always available as a tab.
A grouping of activities (with attributes to determine whether individual activities are presented as selection or in sequence). At this point there is no facility for coordination of different users doing different things - that has to be done one level up.
A reference to the environment for this activity-structure
The Environment Container: which contains learning objects and/or services to be used in that activity
Container for an individual environment (an environment is the collection of resources, services etc. necessary for an activity)
A short-name for the environment
learning objects*
Learning content utilised within this environment
:A service needed for this environment to be utilised
ref to another environment in the package
metadata about the environment
method The key container - cf simple sequencing.
Usually only one, but more than one would run in parallel.
Acts run in sequence, with start triggered by the end of the preceding act.: Transitions between acts form synchronisation points for roles.: any coordination of events has to be done at this level - it can't be done at the activity level.
Run in parallel - so different roles do different things at the same time.: Usually used for learners and teachers, but can be sophisticated - e.g. to support group-setting and role-play
ref. to a specific role for this role-part.
ref to activity(-structure) for this role-part.
metadata Descriptive Metadata for the LD


IMS LD Authoring tools

In May 2009, IMS Learning design is a format used in many R&D projects (and many of these with EC funding). However, IMS Learning Design still does not seem to deployed at larger scale. In particular, we didn't find any stable, user-friendly and easy to install LD runtime environment. The only popular Learning design system environment seems to be LAMS (but it is not based IMS LD)

Griffith et al. (2005), defined two dimensions with respect to LD tool design. They allow to define four types of tools. The two dimensions are:

  1. Close to specification - distant from specification
  2. General purpose tools - specific purpose tools

Below we reproduced a figure found in Oberhuemer (2008) that we annotated with some LD authoring tools.

Source: Oberhuemer (2008)

Interestingly, their classification is somewhat pessimistic in several ways. E.g. it implies that typical teachers are not supposed to learn a general purpose LD tool anytime. Useful tools for course authors seem to be distant from the specification, in the sense that "real" users should not understand IMS LD and that their designs are just compiled into IMS LD. If such tools could import (and not just export IMS LD) IMS LD would turn into a sort of "assembly" language of pedagogical design, but this rises the questions of how designs could be described with a common high-level language in order to promote exchange, i.e. why we sould still need a "mid-level" language like IMS LD. Distinguishing between general purpose tools and specific tools (e.g. a CSCL tool like Collage) does maybe make sense, but maybe not, since one would want to be able to author with the same tool several types of activities within a larger course-level design. Some questions for which we don't see an answer at this time - Daniel K. Schneider 10:11, 27 May 2009 (UTC).

ReCourse editor
  • See Prolix graphical learning modeller
    • Multiplatform, based on the Reload LD Editor
    • As of May 2009, this is most interesting authoring tool. It's probably still too complicated, but represents a step in the right direction, e.g. it does include design patters. The version we tested was alpha (therefore probably not suitable for production) - Daniel K. Schneider
Reload Editors
  • Reload LD editor and player. The Learning Design Editor (based on the IMS Learning Design specifications) allows the creation of re-usable "Pedagogical Templates" allowing the user to define a set of Learning Objectives, Activities and Learning Environments. These templates can be re-purposed with the user's own content to create on-line Learning Design compliant resources.
    • Free, Java 1.5/Eclipse based, cross-platform (downloads are fairly large between 20 and 50 MB for the Java-less versions).
    • Supports Levels A,B,C
  • The "standard" Reload 2.5.2 editor (und up) now also supports Learning Design. It also supports IEEE LOM, IMS MD 1.2.4, IMS CP 1.1.4 and SCORM 2004 (thus simple sequencing) and IMS LD level A. Documentation for the LD part of the editor was not found when tested and installed on 12:54, 4 December 2006 (MET). (see Reload Editor).
  • MOT+ The editor from the MISA method (does LD level A). Note: This editor is free for non-commercial use (but difficult to find).
MoCoLaDe, a Freestyler plugin, not yet available (March 2010)
Sky-SE a Freestyler plugin, not yet available (March 2010)

On-line Scenario Editors

  • DialogPlus Toolkit. This guidance toolkit wasdeveloped as part of the JISC/NSF funded DialogPlus project, to guide and support teachers as they create, modify, and share learning activities and resources. It can in principle export to IMS Learning Design (which level ?). This project is no longer actively continued it seems. The "molecule" metaphor of design doesn't seem to correspond to the way teacher's would think about a design and this rises questions that go beyond Dialogplus of course ! However, as a teacher training tool, we still find it very valuable attempt, though some effort should be invested into a more intuitive user interface.
  • LAMS. This is one of the only operational authoring and runtime learning design environments that is operational and being used. However, LAMS is not IMS LD compatible.


  • LAMS (not LD, but close).
  • CopperCore a J2EE runtime engine for IMS Learning Design which can be used to incorporate IMS Learning Design in your own application's. The targeted audience are therefore system developers.

Software indexes


  • Currently (2014) it is still difficult to find easy to use authoring tools and which is worse, runtime environments.
  • The biggest problem with IMS LD is the absence of a model for integrating services and learning objects, i.e. tools and contents. In other words, IMS LD allows to specify a certain palette of learning designs (some claims go further and declare IMS LD to be "neutral" and "general"). But, in practical terms, it is not clear to us how precisely tools, contents and user-generated data fit in ...
  • What will be the relation to web 2.0 ?. The future learning environment may well be an "adaptive virtual LMS". So, how could web 2.0 services be integrated into an LD player ? In which ways should users be able to configure their personal space (e.g. a learning e-portfolio or a personal learning environment and could these integrate with teacher-led learning designs and their respective environments ? Daniel K. Schneider is aware that Rob Koper has ideas on that....
  • The power of IMS LD to model advanced storyboards as developed in research (e.g. CSCL) is not yet clear, although it has been shown that many designs can be "compiled" into Learning Design (at last to some extent). See CSCL scripts.
  • Dynamic project-oriented learning designs are difficult to implement with IMS LD and not at all with existing prototypes.



Introductions, presentations and discussions

  • IMS Learning Design, PPT Presentation of Rob Koper, U seminar, Milton Keynes, September, 24th 2003. , retrieved 16:02, 5 June 2007 (MEST).

Bodies and standards

Sites with good resources

  • Unfold Best site for resources


  • Anders Berggren, Daniel Burgos, Josep M. Fontana, Don Hinkelman, Vu Hung, Anthony Hursh and Ger Tielemans (2005). Practical and Pedagogical Issues for Teacher Adoption of IMS Learning Design Standards in Moodle LMS. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2005/02. ISSN 1365-893X HTML.
  • Caeiro-Rodríguez, Manuel; Martín Llamas-Nistal and Luis Anido-Rifón (2005). Towards a Benchmark for the Evaluation of LD Expressiveness and Suitability. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2005/04. ISSN:1365-893X
  • de la Teja, Ileana; Karin Lundgren-Cayrol and Gilbert Paquette (2005). Transposing MISA Learning Scenarios into IMS Units of Learning. Journal of Interactive Media in Education (Advances in Learning Design. Special Issue, eds. Colin Tattersall, Rob Koper), 2005/13. ISSN 1365-893X
  • Dessus, Philippe et Schneider, Daniel Scénarisation de l'enseignement et contraintes de la situation, In J.-P. Pernin & H. Godinet (2006). (Eds.), Colloque Scénariser l'enseignement et l'apprentissage : une nouvelle compétence pour le praticien ? (pp. 13-18). Lyon : INRP. PDF
  • Karen Fill, Samuel Leung, David DiBiase and Andy Nelson (2006). Repurposing a learning activity on academic integrity: the experience of three universities. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2006/01. ISSN:1365-893X
  • Conole, Gráinne and Karen Fill (2005). A learning design toolkit to create pedagogically effective learning activities. Journal of Interactive Media in Education (Advances in Learning Design. Special Issue, eds. Colin Tattersall, Rob Koper), 2005/08. ISSN:1365-893X Abstract (PDF/HTML open access)
  • Greller, Wolfgang (2005). Managing IMS Learning Design. Journal of Interactive Media in Education (Advances in Learning Design. Special Issue, eds. Colin Tattersall, Rob Koper), 2005/12. ISSN:1365-893X
  • Griffiths, D., Blat, J. (2005). The role of teachers in editing and authoring units of learning using IMS Learning Design. PDF
  • Griffiths, D., Blat, J., Garcia, R., Vogten, H., & Kwong, KL. (2005). Learning Design Tools. In R. Koper & C. Tattersall (Eds.), Learning Design, A Handbook on Modelling
  • Heyer, S., Oberhuemer, P., Zander, S., Prenner, P. (2007). Making Sense of IMS Learning Design Level B: from specification to intuitive modeling software (pp. 86-100). Lecture Notes in Computer Science 4753. E. Duval, R. Klamma and M. Wolpers. Springer Berlin Heidelberg.
  • Jeffery, Ann and Sarah Carrir (2003). What Is IMS Learning Design ?, CETIS Brief, CETIS Briefing on Learning Design PDF.
  • Koper, R. Educational Modelling Language: adding instructional design to existing specification, unpublished paper (?), PDF
  • Koper, R. and Manderveld, Jocelyn (2004). Educational modelling language: modelling reusable, interoperable, rich and personalised units of learnings, British Journal of Educational Technology, Vol 35 No 5 2004, 537-551.
  • Koper, R. (2004). Use of the Semantic Web to Solve Some Basic Problems in Education: Increase Flexible, Distributed Lifelong Learning, Decrease Teacher's Workload. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2004 (6). Special Issue on the Educational Semantic Web. ISSN:1365-893X HTML
  • Koper, Rob and Olivier, Bill (2003). Representing the learning design of units of learning, Educational Technology & Society, 7 (3), 97-111. A preprint is available at
  • Miao, Y., Hoeksema, K.,Hoppe, H.U., Harrer, A.(2005). CSCL Scripts: Modelling Features and Potential Use. In Proceedings of the International Conference on Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL2005), Taiwan, June 2005. PDF
  • Milligan, Colin D. ; Phillip Beauvoir and Paul Sharples (2005). The Reload Learning Design Tools. Journal of Interactive Media in Education (Advances in Learning Design. Special Issue, eds. Colin Tattersall, Rob Koper), 2005/07. ISSN:1365-893X.
  • Neumann, S., Oberhuemer, P. (2008). Bridging the divide in language and approach between pedagogy and programming: the case of IMS Learning Design. In: Proceedings of Association of Learning Technology Conference (ALT-C).
  • Oberhumer, Petra (2008). Prolix Deliverable D4.5, Didactic Learning Modeller - advanced version.
  • Tattersall, Colin; Vogten, Hubert; Brouns, Francis; Koper, Rob; Van Rosmalen, Peter; Sloep, Peter and Van Bruggen, Jan (2003). Delivering courses modelled using IMS Learning Design.
  • Tattersall, Colin & Rob Koper (2005). Advances in Learning Design, Jurnal of Interactive Media in Education, 2005/01. ISSN:1365-893X (HTML).