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EDU-API: The Next Generation SIS API is Almost Ready for its Debut

We’ve touched on Edu-API in this space previously, and those of you who know me have heard me talk about it, if not ad infinitum certainly ad nauseum. Perhaps naturally enough, with my own background in SIS product development and integration, the impetus behind the development of Edu-API is a problem space that has driven much of my career in edtech. That’s why I’m genuinely excited by the developments coming out of the 1EdTech (formerly IMS Global) Edu-API Working Group and what I believe it means for interoperability in the higher education digital ecosystem.


To briefly recap, Edu-API is a new specification currently in development within the 1EdTech community. The stated goal of the specification is to provide a standard API that can make available the wealth of data that exists in an institution’s SIS to other elements within the learning topology on campus. Like its predecessor, the IMS Learning Information Services (LIS) standard, Edu-API will support the core set of mission-critical use cases related to rostering and provisioning of key entities – including courses, persons, enrollments, etc. – from the system of record to consuming applications such as LMSs.

But, where LIS was developed with that more limited set of use cases in mind, and generally devised using the technologies and methodologies available at the time more than a dozen years ago (e.g., the publicly released LIS standard is a set of SOAP services with payloads expressed in XML), Edu-API was explicitly launched with the intention of evolving into an encompassing API that will include a broad data set designed to solve a spectrum of use cases.


EDU-API image

Graphic courtesy of 1EdTech (formerly IMS Global)

The teaching and learning topology on campus has gotten a lot more complex than it used to be, and the necessity of the availability of data is a lot more critical. For example, as more and more institutions (and their vendor partners) leverage CRM systems for recruiting and admissions, the data locked in the SIS must be more accessible and that access must be easier to implement. This is even more important with the growth of advising solutions and those that are driven by AI/ML technology. That’s the mission of Edu-API.

Current Status

As is almost always the case in standards development, it’s been a long road. Edu-API started with a broad survey of higher education institutions on their known and anticipated integration requirements going forward. The Edu-API working group started as an institutional body for that same reason – to ensure that the next generation API was driven by institutionally defined requirements. The vendor community was then invited in to begin the discussion of how those requirements could or needed to be expressed in practice.

Avoiding the limitations (and even mistakes) of the past also contributed to a long runway, but with a payoff in longer-term future proofing and industry adoption. LIS was developed with an undoubted North American higher education model bias; although it enjoyed adoption in other regions, it was often at a cost of the need for extensions to the core services. It also was built around a fairly traditional course administration structure, focused on explicit definitions of courses, course offerings, and sections. But we all know that the pedagogical model is far more complex these days, with everything from program-based enrollment, to non-term based structures, to a need to accommodate things like open-entry/open-exit enrollment. The Edu-API Working Group spent a lot of time (and time well spent!) coming up with a model that not only provided for still-common course hierarchies and enrollment paradigms, but also allowed for more flexible models currently in use and even models that haven’t been thought of yet.

All of this work is culminating in the planned release of the Edu-API v1 MVP Candidate Final in Q3 of this year. In 1EdTech standards lifecycle parlance, that means that the draft specification will go through a series of implementations by working group members culminating in certification, as a means of putting the specification through a shakedown cruise before releasing it to the public, which will then happen a number of weeks or months (depending on outcomes) later.

The MVP will be focused on core rostering and provisioning use cases, not only because those remain mission-critical on campus but also because they inherently involve the foundational entities (courses, persons, enrollments, etc.) that will inform future use cases.

MVP graphic

MVP Primary Use Cases

Beyond MVP

What are those future use cases? A quick glance at all of the processes on campus related to and even peripherally supporting teaching, learning, and outcomes will give you an idea. If you glance back at the first graphic above, post-MVP use cases will include expansion of data sets to facilitate interoperability with CRM systems, with advising and tutorial solutions, and with learning analytics and record stores which provide key contextualizing data to augment all of the transactional and learning event data that institutions are currently leveraging to improve student outcomes and success.

While Edu-API (nor any API) will or should ever be the be-all and end-all, the vision is that Edu-API will unlock the SIS data in a way that not only allows institutions to deploy the next generation of solutions to serve students, but also to facilitate a whole new wave of innovation for start-ups and niche solutions that previously did not have access to SIS data due to cost or complexity. And to do all this in a way that maintains security, privacy, and institutional (and by extension individual) control of data.

What Does Edu-API Mean For You?

The value of Edu-API to the industry as a whole at a strategic level is the same as all standards in the education space: to create a common pattern for integration between systems in order to make data available across the digital ecosystem and reduce cost and complexity to that “last mile” development effort in order to allow institutions and vendors to focus on advancing teaching and learning. But what does it mean to you tactically, in practice? That really depends on who you are.

If you’re an edtech supplier, implementing Edu-API means you have a single, comprehensive way of exchanging data with all of your potential partners and all of the potential other solutions in a client’s ecosystem. That means reduced cost of development and maintenance as you move away from proprietary integrations, and increased opportunity as your ability to plug into a prospect’s larger suite of solutions makes you a more logical choice.

If you’re an institution, Edu-API means reduced complexity of your internal architecture, and reduced strain on your IT or academic technology staff to manage those increasingly critical but brittle integrations, allowing them to focus on projects more directly benefiting your core mission. It also means greater flexibility and sustainability, and less vendor lock-in.

For learners, even though when done right Edu-API remains behind the scenes, Edu-API means a more coherent and cohesive experience as data traverses solutions on your digital campus right along with you, from admissions, to selecting courses, to enrollment, to accessing your classes in the LMS, and beyond.

Unicon and EDU-API

Among potential partners for your company or institution out there in the edtech space, as you consider Edu-API and how it might enable a new phase of interoperability, it’s good to remember that Unicon occupies somewhat of a unique role on this particular topic. In my previous job with 1EdTech (at the time, IMS Global), as Director of Higher Education Programs, I was responsible for the launch of the Edu-API effort and managed it internally until it was time to hand it off to the technical program managers on our team. Since its inception, Linda Feng, Unicon’s Principal Software Architect, has served as the Edu-API Working Group’s Co-Chair. We are already heavily invested in Edu-API – in time, thought, and emotion – and we’re excited to see it finally make its way into the world! We’d be happy to talk with you about how it might fit into your ecosystem integration plans going forward.

1EDTech Learning Impact Conference

If you’re as excited as we are about Edu-API and want to find out more and get further up to speed on the latest progress, the upcoming 1EdTech Learning Impact conference is a great place to do that! Running June 13-16 in Nashville, Learning Impact will include an Edu-API Bootcamp on June 15 to walk participants through the new specification and how to implement it.

Learning Impact will also include a wide range of presentations on related topics of interoperability as well. Some of the highlights I’m looking forward to include:

  • When One Standard is Not Enough: Leveraging Multiple Data Standards (June 14)
  • Building Interoperability into your Growth Plans (June 14)
  • Top Five Edtech Ecosystem Integration Best Practices (June 14)
  • Leveraging iPaaS to Accelerate Campus Technology Adoptions (June 15)

You can find details and information on these sessions and more on the Learning Impact Conference website! Hope to see you there!

Cary Brown

Cary Brown

Director of Strategic Project Management
Cary Brown serves as Unicon’s Principal Project Manager and joined the Executive Leadership Team to further Unicon’s presence in the education technology market. He helps lead Unicon’s consultants to coordinate impactful projects which guide campuses in finding a fresh approach with upgraded and transformative learning tools. Throughout his career, he has used his unique knowledge to facilitate the use of optimal strategic priorities and approaches for next-generation interoperability in campus digital ecosystems.