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Example of ASPECT Results: Working with IMS Common Cartridge

When the ASPECT project started, many content providers were particularly interested in exploring the possibilities and restrictions of IMS Common Cartridge 1.0 that was a new specification for most of them at that time. This section summarizes their experience with its implementation.

Understanding and implementation

The vast majority of the ASPECT content providers were involved in some work with the Common Cartridge format.  Some have implemented only minor packages as part of their preparation for the teachers’ summer school piloting. Others included – or examined – large-scale implementations of the specification as part of their ordinary workflow. 

The general view is that the Common Cartridge specification is an interesting specification. There are a number of reasons for this interest. First, there are simple tools available to help developers get started.  Second, it is easy to create packages using these tools. Finally, validation tools, such as the IMS Online Validator service, are available.

The ease of implementation is illustrated by Educatio, which is one of the organizations that decided to use the Common Cartridge format as one of the possible formats supported by their Sulinet (SDT) portal:

As a part of ASPECT project we implemented the Common Cartridge standard that gave us the opportunity to publish our content in a way that we did not offer before to our users. The development of this service ensures that schools will be able to use the SDT content in their own learning content management systems. The implementation of Common Cartridge was an easy process and we did not meet serious problems.

The general impression is that, with the Common Cartridge Builder, a drag and drop tool developed and provided for free by Learning Components, Inc (download address), and a simple 10-15-page tutorial, anyone can create a Common Cartridge package without any great technical skills.  Thanks to the ease of implementation, one can rapidly develop a script-based and automated packaging process for larger numbers of resources.

Views and issues

Tools issues

As the IMS Common Cartridge is a relatively new specification, there are a number of issues. The key issue according to Global Grid for Learning (GGfL) centers on the availability of tools:

The most significant lesson learned by Global Grid for Learning throughout ASPECT is that there is currently a significant shortage of authoring tools on the market that are standards’ compliant.

We have found that there are many tools that claim to be standards’ compliant which are not fully compliant, or that are not compliant with the most current version of the standard. 

GGfL sees the lack of standards’ compliant tools as the most serious issue at the moment. To achieve complete compliance with the specification, GGfL had to carry out a great deal of manual editing of XML files generated by various tools.
Another problem noted by GGfL is that available tools lack required features:

We have found that many of the authoring tools that have achieved standards’ conformance are not yet capable of creating the quality of content that we require as publishers. AContent/ATutor, for example, is one of only two Common Cartridge authoring tools currently listed as conformant by the IMS (see the full list here). It does not yet have the capacity to incorporate images, which is an intrinsic part of our quiz content.

Restrictions built into the specification

Another issue raised by GGfL is the limitations placed on, for example, LOM and QTI within the Common Cartridge specification:

We found that the limitations placed on the use of supplementary standards (such as LOM and QTI) within the Common Cartridge specification made the standard more difficult to use. Specifically:

  • Only six of the question types specified in QTI 1.2 are available in Common Cartridge
  • Most of the fields specified in LOM are disallowed in Common Cartridge

These restrictions were inexplicable from GGfL’s point of view and they:

Found that the restrictions increased the time and effort required to create fully conformant content as our workflows were originally designed around meeting the full specification requirements, not a subset.

So, although IMS added these restrictions in order to achieve a higher degree of simplicity in the Common Cartridge specification, to some this actually adds to the complexity of the internal workflows.

The same approach to achieve simplicity and thus a higher degree of acceptance and compliance is also an issue for Young Digital Planet (YDP), whose highly interactive learning resources require a tailored player and LMS/backend system. YDP finds it difficult to produce Common Cartridges that match the type and quality of the learning resources they currently produce.

Large-scale implementation

The right balance between simplicity and restrictions was also of concern for those working on large-scale implementations.  The Open University has developed a complex workflow that allows them to provide their courses in a number of different output formats such as HTML, PDF, SCORM (IMS Content Packaging), Moodle backup, and Common Cartridge. The costs involved in large-scale production put restrictions on the features that can be used in the learning resources:

There is no individual work required to generate the export formats and no extra effort in authoring beyond that targeted at the OpenLearn website itself. This is the only way in which it is possible for us to generate the wide range of export formats that we make available across all our existing content and anything we plan to release in future.

Because this workflow matches standard course production, there is no additional cost in supporting OpenLearn content creation. However, the XML and automatic export creation approach lack flexibility to individually tune output either for a specific unit or perhaps within a specific export format.

Although it is a somewhat different issue, because it involves large-scale implementation of a particular specification and not the functionality of the specification as such, the results are the same: learning resources are simplified and standardized to reduce production costs. 

Relevance of content packaging

Another key issue for a number of our content providers is that they do not consider content packaging relevant – to their users, to their view of learning, for the resources they provide, and the distribution models they have chosen so far.

Although some content providers recognize that IMS Common Cartridge is an ‘improvement’ over SCORM, the views relating to SCORM-packaged content continues to color their attitude towards the Common Cartridge format. As expressed by ANSAS:

Certainly, in our view, the Common Cartridge standard is more adequate to the education world compared to the SCORM one, but it still does not correspond to our socio-constructivist view.

Others share these views. The perception persists that packaged content is somehow more ‘closed’ and not quite relevant to their model of learning and distribution:

SCORM is a widely disseminated standard when it comes to packaged content. It is clearly useful for organizations that espouse a structured, behaviorist transmission of knowledge, from teacher or trainer to student or trainee.

Common Cartridge originates from a different approach to learning and teaching and is thus closer to a constructivist view of education as a whole.

These two standards may be useful for enterprises that want their content to be “sealed”. However, for a Ministry of Education such as the Portuguese one, what seems to make sense is to open content available on its portal to everyone who may, in one way or another, benefit from its use. (DGIDC, from the “Report on content Packaging. The point of view of content providers")  


Non-adoption of or lack of interest in content packaging is not just a question of learning models. Some see it primarily as a question of the distribution mechanism selected:

Currently, the French ENT’s (VLEs) do not deal with packaged content. The content packaging standards are not very well known in the school context. The content provided by public institutions is available on the institutions’ websites.

In cases when content providers offer access to their learning resources from a website as web pages, packaging content does not add any value – neither for the content provider nor the user. Value is added only if users want to – and the content providers will allow them to – integrate a copy of that content in lessons delivered by means of a ‘local’ LMS.  If that is the case, i.e., if you are distributing complex learning resources to the local environment of the user, packaged formats provide some ‘ease of distribution’.  For example, it is much easier and faster to import a Common Cartridge package into one’s Moodle system than importing perhaps two hundred individual resources into the LMS or having to import and set up a complex structure of resources on your web-platform.

Supporting systems

Another barrier to Common Cartridge packaged content is the need for a special player or runtime environment if one does not have an LMS/portal that supports the format. The KlasCement portal has an integrated SCORM player, but still needs a Common Cartridge player:

At the moment we have not yet managed to implement a real Common Cartridge-player on our portal. Since the SCORM-player is already a success, we hope a (free) CC-player will become available soon.


According to the ASPECT content providers, the issues and advantages in relation to Common Cartridge are:

  • The specification is relatively easy to understand.
  • It is relatively easy to create a script-based packaging process.
  • Currently there are too few tools that produce fully compliant Common Cartridge packages.
  • There is one simple drag-n-drop tool that is free and easy to use.
  • Tools do not support all Common Cartridge functionalities.
  • There is a freely available online validator for testing cartridges.
  • The Common Cartridge specification imposes restrictions on LOM and QTI used as part of a Common Cartridge package.
  • The user needs a Common Cartridge compliant LMS or environment in order to run packages.

Other significant achievements resulting from work package 5 include evaluations of content specifications such as ADL SCORM and IMS QTI, evaluations of other specifications like IMS ILOX and IMS VDEX and an integrated system for the discovery and use of learning objects. A complete description of these achievements can be found in deliverables: D5.3 Release 1 of the integrated system, D5.4 Release 2 of the integrated system (including a Common Cartridge tutorial) and D5.5 Report on the advantages/issues associated with the large-scale implementation of selected standards.