Learning Labels Show Methods Behind Skills (Like Critical Thinking)


A movement to track skills is a step forward, but the next movement is to track the underlying methods and applications behind skills. Teaching critical thinking – a pinnacle skill – is something we need to work on. My reasoning comes from two books published a few years ago: Our Underachieving Colleges by Derek Bok and Academically Adrift by a team of authors. Two quotes summarize their findings:

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

No statistically significant gain in critical thinking, complex reasoning, or writing skills for at least 45 percent of students. (Students who took CLA+ before college and after two years of college.) – Academically Adrift authors

But, this is not a persuasive article trying to convince you the need to scrutinize and put more time and resources into developing this skill. I think this is already agreed upon. Rather, this is an article about a solution to this problem, what is being done with Skills / Learning Label™ . This technology addresses the problem in three ways:

First, a practitioner assigns many skills (critical thinking) for any task – regardless of the discipline or subject, type of task, or education stage. So, for higher education, a practitioner creating a task in humanities (summarizing thoughts of a philosopher), economics (applying game theory in an actual situation), or marketing (ranking and choosing copy for a campaign), references critical thinking in the task. It appears on the learning label and is tracked as a leaner completes the task.

Second, a practitioner references standards behind skills (critical thinking). Through the Skills Label interface, it is possible to assign standards for each skill in a task. Assign the standards through the administrative interface, and they appear on the labels themselves.

Standards can be commonly accepted ones (like Common Core); standards can be dynamic ones (created and recognized by a group of professors / institutions). This video provides an initial introduction to the standards interface.

Third, a practitioner references underlying methods and application behind the skill. Perhaps a teacher / professor does not find a suitable set of standards, so assigns specific methods or applications behind the skill. For example, in this task, the learner uses reasoning, ranking, summarizing, deducing, etc.

All of this can be accomplished in an unobtrusive, non- time-consuming way. (It is built into a Label Wizard to quickly construct the labels.) Once the standards or methods are in place, they are easily accessible through the administrative interface.

Furthermore, this level of detail and functionality works for all skills in Skills Label.

Skills Label (Personalized Learning and PBL)

Academia is talking about personalized and deeper learning, something I have advocated with the Skills Based Approach methodology and application for its inception in 2013. The methodology is focused entirely on an individual. The application is meant to be handled by the student or young professional to manage their learning tasks.

Skills Label (Personalized Learning and PBL)
Skills Label (Personalized Learning and PBL)

Skills Label represents learning in any task, activity, or experience. To achieve project based learning, the labels are connected by outcomes after completing a task. Currently, there are three options: two, three, or ten outcomes (as shown in graphic). A creator of education resources, teacher, or professor chooses the number of outcomes and then assigns labels for each of them. This effectively allows a perpetual series of labels.

The user (a student or professional) simply clicks on the bar representing the outcome and is taken to the next label. And the next label also has its own set of outcomes. This effectively connects the labels together.

This is personal. The outcomes are determined on how the student performs in the learning experience, so next steps are tied to individual performance.

This promotes project based learning (PBL) and deeper learning. One implementation of PBL is a series of tasks with conditionals, precisely what it accomplished with this new functionality.

Significant data can be collected from a series of labels, and could be a source of future iterations and features. But, for now, a human (teacher, professor, etc.) controls what happens with each of the outcomes and creates their own series.

This is ideal for a teacher or professor creating and assigning tasks a course, or a company moving through an onboarding process. Start creating your own series of Skills Label.

Skills Emblem

One problem with learning badges is a learner might collect hundreds, thousands of them through education and higher education. I am developing a Skills Emblem, which is essentially one learning badge for each skill you work on. Perhaps, a learner works on forty skills (so forty emblems) during this period. As a learner completes tasks (and progresses through their education), the information is updated automatically. Skills Emblems are dynamic learning badges.

One problem with verifying learning is so much learning takes place outside of the classroom. Skills Labels help bridge all learning expectations, such as self-guided and required learning. A Skills Emblem is a great way to present and validate learning.

Skills Emblem is a presentation of skill competencies, along with supporting information: number of tasks and hours working on the skill. As learners complete tasks, the elements are calculated and appear in green on the lower part of the emblem; likewise, as they collect tasks, they appear in blue on the top (as tasks in queue). The competencies are in the center – Skills Points. (Calculated with a proprietary algorithm based on time, difficulty and focus values.)

The designation between queued and completed work is useful by signaling to a learner and their audience how learning tasks are impacting their growth each step of the way.

All the data updates automatically as a learner consumes learning resources (represented as Skills Labels). At this stage, they are part of the Skills Label platform. In future iterations, these skill emblems will be accessible across platforms – like in social media, LMS systems, personal websites or portfolios, etc.

The information is meant to be used throughout education and career stages. Now, it is possible to work on and track the development of a skill like Critical Thinking throughout stages and across disciplines. Critical thinking is the benchmark of college education. So, a student might get credit for doing tasks in a humanities, economics, and statistics course (and so on).

A skill emblem represents a competency for a single skill, so a learner has many of them – one for each skill in their skill set. Useful for a learner navigating through a career. It becomes like a lifelong record of learning. A learner might evolve into other skills, but can always go back and access previous progress.

Skills Emblem is currently one aspect of a Skills Page, which is part of Skills Label application. This Skills Page will have other functionality, including a table to track, sort, and filter learning tasks over time (based on the consumption of Skills Labels). (This is still in the works.) Moreover, big differentiation, students and young professionals will be able to access standards and method and applications they have learned.

If you create learning resources, start creating Skills Labels for each of them; the resource is currently free!

New Skills Label Dashboard

Students (all levels of education) are bombarded with many types of learning resources. Much of the consumption is outside of the classroom – some is required as part of a curriculum and some is not. At some level, perhaps middle school and later, students should manage their own learning. Skills Label Dashboard is an ideal platform to accomplish this requirement.

Dashboard Skills

In addition, significant value is created by collecting and then storing learning labels over time. Assuming someone completes a given task, they get credit for completing it with Skill Points (a proprietary algorithm calculates these values). The diagram (an actual screenshot) demonstrates how this works.

On the menu, you see links based on a skill, how many tasks require the skill (the ranking), and total skill points earned upon completing the tasks. (Disclaimer: this is a pre-release so the numbers in the diagram are not actual examples, not calculated by algorithm.) Simply click on the link and the interactive dashboard appears with all the tasks for the skill (color coded based by assigned collections).

This application works with skills and competencies, demonstrating one approach to calculate competencies: summarize and analyze successful completion of tasks. Working with this medium, provides a basis (an assessment) to work laterally across subjects and disciplines, and vertically across education career stages. (And there is more forthcoming; there is much more with the learning labels.)

I fully back the traditional method in deriving a skill competency, where you take an assessment (test, simulation, project, etc.) and based on the results you get a competency. As I said before, a good assessment is purely free standing, not dependent on grade level, degree, age, etc. But I think, what I am suggesting with these labels and skill points is significantly different.

Essentially, a student gets credit’ for completing tasks (wherever and however it takes place). Part of the process (patent pending) is a verification the tasks expressed as labels are accurate with learning expectations and outcomes. Another part is verifying the task was completed. There are advantages to this approach to deriving a competency:

  • Intrinsic motivator. Growth mindset. Students are motivated to complete tasks because they will get credit.
  • Connected through education and career stages. Skill Points are calculated with a proprietary algorithm meant to distribute credit proportionately through this span.
  • Allocates credit for all learning. For example, a student taking an economic course gets credit from economic analysis, problem solving, critical thinking, etc.
  • Draws on data over time. Taking a test is a one-time, one-shot deal. Some students are better at taking tests than other. Completed tasks embodies a whole series of tasks over a period of time.

I think both ways of deriving a skills competency are valid, each having their own advantages.

So much is being talked about personalized learning and applied learning; these labels address both types of learning. First, this dashboard as an ideal way for students to track their learning and take control. A teacher might assign projects (as a learning label) to students directly or assign 20 of 40 projects and let the students choose. Second, thinking in skills and their underlying methods and applications is a focal point of the labels and dashboard, so is an ideal way to express experiential learning expectations and outcomes.

Start creating your Skills Label today. Learn about Skills Based Approach .

New Skills Label Dashboard

Hopefully, you start to see Skills Labels on website and mobile applications, search engine result pages (SERPs), in LMS systems (like Google Classroom), or on printed displays. The intention behind this patent pending utility is to establish a standardized display for learning in any task or experience, so it could potentially be viewed in each of these platforms.


(There is a companion application, Skill Syllabi, where a teacher or professor can assign a collection of Skills Labels. In addition, Skills Label will have its own search engine to find learning resources.)

First question I hear about these Skills / Learning Labels is (from a student, parent or teacher): What do I actually do with them?

You might simply view the learning label once and use it as a basis on comparison and utility to decide whether to: play an online game, try a virtual reality experience, take a course, or do a classroom activity.

But I see value in collecting these learning labels over time. I wanted to introduce you to a new dashboard for Skills Label, where you can collect, organize, and use labels over a period. The diagram above demonstrates what (an initial iteration) of this dashboard looks like. (Already working on the next iteration, with new functionality related to concentrating on skills.) Here is a video demonstration.

A student assigns labels to a set of ‘collections’, which they name and choose a color for. Going forward, the student can then reassign labels to collections, and access them in a user friendly tiled interface. This dashboard has features to filter and sort by collections and label characteristics. Much of this can be accomplished by drag and drop, and other intuitive interactions.

I have written what I believe is a convincing argument that collecting these labels is a way to track lifelong learning.

Start creating your Skills Labels! Let me know what you think of this exciting, new technology.