MyLK involves recording people’s informal learning, and InLOC is a format for representing structures of learning outcomes. At the start of the project, there was the thought that InLOC might be used in MyLK, but how feasible is this? And what might the significance of an approach like InLOC be for the MyLK project, and projects that follow on from it?

What is InLOC?

InLOC provides ways of representing intended learning outcomes, including knowledge, skills and competence (or “competencies”), so that the related information may be communicated between and used by ICT tools and services of all kinds, interoperably. InLOC stands for “Integrating Learning Outcomes and Competences”. The work for InLOC was done from 2011 to 2013 by a European expert group funded by the European Commission’s ICT Standardization Programme, and the results are held

  1. in a set of three CEN Workshop Agreements, CWA 16655:2013
  2. in a web site, currently at http://www.cetis.org.uk/inloc/Home

In essence, less formally, InLOC is a way of representing structures or frameworks of learning outcomes, abilities, knowledge, skills, competence, etc., so that they can be shared, communicated, separated, merged, related, and generally worked with as reusable open data. Prior to InLOC, there had been a number of failed attempts to craft a technical interoperability specification of this kind, as well as some more successful projects to hold such information, but this held information was not so easy to transfer in total (notably the US-centric Achievement Standards Network).

In everyday life and everyday language, there are many abilities that people have, which we tend to think of as them having more or less of, and so it is vital to have a way of describing this relative amount, or level, if we are to be able to represent common-sense thinking about abilities. One of the main distinctive features of InLOC is the way it solves the challenge of representing levels of competence, which no previous initiatives really addressed satisfactorily.

What is the significance of InLOC for MyLK?

In any project that seeks to record and hold information about individual learning, natural questions arise about how to represent, or refer to, whatever it is that has been learned. This is clearly a challenge when working across different languages, but also, in different occupational fields, similar abilities may be referred to in different ways. The clearest context for learning is within a course, and a curriculum or syllabus often documents what is intended to be learned, but is it possible to refer to the outcomes of learning in a way that relates more widely than just within the context of a course of training or study?

MyLK is very much about learning, and in particular informal learning, which may contribute to people’s careers or to the satisfaction of their personal goals for learning or achievement. So, when documenting the kind of learning of interest to MyLK users, how does anyone get an idea of whether some learning done by one person is similar to some other learning done by another person?

In a course where there is a specific syllabus, and tests or assessments to check what has been learned, it may be assumed that learners who have completed the course have learned more or less of the same thing; but how can we get a sense of this when the learning is unregulated, and may have taken place at different times, using different resources? This is the kind of question that MyLK or following projects may wish to grapple with.

One obvious and clear way to cross-reference and compare the outcomes of learning is to have a clearly structured set of learning outcomes – and the European Qualifications Framework classifies learning outcomes as either “knowledge”, “skill” or “competence” – which serve as common definitions, with common global identifiers. Given such a set of identifiers and definitions, learners can self-assess which particular outcome they may have attained. If confident, learners can claim to have achieved a particular outcome, and provide evidence for it. External bodies may assess such claims, and award qualifications, certificates or licences on the basis of their assessments.

Being realistic, however, only a small amount of learning has been put into organised structures in this way, and even the scope of qualifications is relatively limited compared to the vast range of knowledge that can be learned informally. Part of the vision of MyLK is to grasp better this hugely extensive landscape of informal learning.

So, does MyLK need InLOC?

The MyLK project is investigating the extensive use of ESCO, the multilingual classification of European Skills, Competences, Qualifications and Occupations, to provide the needed definitions and identifiers that can be used as tags within MyLK. ESCO skills and competences include knowledge. A skill may be documented as necessary, or optional, for any particular occupation – the skills listed are those that relate to the occupations that are also listed in ESCO.

One ESCO skill may also relate to more general definitions of “broader” skills, or more specific definitions of “narrower” skills. For example, the ESCO skill called (in English) “research new cooking methods” is documented as having a broader skill, “research new ideas”. Conversely, the skill “research new ideas” has narrower skills: “develop new food products” as well as “research new cooking methods”. However, these broader and narrower skills links are not very widespread within ESCO. Many ESCO skills are listed without any broader or narrower relationships. It’s not clear whether this is because there aren’t any relevant broader or narrower skills, or whether, rather, it is just very hard to track them down and document them.

In an InLOC structure, in contrast, all skills or competences, apart from the top-level ones, are broken down functionally into “narrower” skills, or to be more precise, skills of a more limited scope that form integral and often necessary parts of the broader skill.

It may be that MyLK can manage, at least initially, on the kind of information offered by ESCO, despite ESCO being varied in clarity, consistency and definition, and despite it being related chiefly to occupations rather than to recreations. But there is a wider vision linked to MyLK: the vision of learners collaborating to define and agree the reality of their own, self-directed learning and career paths, along with the knowledge, skills and competences that relate to those interests as well as occupations. This wider vision is in harmony with the orientation of MyLK towards informal learning, and learning not necessarily directed at career goals. Later on, if the MyLK work is taken forward, it may well become useful to allow users to build up and maintain structures or frameworks of abilities – knowledge skills or competences – and this is perhaps where InLOC will truly come into its own.

ESCO does not have built in to its classification a concept of level, and perhaps related to this, it does little to clarify career development paths – which may involve progression up through levels of ability, levels of qualification, levels of responsibility. What it does do well, for careers, is to lay out a vast accepted range of occupational role titles. Perhaps, if ESCO were to be more concerned with career progression, it could develop to contain frameworks of skills. For example, in IT, there are well-used frameworks like SFIA or the European e-Competence Framework, where levels of ability are integral to the framework, and clearly mapped out. Here would be a great opportunity to bring in InLOC and use it very effectively, and as a result, MyLK would have a stronger and more powerful basis. And if MyLK were to go beyond the ESCO world of occupations, to cover recreations as well, MyLK could deal with activities as widely diverse as grades in music (in the UK, see e.g. the ABRSM) or ratings in paragliding, that would be natural candidates for being represented using InLOC.

The more that ability frameworks – for work or for recreation – are agreed and published in formats such as InLOC, the easier it will be to tag digital learning resources as relevant to learning particular abilities; the easier it will be to recommend resources for particular learning goals; the easier it will be for assessment bodies to collaborate to establish common standards of competence, which employers can then rely on as part of their recruitment process. This may be the ultimate direction of MyLK, and projects that build on the basis MyLK is laying down.