Open standards bridge the lifelong learning gap

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Institutions that put the needs of their students first often also commit to the principles of open standards because of the strategic benefits they provide to the learner and institutions. Open standards have the potential to give learners greater control over their learning journey, their achievements and skills, and their future. Many readers of Inside Higher Education may know IMS Global Learning Consortium for its interoperability standards such as LTI and Common Cartridge for instructional design, and Caliper for learning analytics. In recent times, IMS members have turned their attention to a new, more outward-looking vision of interoperability, which involves the portability of learner journeys and achievements in the form of open frameworks of competences and skills and digital credentials: micro credentials based on open badges and a Learner Registration Standard (CLR standard).

The vision of IMS members recognizes that post-secondary learning takes place in many contexts and, more often than not, not in a continuous four-year block of time. Recognition of prior learning and non-credit skills, mobility and equivalence of credits, and alignment of programs with skills sought by industry are important topics, each with its own political, practical and technological dimensions. IMS and our members work with partner organizations such as AACRAO, Credential Engine and UPCEA to coordinate efforts towards a learner-centered education ecosystem.

One such effort is the Wellspring Initiative, which in its most recently completed projects has sought to explore and demonstrate the benefits to learners of the Wellspring Initiative IMS Global Learning Consortium when institutional learning outcomes are aligned on industry skill standards or on the professional qualifications of the employer. The project involved institutions and their employer partners sitting down and doing the hard work of comparing and aligning program learning outcomes with the skills required to perform specific jobs such as environmental technician, service representative at customers and project accountant. Six brief case studies were produced to share the lessons learned that each organization shared during the exit interviews. Lessons learned are offered to inform the community engaged in industry alignment efforts and also to guide subsequent Wellspring research priorities.

The Wellspring initiative also included the development of demonstration software to show the benefits of digital credentials for learning empowerment and mobility. The Wellspring demo software included an applicant tracking system with an applicant ranking algorithm that rates applicants based on the verified content of their CLR and open badges, with additional points awarded for alignment to a standard of desired industry, placing these candidates at the top of the list. for an interview. The demo also incorporated a digital wallet, which the learner-worker controls as a place to collect and manage their verifiable digital credentials. The digital portfolio allows the individual to also create CLR-based self-affirmations of their knowledge, skills and abilities with evidence that they can attach, taking into account prior knowledge and experiential learning . The endorsements the individual has received can be included in the verifiable record, which the learner-worker can organize to create a personalized collection of verifiable accomplishments to present to an employer. When an employer’s HR applicant tracking technology incorporates the capabilities of the Wellspring Demo, the results will be a richer, more holistic view of the individual, with a focus on skills rather than pedigree.

Hiring is an important use case for the Comprehensive Learner Record Standard, but certainly not the only one. Verifiable digital credentials based on open standards provide a trusted container for a lifetime of learning and experience. As a learner progresses or transfers, verifiable data from their CLR can be referenced by the enrolling organization, including detailed results and evidence of learning. For organizations that use the CASE standard, equivalencies of programs, courses and outcomes can be established and referenced to award credit faster and automatically. Skills that are validated by a previous organization can be recorded and integrated into a registering organization’s learning path because learner-worker records are secure, verifiable and based on an open standard. The learner benefits from the scalability and interoperability made possible by an open standard.

Prioritizing the needs of the learner in this new era, where multiple education providers are more likely to play a role in their learning experience, presents a challenge to traditional thinking for an institution. Improving learner-worker mobility, whether that means awarding credit for prior learning to advance academically or documenting skills so that the learner-worker can access better employment , requires an organizational mindset that puts the learner first and allows them to control their achievements through digital credentials based on open standards.

Further details on the Wellspring initiative and many related institutional and employer collaboration programs will be shared at the upcoming IMS Digital Credentials Summit in Atlanta, Feb. 28-March 2.

About Wellspring


Mark Leuba is Vice President of the IMS Global Learning Consortium.

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