What Is Schema.org, and How Does It Relate to the LRMI?

As most people familiar with the LRMI already know, the project’s main mission is to improve education search—to make it easier for teachers and learners to find the right learning resources at the right time. However, what many may not realize is that the LRMI was prompted by Schema.org, a larger effort by Bing, Google, and Yahoo! (and later joined by Russian search engine Yandex to make it easier to sort and filter the roughly 10 billion (and growing) indexed web pages. In order to understand some of the underlying principles and best practices for the LRMI, it’s important to understand a bit more about this larger effort.

In June of 2011, the world’s largest search engines announced a coordinated effort around structured data markup. More specifically, they all agreed to support a standard way of tagging webpages that gives rich, machine-readable context to the content on the page. While on the surface it may seem strange for these competing companies to work together, it makes sense in the end—if webmasters are tagging content in a uniform way, the search engines will be able to parse this metadata in ways that are more beneficial to the end user. Moreover, with the major search engines all supporting Schema.org markup, it’s more likely that webmasters will actually use it.

The Gates Foundation recognized the Schema.org announcement as a prime opportunity to support the development of an education-specific extension that would both improve online search for instructional materials and lay some of the important groundwork for the foundation’s personalized learning initiatives. Gates invited the Association of Educational Publishers (AEP) and Creative Commons to spearhead this initiative. The resulting LRMI specification extends the Schema.org markup standard by adding properties such as content area, age range, standards alignment, and media type to the overall metadata schema. The LRMI proposal is currently awaiting official adoption by Schema.org.

In order to better represent its members during the development of the LRMI framework, the AEP conducted a survey of educational publishers’ perceptions of current search. The results showed that a large majority of publishers view online visibility as either essential or important in their current sales and marketing programs; however, nearly half of respondents were either “dissatisfied” or “somewhat dissatisfied” with the current online visibility of their products. More than half of the respondents stated that their customers find it “difficult” or “somewhat difficult” to find their content and products when conducting online searches.

So, the million-dollar question is: will using Schema.org and LRMI markup help people find my pages? Phil Barker, LRMI technical working group member and Learning Technology Adviser for the Institute for Computer Based Learning at Heriot-Watt University, addressed that issue in a blog post earlier this year. Barker described how, although Google reports that it doesn’t use markup for ranking purposes at this time, Schema.org markup can make web pages appear more prominently in search results. This plays out in two ways—by enhancing results with information such as images, reviews, date published, and other pertinent data; and by enabling useful search filters (such as the oft-cited “potato salad” demo).

While awaiting official adoption, AEP is moving forward with helping educational publishers tag their resources to the LRMI specification, creating a pool of LRMI-tagged resources and documenting best practices.  So far, 616 resources have been evaluated, tagged, and aligned, with plans for another 450 plus resources to be tagged prior to March 2013.

Be sure to continue to check the LRMI blog to learn when the LRMI is adopted by Schema.org and for other updates on this important initiative.