Learning throughout life is both an aspiration of Government and a practical necessity.
Within the United Kingdom, content of educational value is produced and described by a large number of organisations, including departments of Government, non-departmental agencies, and representatives of the private sector. For learners and teachers who often seek to discover resources from more than one provider, the variety of sources and methods of description available places obstacles between them and the effective discovery and use of the resources they desire.
Recognising the importance of facilitating effective learning, representatives of the key stakeholders in this area have come together in forming the UK's Metadata for Education Group (MEG). This group seeks to address the needs of the learner by developing and promoting guidance on the use of descriptive standards, or 'metadata', for meaningfully and usefully describing educational content provided by the sector. The content of interest to MEG members includes digital content, whether as digital resources, or various forms of digital surrogate for non–digital material, and the physical resources themselves.
Expanding upon the core tenets of a Learner Focus, the facilitation of use and reuse of Learning Resources, and the adoption — where feasible — of existing national and international practices, this Concord encapsulates the key principles and aspirations of MEG members:
Although vital in building sound knowledge foundations, Learning is no longer confined to a formal school environment, nor to the early years of life. Learning continues throughout life, and is undertaken in formal educational environments, in the home, the workplace, and elsewhere. The provision of educationally relevant material should be geared towards meeting the varied needs of learners in many environments, and should recognise the changing format and pace of the learning process.
Learning Resources are produced by government departments and agencies, educational institutions, and the private sector, as well as by other learners. It can be difficult for the learner to discover and integrate resources from more than one source, despite the value associated with being able to do so. MEG will seek to rationalise the description of such resources in order that they may be described, located and evaluated in a more effective manner. Descriptions of Learning Resources are commonly referred to as 'metadata', which currently takes many forms.
Learning Resources are routinely used and reused in a wide range of contexts, often being integrated with other course materials by a teacher in order to create a better overall learning experience. For such a valuable approach to be practical, it is necessary for the learning objects themselves to be identifiable, discoverable and useful at the smallest appropriate level of granularity.
Learners make use of a wide range of tools whilst engaged in the learning process. To most flexibly meet their varied needs, Learning Resources should, where feasible, be created independent of specific software, hardware or environments, and be capable of transfer from one system to another.
If educational materials are to be discovered and evaluated in a meaningful manner, there is a need for them to be described effectively. Consistency of description between individual providers of educational materials will make it easier for the learner or teacher to compare similar resources. The application of formal descriptive standards developed for the purpose of describing such resources will assist those undertaking to describe, locate, or evaluate educational material.
MEG shall seek actively to become an effective forum for development and exchange of best practices in the arena of learning resource metadata. MEG membership will be expanded to become as inclusive as possible across the content creation, curation, dissemination, and delivery domains, and formal representation will be sought on and from appropriate formal organisations.
The United Kingdom is not alone in recognising the need to aid the description, discovery and evaluation of educational materials. Where feasible, practices adopted within the UK should be in line with those adopted or emerging internationally.
Rather than perpetuate usage of conflicting methods for describing educational content, members of MEG are committed to effective use of existing and emerging international standards and practices.
In cases where appropriate formal standards do not already exist, MEG will play a role in developing appropriate specifications and progressing these through the established channels towards ratification by the relevant national and international bodies.
De facto and De jure international standards offer scope for describing many facets of a Learning Resource, such as the educational level for which they are intended. MEG members will work to produce the UK-specific terminologies and guidance — such as an agreed set of educational levels and qualifications applicable in the UK — necessary if these standards are to be employed here.