(26th in my logic of competence series.)
It’s been three years now since the European expert team started work on InLOC, working out a good model for representing structures and frameworks of learning outcomes, skill and competence. As can be expected of forward-looking, provisional work, there has not yet been much take-up, but it’s all in place, and more timely now than ever.
Then yesterday I received a most welcome call from a training company involved in one particular sector, who are interested in using the principles of InLOC to help their LMS map course and module information to qualification frameworks. Yes! I enthusiastically replied.
What might help people in that situation is a simple, basic approach that sets you on the right path for doing things the InLOC way. I realised that this isn’t so easy to find in the main documentation, so here I set out this basic approach, which will reliably get anyone started on mapping anything to the InLOC model, and cross-references the InLOC documentation.
One description of what to do is documented in the section How to follow InLOC, but, for all the reasons above, here I will try going back to basics and starting again, in the hope that describing the approach in a different way may be helpful.
The most basic feature that occurs many many times in any published framework is called, by InLOC, a “LOC definition”. This is, simply, any concept, described by any form of words, that indicates an ability – whether it be knowledge, skill, competence or any other learning outcome – that can be attributed to an individual person, and in some way – any way – assessed. It’s hard to define more clearly or succinctly than that, and to get a better understanding you may want to look at examples.
In the documentation, the best place to start is probably the section on InLOC explained through example. In that section, a framework (the European e-Competence Framework, e-CF) is thoroughly analysed. You can see in Figure 2 how, for just one page of the documentation, each LOC definition has been picked out separately.
A LOC definition includes at least these overlapping classes of concept:
- anything that is listed as a learning outcome, a skill, a competency, an ability;
- any separate parts of any learning outcomes;
- anything that expresses an assessment criterion;
- any level of any outcome, skill, competence, etc. (at any granularity);
- a generic definition of what is required by a level.
Pieces of text that relate to the same concept – e.g. title and description of the same thing – are treated together. Everything that can be assessed separately is treated as a separate LOC definition. The grammatical structure of the text is of little importance. Often, though, in amongst the documentation, you read text that is not to do with abilities. Just pass over this for the moment.
One thing I’ve noticed sometimes is that some concepts, which could have their own LOC definitions, are implied but not explicit in the documentation. In yesterday’s discussion, one example was the levels of the unit as a whole. Assessment criteria are often specified for different levels of particular abilities, but the level as a whole is implied.
The first step, then, is to look for all the LOC definitions in your documentation, and any implied ones that are not explicitly documented. ANY piece of text that represents something that could potentially be assessed as an outcome of learning is most likely a LOC definition.
Binary and rankable
If you’ve looked through the documentation, you’ve probably come across this distinction, and it is very helpful if you are going to structure something in the InLOC way. But when I was writing the documentation, I don’t think I had grasped quite how central it is. It is so central that more recently I have come to putting it as a vital first concept to grasp. Very recently I quickly put together a slide deck about this, on Slideshare now, under the title Distinguishing binary and rankable definitions is key to structuring competence frameworks.
In essence: a binary learning outcome or competence (LOC) concept is one where it makes sense to ask, have you reached this level or standard? Are you as good as this? The answer gives a binary distinction between “yes”, for those people who have reached the level, and “not yet” for those who have not. The example I give in the recent slide deck is “can touch type in English at 60 wpm with fewer than 1 mistake per hundred words”. The answer is clearly yes or no. Or, “can juggle with three juggling balls for a minute or longer” (which I can’t yet).
On the other hand, a rankable concept is one where there is no clear binary criterion, but instead you can rank people in order of their ability in that concept. A rankable concept related to the previous binary one would simply be “touch typing” or “can touch type”. A good question for juggling would be “how well can you juggle?” You may want to analyse this more finely, and distinguish different independent dimensions of juggling ability, but more probably I guess you would be content to roughly rank people in order of a general juggling ability.
The second step is to look at all the LOC definitions you have isolated, and judge whether they are binary or (at least roughly) rankable.
Relating LOC definitions together
The third step is to relate all the LOC definitions you found to each other. It is commonplace that frameworks have a structure that is often hierarchical. An ability at a “high” level (of granularity) involves many abilities at “lower” levels. The simplest way of representing that is that the wider definition “has parts”, which are the narrower definitions, perhaps the products of “functional analysis” of the wider definition. InLOC allows you to relate definitions in this way, using the relationship “hasLOCpart”.
But InLOC also allows several other relationships between LOC definitions. These can be seen in the three tables on the relationships page in the documentation. To see how the relationships themselves are related, look at the third table, “ontology”. The tables together give you a clear and powerful vocabulary for describing relationships between LOC definitions. Naturally, it has been carefully thought through, and is a vital part of InLOC as a whole.
Very simple structures can be described using only the “hasLOCpart” relationship. However, when you have levels, you will need at least the “hasDefinedLevel” relationship as well. Broadly speaking, it will be a rankable LOC definition that “hasDefinedLevel” of a binary definition. Find these connections in particular!
For the other relationships, decide whether “hasLOCpart” is a good enough representation, or whether you need “hasNecessaryPart”, “hasOptionalPart” or “hasExample”. Each of these has a different meaning in the real world. Mostly, you will probably find that rankable definitions have rankable parts, and binary definitions have binary parts.
There is more related discussion in another of the blog posts from my “logic of competence” series, More and less specificity in competence definitions.
Putting together the LOC structure
In InLOC, a “LOC structure” is the collection of LOC definitions along with the relationships between them. Relationships between LOC definitions are only defined in LOC structures. This is to allow LOC definitions to appear in different structures, potentially with different relationships. You may think you know what comprises, for example, communication skills, but other people may have different opinions, and classify things differently.
A LOC structure often corresponds to a complete documented scheme of learning outcomes, and often has a name which is clearly not something that is a LOC definition, as described previously. You can’t assess how good someone is at “the European e-competence framework”(the e-CF) (unless you mean knowledge of that framework) but you can assess how good people are at its component parts, the LOC definitions (for rankable ones) or whether they reach the defined levels (for binary ones).
And the e-CF, analysed in detail in the InLOC documentation, is a good example where you can trace the structure down in two ways: either by topic, then later by levels; or by level, and then levelled (binary) topic definitions that are part of those levels.
Your aim is to document all the relationships between LOC definitions that are relevant to your application, and wrap those up with other related information in a LOC structure.
What you will have gained
The task of creating an InLOC structure is more than simply creating a file that can potentially be transmitted between web applications, and related to, referred to by, other structures that you are dealing with. It is also an exercise that can reveal more about the structure of the framework than was explicitly written into it. Often one finds oneself making explicit the relationships that are documented implicitly in terms of page and table layout. Often one fills in LOC definitions that have been left out. Whichever way you do it, you will be left with firmer, more principled structures on which to build your web applications.
We expect that sooner or later InLOC will be adopted as at least the basis of a model underlying interoperable and portable representations of frameworks of learning outcomes, skills, competences, abilities, and related knowledge structures. Much of the work has been done, but it may need revising in the light of future developments.