Mind the gap. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of riding the London Underground, you’ll recognize this iconic phrase. As your train approaches the platform, a pre-recorded voice reminds you to “mind the gap” when stepping from the platform into the train. Perhaps most colleges and universities should have a similar warning as students embark on their educational journey? Please mind the gap between what you’re about to learn and what a real-world employer will expect you to know.
Over the past several years, we’ve been hearing complaints about the value of higher education from just about anyone with an Internet-connected device. At the top of many complaint lists is cost, but not too far down that list is the idea that our nation’s colleges are not doing a good enough job of preparing our students for the workforce. Somehow a student can graduate with a computer science degree and never be exposed to some of the most in-demand coding languages, such as Ruby on Rails or Python.
The good news is that many colleges and universities are listening. One of the biggest trends in higher education over the past few years has been the need for colleges and universities across the country to adapt their curriculum to better align with work-relevant skills, the kind of skills that employers crave.
When it comes to competency-based education (CBE), this alignment with work-relevant skills is baked into its guiding principles. CBE is all about making education relevant and accessible for busy, working adults, and organizations, like Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN), have led the way in encouraging the connection between colleges and real-world skills. This means creating competency statements with practical language. It also means creating authentic, real-world assessments so that students can prove that they’ve mastered that competency.
For a college or university, one of the first steps in creating an authentic CBE program is to align its learning outcomes with work-relevant skills, such as the 30,000+ skills identified in the Open Skills Network. This is where the story gets interesting.
Say you’re a college administrator and you’ve managed to convince both your faculty and your senior leadership team that you need to align your courses with work-relevant skills to meet the needs of the 21st Century student. Okay, great! Now what?
How do you map, track, and measure thousands of work-relevant skills, university-level outcomes, program-level outcomes, course-level outcomes, and competency statements, not to mention certifications, badges, and any number of custom metrics in a central repository that can be viewed by multiple stakeholders across an organization?
Many small colleges turn to the trusty spreadsheet. It works…sort of. In many instances, that spreadsheet will sit on one person’s laptop and will be shared via email. If you’re really adventurous, perhaps you’re using a shared Google spreadsheet?
If a spreadsheet just won’t cut it and you don’t have the wherewithal to create and maintain a robust, custom database, you could try a more sustainable solution like LearningMate’s Academic Competency Management (ACMT) tool, which is a part of Frost. ACMT is designed specifically to collect, map, and measure outcomes, including work-relevant skills. A smaller college might look into LearningMate Transform, which is a lighter-weight, subscription-based tool that leverages ACMT’s technology to help colleges and universities document outcomes.
Whatever the solution, it’s imperative for colleges and universities to demonstrate to students the interoperability of the skills they are gaining, especially in CBE programs. It starts with colleges and universities developing their CBE programs so that they align with work-relevant skills and then helping their students understand how these skills will work for them after college and beyond. Then, and only then, will colleges and universities close the gap between them and the real world.
Director of Learning Design, LearningMate