Credit Interoperability


Interoperability is the ability of different information systems, devices, or applications to connect in a coordinated manner, allowing stakeholders to access, exchange, and use data within and across organizational boundaries.  An interoperable higher education system is one in which students can transfer seamlessly between institutions without accumulating wasteful credits and debt. 


Credit interoperability requires open standards and common ontologies/frameworks. These allow data in learners’ records to be machine-readable, exchangeable, and actionable across technology systems and, when appropriate, on the Web. It supports combinations of data from multiple sources and enables human interoperability and can be understood by people in different occupations and industries from diverse backgrounds. (Resource 1 below)

In an era of increasing data interoperability, the inability of students to seamlessly transfer credits from one higher education institution to another is evidence of a poorly functioning ecosystem. Higher education’s broken credit transfer system has plagued students and stumped policymakers for decades. Currently, 38 percent of first-time students who transfer within the first six years lose 43 percent of their credits, on average. This increases their time-to-credential, tuition costs, debt load, and opportunity costs. 

Interoperability would allow learner record data to be shared across multiple technology systems and sectors. American learners need ways to translate education, training, and work experience into records of transferable skills that help them qualify for higher-wage occupations. Employers need ways to communicate to potential applicants what skills and abilities they require.

Relationship to Ecosystem

Credit interoperability is vital to a well-functioning learn-and-work ecosystem.  Without interoperability of credits, learners often spend more time and money than necessary to complete programs, and too many fail to reach their goals.

Alternative Terminology

Learner Record Interoperability

See Also 

This is the link to the White Paper on Interoperable Learning Records, prepared September 2019 by the Data and Transparency Working Group of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board. It contains definitions, principles, and recommendations to catalyze further cooperation on this issue. 

This paper argues that higher education would be wise to learn from health care’s attempts to institute interoperability in patient records. It states that, in order to tackle higher education’s credit transfer challenge, the U.S. Department of Education, along with state departments of higher education, should foster a parallel higher education system in which they support third-party credentialing entities that validate industry-valued skills. 

This blog argues that a better solution than third-party credentialing is to create seamless transfer by providing the data to foster the trust that the learning has been evaluated at a mastery level. It proposes well-defined learning outcomes or competencies for all forms of learning (not just competency-based education) which have aligned, authentic assessments and robust rubrics against which the learning is evaluated. All of this would then be contained within a form of comprehensive learner record, electronically accessible so that artificial intelligence can help parse the equivalences when a student transfers. Instead of transfer being a one-off decision of a faculty advisor, it’s systematically accepted. The post argues for incentives for institutions to implement transparent learning records alongside intentionally designed learning objectives or competencies, assessments, and rubrics. 



AACRO provides a more technical paper on integrating information across learner records. 

The education landscape has been shifting, and education technology vendors and publishers are among those leading the way in adopting universal interoperability standards. Interoperability allows school districts to create open learning ecosystems and enables the seamless sharing of data, content, and services among systems and applications. Today, more organizations and individuals that develop learning applications or tools are adhering to IMS Global Learning Consortium’s interoperability standards, which are becoming the industry standard for ed-tech interoperability. This is paving the way for more data to be shared across a variety of learning tools and applications. Some technology users may be aware of data formats and protocols such as XML and SQL that offer “syntactic interoperability” (i.e., the ability to exchange information). More difficult to establish is the capacity to automatically interpret and process data between systems (i.e., semantic interoperability). This requires systems to use a common, unambiguously defined “information exchange reference model.” While data interoperability involves considerable technical challenges, it is primarily a challenge of establishing consensus and compromise among various data actors. Establishing a commonly accepted set of standards and protocols for data systems requires consensus among many different developers, vendors, regulators, and end-users. If a common standard is agreed upon, then it can be released for public adoption and use. This is referred to as an “open standard” which can be adhered to by existing and future products to guarantee interoperability. Provides a high-level overview of IMS Global Learning Consortium’s Interoperability Standards for education.

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