Exploring Skills-Based Learning: Insights from Alison Reynolds, Director of Learning Experience Design

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Skills-based learning has emerged as a critical approach to bridge the gap between traditional education and the demands of today’s job market. To dive deeper into this methodology, we spoke with Alison Reynolds, Director of Learning Experience Design. 

Alison shared her insights on the importance of skills-based learning. Things like how it differs from conventional educational frameworks, and the innovative practices Ease Learning employs to ensure learners acquire the skills they need for real-world success.

What is your approach to skills-based learning? What motivated you to explore this type of design?

A skills-based approach, like most good learning design, starts with understanding the learner and looking at the goals for the training, certificate, or program. 

The key distinction with a skills-based approach is that, while traditional learning design focuses on outcomes or objectives, skills-focused learning targets skill objectives and performance indicators related to practical tasks the learner will need to perform on the job. 

Additionally, a skills-based curriculum is often developed in collaboration with an employer who can validate the skills needed for a specific job or career pathway.

What does this look like for a learner and how do they move through course?

A skills-based approach takes into account learners’ prior knowledge. 

Pre-assessments are often used to identify gaps and tailor learning pathways, ensuring that learners focus only on the content they need to demonstrate the skill. This personalized pathway makes the learning process more efficient and relevant.

What next steps do you recommend for someone to develop an understanding of skill design?

  • Start by researching and following individuals or organizations dedicated to skills-based approaches to learning.
  • Explore resources like LightCast and other labor market analytics providers to familiarize yourself with current taxonomies and data. 
  • Interview employers to understand where traditional education and training fall short.

Additionally, incorporate a focus on skills in your current design—when mapping outcomes, pinpoint the skills tied to learning outcomes, or better yet, reframe those outcomes to target specific real-world skills.

How are assessments different in a skills-based approach?

Assessments that target skills focus on “show-how” rather than “know-how.” Learners should be asked to demonstrate or perform the skill. Resources and content should be available in a pick-and-choose format, with practice activities and feedback that scaffold the learner toward the final skills demonstration. 

Consider allowing the learner to attempt the final skills assessment right away. If they are unsuccessful on the first attempt, direct them to applicable practice content. The goal is to optimize their time and make the learning relevant at each step.

What is different about Ease Learning? 

Ease Learning has always focused on a learner-centered approach.

Our learning designers are passionate and creative individuals who inspire me daily with their dedication and care for the learner experience. 

They work with clients to develop innovative approaches that target the unique needs of their learners, providing a consistent learning experience infused with engaging, diverse, and meaningful activities. 

Our designers hold themselves to high standards, which is reflected in the quality of the courses and training they design. This dedication trickles down to the learner experience.

Can you outline the process you follow to identify the most relevant skills to include in your program?

Ideally, we partner with an employer in the initial process of designing skills profiles and maps that target industry skills gaps. 

Practitioner insight into current market demands and needs is critical. Job task analyses and focus groups with practitioners versed in the latest skills, trends, and technologies for the jobs the training or program targets are a great starting point. 

The process depends on the deliverable and the target learners. Designing a micro-credential or certificate program typically involves extensive, multilevel skills mapping, whereas inserting skills-focused assessments into existing curricula may be less extensive and quicker to implement. It is also essential to determine the type of skills to target (tech skills, durable skills, etc.)

What methodologies or tools do you find most effective in building skill acquisition and retention among learners?

Scaffolded practice presented via real-world scenarios with opportunities for feedback is most effective. Media-rich assessments and simulations (where feasible) are also incredibly powerful.

How do you assess the success and effectiveness of skills-based learning?

Mapping and assessment design are key. 

Time spent upfront identifying and accurately articulating the skills and determining what a successful demonstration looks like is critical. Whenever possible, on-the-job performance assessments should be used to ensure transfer of learning into the workplace.

What kind of data is possible to show skill development?

The potential for mapping skills at granular levels is available depending on your tech stack. Through strategic partnerships we have been able to map individual questions in an assessment to skills and design tailored learning experiences based on learner mastery of those particular skills.

What has changed in the market to shift the focus to a more skills-based approach?

The widening skills gap has driven the shift towards skills-based learning. Skill-oriented programs, along with non-degree credentials and individual courses, are the top preference for adult learners

Over 85% of HR professionals report a shortage of candidates with the skills needed for job openings. This urgent need for a new approach makes skills-based learning timely and necessary.

Why is Ease Learning positioned well in this specific arena?

Ease Learning has knowledgeable learning designers and has invested in researching and consulting with experts in the field on the best approaches for skills-based learning. 

In addition, we have built strategic partnerships to optimize analytics available to learners and stakeholders, presenting real-time views into learners’ progress. We’re currently working with clients like Calbright to design certificate programs for in-demand jobs that target industry skills. Our team has the know-how and the show-how to deliver skills-focused learning.

Alison Reynolds
Alison Reynolds is the Director of Learning Experience Design.

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Our tech-enabled solutions identify skills gaps in your workforce. Paired with our learning design and development services we help to fill those gaps with impactful, accessible and equitable program developments, assessments and improvements.

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It is vital to create accountability and transparency around validation of skills in onboarding and ongoing training programs. We help you authenticate skills for various healthcare job tracks while powering your ongoing training solutions.

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Learning Design

“I am so grateful for your patience with us throughout this process—we’ve been able to learn a lot with this pilot and have valued you all as thought partners in that work.”

 

Girlie Delacruz
Associate Vice Chancellor of Teaching and Learning at Northeastern University

Skillways

“This work has illustrated mapping of existing nursing content to the draft AACN Essentials through the Skillways platform.  This offers us a way to move toward competency-based education by truly modularizing our content for small-bite delivery because we can measure progress toward outcomes as students proceed along individual paths.”

David Bodily
Director, ReNEW & RN-BSN Completion Programs University of Wyoming

Skillways

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George Lacuesta
SME at NOCE

Help Desk

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Nancy Artaz
Friends University