Educational modeling language

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A Educational modelling language (or educational modeling language) formally describes educational materials and/or pedagogical scenario. It is a kind of educational design language that may or may not be executable. Currently (2008), the most interesting projects are carried out within learning design research.

“Educational modelling refers to the modelling of educational systems or sub-systems, such as instructional design or assessment. Such a model is a framework that contains important concepts, processes and relations. Instructional design, for example, is modelled in Educational Modelling Language (EML) [...] Educational modelling can be seen as the building of an ontology - an interrelated collection of entities and their relationships. Although educational modelling is a highly specialized field within educational technology, its products may have a wide-reaching impact through consortia such as IMS and IEEE that foster the development of interoperability specifications and standards in education.” (Giesbers et al., 2007)

This article provides an overview. You may find other entries in the category Educational modeling languages.

See also educational design language (looking at the same issue in a different way) and also learning object (since LOs can be modeled with such languages) and the standards page, which provides an overview on various specifications and languages used in education.

Purposes of modeling languages


Dessus and Schneider (2006) identify four kinds of objectives:

  • Define pedagogical scenarios
  • Exchange learning units (learning objects, scenarios)
  • Execute a unit in a platform (see LMS)
  • Sketch, design, plan and discuss pedagogical scenarios

What can be modeled ?

In educational technology, we can distinguish three main areas for which formal design languages are being used:

  1. Domain knowledge. There are no standards specifically designed for education, but sometimes World-Wide-Web standards such as OWL can be used.
  2. Learning outcomes (knowledge and skills to be learnt)
  3. Component aggregation / Sequencing of learning materials (IMS CP, SCORM SCO and IMS Simple Sequencing). These standards are defined in XML and are executable. I.e. authored content can be run by system
  4. Learning activities (Learning design can both be defined in UML and executable XML as in the case of IMS Learning Design).

Additional areas that can be formally described with design languages and for which standards exist:

  1. Architecture of computer systems
  2. Repository information (metadata)
  3. Semantic elements of a pedagogic „text“
  4. Learner information
What can be modeled in education ?

Some areas are much less explored, e.g. there is no serious and widely used standard for pedagogic text (e.g. a language like eLML. Also student productions or even educational services and systems rely on no standards or models. This means in practical terms: (a) only data like IMS Content Packaging are portable, the rest is lost if you change systems and (b) most systems are not interoperable.

Typology of modeling languages

Modeling languages are developed by different sorts of institutions:

Categories that might be used to describe a modeling language:

  • Formality: Strictly formal (e.g. an XML grammar) vs. semi-formal (e.g. ideas on how to make use of UML or verbal description)
  • Executability: Modelling only (see educational design languages / execution (or compilation in executable code / or both
  • Status: Formal standard / standard-like / experimental (see standards.
  • Scope: Global / specialized / in between (Note: DSchneider doesn't think that there is a single language that has truly global scope)
  • Pedagogic orientation (see pedagogic strategy).

Representational Frameworks

According to Artacho and Verdejo (2004),

  • Learning material is composed by pedagogical and instructional information that can be represented using an abstract information model and binding in an specification.
  • The different elements of the specification are classified /grouped into categories called layers.
  • As a formal specification, each element has an associated pedagogical meaning or operational semantics that require a process of interpretation or compilation by the LMS.
Management LayerLMS interoperability
Pedagogical/InstructionalPedagogical information
Activity/Task LayerActivity, community, Roles, resources, tools
Sequencing LayerScheduling, prerequisites, deadlines, dependences
Structure LayerNavigational model, Table of contents
Content Layer,
RIO, Reusable learning object's, Conceptual Domains, Multimedia Assets
Learning content, Learning Objects, Ontology-based instructional Knowledge
Artacho and Verdejo (2004): Representational Framework of an Educational Modeling Language and figure below

According to Rodriguez-Artacho Authoring Learning Content: Why Learning Objects and why Modelling Languages talk in 2004 (retrieved 18:20, 29 May 2007 (MEST)), various specifications exist for different levels, but rarely a specification covers all these levels.

A view of Learning Content - Miguel Rodriguez-Artacho PPT Slide 2003.

See also how this is implemented in PALO

Executable "standardized" languages

  • IMS Learning Design and its ancestor EML (Educational Modelling Language) incarnates a cognitivist main-stream instructional design model
  • IMS Content Packaging implements simple tell or tell-and-ask strategies by default, i.e. the design is menu of resources.
  • IMS Question and Test Interoperability (IMS QTI). describes a data model for the representation of question (assessmentItem) and test (assessmentTest) data and their corresponding results reports. As of Feb 2009, there exist several tools and IMS for this standard.

IMS Simple Sequencing, IMS Learning Design organizations as well as IMS Question and Test Interoperability modules are embedded in IMS Content Packs. In November 2006 we didn't find any production-ready player for IMS Learning Design or Simple Sequencing. In Feb 2009 we still couldn't find any system that is suitable for the masses. Commercial products may exist for Simple Sequencing since it's part of the SCORM 2004 version 3/4 profiles, but we were unable to identify any of these.

Design languages

Most educational design languages formally describe a pedagogical design, often with a visual language. Some (e.g. MISA) can then be compiled into an executable format, e.g. MISA to IMS LD, Level A. Yet others are integrated within an LMS. Here are a few examples:

  • Specialised concept map editors like the diffucult MOTPlus (Paquette et al.) that can export to IMS LD Level A or the relatively user-friendly CompendiumLD editor
  • Visual semi-formal langauges based on UML, (the modeling language for software engineering). It can be used "as is" e.g. Roku et al. (2004) but there exist extensions like coUML to model several facets of a design or CPM, a UML Profile to design cooperative PBL situations (Nodenet et Laforcade)
  • Other visual languages like E2ML, a high-level design language

As of Feb 2009, most of these languages remain research projects and/or are still under development. MOT is a mature product (but difficult to understand), Compendium is probably the best choice for a teacher interested in using such a tool.

Languages that model contents

Design and executable languages from other domains

Since thing don't move very in fast in education (as of Jan 2011, there is still not good IMS learning design development and execution environment), we may have to look into technology developed elsewhere.

Research systems with combined intentions

Some are maybe used in production and there are many more, ...

  • PALO
  • LDL - Learning Design Language (Martel et al., 2006), an EML-like language adapted to modeling collaborative activities.
  • ISIS model (french)

Older or less known attempts

... not sure if these systems have been used or are still in use - Daniel K. Schneider 18:20, 29 May 2007 (MEST)

  • QuizzIT, by Lucio Cunha Tinoco, Virginia Technical Institute
  • QML, by Robert Bamberger, Christopher Shorey and Richard Simpkinsson, Washington State University.
  • PML (Procedural Mark-up Language)
  • Tutorial Markup Language (TML/Netquest) by Daniel Brickely, University of Bristol. An interchange format designed to separate the semantic content of a question from its screen layout or formatting.

Packaging languages

  • By definition, packaging languages are not educational modeling languages per se, but can wrap up for distribution "executable" bricks defined with modeling languages.


See also educational design languages, since design tools of various sorts often can produce executable models.

Please also have a look at the various modelling languages, in particular:

See also tools that implicitly define modeling languages or that can export to these formats, e.g.


Both general utility and utility of currently popular modeling is of hotly debated. E.g. According to Rodríguez-Artacho (2004), “a) Firstly, current specifications do not provide authors of learning material with a pedagogical authoring layer based on instructional elements, originating -therefore- a tight dependence between the learning content and the final delivery format, mainly internet-based technology; b) secondly, specifications themselves are currently isolated representational frameworks, which provide a fragmented view of certain aspects of learning material; c) Thirdly, there is no room for cognitive approaches or instructional and pedagogical knowledge representations;”

There are also more principled interrogations, like interrogations about situatedness of teaching (good teachers decide a lot of things on the fly)

In brief, DSchneider believes (see also Dessus & Schneider, 2006) there are several advantages and disadvantages:

  • Rationalization, formalization and standardization of design processes
  • Information and materials sharing between teachers and content producers
  • Reuse on different platforms (no vendor lock-in)
  • Political and ethical problems (fear of industrialization of the school system, recolonization of developing countries through content domination, dumbing down of teachers)
  • Cost (unless production and distribution is large scale, nothing can be gained by investing a lot of time into formalization)
  • Technical (adaptability, lack of good implementations and tools for most standards)
  • Pedagogical (tools are not neutral, lack of affordances can kill design goals)
  • Teachers create while they teach and this "situated act" can not as easily be transcribed into a formalism as some instructional designers believe.
  • Break downs. Formal computerized systems tend to break down when unplanned events occur. Current execution environments are not flexible enough to allow for quick and easy run-time modifications.


Slides for teaching
  • You can find a lot of slides on the Internet, in particular for LD, not that much for SCORM.
  • I made some for a one day preconference workshop (100 pages PDF. Not top quality, since it was the first time I gave this topic a try ...) - Daniel K. Schneider.


  • Botturi, L., Derntl, M., Boot, E., & Figl, K. (2006). A Classification Framework for Educational Modeling Languages in Instructional Design. Proceedings of The 6th IEEE International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies, 1216-1220 PDF (also here).
  • Botturi, L., Stubbs, T. (eds.) (2007). Handbook of Visual Langauges in Instructional Design: Theories and Pratices. Hershey, PA: Idea Group. PDF Flyer. The best reader currently, but fairly expensive - Daniel K. Schneider 14:48, 28 August 2008 (UTC). ISBN 978-1-59904-729-4
  • Botturi, L. (2006). E2ML. A visual language for the design of instruction. Educational Technologies Research & Development, 54(3), 265-293.
  • Botturi, L. (2005). A Framework for the Evaluation of Visual Languages for Instructional Design: the Case of E2ML. Journal of Interactive Learning Research. 16 (4), pp. 329-351. Norfolk, VA: AACE. Abstract/PDF
  • Brabazon, T (2002) Digital Hemlock: Internet Education and the Poisoning of Teaching, Sydney: University of New South Wales Press
  • Breuker, J., Muntjewerff, A., and Bredewej, B. (1999) "Ontological modeling for designing educational systems" I* PALO n Proceedings of the AIED 99 Workshop on Ontologies for Educational Systems, Le Mans, France. IOS Pressp
  • 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)
  • 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
  • Derntl, Michael; Susanne Neumann, Petra Oberhuemer (2009). Report on the Standardized Description of Instructional Models. ECP 2007 EDU 417007 ICOPER, eContentplus. PDF
  • Friesen, Norm, (2004). The E-learning Standardization Landscape, HTML , retrieved 17:52, 5 October 2006 (MEST).
  • Friesen, Norm, (2004). A Gentle Introduction to Technical E-learning Standards, Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology Volume 30(3) Fall / automne 2004. HTML , retrieved 17:52, 5 October 2006 (MEST).
  • Gibbons, A. S., Nelson, J. & Richards, R. (2000). "The nature and origin of instructional objects" In D. A. Wiley (Ed.)," The Instructional Use of Learning Objects". Bloomington: Association for Educational Communications and Technology.
  • Giesbers, B., van Bruggen, J., Hermans, H., Joosten-ten Brinke, D., Burgers, J., Koper, R., & Latour, I. (2007). Towards a methodology for educational modelling: a case in educational assessment. Educational Technology & Society, 10 (1), 237-247. PDF
  • Koper R. (2001) "Modelling Units of Study from a pedagogical perspective: The pedagogical metamodel behind EML" Technical Report OUNL June, 2001
  • Koper, R. (2000) "From change to renewal: Educational technology foundations of electronic learning environments" Technical Report, Open University of the Nederland (OUNL)
  • Koper, R., Rodr¡guez-Artacho, M., Rawlings, A., Lefrere, P., van Rosmalen, P. (2002) "Survey of Educational Modeling Languages" Technical Report of the CEN/ISSS Learning Technologies Workshop Available On-Line: HTML (dead link, it's amazing that the european standardization body can't keep URLs online ...)
  • 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.
  • LittleJohn, Allison (2005), From learning objects to learning design, AsciLite Newsletter. HTML
  • Maglajlic S., Maurer H., and Scherbackov N. (1998) "Separating structure and content, authoring Educational web applications" In Proceedings of the ED-MEDIA & ED-TELECOM 98., pages 880-884, 1998.
  • Martel Christian, Laurence Vignollet, Christine Ferraris, Guillaume Durand (2006), LDL: a Language to Model Collaborative Learning Activities, ED-MEDIA 2006 PDF Preprint
  • Martel C., Vignollet L., Ferraris C., David J.P., Lejeune A. (2006), Modeling collaborative learning activities on e-learning platforms, ICALT 06, (PDF)
  • Merrill, M. D. (2001) "The instructional use of learning objects, chapter "Knowledge objects and mental-models" D. Wiley, Ed. AIT Publishers ISBN: 0-7842-0892-1
  • Nodenot Thierry & Laforcade Pierre CPM: a UML Profile to design Cooperative PBL situations at didactical level, Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies (ICALT'06) 0-7695-2632-2/06 PDF
  • Reigeluth, C. M. & Nelson, L. M. (1997). A new paradigm of ISD? In R. C. Branch & B. B. Minor (Eds.), Educational media and technology yearbook (Vol. 22, pp. 24-35). Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.
  • Ritter, S. and Suthers, D. (1997). "Technical Standards for Education" Working Paper, Educational Object Economy site, The EOE Foundation."
  • Robson, R. (2000). "Report on Learning Technology Standards", in J. Bourdeau and R. Heller, Eds., Proceedings of ED-MEDIA'00, the Association for the Advancement of Computing Education, Charlottesville, Virginia.
  • Pantano Rokou, F., Rokou, E., & Rokos, Y. (2004). Modeling Web-based Educational Systems: process Design Teaching Model. Educational Technology & Society, 7 (1), 42-50. PDF
  • Rodriguez-Artacho, M. (2002) "PALO Language Overview" Technical Report STEED Project (LSI Dept. UNED) February, 2002. HTML
  • Rodr¡guez-Artacho, M. and M.F. Verdejo (2001) "Creating Constructivist Learning Scenarios Using an Educative Modelling Language" in Proceedings of the IEEE Frontiers in Education 2001 Conference, Reno NV Oct 2001. Available on-line at PDF
  • Rodríguez-Artacho, M., & Verdejo Maíllo, M. F. (2004). Modeling Educational Content: The Cognitive Approach of the PALO Language. In Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 7 (3), 124-137. PDF
  • Teege, Gunnar; Jürgen Koch, Pamela Tröndle, Wolfgang Wörndl, Johann Schlichter (2000). ModuVille: Komponenten für virtuelle WWW-basierte Lehrveranstaltungen, PIK - Praxis der Informationsverarbeitung und Kommunikation, pp. 148-155. (this is a TargeTeam/TeachML publication).
  • Wilson, S. (2001) "Europe Focuses on EML's" Report from CETIS Research Centre, UK. HTML

Acknowledgement: This article or part of this article has been written during a collaboration with the EducTice group of INRP, which attributed a visiting grant to DKS in january 2009.