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Empowering the Learner-Earner with RSDs

Updated: Aug 16, 2021

The pandemic has accelerated and inspired many seismic changes in society and the way in which people work. The movement towards skills-based learning and hiring is only speeding up. The Open Skills Network (OSN), of which WGU is a founding member, seeks to lead that transition by building collaborative partnerships and a universal skill language. At the recent OSN Skills Summit several pilot projects were discussed, with focus on how they helped to develop learner agency through the development of rich skills descriptors or RSDs. If a skill were a song, then the notes are the RSD. They are the metadata that make up a skill and help to make it understandable and transferable across the learning-earning landscape. With educational institutions and employers learning this new tune, it is also incumbent upon workers to be able to sing it too.

According to recent studies, 48% of Americans are rethinking the type of job they want post-pandemic and 53% say that they would be willing to switching industries entirely if retraining were possible. In this situation it is critical for the worker to be able to not only describe the skills they possess but to understand their currency and value in the present marketplace. Understanding skills and the RSDs within them help to empower potential employees. Four different pilot projects under the OSN umbrella sought answers within this space.

The focus of the North Dakota Credentials pilot was to implement verified credentials for high school and college transcripts, specifically within the cybersecurity pathway. It was conducted within the larger framework of the North Dakota Choice Ready program. The work required creation of a web wallet to showcase what each student could earn via learning and to assist in advocating to potential employers about each students’ abilities on the job. A robust Achievement Wallet was also the focus of the pilot conducted in Indiana that zeroed in on the skills of workers within the healthcare industry. This study created a validated collection of medical assisting RSDs that were machine readable and taggable to curriculum, job descriptions, and digital credentials.  A larger view was taken by the pilot lead by the ASU team. It focused on the meta-competencies framework. This overarching approach was intended to assist in the transferability of skills across organizations and institutions. The final pilot, led by MatchMaker Education Labs, examined the issues of skill description granularity and their role in generating interoperability.

It is critical that RSDs share the same meaning and act as a common language within the skills they define. By doing this each learner has equal access to opportunities on their pathway and the credentials they earn along the way are equally understood by educators and employers. A song sung off key would be like two professors teaching the same course with each possessing their own radically different syllabus. Learners receive knowledge but without there being an agreement on the core competencies. There is urgency to the task of finding balance as the pandemic has left a vast swath of the working age population unemployed or disrupted in their earning. Understanding and universalizing RSDs can help to alleviate learner-earner disorientation and provide harmony in the universal learner-earner experience.

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