Objective: Re-usable competency
Wilbert Kraan, CETIS staff
November 01, 2002

After some extensive technical finetuning, IMS just made version 1.0 of the Re-useable Definition of Competency or Educational Objective (RDCEO) spec available. The purpose of this spec is to make it easy to refer to things like learning outcomes, skills, knowledge and tasks. This is particularly useful when information is required for career plans or when refering to course prerequisites or course outcomes.

The spec itself started life in the Learning Technology Standards Committee (LTSC) of the IEEE. As a full standard setting body, IEEE felt that specifications were best left to other organisations, which is why it ended up in IMS. After a fairly extensive period of extending the spec and adjusting it to conventions in other IMS specs, it is now available as a full 1.0.

The general idea of RDCEO is to provide a kind of coathanger for competency definitions. It may sound peculiar, but the spec is not meant to actually try to define any skill or piece of knowledge. It doesn't even try to define what exactly a (re-useable) competency means or support general structures of competencies. Imagine, for example, a competency like the ability to play football. You could decompose that competency into smaller competencies like running, kicking a ball and game strategy. IMS RDCEO will only be able to store references to 'running', 'kicking a ball' and 'game strategy', and 'ability to play football', but it won't of itself indicate what the relations between these competencies are. i.e. it doesn't do classification. What RDCEO does do is provide consistent pointers to competency definitions that have been drawn up elsewhere- generally within the sectors or domains where they matter.

The reason behind the pointing-rather-than-defining is that there are already quite a few specific competency definitions and structured competency models out there, in repositories. IMS RCDEO merely provides a way in which each of these existing definitions can be referenced or exchanged in a standard way. It's a meta-standard, if you like. Rather than re-invent the wheel, or impose its own way of doing things, RCDEO is happy to play piggy in the middle.

That meta- status is also quite obvious in its structure. To get the necessary flexibility, the spec contains so many optional elements that it is possible to make a perfectly legal IMS RCDEO instance of about seven lines. Such an instance won't tell you much beyond where to find the competency definition proper, and what it is called. Even much more complicated instances will, in essence, do little more than point elsewhere and provide human-readable blobs of text that describe what is to be found there. The difference is that the more complex instances have a larger number of hooks from which to hang further information about a competency. Most importantly, more complex instances can contain structural information about how a particular sub-competency relates to a larger competency by borrowing bits of the LOM/IMS metadata spec- particularly the 'relation' element.

In practice, however, it is quite likely that the hard parts of classifying and grouping competencies will be done in instances of other specifications. An IMS Learner Information Profile (IMS LIP), for example, could contain a hierarchical list of what the learner has already achieved. But rather than provide lengthy descriptions of what those achievements are, the LIP could simply contain structured references to a number of RCDEOs, and avoid a lot of processing and disk space hogging in the process. There's no need to stick in the same information for every learner- just write it once as a RCDEO instance, then point to that from where-ever. Hence the 're-useable' bit in the RCDEO acronym.

The other advantage of using RCDEOs is that it greatly simplifies things like skills gap analyses. In essence, whoever is doing the skill gap analysis will need a list of desired competencies, expressed as RCDEO instances, and a list of achieved competencies, also expressed as RCDEO instances- possibly contained in something like LIP or Human Resources XML (HR XML). Then just compare the unique identifiers in each list, and there you are. In theory at least, because it presupposes that the actual competency definitions that the RCDEOs point to are comparable, sensible and have been drawn up properly. 'Proper' not so much in a technical sense as in an educational sense. Which is as it should be.

The full IMS RDCEO spec is available from the IMS website