MIAP: Vision or Reality?

A personal view……..

 My colleague at CETIS, Mark Power recently published an update concerning the MIAP vision: a system driven by the Unique Learner Number that will collect data from a range of partners to support progression and advice and guidance for lifelong learning students. A number of partner provided data bases including the Learner Achievement Record, the UK Register of Learning Providers and the Qualification an Curriculum’s Framework details of fundable units of study will, according to the vision, underpin a range of exciting educational services. 

I recently attended a workshop for college management information systems staff covering progress to this ‘new information environment’. We were told that the ‘Unique Learner Number’ is being successfully allocated to individual students and will be included in college Individualised Student Record (ISR) returns (the key to individual college funding) from next year. The prospect that the ISR process would be superseded by ‘real time dips’ into Learner Achievement Records (cross-referenced to Learning Providers) was not on the table. Data collection would still firmly be in the hand of colleges. We were also told that progress to the vision of individuals being able to access, for CV builders and personal skills development and employment applications, their Learner Achievement Records containing details  from awarding bodies of the qualifications they had achieved was well on track. 

I felt that this latter statement was a bit optimistic  A pilot for much of the technology underpinning the vision is the Minerva system that will support assessment of the new (14-19) Diplomas by the aggregation of the achievements of the components that make up the qualification. The Unique Learner Number delivery system (as mentioned above) for this application is in place but I understand that the required UK Register of Learning Providers is not yet ready and awarding bodies are still at the investigation stage for the standards necessary for the data transfer. So how far are we away from the reality of a system that collects data from many sources to support student support and progression? 

I believe that there are two other challenges that still have to be faced. 

The first concerns comprehensive engagement with those non- government stakeholders involved in the process. The awarding bodies will need to be persuaded to give up ownership of student qualification achievement data. They argue that if others can make commercial use of this data then “why should they be excluded from such businees opportunities”. More importantly the users (the learners) have to be convinced that their achievement (and failure ?) data can be made safely available to other (all be it well meaning) agencies. A single ‘tick box’ on a course application form will not give the user the sensitivity to indicate which data can be released through MIAP to others. The whole climate surrounding personal data has also changed. Individuals are becoming increasingly aware that once data is released from a database it cannot be retrieved, however worthy the initial application. The government has not helped user confidence with its recent catalogue of data losses. The services of the new government ‘data agency’ that will collect ‘appropriate data’ will need to be monitored. As recent reports within The Times has demonstrated, a fear is bubbling up that these MIAP initiatives are part of a government inspired ‘big brother’ programme focussed on Identity Cards. 

The second challenge concerns transparency over the real cost of these developments. The cost per candidate for the Minerva system for the Diploma component aggregation process is already escalating. The cost benefit of the MIAP inspired services to the lifelong learner must be objectively assessed. If it all works, there are real benefits to the individuals but if the costs are too high then the private sector could cherry pick those services from the MIAP inspired catalogue of applications that can support their other educational products.  Opportunities for comprehensive interoperabilty and sharing  of data will be lost.

I wish MIAP and its vision of faciliating comprehensive data transfer well. The systems involved could underpin positive skills development for lifelong learners (and this includes HE students too!). I welcome the Learning and Skills Council’s initiative to pro-actively develop ‘focus groups’ to engage ‘stakeholders’ with their MIAP facilitated developments and would actively encourage involvement from as many as possible and, especially, representatives of our JISC community.  The most important stakeholders, the lifelong learners, will need the authority on privacy, security and cost effectiveness that we, at JISC, could provide.

With trust through engagement with stakeholders and with the confidence that concerns of users and other have been completely addressed then, hopefully…………….the vision can really become a reality

Where have all the standards gone? A personal view

I have to make an admission.

The promises that I made eight years ago when I first started doing work for CETIS that data would be able to move freely from application to application and platform to platform because of the work of the various standards bodies has but for a couple of notable exceptions (such as SCORM and Enterprise) been disappointingly fulfilled. In retrospect we failed to push strongly enough the difference between compliance (a supplier says standards are conformed to), conformance (others agree with the supplier) and interoperability (the standards actually work in enabling the data to be transferred). Many were frustrated that so little time was allocated to testing true interoperability rather than being content with conformance.

Yet despite this, commercial pragmatism has meant that I am now tapping away using a Microsoft tool that will enable these few words to be transferred not only to other applications but to be sent anywhere in the world and read (well, if you have got this far). The interoperability that is available to me seems to satisfy all my requirements and that of many others!

Why more standards?

I hate to say it (perhaps it comes from once being a Young Conservative) that it is the big businesses that drive interoperability. It is a commercial decision as to whether interoperability is going to bring greater profit. In many cases it has not been worth the risk. Will those QTI items interoperate with every available ‘conformant’ assessment engine? Does it make sense to enable others to sell their QTI items to play on my platform?


There are now government initiatives (that means ‘money’) that is forcing those big commercial guys that are into learning technology solutions to re-consider .

Where is the biggest educational market and chance of healthy returns?

Schools, and certainly not HE.  There are millions of customers (pupils) which means economies of scale and profit

Let’s consider a few government initiatives which are based on schools.

Firstly, ‘Every Child Matters’

From the website:

“The Government’s aim is for every child, whatever their background or their circumstances, to have the support they need to:

  • Be healthy
  • Stay safe
  • Enjoy and achieve
  • Make a positive contribution
  • Achieve economic well-being

This means that the organisations involved with providing services to children – from hospitals and schools, to police and voluntary groups – will be teaming up in new ways, sharing information and working together, to protect children and young people from harm and help them achieve what they want in life”. Children and young people will have far more say about issues that affect them as individuals and collectively”. Sharing information! If one needs to drill down vast quantities of information to obtain required data. that will need a standard. Children to have a greater say. That will mean web serices, APIs and perhaps the re-usable components of an ‘eframework’. To make this work a Unique Learner Number is required and we all know that these will be rolled out next year to meet the needs of the new 14-19 qualification, ‘The Diploma’. 

Secondly, The ‘Learner Achievement Record’. A requirement for The Dipoma  (above) where achievements from different awarding bodies need to be aggregated to assess whether a qualification can be awarded. To share this information standards are being developed for coures details and qualification achievements.  Perhaps still an aspiration, but a national database (using the Unique Learner Number as the key) of qualification achievements for a lifetime’s learning for all individuals in the country (not just The Diploma students) will be decided upon by next summer. The savings from such a system in collecting data for government are important but the commercial opportunities in providing profitable services such as recruitment and sales channels should make the  roll out a certainty. (Just consider what Amazon could make of a knowledge of ones educational background). 

And finally, ‘The 14-19 Prospectus’. At first sight an XCRI type project on sharing course information, but look closer and it aims to bring together student details, individual learning plans and other details to feed Infomation and Guidance and College Application services: services that will become richer once, via the Unique Learner Number, the available data is enhanced by ‘the joining up’ with Learner Achievement and ‘Every Child Matters’ resources. So driven by government initiatives, business is finally interested in standards.  A couple of examples: the big publishers have engaged with IMS to produce the ‘Common Cartridge’ to enable content (including assessment items) to be shared and BESA (the British Educational Suppliers Association) is after pragmatically produced usable standards to ensure that their products ‘play’ on schools based learning platforms.  Where have all the standards gone?……gone to commerce, every one!