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Measures, interoperability and everything else – the L&D standards debate takes shape

So, what has been learned since posting the initial article raising the idea of developing practical standards for digital learning? It was immediately clear that the words ‘digital learning’ are unhelpful in the context of developing standards for the work we do. Digital as a noun is probably innocent enough on its own, but the L word conjures so many differing interpretations and preoccupations. The sense of boiling an ocean rushes over us. Keeping activity focused, practical and simple may seem obvious guidance and, like many statements of the obvious, is very helpful advice.

And yet, there was a rich and helpful set of responses to the idea of attempting to move ahead. My sense, without editorialising too much, is that our work is harder than it needs to be. There is clearly an appetite for progress to help the industry arrive at simpler, clearer and more efficient use of technology and resources and of understanding how useful our programmes and projects are. There is also a clear eye on the effort required to draw disparate strands together, and people have been generous in pointing out past and existing initiatives to connect with and learn from. ‘Valuable things are often challenging’ is a sensible motto.

Drawing early conclusions is risky. Firstly, because an open and inclusive discussion has to be a principle for progressing any plans. Further, because additional inputs might change the complexion of what’s possible and what is needed. So these are some, initial, summary points from the discussion up to this point (no concluding remarks here). I am sharing them in the interest of transparency and as a means of garnering further support (sign up below).

There are three groups of ideas so far:

Shared pain and practical focus:

  • Measures of user or learner behaviour and activity – towards benchmarks for engagement. To steal from one contributor, we need a shift “from coach to player scorecard”. Such common metrics could be used as foundations for describing engagement and, further, to effectiveness and impact (see below). Shared reporting could also create industry benchmarks (with requisite anonymity).
  • Interoperability standards – my shorthand for this is “the shipping container for digital learning”. Our means of making it easier to work with the range of tools so many customers have. Or, perhaps, the specifications and metadata that can help ecosystem elements work naturally together.

Valuable and of great interest…yet complex and contentious:

  • Measures of effectiveness and impact of digital learning activity. This has the ring of the holy grail search. Many contributors are both keen for resolution and very wary of the possibility of arriving at it. There are as many objectives as there are projects, and every set of goals needs to reflect a unique context. Herding us industry cats towards this goal is a brave endeavour indeed. 
  • Skills and skill taxonomies – the skills challenge brings L&D to the economic centre stage (or it should). Are there common organising concepts and classifications that can help us in that position? Or is there too much varying context and complexity to draw common threads? 
  • Design and objective setting. As with the effectiveness and impact theme, variety is inherent and should be supported. Each design needs to be different, so how to structure a standard? Thoughts were shared around standards for compliance training whilst acknowledging that regulation, beyond L&D boundaries, is the source of authority here.

Where ‘learning’ should have a voice amongst broader standards:

  • Data ethics – how should we approach gathering and managing data from our digital products and services? Themes of ownership, transparency and accountability arise here. Employee surveillance is causing anxiety, for example.
  • Accessibility – how far are the existing W3C and related standards supporting equity of experience amongst all the design and development possibilities before us?

Some of these threads are picked up by this timely research report from Coursera and Emerge Education, highlighting the need for an integrated set of processes and ways of working beyond the functions alone. Perhaps it is unsurprising, then, that there has been broad interest in this initiative so far from CEOs and senior leaders of digital learning providers such as Valamis, Degreed, Filtered, Coursera and Go1. On the client side, there is interest from corporates and public sector organisations, particulalry from those where complexity and scale are challenges in themselves.

So, thank you again to all who have signed up so far and to those who have contributed to the conversation over the last week or so. A forum event is being planned in late November to convene a conversation and understand where to go from here and how to do so. Voices are needed from leaders in L&D technology in organisations, leaders in vendor, content and services businesses and industry analysts. If that sounds like you or someone you know, sign up below to keep in touch with developments and for registration details.


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