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What's Next in the Skills-Based Movement: An Effectiveness Framework

The tumult of the global pandemic and Great Resignation, compounded with upheaval in higher education financesand enrollment trends, has created one of the most challenging, nerve-wracking times in education, but it’s also an exciting, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for education leaders to transform the school-to-career pipeline. The tremendous work of the Open Skills Network will lead to a rich ecosystem for transferable skills that are the currency for advancement. Building upon the foundational elements of a common language and data interoperability, the Rich Skill Descriptors and Skills Library, the education community must develop a framework for high-quality, authentic skills-based learning and assessment to ensure an equitable exchange. These skills should be machine readable, portable, and wallet agnostic so they can support the development of agile and robust talent pipelines.

As the world recovers from COVID-related academic and social development setbacks, businesses, education institutions and organizations, now more than ever, need to establish best practices for developing and assessing skills. The pandemic has accelerated an already rising demand for students and job-seekers to possess 21st century skills, now known in some circles as “durable” skills. Yet, these skills have been difficult to assess with the consistency, reliability and scalability required to reach the next level in the evolution of skills-based learning and hiring. The advent of new technologies for project-based learning, gaming, simulations, and VR/AR have expanded the possibilities to do so; although, each come with their own advantages and disadvantages, and in some cases, are unproven in their efficacy. We must build our collective knowledge base of guidelines and best practices for implementation and use.

Years of collaborating with colleges, publishers and business leaders has provided critical insights for a pathway forward. In our work with Education Design Lab for its vsbl platform, we are exploring a taxonomy of skills that prescribes the most effective learning methods for developing and assessing certain skills. For example, oral communication is a different skill set than creative problem-solving and necessitates a different approach and learning experience to result in the desired outcome. This effort includes evaluating the appropriate timing and sequence of these skill-specific lessons to provide both individual and a series of microcredentials when stacked together.

With instructors, instructional designers and multimedia authors at Western Governors University, we’ve discovered that immersive learning experiences in which students are engaged in virtual internship-like scenarios not only spice up what can otherwise be dry material, but improves development and retention of skills like empathy. These contextualized learning experiences help convert theoretical or abstract lessons to concrete, real-life situations they will encounter on the job in a powerful way. Other types of skills such as conflict resolution may require cognitive rehearsals in which students are able to learn and practice certain behaviors in a safe environment. Colleges and organizations seeking to help a diverse range of learners and offer a wide breadth of skills-based lessons and courses will need to provide an array of learning methods and experiences coupled with automated assessments to grow at scale.

For our community to take the next step in its journey to a fully realized ecosystem of skills-based education and employment practices, we must leverage the standardized language and convert the wealth of skills-based content into effective, replicable pathways. These pathways will rely on open, recognized, and validated skill definitions supported by the work of the Open Skills Network community. Only when we have a framework for what works for each skill and learning environment can we guarantee learners transferable skills.

Dave McCool is President and CEO of Muzzy Lane, a technology company helping education institutions and companies address the skills gap through the use of simulations to develop, assess, and credential learners’ skills. He can be reached at

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