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.

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!