I’ve been involved in many learning technology projects over the last 20 years, so the question naturally comes up, what is this one, MyLK, really about? Is it a reworking of old ideas, or is there something that makes MyLK different?

Over a year ago, when I was sought out and kindly invited to join the project, I agreed to participate as an external advisor because it looked like some of my most significant recent work, InLOC, would be of use here. But it was only just the other day, in conversation with Philippe, that I finally formulated for myself what MyLK is all about. OK, straight out, here’s my (non-official!) version…

The purpose of MyLK is to enable automatic tools to help learners recognise what they have learned; to make it easier from them to gather evidence from their learning episodes (not just their assessments) and to present this in ways that are meaningful to employers. In particular, MyLK addresses “non-official” (informal and non-formal) learning episodes as well as “official” learning.

What’s special or different about that?

I’ve been closely involved in the European e-portfolio scene since attending Serge Ravet’s first e-portfolio conference in Poitiers in 2004. E-portfolio practice emphasises the role of the learners themselves in collecting and selecting evidence, reflecting, and presenting relevant information to others in appropriate ways. This great e-portfolio vision can be hard work, and relatively few learners have the motivation and self-discipline to do this work without extrinsic motivation. The extrinsic motivation can then affect the end products, often reducing the very authenticity that the reflection was intended to help towards.

MyLK is set to assist, by reducing the effort needed by learners. The idea is to gather evidence, where possible, into what the project calls a “dashboard” – invoking the image of learners driving into their careers, with useful information presented to them on where they have been (learned), and where to go now (learning or work). How much “fuel” do they have left in their “tank”, and where is the next “filling station”? True, we all know learning isn’t quite like that, but nevertheless it could be a useful metaphor, and resonates with others who have used the metaphor of the learner’s lifelong “journey”.

These learning journeys have many destinations, and many routes. There are other tracks and vehicles that may help. In my own journey, as well as lingering in e-portfolio land, I have dwelt on Europass, ECVET, Mozilla Open Badges, xAPI, to name but a few. How exactly these and other relate to MyLK remains to be fully investigated, and this will be one area where I expect to contribute to project thinking.

An issue that comes up again and again in learning technology is a mixture of: who is taking responsibility for some learning episode? who is controlling it? who is benefiting from it? Often, in formal or official learning, an organisation is managing the learning, perhaps a learning institution of some kind. That learning institution will often want to know how to “deliver” their learning most effectively and, these days, efficiently. From this viewpoint naturally comes a focus on courses, repeatable learning, cohorts rather than individuals, and along with that, an approach to learning analytics or learner analytics that risks treating the learner in a rather mechanical way. How can we design and manage our learning experiences, they may be asking, so that our learners learn more, learn faster, learn more reliably, do not drop out of our courses, give us good feedback … A learner’s individuality may end up being represented merely by their measurable characteristics, rather than their creativity, their personality, and their true uniqueness. In contrast, many people in the e-portfolio community take pains to emphasise that the portfolio is solely owned by the learners, not by the institutions or other organisations responsible for the learning, education or training. Authenticity comes through full ownership, full responsibility, and a sense of self-identification.

Everything I recall reading, and everyone with whom I remember discussing this, recognises that if learners see a system as a foreign agent collecting information — a “dossier” — about them, they will not be inclined to be trusting, scarily honest, vulnerable, empathic. That is where much important learning goes on, particularly with the kind of “soft skills” that employers are finally recognising their need for. If a system is seen as alien, learners will be treating it as something to game with. What is the maximum credit that they can get the system to award them, for their minimum effort? Can they selectively reveal information about themselves that will portray them in the best light, while hiding the less acceptable information? The image of the system as the transmitter of a glorified Curriculum Vitae fits in this context. People tell half truths in their CVs. If that is extended to an electronic system, as envisaged by MyLK, why should employers trust its outputs any more than they currently trust the contents of a CV? It isn’t convincing simply to say that the information will be trusted because it is gathered automatically. These related issues need very careful thinking through.

This is particularly important for the non-official learning, otherwise known as non-formal or informal learning. Because it is not directly controlled and assessed by an institution, learners will naturally be taking control of and responsibility for the learning. A system should be positioning itself as a genuine honest helper, doing just what is requested by the learner, no more, and definitely not spying on learners in a way that is not welcome.

Because this territory is not very well explored, one thing we will need to do is to present this work at conferences, to get feedback from the research community, as well as to businesses, including those in the business of education and training. There are many conferences and business events that bring together people who might have an interest, including “human resources”, but is not entirely clear where the most receptive and enthusiastic audiences may be. I may know a few of these communities, but evaluating this properly needs us all to pool our experiences.

What we can do, however, at the outset, is to present an account of what we are really trying to do, in terms of what it would look like to succeed. What would be good indicators, good success criteria for the project? If we do an exercise like “the history of the future”, placing ourselves in, say 2040, what now seems the significant step that MyLK took right back then in 2016? Perhaps we can also see this in the light of linguistics. In French, the phrase “mettre en valeur” is significant in the vision for what MyLK is aiming for. Roughly speaking, MyLK aims to help learners “mettre en valeur” their learning, or the outcomes of their learning. It is tantalising that this phrase has no straightforward translation into English. The hope I will end with here is that exploring the possible translations of that phrase will help us to understand just what we are really aiming for; leading to a better guide as well as route map for our project.

Author: Simon Grant