Development of a conceptual model 2

As promised, the model is gently evolving from the initial one posted.


Starting from the left, I’ve added a “creates” relationship between the assessing body and the assessment specification, to mirror the one for learning. Then, I’ve reversed the arrows and amended the relationship captions accordingly, for some of the middle part of the diagram. This is to make it easier to read off scenarios from the diagram. Of course, each arrow could be drawn in either direction in principle, just by substituting an inverse relationship, but often one direction makes more sense than the other. I’ve also amended some other captions for clarity.

An obvious scenario to read off would be this: “The learner enrols on a course, which involves doing some activities (like listening, writing, practical work, tests, etc.) These activities result in records (e.g. submitted coursework) which is assessed in a process specified by the assessing body, designed to evaluate the intended learning outcomes that are the objectives of the course. As a result of this summative assessment, the awarding body awards the learner a qualification.” I hope that one sounds plausible.

The right hand side of the diagram hadn’t had much attention recently. To simplify things a little, I decided that level and framework are so tightly joined that there is no need to separate them in this model. Then, mirroring the idea that a learner can aspire to an assessment outcome, it’s natural also to say that a learner may want a qualification. And what happens to credits after they have been awarded? They are normally counted towards a qualification — but this has to be processed, it is not automatic, so I’ve included that in the awarding process.

I’m still reasonably happy with the colour and shape scheme, in which yellow ovals are processes or activities (you can ask, “when did this happen?”), green things are parts of the real world, things that have concrete existence; and blue things are information.

Development of a conceptual model

Reflecting on the challenging field of conceptual models, I thought of the idea of exposing my evolving conceptual model that extends across the areas of learner mobility, learning, evaluation/assessment, credit, qualifications and awards, and intended learning outcomes — which could easily be detailed to cover knowledge, skill and competence.


This is more or less the whole thing as it is at present. It will evolve, and I would like that to illustrate how a model can evolve as a result of taking into account other ideas. It also wants a great deal of explanation. I invite questions as comments (or directly) so that I can judge what explanation is helpful. I also warmly welcome views that might be contrasting, to help my conceptual model to grow and develop.

It originates in work with the European Learner Mobility team specifying a model for European Learner Mobility documents — that currently include the Diploma Supplement (DS) and Certificate Supplement. This in turn is based on the European draft standard Metadata for Learning Opportunities (MLO), which is quite similar to the UK’s (and CETIS’s) XCRI. (Note: some terminology has been modified from MLO.) Alongside the DS, the model is intended to cover the UK’s HEAR — Higher Education Achievement Report. And the main advance from previous models of these things, including transcripts of course results, is that it aims to cover intended learning outcomes in a coherent way.

This work is evolving already with valued input from colleagues I talk to in

but I wanted to publish it here so that anyone can contribute, and anyone in any of these groups can refer to it and pass it round — even if as a “straw man”.

It would have been better to start from the beginning, so that I could explain the origin of each part. However that is not feasible, so I will have to be content with starting from where I am, and hoping that the reasoning supporting each feature will become clear in time, as there is an interest. Of course, at any time, the reasoning may not adequately support the feature, and on realising that I will want to change the model.

Please comment if there are discrepancies between this model and your model of the same things, and we can explore the language expressing the divergence of opinion, and the possibility for unification.

Obviously this relates to the SC36 model I discussed yesterday.

See also the next version.

Consensus process and conceptual models

I was in Umeå last week — at the NORDLET conference — but also there were lots of ISO SC36 people coming for their meeting. Now SC36 is trying to put forward a “PDTR” — draft technical report — “ITLET – Conceptual reference model for competencies and related objects” which I have been interested in for a while, as it would be nice to use this opportunity to broaden consensus about competence and related terms. There is a diagram representing a current proposal, and this is part of a set of documents tracing the development of this work, which up to now I was not aware of.

You know the basic idea about the standardization process — there is meant to be established practice in the area which would benefit from standardization. But, as I am just discovering, there is another kind of ISO document, the Technical Report. This one is of “type 3, when the joint technical committee has collected data of a different kind from that which is normally published as an International Standard (“state of the art”, for example).” And so we could at least think over, what is the appropriate time to try to agree a conceptual model? What is the appropriate process?

My experience and intuition both tell me that it takes a lot of work to agree on a shared conceptual model. People almost always build up their own private conceptual models of any area they are involved with. Concepts are used in discussion among groups, and these concepts become important to the group members, as they are part of their language, and their means of communication. Put two groups together, attempting to merge their conceptual models, and you are likely to find people defending their corners. That’s not consensus process, and it could easily result in a botch of a conceptual model that satisfies no one at all.

But put two individuals together, free from the constraints of being answerable to a group, and a wholly different process can take place. Instead of communication being a prompt to defend known terms, it is naturally a motive to explore the other person’s terms and meanings. And the prize at the end of a deep exploratory dialogue of this kind could be a shared conceptual model — not necessarily where the facts in the model are agreed, but at least where the language is agreed in which it is possible to disagree comprehensibly. And it is just during these dialogues — again, in my experience — that each person’s conceptual model is able to grow.

It seems like a good idea, therefore, in any case of trying to agree a conceptual model, to base the consensus process around dialogues between pairs of people. The time needed can seem long. My (good) experience of talking with Simone Laughton — an SC36 member from Canada — suggests that it takes at least several hours to get a good enough understanding of someone else’s conceptual model, at least of the type that SC36 are trying to agree on, if one wants to create a shared conceptual model.

So, contrast two alternatives. Firstly, the existing committee-based processes, which seem to run up again and again into the difficulties of disagreement, perhaps because of the mechanisms suggested above. Secondly, deep pairwise dialogue between all the participants who feel they have a position on a conceptual model. The second option is front-loaded — that is, it seems to need more work up front — but my guess is that once that work had been done — once people have had the experience of the development of their own model through dialogue — the committee process would probably be very quick and painless. And, maybe, the process might even take less time overall, as well as being more likely to result in a genuinely shared model.

Worth a try?

Worth a try also, perhaps, in areas that might be of similar complexity, such as the attempt to agree a management or governance structure between people in the same organisation, or with a common interest?