Communicate Skills in Learning

Skills are a language for learning. We talk about skills: in education and higher education (though I think we should be doing it much more), as we think about career planning, to summarize professional experiences, and in employers’ forecasts of future demand.

I think it makes sense to bridge communication across these functions with skills, perhaps with the Skills Based Approach methodology. Furthermore, I think we should concentrate on defining learning with skills – the verb of knowledge. Here are some significant applications using skills:

(This week) LinkedIn came out with a publication saying: “members can add over 50,000 skills to their profiles…”. Skills have a focal point on a profile, where connections can endorse each skill. One new useful feature with skills is, as you apply to a job, the system immediately calculates and make suggestions on how your skill set stacks up to other applicants.

O-Net has built a comprehensive database for education and career planning where skills have a significant role. What is great about the platform is all the context; in fact, it feeds a countless number of applications across the US as it is free to access and use.

Monster has a prominent place on their online resume for skills. Employers use a search mechanism called Power Resume®, which uses various semantics (including a skill set) to derive a ranked list of candidates with links to their resume.

Common Core is largely based on applying standards to foundational skills, like mathematics, reading comprehension, written communication, science, etc. I know because I have built the standards seamlessly into the administrative and user interface of Skills Label.

There is little to no argument of the definition of a skill, whether you are viewing it in LinkedIn, O-Net, a personal website or resume, or a publication of top in demand skills. I think we should define learning in skills and their competencies, underlying methods and applications, and standards. This is precisely what Skills Label does.

Are you happy with the decisions you made regarding post secondary education?


According to Gallup’s On Second Thought: U.S. Adults Reflect on Their Education Decisions, most Americans (51 percent) would change at least one of the following: choose a different major (36 percent), choose a different degree (12 percent), or choose a different institution (28 percent). This simply puts a number to something we already know, either through our own or others’ experiences. We all know the person who is disengaged at work, talking about wishing he or she could be doing something else. The business executive who would rather be a teacher, for example.

Gallup conducted a follow-up report Major Influence: Where Students Get Valued Advice on What to Study in College to illuminate who is giving the advice. The report identified four sources of advice: formal sources (counselors and media directed at giving advice), informal social network (family, friends, and community leaders), informal school-based (teachers, coaches, and staff), and informal workbased (employers, coworkers, etc.).

Most people (55 percent) receive advice from the informal social network. This make sense: get advice from the people who know us best and care about our well-being. Formal sources are the second highest referenced source (44 percent). Younger attendees increasingly refer to internet media about their “chosen field of study”.

For me, it was a family member who helped me get on track right before my senior year of college. I was told to start taking learning seriously (attend every class, do the homework, and study hard for tests) and encouraged that I could do much better. The advice did not impact my decisions, but put me in a place to make the most of them. The switch was turned on; I got Dean’s List both semesters and performed well in graduate school. Now I question whether I should have a degree in education instead, nevertheless, I am constantly using my skills from my degree in business management and computer applications.

Informal work-based sources are the most helpful (83 percent), which include advice from experts in the field and workplace experiences (9 percent). And as the study concludes, there is huge opportunity for growth with experiential and applied learning.

Imagine having K-12 students constantly sampling learning projects and experiences for a potential ‘field of study’ and ‘possible degree’. They keep track of each task and their impression; so not only track what skills they are learning, but also explore whether an experience might be a future fit. Skills Based Approach is the platform for experiential learning, a way to work with students’ evolving skill sets. Collecting Skills Labels creates a record of what learning tasks students have completed throughout their lifetime.

Significant Progress With Skills Applications

In 2017, significant progress was made on the suite of applications: Skills Label, Skill Syllabi, Skills Based Approach and Skills Culture.

Much of the development in 2017 was focused on Skills Label, which transformed from a display to a multi-faceted platform. It now has a dashboard (for administrators and users) and a landing page with a lot of functionality to do about anything with the labels. Another intriguing concept is the ability to create a series of labels based on students’ performance. Imagine starting a course with a single task.

On the display itself, the technology can now accept published standards (like Common Core) and dynamic standards (devised by a group of professors). It is accessible as a SVG (native format), HTML, PDF, and PNG formats.

A non-provisional patent was filed (after two provisional patents were expiring). Worked with a team of business and law students at Syracuse University to come up with an IP Landscape to move forward with the exciting technology.

Over the year, I cannot think of a single discouraging remark about the learning labels. I hear over and over again: “having a single, standardized display to express learning expectations makes a lot of sense”.

Skills Culture was launched and well received this year.

Skills Culture is a growth mindset to be motivated and taking action to learn and apply skills. In a Skills Culture students and professionals: learn skills, prove competencies by demonstration and/or taking assessments, and practice skills on a daily basis (every experience). Consider abilities in education and career planning, but they are not the sole criteria.

Thousands of viewers read at least one of the twenty-five blogs published this year. Practitioners are rallying behind the mindset as a way to motivate students and perhaps curtail the poor high school engagement numbers. In 2018, I am looking for guest bloggers to post insightful articles for the website.

In 2017, I keep reading from practitioners (Tom Vander Ark) how we are in a transition from a traditional learning system to a competency based learning system. It is also evident by all the new entrants in competency based learning: like Southern New Hampshire, Governors, and Purdue in higher education and progressive schools and programs and states like Maine and New Hampshire in standard education.

A solution, Skills Based Approach, was introduced in 2011 and has garnered an audience from around the world over the subsequent years. It is a methodology centered on the development of a skill set through a lifetime; users constantly cycle through four stages. In 2017, the focus has been to build awareness of how the methodology and application work through demonstration: a series of You Tube videos have been released to accomplish this goal.

Skills Based Approach works in concert with other applications. (Skills Label has features to address each of the four stages of Skills Based Approach. Skill Culture provides a mindset to motivate students to apply the methodology.) And this was the intent behind the methodology: build or find new applications and simply plug them into the stages where they are relevant.

Still, the overarching goal is to get Skills Based Approach as a mobile application in the hands of students. Let students manage their skills and competencies.

Skills Label in Other File Formats

How will the learning labels be used by students and professionals? From the landing page – a public URL, students will use the learning labels in different ways (and access different file formats). Here are three examples:

A high school student sees the label and knows what needs to be done, so downloads a PNG label for later – now viewable as a graphic in a carousal viewer on his or her smartphone.

A high school or college student receives a complex task (represented as a label). The student downloads a PDF label to computer or smartphone, accesses the label frequently as he or she completes prerequisites.

A teacher downloads the HTML file to post the label on his or her course website or uploads it to a LMS (learning management system). (There is also a link on the landing page to share as an assignment in Google Classroom – no download necessary.)

Skills Label™ is a standardized display for learning expectations. The optimal file format is what the labels were designed for: SVG (scalable vector graphics). SVGs are scalable, interactive, parseable, and versatile and a popular XML standard (so well supported and documented). These attributes make it an ideal format for the labels.

But, the labels are meant to be a standard and have many uses, so other formats have advantages (as discussed above). It is now possible to interact with the labels in these other file formats: HTML (simply a wrapper), PDF, and PNG. Here are the advantages and disadvantages:

File Type Advantages Disadvantages Uses
SVG (Native)
  • Sharp, concise display.
  • Scalable to any screen size.
  • Interactive. Mouse-over effects.
  • Live links to resources.
  • Easily parsed and read by machine algorithms.
  • Viewable in all browsers and most image viewing software.
  • Less familiarity with complex SVGs by users.
  • Fairly easy to edit values.
  •  Embed on website or mobile app.
  • Upload to LMS.
  • Scale to fit on print media.
  • Parse by reader or search engine.
  • Download as file on computer. View in browser.


(Same as above) (Same as above) (Same as above)
  • Single Task Sheet.
  • Easy to access, store on computer / smartphone.
  • Live links to resources.
  • Familiarity of format (PDF).
  • Less easy to modify.
  • No mouseover effects.
  • Not easy to embed on website.
  • Less concise, more obtrusive representation.
  • No parsing.


  • Download to computer or smartphone.
  • Move through prerequisites (for longer tasks).
  • Print task sheet.
  • Available as graphic and all viewers.
  • Easy to place on website/ app.
  • Easy to transport.
  • Difficult to modify.
  • Flat, non-interactive. No mouseover.
  • Requires some prior recognition of icons.
  • No links to prerequisites.
  • No parsing.
  • Download to computer or smartphone.
  • View in image slideshow (carousal).





Skills Label, Experiential Learning

When I was a teenager and had free time, I satisfied my desire to learn my own way. I read old dusty ’80s encyclopedias and National Geographic magazines lying around from my older brother’s subscription. Teenagers learn differently: practicing or drilling sports, playing video (and now online) games, etc.


Give students their time to learn and explore. One goal of Skills Label™ is to get students searching through the labels to simply explore, then choose how they want to spend their free time learning. Students get “credit” whenever they are learning (with skills labels, this is in the form of skill points – an intrinsic motivator, which will tie into future game like mechanics like leaderboards).

In building a catalogue of demonstration labels, I have researched many of the third-party education platforms for K-9 education. It is astounding of all the resources out there, but not much of a central, organized display to make sense of it all – like Skills Label.

For required learning, when I was a student, we had few choices; most of the learning was assignments the whole class got. There was little opportunity for experiential learning. And it was boring. Once a year, there was a science fair where someone undoubtedly created a volcano with baking soda and vinegar (among other projects).

At least now, it is becoming more stimulating as students are asked to build robots or rockets or simulate entrepreneurship. Tasks are exciting and real. Echoing what many practitioners are saying, we need to introduce adaptive, experiential learning at all stages of education.

It is possible to accomplish adaptive learning with skills labels in two ways. First, teachers give students choice: do four out of ten possible tasks; use the labels to decide on which ones to complete. Second, teachers start students off with a single task, then based on the results, students navigate through a series of tasks (represented as a series of labels).

Skills Label inherently promotes experiential learning as knowledge is defined with an emphasis on acquiring skills and competencies. I call skills the ‘verb of knowledge. Every experience is an opportunity to apply skills.

How Learning Labels Solve Problems


Problem: There is no standardized process and display to attribute what has been learned from an educational resource. There is no way of comparing traditional learning types – books, classroom courses, with emerging learning types – online games and courses, IoT, etc. This disarray becomes more apparent when comparing education, higher education, and professional learning resources.

Some parts of the process are being applied, but there is nothing that collectively puts it together in a logical sequence and produces a result – a standardized learning display.

Education companies create learning resources and publish learning expectations; for example, Sim City builds a game to teach basic skills from Common Core. But, there is not a standardized representation (like the proposed display) and there is nothing connecting learning expectations laterally across subjects and disciplines and vertically across learning stages.

Some web applications inform users how to acquire a credential and collect them over time. Mozilla has built one such platform with learning badges and creating a backpack to port them to other applications. However, this is limited as it focuses on validating one particular learning experience. Moreover, there is not a platform that suggests using all forms of credentials: certifications, learning badges, awards, etc. – like Skills Label.

With Skills Label, providers of educational resources have a step-by-step process to get their resource to an audience. The standardized display and credential can be accessed or found from an online search engine. The label might also be printed on educational resources found in a typical brick and mortar store.

Picture a student comparing skills labels (aka learning label) representing education resources and choosing one based on: cost or return on investment (ROI), how much time it takes to consume, learning preferences (like a type: book versus a game), or credential earned upon completion – all content shown clearly, concisely on the labels.

Solution: Skills Label™ is a patent pending process / method to create a standardized display, catalog, and database for what is learned from an education resource. All types of resources can be summarized using this process.

Skills Label™ differs from what currently exists. There is not a process for game designers, educational publishers, providers of online learning platforms, practitioners of traditional high school and college programs, and other producers of educational experiences to publish the learning expectations of their resources. There is also not a standardized display for an educational resource.

Skills Label™ is an improvement on what currently exists. It is a step-by-step process that navigates the producer or promoter of education resources in defining learning in a universal, standardized way. Every label has a label header to describe the resource. In the body, the provider must list all skills and skill level expertise gained from consuming the resource and standards can be assigned for each skill. All other learning is captured in a ‘knowledge gained’ field. All prerequisites (articles, books, etc.) and requirements (like certain hardware or software) to use the resource are captured in a series of icons in the label. Finally, the provider can assign any credential (badge, certificate, award, etc.) upon completion of the learning task.