Start Tracking the Underlying Methods and Applications of Skills

I have been working on tracking skills in applications for six years now, and I am convinced we need to get a level deeper by tracking the imparting of methods (represented as a framework) and applications (technology or specific use) in applying skills. Much of this is done implicitly (as teacher’s and experts know the methods they are teaching), but let’s make it explicit by tracking what methods students and young professionals are learning.

Four big reasons why:

  1. Basis to understand a competency. There is not much value in saying: “I have been applying critical thinking for ten years.” But if you can say: “I induce, deduce, verify and summarize when I solve a problem. Give me one and I will show you.” Then, demonstrate… There is context.
  2. Move forward in learning a skill. Some skills, like ones related to communication, you learn throughout your life. The methods you apply might gradually become more sophisticated.
  3. Signal chosen methods and applications. Some technical skills are extremely broad and do not mean much on their own. For example, someone applies the skill of ‘Economic Analysis’ in many different ways. Or a web designer chooses a scripting language ASP .Net, Java, or PHP.
  4. Situational application of skill. Different situations, require different applications of skill.

I have started to integrate ‘methods and applications’ into my suite of applications: Skills Based Approach, Skill Syllabi, Skills Label and Skills Culture. These applications share a common database and search engine.

With Skills Culture, I have created a search engine with has a SERP page for ‘one skill’ shown above. This is for one of the most in demand skills: Critical Thinking. On the left, you get the definition and collapsible sections of suggested matches for traits, fields, and jobs. On the right, you get a section for the methodologies. (In the graphic above, you see two methodologies and one expanded with a diagram and details or descriptions on using the methodology.)

What is the added value of this search engine compared to others?

  • Assign desired methodologies onto a Skills Label, where it displays on the label
  • Use the methodologies in Skills Based Approach – a platform for tracking learning. A user can assign skills and their methods as a task.
  • Create and share methodologies with students and colleagues. Create an account, choose a skill, and add your own methodology. Ideally, practitioners use this platform to distribute their methods with an audience. Later iterations include a peer review system.

Skills Label – A Step Towards Tracking Lifelong Learning

What replaces shelves of books you keep from education and higher education? The shelf where that dusty chemistry or finance book rests, which brings back memories of long hours of frustration (and that you never look at again). How do you keep track of learning for games you play online, activities in a classroom, or lessons outside of a classroom?

I propose a collection of Skills Labels – an electronic catalog for all learning, essentially a summary of learning and index (and perhaps storage) to the resources themselves. And this not limited to books, but also includes games, activities, VR, experiences, and any discrete task where learning takes place.

Skills / Learning Labels is a step towards tracking lifelong learning. It is patent pending utility which involves creating a label, assigning learning expectations / outcomes, verifying the accuracy of the assignments (optional), and designating a credential. Let’s breakdown each step:

  • A label itself is a standardized display for any discrete task or experience.
  • On the label (and landing page), there is a link to the resource itself.
  • Learning expectations are largely expressed as a ‘Skill Line Item’, which is based on skills, their underlying methods and measurements. It is also possible to anchor them to standards.
  • An algorithm (perhaps with AI) is being built to verify the learning expectations are valid. (The initial phase involves discretion made by the person creating the label.)
  • Upon successful completion (of the task or experience), the learner has access to a credential. This might be a badge, award, or certification.

Either through a LMS system (like Google Classroom), a skills tracking system (like Skills Based Approach), or the Skills Label user interface, users can easily find, access, and collect these labels over time. There are a few advantages:

  • LMS systems in K-12 and Higher Education is fragmented, so students are using varying systems. Skills Label is a standardized representation. (It is possible to import a Skills Label as an assignment in Google Classroom, for example.)
  • A significant amount of learning takes place outside of the classroom, not in the jurisdiction of school assignments. Students / professionals should get credit for this learning.
  • There is no way to compare traditional and emerging learning technologies. Many of the new applications– online games, VR experience, etc. – do not explicitly state learning objectives.
  • Being largely based on skills and methods, the labels work laterally across subjects and disciplines and vertically across education and career stages. The labels are meant to have continuity, so are not only useful in depicting learning from a task but also bridging past, present, and future learning.
  • One measurement, Skill Points, is meant to capture the overall learning of a task in a single number. Using Skill Points, time taken, and cost, a student can make an immediate ROI on any education resource.
  • A platform to ‘stack credentials’.

The whole matter of ‘tracking’ is unobtrusive, controllable by the user, and (with validated labels) has significance. It is unobtrusive meaning a user simply finds the label, consumes the resources, and stores the label in a collection. (If the student is at a store, simply scan a QR code to access the label.)

A series of labels, representing completed tasks, assignments, and experiences, is a convincing way to track lifelong learning. Later, the data collected from a label and interpolated over time provides valuable insights regarding personal learning. This has advantages:

  • Measuring and using skill competencies creates agile workers. For any career change, a worker accesses a current learning path (data from a collection of labels), finds gaps in skills, and then fills them. (Faster and more efficient than going back to get a degree.)
  • Students / professionals have access to the learning resources that impacted them the most.
  • Shareable with a counselor, teacher, mentor or supervisor as a personalized learning track.

Looking for partners, investors, and early adopters of move this technology / application forward. Try building your own Skills Label™ online. Join the discussion on www.twitter.com/SkillsLabel .

Actualizing Ideas and Hustling

ideashustling.png

Over the past six and a half years, I have written three business plans for new technologies. I do not consider myself a ‘serial entrepreneur’ because each of the technologies could (should) work together, still I pitch them separately. If one of them gets funded, there is a good possibility the others also get funded for two reasons: the collective value increases if one of them gains traction; and there is shared or cross integration functionality (such as a database).

I find the pitch process interesting. Personally, I am a thinker and tinkerer. I like to ‘actualize ideas’. Catching the nuances and schmoozing is not something I am good at. Without question, hustling in part of the process.

I went to business school twice, so I know the value in product testing, understanding customer needs and wants, and marketing and branding. Sure, I full heartedly believe in establishing a company culture and rallying a team of employees and partners around it. But a lot of this comes later.

When you are truly innovating (inventing) software, you need to build and protect the technology as quickly as possible. Of an immediate concern, you need to: get funded, make key connections, commit with partners, build a team, and establish a user base. Whatever the meeting / conversation, my mind is on these five objectives.

The latest two technologies I have been working on are Skills Based Approach and Skills Label. The latter is a patent pending utility – a standardized display to express learning expectations and outcomes in any discrete task. Please feel free to contact me if you are interested in working with me on these cutting edge technologies.

Import Skills Label into Google Classroom

Import Skills LabelTM into Google Classroom as an assignment. This is ideal: teachers share a standardized display for learning in any task (the label) with their students in software they are already using and students are familiar with.

GoogleClassroomSkillsLabel

Teachers create labels for activities in or out of a classroom, books or articles to read and synthesize, online games, VR experiences, or any possible way students acquire skills and knowledge.

The instructions are simple. As a teacher (meaning you create, publish, market, or distribute learning resources):

  • Create a ‘Teacher’ account on Skills Label (skillslabel.com , www.learninglabel.com, or www.educationlabel.com ).
  • Use the label wizard to create a label.
    • In the header, create a title and description of the task. This is important because both are automatically pulled into the ‘assignment’ in Google Classroom.
    • Assign prerequisites and requirements.
    • Add skill line items. Provide context and use your own assessment for focus and difficulty levels. Use standards to anchor them.
    • Designate a link to the resource itself (website, app, etc.).
    • Summarize an overall knowledge gain.
  • Finish the wizard and navigate the public URL. Click on the button for Google Classroom.
  • If you are not already signed in, you must sign into your Google Classroom.
  • Select your classroom and course then click GO. Click ASSIGN on the next page.

Once the label has been imported, students access a full-paged Skills Label as an assignment in Google Classroom. Labels require students to understand learning expectations and outcomes – in skills, before starting any learning task. Students may collect and store labels too.

If teachers want to give students choice before starting a task, these labels are ideal for making comparisons between different tasks. (For example, as a teacher, I might create twenty assignments represented as labels and offer students the choice of completing ten of them.)

At this stage, Skills Label is a free online resource. Feel free to try this new, patent pending technology – a single display for learning in any discrete task.

If you have any questions, email support@skillslabel.com

Finding the Key to the Skills Gap

Fixing Skills Gap
Fixing Skills Gap

There is a skills gap, actually two different ones. One is in filling highly technical jobs, and the other is filling middle skill jobs; the latter representing as much as 40% of new job growth according to a US News article. The skill gap requires new tactics from impressionable students and workers, higher education and training institutions, and the actual employers. Here are some suggestions:

  • Employers publish demand for in demand skills years in advance (if they can). Signal what skills are required so students can acquire them.
  • Build awareness of alternative programs to four-year degrees. Impressionable students need to know these programs even exist.
  • Employers work directly with higher education and training institutions. (According to a recent The Future of Jobs Report, 25 percent of companies plan to ‘collaborate with education institutions’.) Create programs where students get job training and a contingency that when they graduate, then they get a job.
  • Higher education institutions focus more on skills in their programs. (Every course – perhaps every task, students know precisely what skills they are working on.)
  • Embrace new programs, such as bootcamps, nano-degrees, microcredentials, and new age apprenticeships, that target skills effectively and efficiently. (An accountant, web designer, network technician – all high demand jobs – do not require a four-year degree.) The programs save time and cost for students.

Skills Based Approach is a methodology centered on the development of a skill set through education, higher education / training, and a career. A person constantly cycles through four stages with an evolving skill set to stay relevant. The methodology is an application. It is useful for all learning programs, as it focuses on skills.

Skill Culture is a growth mindset to be motivated and taking action to learn and apply skills. In a Skills Culture, students and young professionals acquire skills and then prove competencies with assessments or demonstrations. Practitioners teach skill and concentrate on the underlying methods and applications. Companies forecast demand for skills, hire for skills, and train skills.

Skill Syllabi and Skills Label are applications to express learning in a course and task level. These resources provide a basis for competency based learning and stacking credentials needed for career readiness.

Squeeze on Higher Education 2

Three years ago, I wrote a piece on the disconnect between companies and higher education, which I called the ‘Squeeze on Higher Education’. Not much has changed in the intervening years. This week I read an updated article from Gallup, where the numbers were the same or (worse?).

SqueezeOnHigherEducation

The de facto college degree is getting squeezed from two directions: employers requiring professionals to build new-age technical skills (where there is currently a skills gap); and typical students who are faced with the rising cost of a traditional college degree and must take on significant debt.

Everything is fine according to higher education leaders. Ninety-six percent of chief academic officers of colleges and universities “believe that their institutions are very or somewhat effective at preparing students for the workforce”, but only 11% of business leaders “strongly agree” according to Gallup’s article 3 Ways to Realign Higher Education With Today’s Workforce.

(In my previous article, I referenced a pair of Gallup Polls in 2014.) In one of them, a very strong majority of business leaders say hiring managers consider ‘knowledge’ and ‘applied skills’ as ‘very important in hiring decisions’ –  84 and 79 percent respectively. (This is far greater than the ‘degree’ or ‘college attended’ in the same category, only 28 and 9 percent respectively.). In the other, business leaders were asked if higher education graduates have the skills ‘my business needs’ and 33 percent disagreed and 34 percent were neutral to the statement.

From the students’ perspective, there is pressure. In 2017, student debt for 44 million Americans is around 1.3 trillion (same article). Yet, many graduate ill prepared to start making contributions at a company.

I think the problem is not stressing enough importance on applied, skills based learning and not effective planning to have the skills needed for a career. I also think alternative forms of education are optimal for specific careers. Many technical careers work best with a combination of classroom and experiential learning. This seems to suggest a ‘new age’ apprenticeship and /or mentorship model. (As I have always said, many higher education institutions will adapt and offer these new programs.)

Skills Based Approach is an effective platform to plan, track, and assess skills as students navigate into the career roles. It is ideal because of its: adaptability to work with all forms of education; and longevity, in the sense it suggests continuity (in planning and building of skills) through education, higher education, and early career development

Skills Culture is a growth mindset where students are motivated and take action to learn and apply skills. Practitioners (professors and business leaders) work to identify and communicate the demand for skills in their organizations. Working together, all parties use the mindset to address the communication disconnect between them and have a basis to move forward.