Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Evaluation of the Learning Path Specification

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Evaluation of the Learning Path Specification

Article excerpt

Introduction

Learning paths can be roughly defined as sets of one or more learning activities leading to a particular learning goal. Learning paths can vary from a relatively small activity like reading a book or taking a course to following an entire programme or curriculum. Learning paths may vary also regarding the level of formality. In line with the Commission of the European Communities we distinguish formal, non-formal and informal learning (CEC, 2000). Whereas formal learning occurs in education and training institutions and leads to recognised diplomas and qualifications, informal learning is described as "a natural accompaniment to everyday life" which is not necessarily intentional learning (CEC, 2000, p. 8). Non-formal learning, finally, is learning that takes place alongside the mainstream systems of education and training, for instance at the workplace or in arts or sports, which does not necessarily lead to formalised certificates.

Lifelong learners' learning paths consist of a mixture of formal, informal and non-formal learning (Colardyn & Bjornavold, 2004; Colley, Hodkinson, & Malcolm, 2003; Livingstone, 1999). In order to support lifelong learners in comparing and selecting suitable learning paths, a uniform way to describe learning activities and learning paths has been developed, which covers these different ways in which people learn (Janssen, Berlanga, Vogten, & Koper, 2008).

The specification is envisaged to support several processes. Firstly, it is meant to be used by educational providers to describe formal and non-formal educational courses and programmes in order to make them available through specific search engines, thus enabling comparison across providers. We assume that educational providers will want to describe learning paths in a uniform, formalised way, because the benefits of transparency and opportunities for automated learner support outweigh the costs. Costs can be relatively low since educational providers already have to describe their offerings; it will merely be a matter of organising this information in a way that enables storage and update in one place and subsequent use in different contexts: printed catalogues, websites, and search engines.

A second process the learning path specification is meant to support was initially defined as follows: lifelong learners use the specification to describe their informal learning paths to make them available as an example to other learners with similar learning goals. However, a pilot-study revealed that it requires considerable efforts and skills on the part of the learner to identify activities that did or did not after all contribute to achieving those outcomes. To distil a learning path from one's own informal learning experiences and describe it in a way that is useful for others, is not an easy task (cf. Skule, 2004). Though we still maintain that the specification can be used to describe all kinds of learning (a point we later further elaborate), we believe that in the case of informal learning it is not likely going to happen on a large scale by lifelong learners themselves, because it requires learning design skills. It is not unreasonable though to expect employers and employment agencies to be willing to invest in these descriptions of informal learning paths as they can offer tried and tested alternatives to more costly formal and non-formal learning paths. Research indicates that people spend an average of 6 hours a week on employment related informal learning (Livingstone, 1999) and description of these informal learning paths is likely to enhance efficiency when they can offer guidance to learners rather than have them find things out through trial and error. In any case, the second process the learning path specification is meant to support eventually is defined as: description of informal learning paths in order to make these learning paths available for other learners with similar learning goals. …

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