An initiative that will make it easier for teachers to find educational content online is nearing reality.

A major effort to help publishers tag educational content using a new specification could help teachers quickly find age-appropriate resources online.

The Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI), which is co-led by the Association of Educational Publishers (AEP) and Creative Commons, is an effort to tag educational content to make it easier to find in internet searches.

The first version of the LRMI specification was released in June, and publishers have been working on a proof-of-concept pilot project that involves tagging resources for middle school math. Now, phase two of the project—which expands the focus to include English and language arts—is beginning now.

The LRMI spec will work with Schema.org, a web metadata framework. Major search engines such as Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft Bing announced the Schema.org project last year, creating a universal framework for tagging web-based content to make internet searches faster and more accurate.

Google Shopping and Google Recipes are prototype examples of how metadata can improve search results under Schema.org.

With Google Shopping, for instance, when web users enter a search term—say, “Harry Potter”—a list of criteria to help them narrow their search appears in the left-hand margin of the search page. Online shoppers can choose to see only those results that are available in stock nearby, that offer free shipping, or that are new. They can specify the type of product they’re looking for (books, DVDs, toys, video games, costumes), the price range they’re looking to spend, or a particular store they’d like to buy from.

With the LRMI specification in place, educators will be able to narrow their search results in a similar fashion. When teachers search for an educational term or resource—say, “teaching fractions”—a list of criteria will appear that lets them further define the search by age range, standards the resource aligns to, publisher, and more.

Before this happens, though, two things need to occur.

First, Schema.org has to formally approve the LRMI specification and make the spec a part of its framework. According to sources, a decision on this is expected very soon.

Once Schema.org approves the spec, search engines such as Google and Bing have to build it into their systems for delivering search results. The timetable for this to happen is up to the search engines themselves, meaning users of one search engine might experience the benefits of LRMI’s efforts faster than users of another.

How well the LRMI spec improves educational web searches also depends on how many publishers of educational materials tag their content according to the spec.

The effort is a highly technical undertaking, but AEP marketing manager Dave Gladney said his organization is holding several webinars and other information sessions to help publishers learn more about the project and how they can participate. The day-long meetings immerse attendees in LRMI details and help them learn more about the content tagging process.

By creating a standard tagging framework and establishing best practices to use when tagging content according to this framework, AEP and Creative Commons hope educators will be able to find valuable resources more easily. In fact, one of the most often-cited barriers to the use of open educational resources and other online content is that educators frequently are overwhelmed when searching for and assessing the validity of resources.

“They’re all driving toward a vision of personalized learning—being able to use data to deliver the products or resources that students need, right at the time they need them,” Gladney said.

AEP and Creative Commons are in the process of creating a detailed adoption and implementation guide for content developers who want to tag their resources using the LRMI spec, and Gladney said that guidance from the project’s newest phase should be published sometime in early 2013.

Classroom Inc., Federal Reserve Bank New York, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Learning Media, LearningStation, Pearson Education, Rosen Publishing, PCI Education, Saddleback Educational Publishing, William H. Sadlier, Inc., Super Duper Publications, Utah Education Network, and Virtual Nerd all are participating in the second phase.

“LRMI will make it much easier for speech-language pathologists, special educators, teachers, and parents to find materials that will meet the needs of their children,” said Super Duper Publications Editor Beth Holland.