Platform for European Open Standards work supporting Learning, Education and Training 

In the wake of the difficulties and discontinuation of the CEN Workshop on Learning Technologies (CEN WS/LT) in 2013, the field of pre-standardisation for Learning, Education and Training (LET) is left open to whatever initiatives that may emerge. Till now, no organisation has stepped in to take over existing tasks or work items in progress. The CEN Technical Committee 353, Information and Communication Technologies for Learning, Education and Training is currently not working on any new substantial project due to lack of pre-standardisation input from CEN WS/LT and from CEN members (national standardisation bodies).

The activities of the Workshop that have been shelved includes work on a set of European Learner Mobility specifications (e.g., Integrating Learning Outcomes and Competences, and Learner-Ownable Information); Information model for capturing social and context metadata; guidelines for metadata profiling; widget for learning resource stores; a European position on digital textbooks interoperability, etc.

European pre-standardisation activities do have an important role to play in innovation of learning technologies for learning, education and training. The CEN organisation was not willing to play the role of a steward for these activities, insisting on a closed process and document business model. The Information Technology for Learning, Education and Training (ITLET) community depend on Open Innovation in order to communicate with stakeholders, engage experts, solicit input from research and practice, and keep up with the increasingly more dynamic development cycle in this domain.  

A platform for pre-standardisation 

There is now the opportunity to define a new platform for European LET pre-standardisation[1] to allow research organisations, universities, European projects, SMEs, vendors and industries to bring their ideas to the table for open discussion and consensus building, using standardisation as an instrument to disseminate innovation for LET. 

Pre-standardisation principles may differ a bit from standardisation principles, as the emphasis on governance and maintenance may be weaker. This become clear when exploring the principles laid down by the  OpenStand community[2], comprising of Due process, Broad consensus, Transparency, Balance, and Openness[3]. It is clear that in a pre-standardisation phase the importance of «periodic standards review and updating» is less important. Furthermore, transparency needs go beyond organising public comment periods; and openness means more than just that standard processes are open to all interested and informed parties. To some extent CEN could subscribe to the OpenStand principles, e.g., claiming their workshop process is open since all parties are allowed to sit around the table. 

Principles for pre-standardisation could use the same categories as the OpenStand platform defining the concepts more strictly. The following is a first take on this (reusing some of the wording of the OpenStand community):

Pre-standardisation: Initial standardisation phase, which is heavily dependent upon input from broad stakeholder groups and research & development in order to come up with specifications that could be fed into formal standardisation proven effective through usability testing or broad stakeholder interest.

Due process. Decisions are made with equity and fairness among participants. No one party dominates or guides standards development. Pre-Standards processes are transparent and rules on progression of work is clearly stated and agreed when new projects are initiated.

Broad consensus. Processes allow for all views to be considered and addressed, such that agreement can be found across a range of interests.

Transparency. Pre-standardisation projects should be given an advance public notice through relevant media, inviting all interested parties to contribute to the scoping of work to be undertaken and to participate. Easily accessible records of decisions and the materials used in reaching those decisions are provided openly through the use of relevant web technologies.

Balance. Standards activities are not exclusively dominated by any particular person, company or interest group.

Openness. Standards processes are open to all interested and informed parties. The resulting documents are freely and openly available with the appropriate open licence, no more restrictive than Creative Commons licence CC-BY. (This means that a resulting open specification may be taken up by any organisation for further standardisation, also within formal standards bodies.)

A host for European Pre-Standardisation Activities within LET

Pre-standardisation is essentially project driven; in principle any support structure giving a somewhat stable working environment for a face-to-face and online project could do. As a minimum the following capabilities should be sought:

  • Support for open principles (open standard, open source software, open access, open educational resources, open innovation, etc.)
  • Being able to communicate with relevant stakeholders (seen as a trustworthy and non-biased organisation)
  • Access to basic online infrastructure, like mailing list, collaborative authoring tool, project management tool, etc.
  • Being able to host specification documents for a long period of time (i.e. able to guarantee the longevity of a domain address)

In addition to these capabilities an organisation willing to host European pre-standardisation projects should also be recognised as a trustworthy international actor, bearing in mind that specifications should be promoted internationally, not only regionally. 

Based on these criteria, we may look to an organisation that has not been seen as a standardisation consortium or standards body, e.g., the Open Knowledge Foundation. OKFN does have working groups, and one suggestion would be to start the work in the working group on Open Education – and eventually establish an Open Standards working group.

Questions for discussion

These ideas are my own thoughts after the frustrating interaction with the CEN/CENELEC Management Centre in 2013. They should be discussed, and we should as a community use this opportunity to establish new activity on a more solid ground. In addition to the above principles, should a platform for European pre-standardisation also have some statements about

Design principles: Practice so far shows that too ambitious projects are hard to develop, and even harder to implement. Should we state that we believe in small and beautiful specifications?

Development cycle: Should we state that all experience from our community shows that the development cycle of ideas, specification and implementation should be considered when we embark on new projects. Implementation is as important as conceptualisation? Only specifications with a minimum number of implementations should be brought forward?

Incubator activities should be stepped up: Standards fora alone do not create new learning technologies. The role of technology incubators has been underestimated. Should we have a statement clarifying how specification development should go hand in hand with program development?

All comments are welcome!


[1] research-focused standardisation phase feeding the classical standardisation process

[2] This community for open innovation was launched in August 2012 to promote a modern paradigm for global, open standards, initiated by IEEE, the Internet Architecture Board (IAB), Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), Internet Society and World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

[3] The principles of OpenStand is defined as follows:

Due process. Decisions are made with equity and fairness among participants. No one party dominates or guides standards development. Standards processes are transparent and opportunities exist to appeal decisions. Processes for periodic standards review and updating are well defined.

Broad consensus. Processes allow for all views to be considered and addressed, such that agreement can be found across a range of interests.

Transparency. Standards organisations provide advance public notice of proposed standards development activities, the scope of work to be undertaken, and conditions for participation. Easily accessible records of decisions and the materials used in reaching those decisions are provided. Public comment periods are provided before final standards approval and adoption.

Balance. Standards activities are not exclusively dominated by any particular person, company or interest group.

Openness. Standards processes are open to all interested and informed parties.

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