Skills Label With Standards (Common Core)

Group of happy young people at university Photo Credit: DepositPhoto C Goodluz

Recently, I added an interface for Skills Label™ to work with Common Core – both in the assignment and on the display. From its inception, I have been a big proponent of the standards. I see them as a way to get all students’ advocates – teachers, counselors, parents, game creators, publishers of education resources, etc. – on the same page.

The benefits of the standards are: 1) having transparent and easily accessible standards; 2) building ‘core’ foundational skills – critical thinking, problem solving, and analytic skills; and 3) representing a nation-wide audience of students. They are online, accessible to anyone: students and their parents, teachers, educators, community planners, and third-party organizations.

Here are my responses to the naysayers:

  • Students are dejected after underperforming on the tests. Understandable argument, though the tests are relatively new. Students will perform better in the future. There is so much upside with the standards, I suggest decoupling the testing and standards.
  • Teachers are losing their jobs because students are not performing up to expectations. Teachers are getting better. According to a recent survey, thirty-nine percent of teachers feel “very prepared” to teach the standards (up 20 percentage points from 2002).
  • Not enough learning resources based on Common Core. Per same survey, only 18% of teachers strongly agree that their resources were aligned with the standards (up from 9% in 2002). Of course, this only improves over time.
  • Education needs to be less standardized. Take standards for what they are, building “core” basic skills. The standards are clear and concise, leaving considerable leeway to create a wide range of experiences. Schools can and should differentiate in the programs they offer their students. Publishers should find creative ways to build upon the standards.

I think we are going to see a significant rise in the number of learning resource tied to Common Core. More institutions (all ultra-large software companies, education publishers, game creators, etc.) are creating resources aligned to the standards. Furthermore, I think it is more reasonable to consider an equitable distribution of learning resources (free and online), than distribution of education in schools (often based on demographics). Skills Label™ is the ideal platform for students to make comparisons of Common Core learning resources.

For all other standards (even non-accredited ones), Skills Label™ accepts a ‘dynamic set of standards’ for any level of education. Institutions or a cadre of professors or teachers create their own set of standards, aligns them to related skills, and uploads them to Skills Label™. Then, they have access to them and choose to have them appear on the labels for their students. These dynamic standards are shareable, so credibility is established by the number of institutions applying the standards in their labels.

Peer review, dynamic standards are advantageous by making the standards dexterous to rapid changes of demand for new age skills. It takes many years for an accreditation framework to appear. It takes time for a new program to be reviewed and become accredited. The dynamic standards can be created and gain acceptance almost instantaneously.

Standards provide an anchor for expressing learn expectations and outcomes to skills. They are useful for capturing the slippery ‘level of difficulty’ assessment – a challenge because learning a skill might span as much as ten years and traverse across education, higher education, and early career learning. Skills Label™ is an ideal platform to work with accepted and dynamic standards.

Summarize Learning in Skills

Skills.png

In coming up with Skills Based Approach a few years ago, I always had a wide lens for talking about skills (never exclusively worked with a technical view of skills). I see skills as the underpinning in everything we do; in every experience, we apply skills. They define how we think, play, converse, engineer, create, build, design, analyze, solve problems, etc. Types of skills include: foundational thinking and soft skills, transferable, technical, and behavioral skills. Here are some of the advantages in working with skills:

  • Definable – every skill can be defined and has related underlying methods and applications. Much of learning (traditional and new age) translate best to skills, including: gamification, badges, and adaptive and personalized learning.
  • Standardized – skill sets are concrete. Skills summarize education and employment needs. Educators, recruiters, and employers understand skill sets.
  • Portable – most social media platforms (LinkedIn, Google +, Facebook), job boards, and personal websites include skill sets.
  • Searchable – skill sets are highly effective as tags to content.
  • Flexible – new skills are created all the time. Many skills today did not exist five years ago.
  • Longevity – skills connect education, higher education, and career learning expectations.

Skills Label™ is an effective, standardized display for learning resources. Much of the display is dedicated to skills and skill competencies. (Once again, drawing on the nutritional label example, skills take the place of vitamins in the layout.)

I agree with educators who stress the importance of helping learners develop lens, perspectives to properly evaluate their circumstances – essentially drive their growth as a person. To some extent, this involves memorizing relevant facts and information. There are places on a Skills Label™ to capture this ‘other side’ of knowledge. First, for each skill line item, a teacher can add ‘skill context’ to describe what is learned for that skill in the experience. Second, below the skills section, there is descriptive ‘knowledge gain’ section to summarize an overall learning objective.

Skills act as the ‘verb’ in knowledge; it is the action part of knowledge. Arguably, this becomes the biggest factor because we are already seeing technology augmenting our ability to retrieve facts and information.

Learn more about Skills-Based Approach and Skills Label™ .

Photo Credit © Camrocker, DmitryPoch, diego_cervo, Wavebreakme

New Age Skill Assessments

I have been working on skills and skill competencies for the past six years (published A Skills Based Approach to Developing a Career in 2013). My work with Skills Based Approach has gained a significant audience and following around the world. Recently, I have focused on a new innovative concept: Skills Label™ – one standardized display for learning in any task – online game, virtual reality, courses, videos, activities, etc.

knowledge31When I talk to professors about assessing skills in Competency Based Learning (CBL) programs, they tell me “there are institutions working on developing competencies but there are no clear standards already in place”. (I guess I am looking for something like Common Core in standard education.) Some professors seem perplexed and ask: “Where would you even start to create a standard for addressing skills?”. Some professors are not convinced in the necessity of teaching and tracking learning at such a discrete level.

The challenge is trying to develop a one-size fits all approach to assess skills. I argue, in our every experience, we apply skill. Skills work laterally across subject and disciplines. There are thousands of defined skills (I reviewed a LinkedIn database of 4,500 skills). The list only keeps growing with new technologies being defined every day. Addressing the breadth of skill assessments is a challenge.

Skills work vertically across education, higher education and career stages. For many of the foundational thinking and soft skills, we use them throughout much of our life. Critical thinking is considered a pinnacle skill, one we start learning in high school and is the benchmark of higher education. To learn a skill for our “own needs”, it takes twenty hours. To become a master, it takes ten thousand hours (according to one commonly referenced yardstick). Creating a measurement that works across what could be an eight to ten-year stretch is difficult. Addressing the depth of skill assessments is a challenge.

Skills Label is an early iteration to represent lifelong learning expectations with skill competencies. There are five elements:

·        Focus Value. For an experience, this value represents the intensity in learning a skill. (Represented as a percentage of total focus values multiplied by the time to complete the experience.)

·        Level of Difficulty. A one in five value representing how difficult the application of the skills. (A scale based on middle school, high school, college, graduate and professional stages.)

·        Standards. A way to anchor Level of Difficulty to actual standards, either universally accepted ones (like Common Core) or dynamic ones (created by a group of practitioners). For example, Common Core standards are linked to a grade level.

·        Underlying Methods and Application. Measure the intensity and frequency the underlying methods of a skill are applied. This is thinking one level deeper than skills.

·        Skill Points. An algorithm calculates this measurement of learning based on the other elements and time spent.

Perhaps the most difficult element to quantify is: Level of Difficulty. Applying standards helps to anchor a level of difficulty to an education or career stage. But, I think the most compelling process to assess skills is to work with their methods and applications. Count the number of times the method is applied, measure the difficulty in applying it.

For example, there are perhaps 20 to 50 methods behind applying the skill of Critical Thinking. It is easier to evaluate Critical Thinking by working with these methods as a framework.

Ideally, (I believe) accurate, new age assessments based purely on the application of skill (as opposed to being rooted in grades, age, demographics) become a gold standard in learning.

Learn more about this exciting new concept on the website: www.skillslabel.com

Skills Label Uses

When you develop a new, innovative service/product, you must convince an audience why they should use it on top of the other products they are already using (especially with technology applications). (I typically hear: “Why? I am already doing this…”) Skills Label™ is a fundamentally different concept than anything else. The objective is to create one standardized display for all learning tasks (analogous to how a food label represents nutritional value).

Skill Label In Colors
Skill Label In Colors

The time it takes to create a label is not an issue. Using the label wizard, it is possible to create a label in less than three minutes. Using the upload, it is possible to upload hundreds of labels in less than a minute.

It is possible to assign credentials earned after a learner consumes the resource, including: badges, certifications, awards, etc. Here is who should consider creating labels:

Game creators create Skills Label™ for their games (an argument could be made that learning takes place in any game). It becomes a clear signal (especially to the naysayers of games in education) precisely your learning expectations and desired outcomes.

Online course designers (MOOCs or paid services) use a Skills Label™ for the course and a series of labels to represent all the tasks in the course. (Also, consider using the companion service Skills Syllabi to represent the course.)

Instructional designers use a label to clearly define learning expectations and outcomes of a resource they are creating. It might be first step, before they start designing their resource.

Teacher or professors use Skills Label in your classroom for project, activities, and experiences. You create a label for an activity you created on your own. You reference or create a label for resource you want to use in your classroom. (A benefit is you can create a collection of Skills Labels and give your students some choice in which ones they want to participate in).

Education Institutions create labels for their entire curriculum with one simple upload.

Here is what to do with a Skills Label:

  • Put a label on a website marketing the resource (game, course, video, etc.).
  • Send students to the public URL for the label (provided by Skills Label).
  • Email the label and a link to it online.
  • Print the label on any brochures or packaging of your product.

Here is what is included with the service:

  • Skill Label shown as a graphic in various file formats.
  • Access to database of skills, competencies, standards, and requirements.
  • Public URL and landing page.
  • Option to have label indexed in public search engine.

(And more functionality on the way.)

Of course, the biggest benefactor of Skills Labels are the high school and college students. For students, they access, collect, and use the Skills Label platform as a free service; all learner accounts are free. Skills Label is an ideal way to represent learning of discrete tasks and as students consume the resources represented by the labels, they store and catalogue them as a record of their learning. (There is already cross functionality with Skills Based Approach where a student can one-click add a label to their list of current tasks.) Students store Skills Labels in a collection for later consumption.

As the movement gains traction, students will have access to a search engine to find learning resources based on content collected from the Skills Label. This creates awareness the resources exist. Perhaps the biggest value in Skills Label is a platform to make comparisons among potential learning resources. A student has all the information needed to decide on spending time and/or money on a resource, including: ROI, personal learning preferences, accessibility, cost, credential earned, and the experience itself.

Introduction to Skills Label

Skills Label ™ is a fresh, patent pending concept: a standardized display and representation of learning for any discrete task. If you think about it, there is no standardized process and display to attribute what has been learned from an education resource. There is no way of comparing traditional learning types – books, classroom courses, with emerging learning types – online games and courses, IoT, etc. Furthermore, there is disarray in comparing education, higher education, and professional learning resources.

Current Skills Label
Current Skills Label

For a basis of comparison, think about a nutritional label on food. At an early stage (in health class as a kid), we are taught how to read the label and understand the nutritional value of the food. Later in life, as we shop at the local food store, we make instantaneous decisions between types and brands of food based on their labels. Furthermore, the FDA weighs in may issue a stamp of approval.

(Perhaps ambitious) I think we can do something similar in learning with Skills Label™ – a “one size -fits all” display to capture learning expectations and outcomes. On a label, learning is expressed in skills and skill competencies (focus values, level of difficulty, and if applicable, standards); there are also fields for requirements and required prior knowledge. Everything appears clearly, concisely on a label. A big difference is: these labels are optimized for a digital display (in a browser or app) and have extended functionality from an online database and catalog, such as the basis of a search engine. (Of course, these labels can also be printed.)

Defining learning in skills and skill competencies has advantages. First, skills are standardized, with universally accepted definitions. (The database of skills for this application is also used with the Skills-Based Approach application.) Second, skills are understood across disciplines; educators, recruiters, employers, and policy makers all understand skills. Third, skills based learning is making headway in education because it is personalized and adaptive to the learner. Common Core is largely based on skills and is built into the interface of the label, both in the wizard interface and on the display. College and universities are introducing competency based learning programs. Finally, skills work with traditional and emerging learning technologies and applications. You can define learning skills in not only traditional courses and activities, but also online games and courses.

Skills Label ™ involves: defining what is learned from a resource using an interactive interface, designating a credential gained after consuming the resource, and making the resource accessible to an audience. The result is a standardized display. Something (I hope) becomes recognizable as a basis of comparison of learning resources.

I am skeptical the current movement to offer choice in schools has its desired effect: improve equity in standard education. But, I hope access to the learning resources becomes equitable (if not in the classroom, then out of the classroom). This is something we are already experiencing with the free, online distribution of courses (like Khan Academy in education and Courera or EdX in higher education). Students should be able to choose learning resources based on their own learning preferences and ROI. Skills Label™ is an ideal platform to make comparisons between learning resources.

Please join the community: follow on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/skillslabel and signup on the website http://www.skillslabel.com .

Mentoring: Best Way to Learn Skills

I am fortunate to have had two tremendous mentors in my life. My experiences had such a powerful, lasting impact on me, I feel compelled to share my stories and promote mentorships. Last week I shared this diagram and received a good audience here in LinkedIn. I did not do any research or read articles on mentoring, this was based on personal reflection of my experiences.\

Benefits in Having a Mentor
Benefits in Having a Mentor

I believe all students and professionals benefit from a mentor, regardless of their field or discipline. When I first conceived Skills Based Approach (almost five years ago), I put mentorships squarely in the building stage. In A Skills Based Approach to Developing a Career, I dedicate a section to discuss how mentorships work with acquiring skills. I am convinced for many technical skills, learning from a mentor is the quickest, most effective way. You learn from a master who shares their methods and applications. (Besides the technicalities, is there much difference between an apprenticeship and mentorship?)

I had performed well my senior year in college but lacked vision of what I wanted to do with my career.  All I knew is that I wanted to design software applications. Coming from a small country liberal arts college, I landed a job in DC with a culturally sophisticated company. Starting out, I reviewed financials, did data entry, and some other tedious tasks – stuff not uncommon for first and second year workers; still it was drudgery. After a few months, I hooked up with a mentor – someone I have always had tremendous respect for. Together, we worked on an exciting new, innovative software application. In the end, we were successful – our client was extremely satisfied with our product for many years.

In this situation, I was empowered. I still use many of the same methods (coding style, file management, etc.) passed on to me from this experience. He was true; I appreciated clear, honest, and candid conversations. Personally, I met a chief advocate. In return, I worked extremely hard, made suggestions, and offered my friendship. I accelerated my software application skills by a couple of years and my soft skills improved; I became confident working with brilliant people.

In another mentorship, I had a job-sharing role with someone diagnosed with terminal cancer. This was a challenge personally and professionally. He was a gifted, late career software developer who built an application from scratch and had a process to distribute the application on CDs across the country. In about a year, he taught me the process, step by step until I could do it on my own.

I learned some coding skills from a master and a multi-step process to mass distribute a software application. But, more importantly, I learned to work with someone dealt with unfortunate circumstances, someone who invested much of his limited time working on this application. I learned respect.

I believe every student in high school should be assigned a mentor (according to one poll, only one in three has access to a mentor). Similarly, college students should have one– perhaps a professor. Finally, mentoring should be incorporated in onboarding programs. Mentoring is a key aspect of Skills Based Approach.

 

Competency Based Learning and Tasking

What is the best way to create a Competency Based Learning (“CBL”) program in higher education? I suggest thinking in terms of a series of tasks – projects, experiences, and assessments – defined by learning outcomes, expressed in skills and related competencies and the underlying methods and applications of the skills. (Make the definition part is similar to Common Core.) Once a student demonstrates or proves a competency with a task, they move on to the next task. And when they have completed a series of tasks they get the credential.

Personal Growth
Personal Growth

I think linking skills to their underlying methods and applications is key (and grossly overlooked).  I use the example of the skill of critical thinking. In his book Our Underachieving Colleges, Derek Bok says:

It is impressive to find faculty members agreeing almost unanimously that teaching students to think critically is the principal aim of undergraduate education.

But, according to a survey of students taking the CLA+ before college and two years into college, there is no significant gain in critical thinking, complex reasoning, or writing skills for at least 45 percent of students (Academically Adrift). Therefore, I propose getting deeper in the way we think about teaching and learning skills (like critical thinking) in higher education. Let’s consider tracking how students are learning the methods behind the skills.

One platform I have been proposing is using a suite of apps: Skill Label™, Skill Syllabi℠, and Skills Based Approach℠; this is something I discussed in a previous article. I would like to get a step deeper with assigning and distributing projects with a Skills Label.

Skills Label™ is a patent pending utility to display what is learned in any experience, activity, resources – any discrete task. This utility is used to define learning expectations for traditional media (classroom exercises, books, papers, etc.) with new emerging media (game, virtual reality, IoT, etc.). There is one standardized display.

Students have choices and a basis for comparisons. Skills Label™ is ideal way to represent the tasking required in a CBL program. Skills Label™ supports experiential, project based learning. The tasking with Skills Label™ works with team based projects and classroom exercises too.

In addition, students may supplement their learning outside of the classroom – self guided learning. A student can go online to compare skills labels 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.

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