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Skills-based learning has developed beyond a conversation and has become the focus of many learning institutions from higher education to community colleges, career-specific educators, internal company training, and more. Why?

Because increasing the volume of learners’ skills and the velocity with which they acquire them results in better learner outcomes. In fact, alumni who developed key skills during college earned just over $8,500 more in their first year after graduation than peers who reported low levels of skill development throughout college.

As the debate rages about the value of a four-year degree (as we have previously discussed here), surveys show that 58% of students choose higher education to achieve better work outcomes. While sometimes a degree is the key to moving ahead in employment, a 2018 survey found that 61% of all full-time jobs seeking entry-level employees require at least three years of experience.

As Kwame Yangame, CEO of Qwasar Silicon Valley, noted, “if you scan the job requirements for any active tech job, the words “skills,” “experience,” and “proven ability” are constantly repeated across postings.” But if you have to have experience and skills to get a job, how do you get the skills and experience?

Well, sometimes the ability to prove skills through an assessment can serve as a replacement for degrees or even experience. In fact, 36 percent of hiring managers said a job candidate who scores high on an assessment but doesn't meet the minimum years of experience is very likely to make it onto the list of final candidates.

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These studies make it quickly apparent: skills are the currency employers are looking for, and if learners are going to trade time and money for a degree or certification, skills-based programs will win out every time.

So how do we increase this velocity and volume of learners’ skills within current frameworks?

Remove the Accessibility Barrier

When we talk about accessibility, the conversation often begins with students who are disadvantaged in various ways, from discrimination to educators providing accommodations for those with various disabilities. 

However, all students often encounter issues when attempting to access the classes they need when they need them. For example, a student who needed a single course before being eligible to receive a software certification at the University of Idaho had to wait nearly nine months before the class was offered again. 

“It was frustrating,” Alan said. “I needed the certification to get a job, needed the class to get the certification, and there were no alternatives, I simply had to wait.” In the meantime, he continued to work at an entry-level job at a local restaurant. 

Students encounter the same friction when they want to transfer from one school to another, as requirements can be different, and courses already completed might not “count” at a different institution. In short, often learners don’t have a clear path to graduation. Instead, it is filled with obstacles out of the learner’s control.

The solution? Creating better pathways. This can be done in a number of ways - including offering alternative credentials or micro-credentials. Even if his graduation was delayed, Alan could have moved on to better employment sooner through a different credentialing system that would have enabled him to showcase his skills rather than waiting for a course to be offered by the learning institution he attended.

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Inventing a Job Skills Centric Machine

Another common issue in learning institutions is the creation and maintenance of data silos which result in learning silos. In many cases, a similar course to the one needed by the learner which teaches the same skills may be available in another department, but might not “count” towards another department degree.

This involves a change in infrastructure, which is often painfully slow or doesn’t happen at all. Quite simply, they get used to their daily obstacles and simply work with them without even wondering if there is a solution. 

But there are those who are looking at solutions. In the US, in Texas, Michael Bettersworth, vice chancellor and chief innovation officer at Texas State Technical College, had created something called SkillsEngine.

What does this tool do? Well, it takes a job or course description, one that often includes tech language and jargon that may make it confusing, and using an AI engine, translates it into the language of skills. 

In the case of course descriptions, an institution can, using Credentialate, find “duplicate” courses across departments and work to remove the data silo barrier. Prioritising skills not only benefits the learner, but makes the educational institution more efficient, and helps employers understand the skills learners bring to the workplace

This is a great step in the right direction, but there is even more that can be done.

Increase relevance

As we stated in the introduction to this article, the majority of learners choose higher education to achieve better work outcomes. However, there is often a disconnect between what learners expect to get from their education and what they actually receive. This results in a poor perception of the value of a four-year degree. In fact, regardless of the quality of instruction offered, relevance to their work and daily lives matters more to learners than it ever has before

Closing this gap between expectations and actual learner outcomes is key to higher education. A shift to competency-based education (CBE) enables learners to tap into opportunity with increased velocity, and a greater volume and variety of skills. This involves changing the idea of the personal experience record to put an individual’s skills front and centre regardless of where and how they learned them.   

This changes the conversation from an educator and employer-centric conversation to a learner-centric one, as learners are the true end “consumers” of education. It helps them focus on the skills gaps they need to fill and competencies where they still need to earn a credential to move their career forward and increase their learning potential.

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The Future of Educators A New Standard Increase Work-Based Learning Initiatives

Yet another strategy involves work-based learning (WBL) initiatives. This helps learners not only graduate from programs more quickly and with a greater volume of skills but to develop a foundation for lifelong learning and the ability to adapt in the workforce, both perhaps the most valuable skills in the labour market of today and the future. 

What’s fascinating about these outcomes is that while certain countries like Australia, Germany, and others have emphasised apprenticeships and training for years, WBL programs have increased in popularity in places like France, Finland, and other parts of Europe as their popularity and success have been proven in other areas. 

The data shows that those with work experience outside of curriculum and those who go through apprenticeships have similar employment rates near 90% one year after graduation. They also tend to earn more and are more likely to be in jobs in their field, and therefore unlikely to be looking for other work.Prevalence-of-Work-Experiences-by-Type-Feature-Graphic-1200x1261In short, WBL benefits educators through better learner outcomes, learners through enabling them to find more relevant and meaningful work and employers who hire employees who are not only more skilled but better suited for longer term employment. 

But how do we bring all these things together? What does the future of higher education include?

The Future of Higher Education

To change the perception of the value of four-year degrees and to attract younger learners, the future of higher education must include more relevant, skills-based training. That means the addition of alternative and micro-credentials to existing curriculums.

For example, Coursera recently opened Career Academy, a program they are selling to colleges so they can offer it to their students. It includes certification courses from tech companies like IBM, Meta, and Google to complement degrees rather than replace them. 

In other words, as Jeff Maggioncalda, Coursera’s CEO explained, “When [a learner] graduate[s] they have a college degree, and they have a professional certificate from Google,” Maggioncalda said. “That graduate is going to do better than one who just has a college degree, or someone who never went to college and just got a professional certificate.” 

For this to work long-term, credentials will have to align with the goals, language, mission, and values of traditional education. They will face scepticism from some, and learning institutions will need leaders who recognise the added value of micro-credentials and who advocate for their adoption. 

There is a certain amount of entrepreneurial risk involved with any such adoption, but this can be mitigated by businesses that partner with educators in the development, implementation, and acceptance of these credentials. This means that academia and employers must work together in ways rarely seen in today’s environment. 

And all of this must result in a better faculty and learner environment, one that does not create more work for already stretched educators, but instead makes their job more efficient and more meaningful to the learners they work with. This will not only result in better use of digital technology, but a new level of professionalism and job-preparedness across the board.

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How Will Micro-Credentials Work?

The discussion around micro-credentials has gained additional traction as the need for skills and competency-based education becomes more and more evident. But it is time to move beyond discussions to talking about how things will actually work within higher education. 

There are two key things that must happen: first, credentials must be stackable. Secondly, there must be an infrastructure designed to issue, verify, and maintain credentials at scale. 

All of this is tied to both velocity and volume. Here’s how:

Micro-credentials must be stackable 

First, to be meaningful, skills must be stackable to both enhance degreed learning and in some cases as part of the makeup of a degree. Put simply by Linda Dale Bloomberg, author of the book Designing and Delivering Effective Online Instruction: How to Engage Adult Learners, “the adaptable graduate makes an empowered employee.” Essentially she states that flexibility and lifelong learning are now an essential part of career training, and stackable verifications of micro-skills are essential to employee empowerment.

“The pandemic accelerated the need for businesses to be able to upskill and reskill at scale and quickly as well as a desire for employees to have a range of learning experiences and credentials beyond the traditional degree, and delivered in a flexible and targeted manner,” she says. And it is critical that higher education meet the demands of the emerging workforce. The need for stackable credentials adds what is essentially a needed “jolt to higher education” in order to create more multi-disciplinary learners better suited for the workplace of tomorrow. 

Does all of this sound familiar? The discussion of the essential need for these changes has been ongoing. The need to implement them has taken on new urgency. To do so creates an additional need as well. 

Issuing Verifiable Credentials at Scale

This second need is exactly where Credentialate excels. Higher education has long been focused on undergraduate degrees and “taught'' graduate degrees, but seldom on “lifelong learning.” This ongoing or “continuing education” must receive new attention and focus. 

For it to work though, infrastructure must be in place to issue verifiable credentials at scale. To work, these credentials must be both secure and unalterable, but also accessible as needed. Credentialate works with educational institutions and those who issue digital credentials to accomplish this mission.

Velocity, Volume, and Value

What does all this mean? Quite simply, learners are looking for something new. They want more value and better learner outcomes from their degrees and certificate programs. Higher education must repair the perception problem they have with learners, their parents who often help fund their children’s education and the employers who will eventually hire those graduates. 

It has long been clear that a different kind of certification and credentials is needed to revitalise and add a “jolt” to higher education, and that the future lies in stackable, portable, and verifiable micro-credentials that include and enhance college courses and degrees. These credentials are learner-centric and focused on skills regardless of where they originated or where they were learned. A more robust record of skills is essential for the learner and worker of today and tomorrow. 

No matter how sceptical an institution might be, no matter the challenges that they face, the time to act is now if degrees are to remain relevant and valued by learners and employers. The beauty is, you don’t have to go it alone. From the SkillsEngine to Rich Skills Descriptors (RSDs) and open access repositories like openRSD, from openEQUELLA central digital content repositories to the personal evidence records issued through Credentialate, there are partners, innovators, and entrepreneurs who want to see education change, not just for the sake of change, but for the benefit of all the stakeholders involved.

We not only want to start a conversation, but we want to help you take action. Contact us today to find out how we can be a part of your transformation.

Connect with us

As the world's first Credential Evidence Platform, Credentialate helps you discover and share evidence of workplace skills. It creates a highly interoperable skills infrastructure that connects, collates and creates order from chaotic or dark data. It identifies skills in the curriculum, maps them to globally recognised skill definitions and aligns to frameworks. Institutions can manage and track skills attainment across the institution, against frameworks and see where improvements can be made. For each learner, a personal evidence record is created - as unique as every learners' journey. Rich skills information, qualitative and quantitative performance data and links to artefacts of learning are baked into a verifiable digital badge that can be shared. This gives learners the confidence to speak to their strengths, the evidence to prove it and boosts their employability by sending a 'ready-to-hire' signal.

If you’d like to learn more about Credentialate, we invite you to Learn More or Schedule a Demo.          


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