Why (How) to Think in Skills…

I have always had a broad perspective of skills, often depicting them as the foundation of learning and verb of knowledge (phases I have used over the years). I understand my perspective is not shared by everyone (yet), though it is gaining momentum. Thought it might be useful to make a case for my all-in investment with skills, competencies, and related methods and applications.

Skill Types
Skill Types

A few years back, I searched and got my hands on an unscrubbed database of skills. It had about 4,500 skills. Since then, I have been slowly rebuilding the database to add definitions, categories, and incorporating them into a search. The benefit is I have a single database feeding each of the Skills applications: Skills Based Approach℠, Skills Label™, and Skill Syllabi℠; practitioners and learners work with the same set of skills. It is a never-ending process as skills are being added all the time.

Often when a new technology is introduced, there are also new associated skill(s). A great example is mobile internet and cloud computing and all the skills associated with using this technology. According to Future of Jobs survey “mobile internet, cloud technology” (22%) is the top technologic drivers already impacting employees’ skills. Big data, processing power, new energy supplies and technologies, internet of things and sharing economy are other drivers mentioned in the survey.

A great resource to understand the demand for new skills is the Future Work Skills 2020, which identified some of the emerging transferable skills (such as transdisciplinary, cognitive load management, cross cultural competency, virtual collaboration, design mindset, social intelligence, sense making, and computational thinking).

The chart above shows a sample from the database. There are five skill types, with a total and percent representation in this sample. The chart is meant to show proportion of skills assigned to each type and introduce five skill types.

Technical skills are what most people think of when talking about skills. They are unique to a subject or discipline, which we apply in a career and sometimes work towards mastery in. Of course, this type of skill holds the largest share, has the most new skills added, and has the biggest swings in demand for related skills.

Transferable skills transcend across disciplines and subjects. Theses skills are becoming increasingly important as workers are changing careers more frequently. Building competencies with these skills makes it easier to fill skill gaps when pivoting into another career.

Soft skills are communication and interpersonal skills and behaviors. Like any other skill, we can deliberately practice them in our experiences. Many significant practitioners (leaders and managers too), are saying soft skills will have more of an impact on success than technical skills. (I am a big fan of Travis Bradberry’s work on emotional intelligence.)

Thinking skills are the foundation of learning gained from education and higher education. With proper thinking skills, many of the technical and transferable skill can be learned. Thinking skills also make life more meaningful and allow for persons to interpret arts and the humanities. (In his book) Derrick Bok says: “professors almost unanimously agree teaching students to think critically is the benchmark of higher education”. Finally, these 8 skills do not change much so it is critical is to understand the methods and application behind them.

Art skills are those related to arts and the humanities. There is a lot of skill required to become an expert in these fields. Some is acquired through application and some through natural talent or inspiration. Skills are also needed in the interpretation of arts and humanities. Understand the slight change from STEM to STEAM, a worthy addendum.

Why Skills?

  • Occupations or specialties are changing too fast: “The most in-demand occupations or specialties did not exist 10 or even five years ago, and the pace of change is set to accelerate.” The Future of Jobs – World Economic Forum
  • Skills are tangible, something to talk about. They are: Definable, standardized, portable, searchable, measurable, and flexible.
  • Skills are the ‘verb’ in knowledge. It is the action part. Skills define how we think, converse, problem solve, create, engineer, write, debate, play and so on. They are the underlying foundation of all learning.
  • Displacement of jobs due to automation and AI. Need to build skills unique to human capabilities. Identify and acquire skills that complement these new technologies. “Everything that can be automated will be automated.” (Pew Research Digital Life in 2025)

(Skills Label) What is the Brand Name?

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Skills Label™ is a standardized display to express learning expectations and outcomes in any task (experience, activity, or resource). It solves a big problem:

There is no way to compare learning from traditional learning media (books, game, course, activities, etc.) with emerging learning media (games, virtual reality, and IoT). This disarray gets worse when comparing media targeting different education, higher education, and career stages.

Skills Label™ is a patent pending process / method to create a standardized display, catalog, and database for learning resources. 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.

Been working on coming up with a ‘brand name’ for this concept. Here are four potential names for the brand:

Skills Label™. This is the brand name we have invested all our marketing efforts in. Clearly, the prime space on the label is used to emphasize skills and elements related to skills. (Using the analogy of a nutritional label, skills are like vitamins – the essence, goodness of the resource.) In addition, putting ‘skills’ in the brand name strongly associates it with two other core apps: Skills Based Approach and Skill Syllabi. Finally, it coincides with the Skills Culture mindset.

Skills Emblem. Badging and stacking credentials has gained a significant following in education and professional development. This might emphasize what you get after consuming a label. One part of the process and utility of the label is to assign credentials. This ties skill to learning achievements.

Working with skills, competencies, and their related underlying methods is an ideal medium to express learning expectations. The database of skills is robust, representing technical and transferable skills, soft skills, and behaviors and constantly growing to accept new technologies and applications; an advantage in working in skills is they are evolving. New elements like focus values and context have been added to the label. Standards, like Common Core, are linked to skills and anchor the level of difficulty or required competency.

Education Label. The advantage in this name is it directly links the intent to reach a target audience of students in K-12 education and higher education. The lion’s share of labels might be created by teachers and professors for tasking in their courses.

Learning Label. Summarizing learning is the objective of the labels. It does not matter if the learning takes place in the classroom or out of the classroom. It does not matter if the learning is required or self-directed. The purpose is to capture learning.

Not expecting to get a response to decide on a brand name with this article, so clearly the intent is to put marketing spins on this exciting new concept. But if you have something to say, please share. Join the community: www.skillslabel.com and www.twitter.com/skillslabel

 

 

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.

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).