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EdTech Integrations Simplified


Let’s say you need to get 10s or even 100s of thousands of students and educators securely into multiple applications every day in order to facilitate teaching and learning. Each of those students also has one or more family members who need access to help guide their learning. Vendors that you work with use terms like rostering and provisioning and identity and access management but they all seem like they mean the same things. There are standards that are supposed to make things easier, but they just add to the list of things to learn about - OneRoster®, Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI®), Ed-Fi… And to top it all off, it’s not the same users every day. Educators call out sick so there are substitutes. Students move. Family members lose rights and new guardians get rights. Everyone just expects things to work and no one seems to understand all these moving parts, or the huge cybersecurity threats putting pressure on you every day to manage this safely and securely.

Welcome to the world of educational technology! If you have a digital product that needs to plug into an educational organization’s system of applications, you need to know where your product fits in the context of everything else being used by your customers. If you manage technology at an educational organization, you have all of these different types of users to keep happy who don’t understand why it's so hard.

User Access in K12 Education Can Be Complicated

This article will help you make sense of the educational ecosystem. First, I’ll cover three commonly used interoperability standards in K12. Then, I’ll dive into some specific scenarios for applying the standards. Finally, I will be sharing a framework to categorize the applications and the users for each app to help you with your specific environment.

Standards for Integrations

To facilitate integrations in the complex educational technology landscape, edtech interoperability standards have emerged to address specific application-to-application use cases with the promise of “plug-and-play” integrations.


The 1EdTech OneRoster standard was specifically designed to roster, and in many cases, provision, users from a Student Information System (SIS) into a Learning Management System (LMS). This solved a specific problem, and it proved to be useful beyond the SIS to LMS use case. It turns out there are many, many different applications that need user, class, and other SIS data. OneRoster has become essential in K12 for populating all the software systems that are needed to run operations at an educational organization and it has also been used to populate learning tools directly, instead of or in addition to accessing them through the LMS.

Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI)

This interoperability standard from 1EdTech pre-dates OneRoster and began as an effort for LMSs to provide more than basic single-sign-on (SSO) out to various specialized curriculum and content applications. These learning tools needed to know a user’s role as an educator or student and class association, in addition to being able to determine whether or not the user is authorized to access the application. It expanded to cover exchange of assignment data, scores, and to add a mechanism to roster from the LMS so that educators could see their entire class before students join.

Ed-Fi Data Standard

The Ed-Fi Data Standard is intended to normalize how we refer to educational data for reporting and storage of data in an operational data store. Unlike the 1EdTech standards, Ed-Fi goes beyond providing a specification to offer code for the operational data store.  

Using Standards Together

Each of these standards were developed for specific use cases between two applications - applying them beyond those use cases or expecting them to work between three applications interchangeably can be useful, but can also lead to problems. If you are not using the standards as recommended, by relying on a single source ID from OneRoster that is used in LTI as well, conflicts and errors can occur in one or all of the applications involved. For example, OneRoster can be utilized to provision users within a learning tool, while still leveraging the seamless user experience LTI offers with deep linking in an LMS. However, this requires the learning tool to support two interoperability standards instead of one and sets up a situation where conflicts and errors in matching can be created between the two sources if the specs are not followed correctly by the applications involved to ensure a single source ID. Thus, it is very important when using 1EdTech standards that you understand how they are being applied and lean toward the simplest integration solutions for your implementations. If you do encounter issues, 1EdTech will provide free technical support for integrations among certified products.

It can also be really helpful to combine two interoperability standards. For instance, educational organizations have discovered that their Ed-Fi ODS has all the data required to roster users for other applications rather than pulling the data directly from their SIS. They have applied the OneRoster interoperability standard to the Ed-Fi ODS to roster those users as they would have from their SIS. A potential risk with this approach is data latency when an update has been made in the SIS that is not yet reflected in the Ed-Fi ODS, but most use cases for rostering have not required real-time data updates. This approach can be better than extracting heavy loads on a SIS that is critical to daily operations of an educational organization. 

For these reasons, it is important to think about your entire digital ecosystem, how data will flow, and when real-time data is required to create policies for interoperability standard use within your product implementations. Considering the entire digital ecosystem can be hard in the abstract. It is extremely valuable to categorize applications used within your organization and for edtech companies to figure out where their application would be categorized in this ecosystem by an educational organization. 

Integrations in Multiple Dimensions

When people think of integrations, I think most of us have a visual in our heads that shows application A on one side and application B on the other side with data flowing in between them. However, it’s rarely that simple in education. Even this diagram may be considered overly simplified by some. 


Student Information System

For most educational organizations, the Student Information System (SIS) is the single source of truth for student & family data. Some also use the SIS for staff data while others utilize employee management systems instead. This is the primary home for student records and demographic data, final grades, class rosters, attendance, and family permissions. The SIS is an important system for administrative staff at a district to manage teacher/student class assignments and report on metrics important for school funding and compliance. It may also be used to launch communications from administrative staff to educator, student, or family populations. 

Learning Management System

Since Covid, nearly every educational organization is also using one or more Learning Management Systems (LMS) for educators to manage day-to-day instruction with students and keep families informed about classroom activities. The LMS may be selected by the educator or the educational organization, depending on the approach of the organization. Even when the educational organization makes the LMS selection, it is still very much in the hands of the educator to determine how the LMS is actually used with students and family members for day-to-day instruction.

Learning Tools

This is a very broad category to cover all the content, curriculum, assessment, quizzing, communication, tutoring, engagement, career exploration, and classroom well-being tools that may be used by educators and students for the purposes of teaching and learning. Sometimes these tools are required to be used by curriculum leadership within an educational organization and some are used at the discretion of the educator. In nearly all cases educators assign them to students for required or optional use. These tools may be accessed from an LMS or an access portal and involve interactions initiated by educators with others, mostly students.

Operational Tools

Again, this is a very broad category to cover all the tools that need information about student records and demographics but aren’t typically accessed directly by students or their families for the purpose of learning. The data may be used to populate transportation routes, manage IEPs or other compliance activities, complete school reporting requirements, to update or enter student registration information, pay fees, etc. These tools typically require or interact with data from a SIS and involve interactions with administrators and others. 

Digital Identity 

Foundational to all of these applications is the idea that every user at an educational organization has one or more digital identities. The more identities a user has, the more complicated it can be for an educational organization to manage access for that user. Educational organizations will use Active Directory, Google Identity Services, and tools that specialize in identity and access management like Identity Automation. 

Any given application in this system will most likely need data or need to share data with two or more other applications to fully realize the value of the application. For example, an IEP tool gets data from an SIS for administrative purposes and needs to share data with an LMS and various learning tools for a student to benefit from the individualized program - or else it will only ever be an administrative compliance tool. A learning tool needs to place an assignment in an LMS for a student to access and complete it, but it may also need certain demographic data from the SIS to provide a complete picture of the student’s performance relative to their peers. All of these applications rely on the digital identity for the user in the context of their educational organization.

Categorize Your Applications to Simplify Integrations

Whether you are an educational organization or an edtech company serving those organizations, it can be extremely beneficial to map out and categorize the educational technology applications in use. 

As an educational organization, name your SIS, LMS(s), and all the other operational and learning tools used by grade-level bands. Capture the users interacting with each system and whether they need to login directly or have their data represented. And carefully consider what data you really need to reside in each system. With the increased cybersecurity threats, you may discover opportunities to reduce data being shared between systems and opt for anonymized identifiers instead.

As an edtech company, figure out where your product fits in a typical customer ecosystem and then identify which SIS and LMS products are being used most by your customers. Find out if they have an Ed-Fi ODS, how they address identity and access management, and craft a plan to plug into their ecosystem to maximize customer adoption. 

When you have a clear map of your applications, applying edtech interoperability standards to facilitate integrations will simplify your life as an administrator, (or edtech company supporting administrators), and create better experiences for all users of educational organizations. 

Thank you to 1EdTech, Identity Automation, GG4L, and Unicon for contributing to this article.

Carrie Vail

Carrie Vail

Contributing Author, Unicon's Perspectives and Practice Series
Carrie is a contributing author to Unicon's Perspectives and Practice Series. Carrie works for CANYMA Consulting LLC which specializes in helping ed tech organizations with product strategy and educational organizations with digital ecosystem optimization.