LearningResource added to schema.org

A new type was added to the ‘pending’ terms in schema.org in the July release (release 9.0), LearningResource. It sits in the type hierarchy as a subtype of CreativeWork, and the definition and notes read:

The LearningResource type can be used to indicate CreativeWorks (whether physical or digital) that have a particular and explicit orientation towards learning, education, skill acquisition, and other educational purposes.

LearningResource is expected to be used as an addition to a primary type such as BookVideoProduct etc.

EducationEvent serves a similar purpose for event-like things (e.g. a Trip). A LearningResource may be created as a result of an EducationEvent, for example by recording one.

The properties in the domain of LearningResource are those that come from LRMI, nameley:  assesses, educationalAlignment, educationalLevel, educationalUse, and teaches. [Oops, learningResourceType is missing]

Although listed as pending, people using schema.org to describe educational resources are encouraged to use the term and report any issues. The only way terms can move from pending to the core of schema.org is if there is sufficient evidence of use.

The Whys and Why Nots

Before saying something about why LearningResource has been added, perhaps it’s worth saying why it wasn’t added before. After all LRMI is the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative, wouldn’t the first thing it did be say what is and isn’t a learning resource? Well, yes and no. In answering that question we acknowledged two facts. First, learning resources can be of any of the subtypes of Creative Work: Books, Videos, Articles, Atlases, Games and so on. Would  we add a “learning resource” subtype to each of these for Book-as-a-learning-resource, Video-as-a-learning-resource…? Secondly, what is and isn’t a learning resource often depends on use (a common definition for learning resource is “anything that can be used for learning”). So while a textbook is a learning resource by design, who would say you don’t learn something by reading Shakespeare? or reading a newspaper? or a recipe? I’ve seen custard used to help learning two distinct topics in physics (crystal nucleation when making ice cream, and thixotropic fluids)–does that make custard a learning resource? So the decision was made not to create learning resource as a separate type, but to add properties to all types of CreativeWork that allowed you to describe its educational characteristics and how it might be used for learning.

So why change now? It’s not because the argument above is wrong, especially not in pedagogic terms. However, such arguments have been seen to have a detrimental effect on efforts to curate learning resources. We are not teaching here, we are trying to help people find resources, and a different type of thinking is required. Creating a collection policy based on the definition of “anything can be a learning resource” has lead to unfocused, unsustainable collections, for example OER repositories that are 90% images, badly described because the description schema wasn’t set up for images, and swamping all other types of resources. Yes, images are useful for learning, but there are better ways to curate images than in a system designed fo learning resources. So the schema.org LearningResource type is for those resources that “that have a particular and explicit orientation towards learning, education, skill acquisition, and other educational purposes”. Although I wouldn’t want to put a hard boundary around this definition there are instances that clearly meet it–text books, instructional videos, assessments, lesson plans, online courses, infographics and so on. As an analogy: many things can be used as a hammer, or as a paperweight, you can even use hammers as paperweights and vice versa (with varying degress of success); that does not mean that there are things that are definitely hammers, or paperweights. Imagine what would happen if you set up a hammer store and all people could see in it were rocks (because, you know, who would say a rock can’t be used as a hammer?) Would that help anyone find your wonderfully specialized peen hammers, maul hammers, sledge hammers, soft-headed hammers, claw hammers and gavels?

We also found that, without a LearningResource type, we could not say that there is a schema for describing learning resources in the way that there is a schema for describing recipes.  This made it unneccesarily difficult for people wanting to describe educational charcteristics of resources to find the properties that would be useful. We hope this new type will improve the visibility and uptake of LRMI properties in schema.org

Finally, does this mean that a schema.org:Video cannot be a Learning Resource? After all LearningResource comes under CreativeWork not Video. Fortunately multiple typed entities are now well supported, so the best approach is to declare your instruction video as being both a Video and a LearningResource:

{
    "@context": "https://schema.org/",
    "@type": ["Video", "LearningResource"],
    "url": "https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TIsUte5kfNw"
    "about": "Thixotropic liquids"
}

This has the added advantage that the use of LRMI properties is not limited to CreativeWorks, so if you have a Product that is designed “a particular and explicit orientation towards learning”, for example an educational toy, you can declare it as a schema:Product and a schema:LearningResource. As in noted in defintion about, some educational things are not really like CreativeWorks at all, for example lectures, museum visits, educational trips; for these the EducationEvent type serves a similar purpose to LearningResource.

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