Higher ed must have a common language around in-demand skills and a way to clearly define those skills when it comes to digital credentials.

Speaking the same language: Defining skills for digital credentials


Higher-ed must have a common language around in-demand workforce skills and a way to clearly define those skills

Key points:

As the use of digital credentials grows, differentiating between credentials that are valuable for both employers and learners becomes more and more important. Understanding how to create credentials of value by integrating them with skills frameworks was the focus of a panel at the 1EdTech 2024 Digital Credentials Summit.

The panel of higher education and business leaders discussed how to collaborate to create seamless pathways for learners from education to employment. Moderated by Haley Glover, director of Upskill America, the panel started by discussing the possibilities digital credentials hold for skills-based hiring, and why it’s so important for everyone’s future.

“If we get this right, it can impact people who don’t know what their skills are, or how to share those skills with employers,” said Adiena Holder, director of badging for Walmart. “That’s why we’re trying to focus on skills-based hiring at Walmart because it’s what’s right for people.”

“Skills-based hiring holds us to a different standard to better meet the needs of learners, workers, and employers,” said Kacey Thorne, senior director of skills architecture at Western Governors University. “It can elevate otherwise hidden potential and opens up new opportunities to a greater number of individuals based on their unique skills.”

“The most important thing for the learner is to get into a field that will change their life,” agreed Kathryn Uhles, dean of the College of Business and IT at the University of Phoenix. “Anything we can do to provide them with clear language, that everyone is speaking, will make a huge difference to a lot of people.”

“We are hyper-focused on skills visibility, transparency, and alignment with skills for all learning,” said Margo Griffith, principal skills consultant with Edalex. “Our careers are a constellation of all our experiences, not just formal learning, and we hope to have learners recognized for all of their experiences and skills.”

The best way for learners to communicate skills is by speaking the same language as employers. That common language can only come through collaboration between educators, employers, and industry leaders to determine and define desired skills.

“Tell us what you’re looking for,” said Uhles. “When employers say ‘problem-solving’ or ‘critical thinking,’ how can we show you that we taught this, and how can we be more transparent to prove these learners are ready for the job?”

“At some point, we need to have a common language around the skills we’re talking about and clearly define what we mean. Are the skills qualifications, tasks, jobs, or something you do within a particular context? The definition is important,” agreed Griffith.

Panelists also stressed the importance of keeping the learner in mind when creating credentials, focusing on the skills that will be valuable when the learner is ready to use them, and not simply repackaging previous offerings.

“We are the educational arm of Walmart, so we are working closely with the business side to help understand what is needed from our associates and then to provide the best learning to support their own skills growth as well as the outcomes of the business,” said Holder.

“When we started thinking about skills and credentials as part of a broader framework, we challenged ourselves to consider how the various pieces stack together, and how we can provide more immediate ROI and incremental value for our students as part of their degree programs,” said Thorne. “We work with industry practitioners and employers to understand the skills our students need to be successful in their careers and ensure they are included in our degree programs.”

By being intentional when creating credentials, defining skills through collaboration with employers, and focusing on credentials that will be of the most benefit to learners, the panelists believe credentials can make great strides in powering all learner potential.

It’s advice we hear a lot at 1EdTech, and why we continue to bring diverse voices together to ensure all stakeholders are speaking a similar language. Recently, a coalition of K-12, higher-ed, and edtech supplier members released the TrustEd Microcredential Framework to help issuers understand what metadata is needed and useful to increase the value of their credentials. The organization also governs the Open Badges and Comprehensive Learner Record Standard™ (CLR Standard™) to promote credential interoperability across platforms and systems. The coalition’s work will continue working toward increasing the value of credentials for all stakeholders.

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