There are many useful online education tools out there, from virtual classrooms to online libraries to interactive quizzes. However, these tools often do not integrate with your LMS, which can make it difficult to incorporate them into your teaching and learning plans.
Some LMSs include bespoke frameworks (e.g., customised communication protocols) that enable integration with external applications. However, these are typically specific to each individual application / LMS pairing, and setting them up can be time consuming and impractical.
To solve this problem, the IMS Global Learning Consortium developed the LTI—or Learning Tool Interoperability—standard. The LTI standard is a framework that enables easy integration of all compatible tools into most LMSs. LTI integration provides significant administrative and educational benefits.
What is LTI and why is it important?
The LTI standard allows simple, secure information exchange between external applications and an LMS. This information includes identity of users, course information, test or activity results, and other data necessary for providing and tracking learning. Your LMS becomes a hub for accessing not only its own internal features, but also any external resources and tools that allow LTI integration.
Specifically, LTI is a framework of specifications that LMSs and external applications must follow in order to work with each other. The LMS platform is known to the LTI framework as a “tool consumer”, while the external applications or resources are known as “tool provider”. Instead of each individual tool having a bespoke integration framework, LTI is a universal standard.
Think of it like USB—instead of multiple types of cables and ports, the USB standard became popular due to its universal nature, which removed the headache of trying to search for the right cable to match a specific port!
Can you use an LMS without LTI?
You can use an LMS that does not support LTI—or tools that lack LTI integration—but there are disadvantages. Doing so will significantly reduce the number of external tools that you can access from your LMS and integrate with it.
Without LTI, you could either stick to the internal features of your LMS (and miss out on many excellent, industry-standard tools) or manually record and transfer activity results from tools to your LMS or other system of recording outcomes (rather than having them automatically recorded and accessible within your LMS). Users would also likely have to log in and out of each external tool separately. These would likely be time-consuming, and arguably largely defeat the point of having an LMS!
Using LTI is highly recommended, as you can benefit from external tools while also displaying results (e.g., quiz results, progress, etc) in your LMS interface. Users can also benefit from single-sign-on, making for an overall smoother, more intuitive, and more accessible learning experience.
What is LTI integration?
LTI integration is simply the connection of LTI-compliant applications to platforms such as LMSs. There can be different levels of integration depending on the tools and platforms in question.
An example of LTI integration is when a user is automatically signed in to their profile on an application that they have opened via their LMS interface. Results of online quizzes or other tests being automatically sent back to the LMS’ grading system (e.g., Moodle’s Gradebook) is another example of LTI integration.
LTI integration is developing constantly, and many applications even include features such as automatic plagiarism detection tools and more, that can integrate with an LMS. Different versions of LTI (more on those later in this article) also enable further features.
How does LTI work?
Because LTI gives learners access to a wider range of content without having to leave the LMS interface, LTI can increase learner engagement and improve teaching and learning outcomes. The overall educational experience is both streamlined and the possibilities expanded.
A standard LTI workflow looks something like this:
- The instructor / LMS administrator accesses an external tool and is provided with a URL, a key, and a “secret” for accessing that tool via the LMS.
- The instructor adds a link to the tool into their LMS’ course structure (or this is done for them by the LMS administrator), and enters the URL, key, and secret to the link as metadata.
- A learner clicks the link in their LMS and the tool receives a request including the user’s identity and any other relevant information (e.g., role and course information), the key, and the signature. This information is sent via an HTTP request that is signed using the OAuth standard.
- The learner is directed automatically to the tool, sometimes in the same browser window and sometimes in a new one. To the learner, it may even appear that they have not “left” the LMS interface at all!
Advantages that LTI has over other development
Tools developed using standards other than LTI are simply unlikely to integrate with LMSs as well as LTI-compliant tools do. Even if another framework is successful, most LMS administrators choose LTI over other frameworks due to its popularity, convenience, and universal nature. LTI has more compatible applications available than any other standard.
Unlike LTI, which uses a single-sign-on authentication portal within the LMS, some other standards require separate logins and for users to leave the LMS to gain access. Other standards may also lack the capability of syncing results to the LMS.
Implementing LTI is also more straightforward than implementing other frameworks. While other integrations may require customisation from LMS administrators, LTI is universal and requires no custom integration.
LTI integration requires the following:
- Tool Provider: The application or resource accessed via the LMS. Examples include interactive quizzes, online libraries, and more.
- Tool Consumer: The platform accessing the application or resource, typically an LMS. Examples include Moodle 4, Blackboard, Canvas, and LMS365.
- LTI Launch: The sending of a user’s data (e.g., identity, role information, course information, etc) to the tool provider for authorisation and authentication.
- OAuth: A security standard that validates signatures via a shared key and “secret”. Once the Tool Consumer and Tool Provider have both configured these, an OAuth “Access Token” is generated to enable access and mutual communication.
What are the different LTI versions?
The latest version of LTI is LTI v1.3, which follows from LTI v1.0, LTI v1.1, and LTI v1.2.
LTI v.1.0 started as a simple authentication process from a tool consumer to a tool provider, while LTI v1.1 added the ability to communicate both ways, e.g., to send data back to the tool consumer. LTI v1.2 improved security while also adding features such as the ability to create custom services.
LTI v1.3 includes all of the features of previous versions, with improvements and the addition of the IMS Security Framework. LTI v1.3 is now the industry-standard version.
LTI v1.3 includes services like Names and Roles Provisioning, Deep Linking, and Assignment and Grade Services, which are collectively known as the LTI Advantage services. The term “LTI Advantage Complete” is used to refer to platforms that support these three services.
What LMS supports LTI?
LMS platforms that are certified LTI Advantage Complete include:
- Moodle 4
Although LMS365 is not certified LTI Advantage Complete, it is compatible with LTI v1.0 and LTI v1.1.
Overt Software can help you with LTI integration
LTI integration is highly recommended if you are using an LMS platform, whatever your type of institution. Learning outcomes can improve, administration be reduced, workflows streamlined, and more.
At Overt Software, we are committed to supporting institutions with all aspects of their Learning Management Systems, from hosting to custom Moodle development to 24/7 support. You can find our suite of LMS products here.