The growing need for open frameworks of learning outcomes

(A contribution to Open Education Week — see note at end.)

What is the need?

Imagine what could happen if we had a really good sets of usable open learning outcomes, across academic subjects, occupations and professions. It would be easy to express and then trace the relationships between any learning outcomes. To start with, it would be easy to find out which higher-level learning outcomes are composed, in a general consensus view, of which lower-level outcomes.

Some examples … In academic study, for example around a more complex topic from calculus, perhaps it would be made clear what other mathematics needs to be mastered first (see this recent example which lists, but does not structure). In management, it would be made clear, for instance, what needs to be mastered in order to be able to advise on intellectual property rights. In medicine, to pluck another example out of the air, it would be clarified what the necessary components of competent dementia care are. Imagine this is all done, and each learning outcome or competence definition, at each level, is given a clear and unambiguous identifier. Further, imagine all these identifiers are in HTTP IRI/URI/URL format, as is envisaged for Linked Data and the Semantic Web. Imagine that putting in the URL into your browser leads you straight to results giving information about that learning outcome. And in time it would become possible to trace not just what is composed of what, but other relationships between outcomes: equivalence, similarity, origin, etc.

Learning about learning about …

I was recently reading a short piece from Peter Honey (of learning styles fame)
in a CIPD blog post in which he writes, saving the most important item for last in his list:

Learning to learn – the ultimate life-skill

You can turn learning in on itself and use your learning skills to help you learn how to become an increasingly effective learner. Learning to learn is the key to enhancing all the above.

Privacy? What about self-disclosure?

When we talk about privacy, we are often talking about the right to privacy. That is something like the right to limit or constrain disclosure of information relating to oneself. I’ve often been puzzled by the concept of privacy, and I think that it helps to think first about self-disclosure.

Self-disclosure is something that we would probably all like to control. There’s a lot of literature on self-disclosure in many settings, and it is clearly recognised as important in several ways. I like the concept of self-disclosure, because it is a positive concept, in contrast to the rather negative idea of privacy. Privacy is, as its name suggests, a “privative” concept. Though definitions vary greatly, one common factor is that definitions of privacy tend to be in terms of the absence of something undesirable, rather than directly as the presence of something valuable.

What could a GPS for learner journeys look like?

Last weekend, a motley crew of designers, students, developers, business and government people came together in Edinburgh to prototype designs and apps to help learners manage their journeys. With help, I built a prototype that showed how curriculum and course offering data can be combined with e-portfolios to help learners find their way.

The first official Scottish government data jam, facilitated by Snook and supported by TechCube, is part of a wider project to help people navigate the various education and employment options in life, particularly post 16. The jam was meant to provide a way to quickly prototype a wide range of ideas around the learner journey theme.

While many other teams at the jam built things like a prototype social network, or great visualisations to help guide learners through their options, we decided to use the data that was provided to help see what an infrastructure could look like that supported the apps the others were building.

In a nutshell, I wanted to see whether a mash-up of open data in open standard formats could help answer questions like:

  • Where is the learner in their journey?
  • Where can we suggest they go next?
  • What can help them get there?
  • Who can help or inspire them?

Here’s a slide deck that outlines the results. For those interested in the nuts and bolts read on to learn more about how we got there.

Where is the learner?

To show how you can map where someone is on their learning journey, I made up an e-portfolio. Following an excellent suggestion by Lizzy Brotherstone of the Scottish Government, I nicked a story about ‘Ryan’ from an Education Scotland website on learner journeys. I recorded his journey in a Mahara e-portfolio, because it outputs data in the standard LEAP2a format- I could have used PebblePad as well for the same reason.

I then transformed the LEAP2a XML into very rough but usable RDF using a basic stylesheet I made earlier. Why RDF? Because it makes it easy for me to mash up the portfolios with other datasets; other data formats would also work. The made-up curriculum identifiers were added manually to the RDF, but could easily have been taken from the LEAP2a XML with a bit more time.

Where can we suggest they go next?

I expected that the Curriculum for Excellence would provide the basic structure to guide Ryan from his school qualifications to a college course. Not so, or at least, not entirely. The Scottish Qualifications Framework gives a good idea of how courses relate in terms of levels (i.e. from basic to a PhD and everything in between), but there’s little to join subjects. After a day of head scratching, I decided to match courses to Ryan’s qualifications by level and comparing the text of titles. We ought to be able to do better than that!

The course data set was provided to us was a mixture of course descriptions from the Scottish Qualifications Authority, and actual running courses offered by Scottish colleges all in one CSV file. During the jam, Devon Walshe of TechCube made a very comprehensive data set of all courses that you should check out, but too late for me. I had a brief look at using XCRI feeds like the ones from Adam Smith college too, but went with the original CSV in the end. I tried using LOD Refine to convert the CSV to RDF, but it got stuck on editing the RDF harness for some reason. Fortunately, the main OpenRefine version of the same tool worked its usual magic, and four made-up SQA URIs later, we were in business.

This query takes the email of Ryan as a unique identifier, then finds his qualification subjects and level. That’s compared to all courses from the data jam course data set, and whittled down to those courses that match Ryan’s qualifications and are above the level he already has.

The result: too many hits, including ones that are in subjects that he’s unlikely to be interested in.

So let’s throw in his interests as well. Result: two courses that are ideal for Ryan’s skills, but are a little above his level. So we find out all the sensible courses that can take him to his goal.

What can help them get there?

One other quirk about the curriculum for excellence appears to be that there are subject taxonomies, but they differ per level. Intralect implemented a very nice one that can be used to tag resources up to level 3 (we think). So Intralect’s Janek exported the vocabulary in two CSV files, which I imported in my triple store. He then built a little web service in a few hours that takes the outcome of this query, and returns a list of all relevant resources in the Intralibrary digital repository for stuff that Ryan has already learned, but may want to revisit.

Who can help or inspire them?

It’s always easier to have someone along for the journey, or to ask someone who’s been before you. That’s why I made a second e-portfolio for Paula. Paula is a year older than Ryan, is from a different, but nearby school, and has done the same qualifications. She’s picked the same qualification as a goal that we suggested to Ryan, and has entered it as a goal on her e-portfolio. Ryan can get it touch with her over email.

This query takes the course suggested to Ryan, and matches it someone else’s stated academic goal, and reports on what she’s done, what school she’s from, and her contact details.


For those parts of the Curriculum for Excellence for which experiences and outcomes have been defined, it’d be very easy to be very precise about progression, future options, and what resources would be particularly helpful for a particular learner at a particular part of the journey. For the crucial post 16 years, this is not really possible in the same way right now, though it’s arguable that its all the more important to have solid guidance at that stage.

Some judicious information architecture would make a lot more possible without necessarily changing the syllabus across the board. Just a model that connects subject areas across the levels, and school and college tracks would make more robust learner journey guidance possible. Statements that clarify which course is an absolute pre-requisite for another, and which are suggested as likely or preferable would make it better still.

We have the beginnings of a map for learner journeys, but we’re not there yet.

Other than that, I think agreed identifiers and data formats for curriculum parts, electronic portfolios or transcripts and course offerings can enable a whole range of powerful apps of the type that others at the data jam built, and more. Thanks to standards, we can do that without having to rely on a single source of truth or a massive system that is a single point of failure.

Find out all about the other great hacks on the learner journey data jam website.

All the data and bits of code I used are available on github

Future Learners, new Opportunities and Technology

The wider CETIS community has often appreciated meeting up, with others sharing the same “special interests”, in “SIG” meetings. That kind of meeting took place, including old “Portfolio” SIG participants, on 11th Dec in Nottingham, and many interesting points came up.

The people who came to the meeting would not all use the label “portfolio”. We billed the meeting as exploring issues from the viewpoint of the learner, so neither institutions, nor providers of learning resources, were the focus. The e-portfolio community has indeed had the learner at the centre of thinking, but this meeting had many ideas that were not specifically “portfolio”.

Indeed, the main attraction of the day was Doug Belshaw talking, and leading a workshop, on the Mozilla Open Badges concept and technology. Badges are not in themselves portfolios, though they do seem to fit well into the same “ecosystem”, which perhaps may come gradually to supplant the current system of the established educational institutions monopolising the award of degrees, with those being necessary for many jobs. And Doug converted people! Several attendees who had not previously been convinced of the value of badges now saw the light. That can only be good.

For those with doubts, Doug also announced that the Mozilla team had agreed to introduce a couple more pieces of metadata into the Open Badges specification. That is definitely worth looking at closely, to see if we can use that extra information to fill gaps that have been perceived. One of these new metadata elements looks like it will naturally link to a definition of skill, competence, or similar, in the style of InLOC, which of course I think is an excellent idea!

The “lightning talks” model worked well, with 10 speakers given only 5 minutes each to speak. The presentations remain listed on the meeting web page, with a link to the slides. Topics included:

  • board games
  • peer assessment
  • students producing content
  • placement and employability

My own contribution was an outline argument of the case that InLOC is positioned to unlock a chain of events, via the vital link of employers taking non-institutional credentials seriously, towards “reinvigorating the e-portfolio landscape”.

So learner-focused learning technology community is alive and well, and doing many good things.

In parallel with the badges workshop, a small group including me talked over more subtle issues. For me, a key point is the need to think through the bigger picture of how badges may be used in practice. How will we differentiate between the likely plethora of badges that will be created and displayed? How will employers, for example, distinguish the ones that are both relevant to their interests, and issued by reputable people or bodies? Looking at the same question another way, what does it take to be the issuer of badges that are genuinely useful, and that will really help the labour market move on? Employers are no more going to wade through scores of badges than they currently wade through the less vital sections of an e-portfolio.

We could see a possible key idea here as “badging the badgers”. If we think through what is needed to be responsible for issuing badges that are really useful, we could turn that into a badge. And a very significant badge it would be, too!

The local arrangements were ably looked after by the Nottingham CIePD group, which seems to be the most active and highly-regarded current such group in UK HE. Ever since, under Angela Smallwood, Nottingham pioneered the ePARs system, they have consistently been in the forefront of developments in this area of learning technology. I hope that they, as well as other groups, will be able to continue work in this area, and continue to act as focal points for the learner-centric learning technology community.

Critical friendship pointer

I picked up a tweet yesterday via Paul Chippendale from an HBR blog called “You Are (Probably) Wrong About You” by Heidi Grant Halvorson. This seems to me a useful tying together of several important things: (e-)portfolios, reflection, critical friendship, and how to run P2P organisations. She writes:

Who knows you best? Well, the research suggests that they do — other people’s assessment of your personality predicts your behavior, on average, better than your assessment does.
In his fascinating book Strangers to Ourselves, psychologist Timothy Wilson summarizes decades of research [...] showing us just how much of what we do during every moment of every day [...] is happening below our conscious awareness. Some of it we can notice if we engage in a little self-reflection, but much of it we simply cannot — it’s not directly accessible to us at all.

This might remind us first of the perennial problem of e-portfolios and reflection. People tend to reflect only in their own way in their own time, and this is not necessarily helpful for their personal development. It is not easy for practitioners to persuade people to use e-portfolio tools to reflect in a fruitful way. And when it comes to putting together a presentation of one’s abilities and qualities using an e-portfolio tool, the result is therefore not always realistic.

Often what is more effective is a personal one-to-one approach, where the person in the helping role might be called a mentor, a coach, a personal tutor, or something else. But here we run into the problem of the moment: resources. In many related fields, resource is being taken away from personal contact, with learners left to fend for themselves, given only a website to browse.

If only … we could create an effective peer-to-peer mentoring service. This approach has certainly been explored in many places, not least in Bolton, but I do not have personal experience of this, nor do I currently know of authoritative reviews of what is seen as genuinely effective. One might expect pitfalls of schemes under that name to include a formulaic approach; a lack of genuine insight into the “mentee”; and a reliance on older-to-younger mentoring, rather than a more strictly peer-to-peer approach. In Bolton it would appear to be still a minority practice, and the support is clearly given by more advanced to less advanced students. In this kind of setting, what is the chance of a peer mentor helping to correct someone’s misconceptions about their own abilities?

The term “critical friend” seems to me to address some of these potential deficiencies with peer mentors. If the people in question really are friends, if they know each other well and trust each other, surely there is more of a possibility of bringing up and challenging personal misconceptions, given the mutual desire and a supportive culture. The Wikipedia article provides helpful background. There are many other useful sources of ideas about this idea, also known as “critical colleague”, “critical companion” or “learning partner”, all pointing in the same general direction. The idea has taken root, even if it is not yet a well-known commonplace.

The critical friend concept is certainly inspiring, but how many people have colleagues who are both willing and well-positioned to act in this role? In my experience, friends seldom see the range of professional behaviour that one would want constructive critique of, and colleagues seem rather more able to offer positive suggestions in some areas than in others. The challenge seems partly in bringing such practice into the mainstream, where it does not seem odd, or too upsetting to a culture too weak for anything more strenuous than laissez-faire.

What I believe we need is more practiced and reported experimentation along the lines of benefiting from what colleagues are prepared naturally to do, not expecting everyone to have counselling skills, or a sufficient rapport with each other to be the person … well … that we would like them to be! And in any case there are potential problems with small closed groups of people, whether pairs or slightly larger, all commenting on each other’s performance. It could easily lead to a kind of “groupthink”.

My guess is that there is a robust peer-to-peer solution waiting to be more widely acknowledged, tested, and incorporated into work cultures. I have provisionally thought of it as “follower guidance“, but I will save writing more on that to later, and hope that people may comment in the meantime on how would you address the challenges of people mis-assessing their own abilities and qualities. Really, we need to have a culture that promotes good self-knowledge, not only to help personal and professional development, but also to serve as the bedrock of an effective P2P culture.

p.s. I have now written more on the follower guidance idea.

Reviewing the future for Leap2

JISC commissioned a Leap2A review report (PDF), carried out early in 2012, that has now been published. It is available along with other relevant materials from the e-Portfolio interoperability JISC page. For anyone following the fortunes of Leap2A, it is highly worthwhile reading. Naturally, not all possible questions were answered (or asked), and I’d like to take up some of these, with implications for the future direction of Leap2 more generally.

The summary recommendations were as follows — these are very welcome!

  1. JISC should continue to engage with vendors in HE who have not yet implemented Leap2A.
  2. Engagement should focus on communities of practice that are using or are likely to use e-portfolios, and situations where e-portfolio data transfer is likely to have a strong business case.
  3. JISC should continue to support small-scale tightly focused developments that are likely to show immediate impact.
  4. JISC should consider the production of case studies from PebblePad and Mahara that demonstrate the business case in favour of Leap2A.
  5. JISC should consider the best way of encouraging system vendors to provide seamless import services.
  6. JISC should consider constructing a standardisation roadmap via an appropriate BSI or CEN route.

That tallies reasonably with the outcome of the meeting back in November last year, where we reckoned that Leap2A needs: more adoption; more evidence of utility; to be taken more into the professional world; good governance; more examples; and for the practitioner community to build around it models of lifelong development that will justify its existence.

Working backwards up the list for the Leap2A review report, recommendation 6 is one for the long term. It could perhaps be read in the context of the newly formed CETIS position on the recent Government Open Standards Consultation. There we note:

Established public standards bodies (such as ISO, BSI and CEN), while doing valuable work, have some aspects that would benefit from modernisation to bring them more into line with organisations such as W3C and OASIS.

The point then elaborated is that the community really needs open standards that are freely available as well as royalty-free and unencumbered. The de jure standards bodies normally still charge for copies of their standards, as part of their business model, which we see as outdated. If we can circumvent that issue, then BSI and CEN would become more attractive options.

It is the previous recommendation, number 5 in the list above, that I will focus on more, though. Here is the fuller version of that recommendation (appearing as paragraph 81).

One of the challenges identified in this review is to increase the usability of data exchange with the Leap2A specification, by removing the current necessity for separate export and import. This report RECOMMENDS that JISC considers the best way of encouraging system vendors to provide seamless data exchange services between their products, perhaps based on converging practice in the use of interoperability and discovery technologies (for example future use of RDF). It is recognised that this type of data exchange may require co-ordinated agreement on interoperability approaches across HEIs, FECs and vendors, so that e-portfolio data can be made available through web services, stressing ease of access to the learner community. In an era of increasing quantities of open and linked data, this recommendation seems timely. The current initiatives around courses information — XCRI-CAP, Key Information Sets (KIS) and HEAR — may suggest some suitable technical approaches, even though a large scale and expensive initiative is not recommended in the current financially constrained circumstances.

As an ideal, that makes perfect sense from the point of view of an institution transferring a learner’s portfolio information to another institution. However, seamless transfer is inherently limited by the compatibility (or lack of it) between the information stored in each system. There is also a different scenario, that has always been in people’s minds when working on Leap2A. It is that learners themselves may want to be able to download their own information, to keep for use, at an uncertain time in the future, in various ways that are not necessarily predictable by the institutions that have been hosting their information. In any case, the predominant culture in the e-portfolio community is that all the information should be learner-ownable, if not actually learner-owned. This is reflected in the report’s paragraph 22, dealing with current usage from PebblePad.

The implication of the Leap2A functionality is that data transfer is a process of several steps under the learner’s control, so the learner has to be well-motivated to carry it out. In addition Leap2A is one of several different import/export possibilities, and it may be less well understood than other options. It should perhaps be stressed here that PebblePad supports extensive data transfer methods other than Leap2A, including zip archives, native PebblePad transfers of whole or partial data between accounts, and similarly full or partial export to HTML.

This is followed up in the report’s paragraph 36, part of the “Challenges and Issues” section.

There also appears to be a gap in promoting the usefulness of data transfer specifically to students. For example in the Mahara and PebblePad e-portfolios there is an option to export to a Leap2A zip file or to a website/HTML, without any explanation of what Leap2A is or why it might be valuable to export to that format. With a recognisable HTML format as the other option, it is reasonable to assume that students will pick the format that they understand. Similarly it was suggested that students are most likely to export into the default format, which in more than one case is not the Leap2A specification.

The obvious way to create a simpler interface for learners is to have just one format for export. What could that format be? It should be noted first that separate files that are attached to or included with a portfolio will always remain separate. The issue is the format of the core data, which in normal Leap2A exports is represented by a file named “leap2a.xml”.

  1. It could be plain HTML, but in this case the case for Leap2A would be lost, as there is no easy way for plain HTML to be imported into another portfolio system without a complex and time-consuming process of choosing where each single piece of information should be put in the new system.
  2. It could be Leap2A as it is, but the question then would be, would this satisfy users’ needs? Users’ own requirements for the use of exports is not spelled out in the report, and it does not appear to have been systematically investigated anywhere, but it would be reasonable to expect that one use case would be that users want to display the information so that it can be cut and pasted elsewhere. Leap2A supports the display of media files within text, and formatting of text, only through the inclusion of XHTML within the content of entries, in just the same way as Atom does. It is not unreasonable to conclude that limiting exports to plain Leap2A would not fully serve user export needs, and therefore it is and will continue to be unreasonable to expect portfolio systems to limit users to Leap2A export only.
  3. If there were a format that fully met the requirements both for ease of viewing and cut-and-paste, and for relatively easy and straightforward importing to another portfolio system (comparable to Leap2A currently), it might then be reasonable to expect portfolio systems to have this as their only export format. Then, users would not have to choose, would not be confused, and the files which they could view easily and fully through a browser on their own computer system would also be able to be imported to another portfolio system to save the same time and effort that is currently saved through the use of Leap2A.

So, on to the question, what could that format be? What follows explains just what the options are for this, and how it would work.

The idea for microformats apparently originated in 2000. The first sentence of the Wikipedia article summarises nicely:

A microformat (sometimes abbreviated µF) is a web-based approach to semantic markup which seeks to re-use existing HTML/XHTML tags to convey metadata and other attributes in web pages and other contexts that support (X)HTML, such as RSS. This approach allows software to process information intended for end-users (such as contact information, geographic coordinates, calendar events, and the like) automatically.

In 2004, a more sophisticated approach to similar ends was proposed in RDFa. Wikipedia has “RDFa (or Resource Description Framework –in– attributes) is a W3C Recommendation that adds a set of attribute-level extensions to XHTML for embedding rich metadata within Web documents.”

In 2009 the WHATWG were developing Microdata towards its current form. The Microformats community sees Microdata as having grown out of Microformats ideas. Wikipedia writes “Microdata is a WHATWG HTML specification used to nest semantics within existing content on web pages. Search engines, web crawlers, and browsers can extract and process Microdata from a web page and use it to provide a richer browsing experience for users.”

Wikipedia quotes the originators (launched on 2 June 2011 by Bing, Google and Yahoo!) as stating that it was launched to “create and support a common set of schemas for structured data markup on web pages”. It provides a hierarchical vocabulary, in some cases drawing on Microformats work, that can be used within the RDFa as well as Microdata formats.

Is it possible to represent Leap2A information in this kind of way? Initial exploratory work on Leap2R has suggested that it is indeed possible to identify a set of classes and properties that could be used more or less as they are with RDFa, or could be correlated with the hierarchy for use with Microdata. However, the solution needs detail adding and working through.

In principle, using RDFa or Microdata, any portfolio information could be output as HTML, with the extra information currently represented by Leap2A added into the HTML attributes, which is not directly displayed, and so does not interfere with human reading of the HTML. Thus, this kind of representation could fully serve all the purposes currently served by HTML export of Leap2A. It seems highly likely that practical ways of doing this can be devised that can convey the complete structure currently given by Leap2A. The requirements currently satisfied by Leap2A would be satisfied by this new format, which might perhaps be called “Leap2H5″, for Leap2 information in HTML5, or maybe alternatively “Leap2XR”, for Leap2 information in XHTML+RDFa (in place of Leap2A, meaning Leap2 information in Atom).

Thus, in principle it appears perfectly possible to have a single format that simultaneously does the job both of HTML and Leap2A, and so could serve as a plausible principal export and import format, removing that key obstacle identified in paragraph 36 of the Leap2A review report. The practical details may be worked out in due course.

There is another clear motivation in using metadata to mark up portfolio information. If a web page uses semantics, whether publicly displayed on a portfolio system or on a user’s own site, Google and others state that the major search engines will create rich snippets to appear under the search result, explaining the content of the page. This means, potentially, that portfolio presentations would be more easily recognised by, for instance, employers looking for potential employees. In time, it might also mean that the search process itself was made more accurate. If portfolio systems were to adopt export and import using in HTML, it could also be used for all display of portfolio information through their systems. This would open the way to effective export of small amounts of portfolio information simply by saving a web page displayed through normal e-portfolio system operation; and could also serve as an even more effective and straightforward method for transferring small amounts of portfolio information between systems.

Having recently floated this idea of agreeing Leap2 semantics in with European collaborators, it looks like gaining substantial support. This opens up yet another very promising possibility: existing European portfolio related formats could be harmonised through this new format, that is not biased towards any of the existing ones — as well as Leap2A, there is the Dutch NTA 2035 (derived from IMS ePortfolio), and also the Europass CV format. (There is more about this strand of unfunded work through MELOI.) All of these are currently expressed using XML, but none have yet grasped the potential of in HTML through microdata or RDFa. To restate the main point here, this means having the semantics of portfolio information embedded in machine-processable ways, without interfering with the human-readable HTML.

I don’t want to be over-optimistic, as currently money tends only to go towards initiatives with a clear business case, but I am hopeful that in the medium term, people will recognise that this is an exciting and powerful potential development. When any development of Leap2 gets funded, I’m suggesting that this is what to go for, and if anyone has spare resource to work on Leap2 in the meanwhile, this is what I recommend.

What’s in a Word(le)? Lifelong Learning and Work Based Learner experiences…

Overview of the work completed in the JISC Lifelong Learning and Workforce Development Programme

I’ve recently come to the end of working with the team supporting the JISC Lifelong Learning and Workforce Development Programme (LLLWFD) which ran from 1 March 2009 to 31 March 2011 and funded 13 projects.

I was involved in this work as part of our programme support of JISC activities, and the main support was provided by the Support Synthesis and Benefits Realisation (SSBR) team, who have been busily collating and digesting all the outputs and findings from the programme. I had the opportunity to provide feedback on draft final reports from the various projects in the programme, which surfaced the issues uncovered in the period of activity. There will be much more coming out of the programme in the next few months (and when it does I will announce it).

Several of the projects continued their work in the guise of a Benefits Realisation (BR) project, which basically applies the findings of the initial work and sees if they apply in another, perhaps wider setting or institution.

For anyone interested in work based learning, I would encourage you to have a look at these projects and their findings. I’ve provided summaries and links below; the project summaries are derived from the Final Reports from each project, and I have included a focus on the technologies and standards used.

Main focus

Lifelong Learning summaries wordle

Lifelong Learning summaries wordle

The wordle above is made up from all the project summaries and I think nicely highlights aspects of the programme, with it’s main focus obviously being Lifelong Learning and Work Based Learning, but with some diverse concerns investigated.

Lifelong Learning Technologies wordle

Lifelong Learning Technologies wordle

The technologies wordle above shows the technologies and standards used across the Programme. The Programme was not hugely technical in that it did not develop a great deal of new software or applications, but that was never the intention. It is in the deployment and effective use of existing technologies that a richer picture has emerged. The Programme work resulted in many interesting uses of technologies and successful integration of these with work based learners, in addition to exposing common issues that can occur in such initiatives and are more widely applicable, both to other institutions and also for campus based learners.

Many projects set out with an initial hypothesis which more often than not was proven. But it is often the journey that project staff and students go along that is the real outcome, and that can be quite difficult to capture. Also pertinent to future work are the things that didn’t go well, or not quite as expected, as is often the case through nobody’s fault. Economic climate, change in personnel, sod’s law; all have an impact. It is really useful (and interesting from my point of view when reading through the reports) to have an honest account of ‘what didn’t work’ – and these are often the pitfalls that others can try to avoid if they know about them.

Work based learners are indeed a group of learners that often require a rethink from the traditional norm. But it is a growing market, and one that we need to be geared up for. Naturally, projects set out to correct a genuine need or concern, and some have implemented their developments into standard practice, which is the desired effect as nobody like to see a worthy project run as a pilot and then end.


The main issues coming out of the Programme from a technologies stance can be summarised as:

1) Identity management – including employer access to institutional systems & different levels of access
2) Course information – needs to be held in a consistent format to allow interoperability (with XCRI being the suggested way forward)
3) Learner Access to information at a time when it suits them (in line with lifelong learning principles)

The project information below also links to a PROD page. PROD is a CETIS directory and monitoring tool for JISC funded projects. It lets you search for and quickly gather information about any of the projects in the system. It is used by CETIS to update our information about current and past projects that we support, with the comments on there being largely from a technologies slant. It is a development area in permanent beta stage but it may be of interest to look at the CETIS PROD page listing all the LLLWFD projects

Project Summaries

Each summary below includes:
Project Acronym & Longname, Lead Institution, Project website, Project Summary (derived from Final Report) Standards & Technologies, PROD entry for Project (CETIS)

Culture Campus Liverpool Portal, University of Liverpool
The project aimed to offer an enhanced and expanded service of information about CPD provision from HE and local cultural organisations to the creative/cultural industries – the Liverpool Culture Campus Portal, involving a large number of partners. The project started out with a challenging set of objectives, the main achievement being the development of a portal for the cultural sector to display CPD offerings which can accept automatic feeds which are XCRI-CAP compliant. Lessons have been learned throughout this process about the business process developments to achieve this, together with the necessary developments in technological systems and organising of information.
Technologies & Standards: XCRI
Prod entry:

Co-generative Toolkit, University of Gloucestershire
Project website:
The project created an online resource that supports the development of co- generated higher education courses by universities and employers; using language and terminology which is familiar to employers – and the employees who would be acting as learners – whilst also satisfying the quality assurance requirements of higher education institutions.
The Toolkit produced contains four separate elements: Vocabulary Builder; Outcome Builder; Task Builder and Design Builder. These elements combined support the development of courses and allow learners to provide evidence to demonstrate that they have met the learning requirements of the course.
The Toolkit developed was far more flexible than was originally conceived and can be adapted for use with other higher education process, such as: accreditation of prior experiential learning (APEL); employer- based training accreditation (EBTA); quality assurance processes (e.g. validation); and general staff development (e.g. the creation of appropriate intended learning outcomes) The tool integrates with PebblePad.
Technologies & Standards: PebblePad, LEAP2A, ELLI, WSRP, IMS Enterprise, HR-XML
Prod entry:

Personalised systems supporting IPD and CPD within a professional framework, University of Hull
Project website:
This project aimed to integrate systems that support personalised initial/qualifying professional development (IPD) and continuing professional development (CPD), applicable to professional competency frameworks and enabling work-based learners to control and share their digital artefacts.
A Moodle plugin (MyShowcase) plug-in was created and piloted in HE and also FE institutions, with interest from various other sectors. It allows users to integrate learning evidence from a range of online sources to showcase for CPD, career planning, and lifelong-learning. Users can bring together Web 2.0 feeds and a range of other digital content to create rich evidence streams of their online content.
Technologies & Standards: LEAP2A, ePortfolio, XCRI, PebblePad, Sakai, Moodle, Skype, MyShowcase
Prod entry:

An e-Portfolio based Pedagogy for SMEs, University of Wolverhampton
Project website:
The ePPSME project provided the HE sector with reusable models and resources for an e-portfolio based pedagogy to address the needs of SME based learners. The project adopted a participative action research approach through a series of design workshops and consecutive pilot study units to develop the use of an e-portfolio tool as a virtual learning environment and personal learning space to introduce and develop the learners’ reflective practice around targeted learning content.
Initial study units in the pilot subjects were based around a web-folio structure using three types of blog-based engagement: individual activity responses, group collaborative discussions, personal critical reflections. This approach ensures ease of use by utilising typical IT skills required for activities such as web-browsing and simple word-processing to avoid deterring learners who lack confidence in their IT competencies.
Technologies & Standards: PebblePad
Prod entry:

Higher Education Lifelong Learning Opportunities, Leicester College
Project website:
The project aimed to tackle three important development issues:
a loss across the whole college of 65% of students’ social space, thus creating the need to provide an alternative in the form of a ‘virtual social space’. Also identified was a need to provide bespoke e-learning training opportunities for teachers and to actively engage with known pockets of inactivity with regard to e-learning across the college. Thirdly, to address a need expressed in Focus Groups to establish a ‘Higher Education (HE) identity’ among staff and students within an institution that is predominantly devoted to the delivery of Further Education (FE).
With a view to achieving these aims, two major developments were undertaken:
The use of a Moodle Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) to build a Higher Education Student Community Site. This innovation was of particular success with the part-time learners who were now able to carry out ‘keeping warm’ and formative assessment activities week to week, and to use the common room area for peer learning activities.
The adoption of Mahara, an open source e-portfolio tool to enable learners to build their own personal profiles, form groups and take ownership of their own space.
Technologies & Standards: Moodle, Mahara
Prod entry:

Interactive Work-based Learning Environments, University of Westminster
Project website:
The project exploited the institutional virtual learning environment (VLE, Blackboard) to establish simple models for the development of communities of support and guidance and to manage and administer the programmes; with a significant amount of administration being moved from paper based to online processes. In order to include employers within the institutional intranet and VLE the university’s identity management process was re-engineered to allow selective access to online systems.
Technologies & Standards: Blackboard, Netware, Elgg, Student blogs, Video
Prod entry:

Middlesex University Skills and Education Planning Tool, Middlesex University
Project website:
The project aimed to support employer engagement and workforce planning requirements by providing a tool intended to provide an integrated view of curriculum provision, both in employer based and higher education sectors of UK. This tool allows end users to import documents containing course descriptions from professional providers, employer specific training and HE, and provide a semantic similarity between the documents.
The work also investigated defining types of course information required to support employer-led learner route planning and the potential for exchange of this information (using a specification for the eXchange of Course-Related Information or ‘XCRI’) between various providers.
Technologies & Standards: XCRI-CAP, UML, Semantic Web, Jena2, OWL, Java API
Prod entry:

Partnership INvEstigations into Accredited Prior/Previous Learning, University of Plymouth
Project website:
This project developed a web-based tool to support staff through the management of an APEL claim. A desk study, staff survey, piloting and numerous formal and informal meetings led to the creation of the PINEAPPLE core builder which can be used to design and deliver an online APEL process for any institution. The project also produced a range of support materials that can be adapted for use in other contexts.
Technologies & Standards: AJAX, Javascript
Prod entry:

Shared Architecture for eMployer, Student and Organisational Networking, University of Nottingham
Project website:
Improved the effectiveness of postgraduate student placements as a means of HE engaging with new employers supported by technology, including web services.
Validated the technology developed with not one but two different eportfolio systems and demonstrated the savings that can be achieved through shared services, developing lightweight applications and integrations of existing applications or services.
Technologies & standards: XCRI, LEAP2A, OPUS, uPortal, Desire2Learn, iWebfolio, SAML, Shibboleth, OWL, RDF, BPEL, HR- XML, ZXID
Prod entry:

Supporting Mentors and Resource Transformation, Buckinghamshire New University
Project website:
The SMART project was designed to support mentors to overcome some of the difficulties they face in assisting work-based students who are severely ‘time-pressured’, by providing a specifically designed, accessible and supporting interface for inexperienced users of technology. Further aims were to develop the mentor’s role and improve learner engagement while promoting inclusion and collaboration. The research included reference to a selection of ‘Use Case’ scenarios. These involved the interface of mentors with technological modalities for enhancing provision delivery as used within two challenging work-based education programmes currently offered. SMART incorporated various advanced technologies (Podcasts, Vodcasts, Blogs, Game environments, On-line tasks) in an innovative learning environment and assessed the impact on mentor engagement and mentor use of technology-enhanced Learning.
Technologies & standards: Blackboard, WebEx
Prod entry:

Technology Enhanced Learning for Workforce Development, University of Wales Institute
Project website:
The project aimed to identify sustainable models for technology-supported delivery of workforce development provision, and associated strategy and policy implications via developmental activity undertaken in different contexts. Two different work-based learning processes, Learning in Work, and Learning through Work were identified, as were transferable models of technology-supported delivery. Case studied were created to capture the experience of work based learners and use of technologies. Several good practice and additional ‘how to’ guides were created covering technologies such as Adobe Connect, Adobe Presenter, Luminosity, PebblePad, Wimba Create, Wikis and Blogs. A Work-Based Learning Mentoring Handbook was also developed alongside repositories with other useful resources. The e-portfolios were developed using the Blackboard Campus Pack plug-in XPO-XL.
The solutions developed are embedded in the participating programme areas and the process of stimulating additional impact through wider adoption is in progress.
Technologies & standards: Blackboard, PebblePad, XCRI, Adobe Connect, Video conferencing, Adobe Presenter, Luminosity, Wimba Create, Wikis and Blogs
Prod entry:

Technology Enabled Learning Support for Training and Accreditation Recognition, University of Central Lancashire
Project website:
The Project has developed technology enabled resources and tools to support work-based learning, working closely with employers and learning providers to develop a learning framework that allows learners to gain accreditation of both certificated and experiential prior learning (APEL and APCL). The underlying framework and support processes can act as a template for other schools and industry sectors. The project used PebblePad software with work-based learners, with PebblePad Webfolios to support the APEL process and negotiated learning at module level. A level/credit estimator tool assists with admissions and a mapping tool to match employer courses to credit/level has also been developed. A web-based portal for work-based learning provides information and guidance on work-based learning for employers, employees and academics. Customisable Open Educational Resources have been created and released through the JORUM repository and project repository. Course materials created are all SCORM compliant and packaged using Wimba Create (formerly Course Genie) with mini lectures created using Adobe Presenter.
Technologies & standards: LEAP2A, Pebblepad, Adobe Presenter, Wimba Create, SCORM, JORUM
Prod entry:

Workforce Engagement in Lifelong Learning, University of Bradford
Project website:
The WELL project designed, piloted, and evaluated a model for work-based learning (WBL) module/unit delivery and assessment which integrates technologies to support personalised learning whilst satisfying University accreditation and progression requirements. The model aims to aid sustainability of WBL courses, supporting continuous improvement by revealing key barriers and enablers in a programme’s learning and teaching process.
The team’s ‘Benefits Realisation’ project extends the WELL model by providing a model for HE providers to assess their maturity in embedding Work Based Learning programmes. Working at institutional, faculty and programme levels it includes a range of maturity criteria, level statements and indicators for assessing WBL maturity.
Technologies & standards: Elluminate, Pebblepad, Develop Me, Bradton, Blackboard
Prod entry:

List of projects (JISC page)

A festival; no wellies but lots of good discussions

Last week saw the glamorously titled ‘Festival of Assemblies’ but unlike Glastonbury and the like, we didn’t need to don wellies (shame as I would love an excuse to get these ‘wedge wellies’ which I saw on Dragon’s Den, often a useful programme to watch to pick up tips for immersing into the JISC world, in the best possible sense)

The Festival of Assemblies brought together projects from the JISC Lifelong Learning and Workforce Development programme (LLLWFD) and was very efficiently organised by the Support Synthesis and Benefits Realisation project for the programme.

Activities included parallel sessions of collaborative Assembly sessions led by LLLWFD – Phase 3 and Benefits Realisation or ‘BR’ projects, which basically take forward the work of the projects in the programme and see if the lessons learnt/tools developed can apply in other institutions or organiational contexts.

I chose to attend the TELSTAR & PINEAPPLE: Development of APL systems session which included information about the projects and their findings to date followed by some very interesting discussions and anecdotal evidence from various institutions about the actual application of accreditation of prior learning (APL) and the sheer bureaucracy in some quarters which has led students to scrap the idea and just follow the ‘normal’ route. Concerns over parity were raised in particular about the detail and focus on APL processes when compared to traditional learning/ non APL route. An interesting analogy to this was made re the introduction of VLEs and online learning aspects within universities, often any course with an ‘e-learning’ aspect would have to go through a whole separate validation process, maybe with much more scrutiny that face to face teaching. That seems to have settled down, or just become the norm and people know which boxes to tick now, so perhaps the APL teething niggles may turn out to be the same? Nonetheless, with the much discussed ‘current climate’, raise in fees etc, APL will be a key focus and one we have to get right. Potential learners will become savvy (and rightly so) about choices, duration of courses, accreditation and qualification and institutions need to be ready for that and make the whole process as painless as possible for everyone. It looks promising that such projects in the programme will come up with some important lessons for the sector and tips to take forward.