As I’ve been involved with GMSA in various ways including through the ioNW2 project, I went to their seminar on 14th May introducing GMSA Advance.Â This is to do with providing bite-sized modules of Higher Education, mainly for people at work, and giving awards (including degrees) on that basis – picking up some of the “Leitch” agenda. As I suspected, it was of interest from a portfolio perspective among others.
I’ll start with the portfolio- and PDP-related issues.
The first issue is award coherence. If you put together an award from self-chosen small chunks of learning (“eclectic”, one could call it), there is always an issue of whether that award represents anything coherent. Awarding bodies, including HEIs, may not think it right to give an award for what looks like a random collection of learning. Having awarding bodies themselves define what counts as coherent risks being too restrictive. An awarding body might insist on things which were not relevant to the learner’s workplace, or that had been covered outside the award framework. On the other hand, employers might not understand about academic coherence at all. A possible solution that strikes me and others is
- have the learner explain the coherence of modules chosen
- assess that explanation as part of the award requirement.
This explanation of coherence needs to make sense to a variety of people as well as the learner, in particular, to academics and to employers. It invites a portfolio-style approach: the learner is supported through a process of constructing the explanation, and it is presented as a portfolio with links to further information and evidence. One could imagine, for example, a video interview with the learner’s employer as useful extra evidence.
A second issue is the currency and validity of “credit”. Now I have a history of skepticism about credit frameworks and credit transfer, though the above idea of assessed explanation of award coherence at lastÂ brings a ray of light into the gloom. My issue has always been that, to be meaningful, awards should be competence-based, not credit based. And I still maintain that the abilities claimed by someone at the end of a course, suitably validated by the awarding body, should be a key part of the official records of assessment (indeed, part of the “Higher Education Achievement Report” of the Burgess Group – report downloadable as PDF)
One of the key questions for these “eclectic” awards is whether credit should have a limited lifetime. Whether credit should expire surely should depend on what credit is trying to represent. It is just the skills, abilities or competences whose validation needs to expire – this is increasingly being seen in the requirement for professional revalidation. And the expiry of validation itself needs to be based on evidence – bicycle riding and swimming tend to be skills that are learned once for ever; language skills fall off only slowly; but the knowledge of the latest techniques in a leading edge discipline may be lost very quickly.
This is a clear issue for portfolios that present skills. The people with those portfolios need to be aware of the perceived value of old evidence, and to be prepared to back up old formal evidence with more recent, if less formal, additional evidence of currency. We could potentially take that approach back into the the GMSA Advance awards, though there would be many details to figure out, and issues would overlap with accreditation of prior learning.
Other issues at the seminar were not to do with portfolios. There is the question of how to badge such awards. CPD? Several of those attending thought not – “CPD”is often associated with unvalidated personal learning, or even just attendance at events. As an alternative, I rather like the constructive ambiguity of the phrase “employed learning” – it would be both the learners and the learning that are employed – so that is my suggestion for inclusion into award titles.
Another big issue is funding. Current policy is for no government funding to be given for people studying for awards of equal or lower level than one they have already achieved. The trouble is that if each module itself carries an award, then work-based learners couldn’t be funded for this series of bite-sized modules, but only one. The issue is recognised, but not solved. A good idea that was suggested at the seminar is to change and clarify the meaning of credit, so that it takes on the role of measuring public fundability of learning. Learners could have a lifetime learning credit allowance, that they could spend as they preferred. Actually, I think even better would be a kind of “sabbatical” system where one’s study credit allowance continued to build, to allow for retraining. Maybe one year’s (part time?) study credit would be fundable for each (say) 7 years of life – or maybe 7 years of tax-paying work?
So, as you can see, it was a thought-provoking and stimulating seminar.