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Continuing our Stakeholders in the Modern Credential Marketplace series, we turn our Lens on Educators, starting with a look at how educators can impact the employability outcomes of learners and programs around them now. The reason is simple. Change must start somewhere, and as when setting any goal, we need to aim for that which is a stretch for us, but still achievable.
This is not to say that there is not work being done on a larger scale to make changes to traditional education frameworks, but for many educators, such lofty goals can seem daunting. Where then can educators make a difference now and in the near future and what are the elements that they can impact more directly?
For stakeholders across the spectrum, the focus has shifted to skills, both hard and soft skills that learners can use as currency toward supporting employment. So to begin with, we will present an overview of where we are going, an assembly of thoughts and queries and extend to you an invitation, or those you know, to be a part of what we are doing. We’re going to look at five main areas:
In the Lens on Educators articles that follow, we will tackle each of these topics in turn, discussing what has been done in the past, what is happening now, and what may be on the horizon for education. Before we get started though, it’s important that we give some kudos to early educators and their skills focus, then discuss plainly some of the very real constraints that exist for educators at all levels.
In many cases, our focus is on higher education, because our focus is also on employability, micro-credentials and the digital badges that recognise them. Or how post-secondary grads, college graduates and lifelong learners approach continuing education - and the outcomes of education. However, for a moment, we want to acknowledge the work that is being done in early education.
At the elementary level, students are being taught “soft skills” as early as first grade. “We can teach students listening skills, teamwork, and communication skills early on,” Cindy King, an elementary school teacher in the Boise School District in Idaho told us. “It’s not always a part of the curriculum, but as educators, it benefits us to integrate these skills into our teaching wherever possible.”
This doesn’t mean the curriculum makes this easy, let alone ideal. “The reading and social studies program we have in place doesn’t really lend itself to group activity and teamwork,” she told us. “I would change that if I could, but because of the way the curriculum builds on itself, that is a challenge.” And there are places where change is happening.
In charter schools in the US for example, everything from college prep to a vocational focus is offered in a non-standard environment that still enables students to meet (and often exceed) needed scores on state examinations. This type of education better prepares them for their future path, whether that involves university or moving into a trade or vocation.
Meisum Naveed, a student we recently interviewed for our article on Lens on Learners - Capturing K-12 Non-Formal Learning Achievements, is another example. As a junior in high school, he already has a direction for his own business, and his life has been changed by the unique approach of the MET, a charter school he attends in Sacramento, California. “My opportunities at school have changed my thinking - it’s not just about earning a dollar, it’s about passion, job satisfaction and having a plan for the future.”
In discussing lifelong learning, we must also include both informal and non-formal learning outcomes and their relation to each other - see here for definitions. In 1996, the OECD education ministers agreed to develop strategies for “lifelong learning for all”. Building on that initial work by the OECD, The World Non-Formal Education Forum was convened as an international platform by the World Organisation of the Scout Movement, UNICEF, UNFPA and the Office of the UN Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth, and with the participation of over 70 leading international organisations. If a lifelong learning agenda is to be realised, then recognition of the immense work being done by youth organisations globally, and all extra curricular activities undertaken outside of the formal learning environment, must contribute and be counted as part of an individual learner's skill development profile.
Going forward, the notion of lifelong learning will need to be embedded into our learning systems from an early age. The incorporation of informal, non-formal and formal learning pathways will all feed into an individual's development of the durable or human skills that will translate into improved employability in the future.
For a brief moment, we are going to talk about the theory of change. Why is change so hard for us as humans? First, we have to look at what change does to our brains, and why we often resist it. Then we must look organisationally at where change comes from, and how it happens.
There is a reason gym memberships spike in January, and falter in March when three month old resolutions die on the treadmill, shooting off into the wall of continued complacency: our brains can perceive change two ways: either as a threat or as an opportunity.
But going to the gym hurts, at least at first, and so our brains warn us: this is a threat. Better to go back to bed where it is safer and warmer than at a 5:00a.m. spin class. This is also related to whether we see whatever is new as something within our abilities or outside of them. If we perceive them as taxing and too much, we experience distress. If we see them as a challenge within our ability to complete, we experience eustress instead.
For example, during COVID and the 2020 school year, educators experienced dramatic change: classrooms were remote even for the youngest of students, and learning to teach online became mandatory rather than optional. Some teachers rose to the challenge while others, 1 in 4 according to a recent study, considered leaving - even if they loved the profession.
“I almost quit,” King told us. “We had to adapt curriculum not meant to be taught online to a digital format.” When asked what support the school district or her school offered to make the transition easier, she gave the simplest answer: “None.”
This is the same with any mandatory change, whether fuelled by a pandemic or by a change to a new way of thinking. A skills-based curriculum which potentially demands more of teachers, or at the very least means a major change in assessment and grading systems will ultimately meet some resistance. Even if educators believe change is needed, they may feel out of their depth in implementing it, whether that is from a lack of aptitude with technology to long-held teaching habits.
Change is needed for innovation, and innovation is needed in education now, not ten years from now. In fact, “We need curriculum innovation now more than ever,” a recent article in Forbes stated. According to a Gallup / Northeastern study, "Only 3% [of respondents] in the United States, 10% in the U.K., and 12% in Canada 'strongly agree' that universities in their countries are preparing graduates for success in the current workforce."
This again leads us to where change comes from, and the overall theory of change. For change to be effective and meaningful, the first step is to determine the outcomes desired. What will change look like once it is fully realised? This description must include how and why a change is desired.When it comes to a shift towards skills-based education, the goals are huge, even the incremental milestones set along the way. And not everyone agrees on the direction needed to enact change, even if they agree that change is needed.
In short, it is going to be painful. Disagreements may result in the loss of key personnel, and the loss of their knowledge can leave gaping holes in the huge ship we are trying to steer. There are two factors: the institutional resistance to change, and the individual resistance to change. Both play a role, and make change challenging.
It is important as we tackle difficult subjects that we acknowledge the constraints present when it comes to doing things differently. But there is another challenge, and one that given its importance, we have raised often: funding.
“Our number one issue is funding,” Wendy Johnson of Kuna School District in Idaho told us. “From property tax levies to keeping our state funding, we can’t afford to lose any of it.” This is often the case when it comes to publicly funded schools, but it certainly isn’t limited to them. For public institutions who rely on government money to keep operational, change is limited by the frameworks dictated from the highest levels, and those positions are not always held by educators.
Legislators and those who staff accrediting bodies control the purse strings, and that means that the ability to make changes even as administrators, chancellors, and university presidents is limited. Any systemic change then runs against the constraints of current frameworks and standards, and the funding that is tied to them.
However, for most educators, influencing funding changes at that level are beyond their control. They can control their students in their classroom, perhaps policies in their departments, and even the direction that programs at their university take. Michael Crow of Arizona State University is one example: a university president pushing online learning options, curriculum changes and skills-based outcomes.
Yet even at that level, chancellors, presidents, and directors encounter constraints, and one of the first ones they run into is funding. While no one has the final answer to the funding question yet, we hasten to acknowledge again that positive changes are underway.
In light of all this “dire” news, is there hope? What can educators do to effect change in the learners around them? Can individual educators and those who work together in groups bring about significant innovations? We think the answer is yes, and will be covering what we believe is possible and practical in future pieces.
We would love to talk to educators everywhere about the impact you feel you can have on the learners around you, no matter what your position or level in education. If you are interested in helping us and would like to be interviewed as part of this series, please Contact Us.
Don’t want to be interviewed, but want to help anyway? We’d love to hear your thoughts, even anonymously. You can help us as we work to start discussions, ask questions, and join others in the desire to implement skills-based education to better benefit learners, employers, and perhaps most importantly, educators. Stay tuned for our upcoming Lens on Educators Survey.
Would you like to be a part of these discussions? What are your thoughts on innovation and the impact you can have on those around you? Let us know in the comments section below, we’d love to hear from you.
Credentialate assesses, monitors, promotes and validates learners’ attainment of evidence-backed skills, supporting the transition from learner to earner. It is a secure, configurable platform that assesses and tracks attainment of competencies and issues micro-credentials in a digital badge to students.
In this blog series, we will focus on the key Stakeholders in the Modern Credential Marketplace - who they are, what drives them and what challenges and opportunities they face.
Margo’s in-depth knowledge and experience of micro-credentialing is the result of working in and with higher education providers and edtech leaders, nationally and internationally. She is passionate about the positive impact of technology within education and the enablement of lifelong learning and agility. Margo is a connector at heart and is a strong advocate for diversity and inclusion in all areas of life.
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