This blog is about learning, technologies and identities. Competencies and Quality are other issues I like to address from time to time.
Learning , Technologies & Competencies
My passion for learning and technologies (I try to avoid the term learning technologies) goes back to 1985 when I was working at Honeywell Bull. I had the chance to be invited to join the team that would introduce computer simulations for the training of engineers in the maintenance of mainframe computers, before which simulations used paper, pencils and micro-films! It was during that period that I also learned about competency-based training. Developing training and simulations was my main work until 1994 when I decided to create Dimension Compétence a consultancy aiming at promoting competency-based education and qualifications based on what I learned from the UK system of National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs). Although not exactly successful (1), this experience would contribute to establishing the foundations of my future work — ePortfolios. I learned about competency frameworks design, assessment (I am a qualified assessor) and quality assurance. I also learned that it is not enough to have a forward looking idea: it has also to be be acceptable (or have the funds to make people believe that it is desirable).
In 1998 I had the opportunity to move back into the field of learning and technologies when I was invited to join Le Préau, the Paris Chamber of Commerce centre for eLearning and pedagogic innovation. In 2001 I decided to create EIfEL, the European Institute for E-Learning which became instrumental in the promotion of learning technologies in Europe, in particular the ePortfolio.
Technologies & Identities
My interest in technologies and identities (I try to avoid the term digital identities) started as an offspring of the work I led with EIfEL on ePortfolios, and the subsequent organisation of the first International ePortfolio Conference in Poitiers (2003) where we had the privilege to convene among the best experts in the field. Since then the conference was rechristened ePIC, the ePortfolio & Identity conference and its 12th edition will be held at Greenwich University in July 2014.
I initially saw ePortfolios as an opportunity to connect my experience with digital technologies and competency-based education. One of my main interests at the time was how digital technologies could create a seamless space across individual, community and organisational learning: what technologies for a learning organisation? What technologies for a learning region?
Reformulated with ePortfolios, the question became: if there is such a thing as a learning ePortfolio, then what would a learning community ePortfolio or learning organisation ePortfolio look like? The work from Nonaka (learning organisations) and Florida (learning regions) inspired the work we did with the Espace Mendès France and the Knowledge Industries project that led to the eLearning Regions and Cities conferences in Lisbon (2003) La Rochelle (2004) and Oxford (2005).
It was during the 2004 ePortfolio conference that I asked whether ePortfolios are either a by-product of the identity construction process or could become the preferred tool to manage this process.
It was after having the opportunity to contribute to a major European project on digital identity and trust (TAS3), that I eventually published the Internet of Subjects Manifesto in 2009, calling for the recognition of our right to be fully emancipated citizens (netizens) on the Internet, not simply clients behind a browser, but an autonomous Internet Subject represented by a proxy (a kind of personal agent). Each of our identities being represented by such a proxy, communications could be established directly between peers in all trust and confidence — something the NSA might probably object to…
This led to the creation of ADPIOS, with the objective of making the Internet of Subjects a reality and in 2011, the writing of the New Internet of Subjects Manifesto.
When I started working on ePortfolio, the main issue for many of the professionals working in the field of eLearning was: how to put learning contents into the right shape to enter into the brains of the learners (c.f. picture)? At the opposite side of this vision, ePortfolios were not interested in how to push contents into the brains of learners but in how to pull contents from them to support reflective learning and practice: what do you know? How did you learn it? What can I learn from you? How can you contribute to learning communities? What can you teach me? What are your aspirations?…
While the ultimate goal of most learning technologies was the personalisation of the learning experience (i.e. adjust it based on the analysis of learners’ behaviour against a set of pre-defined parameters) the ultimate goal of ePortfolios was individuation (2), i.e. the social construction of one’s identity.
In 2004, confident about the promise of ePortfolios, I formulated a (not-self-fulfilling) wish: “by 2010 every citizen will have an ePortfolio.” That optimistic view was based on the observation of the emergence of initiatives like Career Wales, it’s goal to provide every Welsh citizen with a progress file, to record and plan their learning and career. Later in 2007, the Dutch Committee on Labour Market Participation formulated a series of recommendations, one of them being about providing every worker with an ePortfolio: “Every member of the labour force will be entitled to a digital e-portfolio, i.e. an electronic inventory of their competencies, diplomas, experience, and accreditation of prior learning (APL). This will give people a better understanding of their position on the labour market and their career prospects, and of any need they have for further training.”
Despite the progress accomplished, in 2012 we had to recognise that the term that probably best described the current state of ePortfolio was still fragmentation: fragmentation of information, fragmentation of actors and fragmentation of technologies. We still did not have anything we could call an ePortfolio infrastructure or even interoperability. It is to address this issue that the Europortfolio initiative was launched in January 2013.
Quality and learning
My professional journey is tightly connected to my reflections on quality and learning: the creation of Dimension Compétence in 1994 was to promote competency education and qualifications based on a sound quality assurance framework, the NVQs. The very first conference organised by EIfEL in 2003 in Poitiers was about the quality in eLearning. The first European project won by EIfEL, SEEL (supporting excellence in e-learning) was also about quality and eLearning. In 2005, this work led to the creation of EFQUEL, the European Foundation for Quality of e-Learning. I would have preferred to call it the European Foundation for eQuality in Learning, to put the emphasis on the use of technology to support quality assurance mechanisms, rather than on the quality of eLearning (a term too polysemic).
In 2007, I published From quality of eLearning to eQuality of learning (link), a green paper where I challenged the dominant approach to quality and eLearning:
we suggest moving the reflection from “how do we improve the quality of eLearning” to “how do we use technology to improve the quality of all learning“, i.e. what we will refer to later as eQuality of learning.
The crux of the argument was that Quality is about learning and reflection, it is related to organisational learning, and in the context of education, it is learning about learning. It was an attempt to sublate the differences between those who believed that there was such a well defined object called eLearning (there is none!) and those, like me, who understood eLearning as being the eTransformation of all learnings, individual, community, organisationa (quality assurance)l, territorial.
As this green paper did not have the expected effect on the EFQUEL community and as its implicit conclusion was that the concept of quality of eLearning was ill-formed and irrelevant, I felt that there was no point in continuing as a member of the board of the organisation I contributed to creating.
And when I witness the current discussions on quality and Open Educational Resources (OER), I see yet again evidence that history can stutter…
When in 2012 I learned about the Open Badges initiatives, I could not believe my eyes. I immediately saw in Open Badges the opportunity to bring together my work on ePortfolios (the initiators of Open badges have the vision of Open Badges as distributed ePortfolio), competency, quality assurance, identity and trust (the Open Badge Infrastructure is a trust infrastructure).This is when this blog starts., with a slight delay……. it is now in September 2013……
- At the time France was looking at defining a framework for quality in education, and I believed that the British National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs). framework (which is the model on which the current European Qualifications Framework (EQF) is built) was more relevant than the ISO 9000 quality standards many training and educational bodies were applying for. The idea of public competency standards against which a portfolio of evidence built by a candidate is assessed did not prove to be very popular at that time in France. For many, the idea of making the assessment criteria transparent was an invitation to cheating: “if everybody knows what the criteria are, then everybody has a chance to succeed [well, that should be the point, no?], so it is important to keep the criteria secret.” One of the most powerful state-sponsored organisations had established competency standards that only its own trainers had the right to see! The other problem we had to face was that NVQs, and the ideas of transparency associated with it, was that they were anglo-saxon, an argument currently used by a significant part of the French intelligentsia to reject, without the need for any further explanation, things that might challenge their current position. It is what happened when the Internet challenged the French Minitel: yet another anglo-saxon invention!
- The use of individuation, a process affecting humans and technologies alike, in the sense of Simondon and Stiegler: the individual subject is understood as an effect of individuation, rather than its cause. Gilbert Simondon describes the process of individuation of technologies as a process of reification (concrétisation) by which a technical object becomes more concrete, when each of its functional parts become more articulate and synergistic to act as a self-regulated individual in relation to its environment. In that framework, a computer chip is seen as more concrete than a computer mainframe which is an assembly of many different sub-systems that are potential sources of failure. An Open Badge could be seen as more concrete than an ePortfolio which is made of many different sub-systems for many different aims (learning portfolio, presentation portfolio, etc.). An Open Badge is the outcome of an individuation process originated in the ePortfolio (..more reflections required on this!).