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.

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

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.

Competency Based Learning

Competency Based Learning (“CBL”) has been talked about in education and higher education as an efficient, effective way of learning for many years now.  CBL is efficient by letting student move on when they can prove a desired competency; learning evaluations are less dependent on how much time is spent in a classroom and the established credit hour system. CBL is effective by helping every type of student: 1) underperforming students get added resources or support to help them reach a competency; 2) average students control how much time they spend learning and may compete with students with more ability if they choose to; 3) high performing students get to keep moving forward when they prove a competency.

Personal Growth
Personal Growth

Our traditional education system has moved towards CBL with the adoption of Common Core standards. The standards are largely based on advancing basic skills in English, Math, Social Studies, and Science. The learning expectations are explicit and accessible. When the resources tied to the standards catch up (particularly assessments), students learn at their own pace. In the future, we see less learning expectations based on grade, age, and demographics.

In higher education, between 2015 and 2016, the number of CBL programs grew from 50 to 500 CBL programs (according to Tech Crunch) and this number will continue to grow. Higher education institutions have been trying to reduce expenses for decades with little success; students owe over 1 trillion dollars in debt. CBL is one answer. Rather than focusing solely on cost cutting and expense side of the equation, institutions adopt CBL with the potential of reducing the path to attainment of a degree or credential. Student pay one to three years of tuition rather than four.

I am not suggesting replacing any of the learning that takes place in a four-year degree, just the time it takes. According to one study (National Survey of Student Engagement), students spend an average of 17 hours a week studying. (In my opinion) the amount of weekly coursework should be at least 40 hours (a typical work week) and could easily reach 80 hours a week. (Something I remember experiencing while working towards an MBA, much of it was social and relationship building.) I also think traditional higher education institutions are going to join the progressive ones in adopting these CBL programs.

Incoming students should take assessments and complete projects when they start a program. Find out where they are, then give them the right learning program. For example, if a student is versed in programming, there is no sense in spending three semesters taking the introductory courses.

I propose a suite of applications, what I call a “Learning Scaffold for Skills”, as a platform for CBL programs. At the lowest level, there is Skills Label™ where learning expectations are defined for discrete tasks. On the display, users are directed to a resource or project and have all the information needed to complete the task. The learning is based on skills, competencies, and focus values. It is possible to incorporate learning standards into the labels too. Finally, a teacher or professor easily modifies a series of labels for each student to personalize the learning experience.

I see a series of labels as an ideal way to represent what is required in a CBL program. Students go through each of the labels, comprised of projects and / or assessments and upon verifiable completion demonstrate a required competency. Students work on the projects at their own pace.

To represent a collection of these labels at a course level, there is the app Skill Syllabi℠. A teacher or professor creates a syllabus which has all the sections of a standard syllabus plus sections for skills and competencies, skill labels, and tasks.

At the program level (and a platform for lifelong learning) is Skills-Based Approach℠.  Students import all the tasking in the labels and syllabi directly into their Skills Based Approach accounts. Then, they can move through the four stages of Skills Based Approach (an established methodology) to acquire the skills.

This suite of apps become a platform for Competency Based Learning programs (both in education and higher education).