Get Your Red Hot Skills Functionality

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Which came first? The chicken or dinner at KFC? Knowledge or Skill building and development?

Skills today are super hot and as a few readers mentioned the other day on LinkedIn, it is not new. Yes, there have been systems with skills frameworks and skills tied to career development (but I’d argue more with TM/PM and less with learning systems – although you could always do that yourself in the system – long story). And sure there are plenty of systems out there, that for more than a decade you could import your own skill dictionaries and taxonomies – but it was not universal.

Nor for most of that, skill dictionary import and taxonomies excluded, a function right within the system back-end itself. Yes, skill gap analysis existed, from 1999 in fact, after all that was the main premise for an LMS, to identify skill gaps, but the metrics specifically around skill gaps tied to other variables in the system, in a data visualization standpoint that doesn’t look like a bar chart? No.

Thus, you could do quite a bit with the early learning systems, and even though most of 2010-2019, but the majority required more work for you than the system handling the heavy lifting. That is changing.

Systems today recognize that most folks want their system to handle the entire skills functionality piece, thru the use of AI, no less. These folks want the system for all intended purposes to be fully automated, with very limited interaction needed by the admin or whoever is overseeing the system itself.

There are learning systems that are ahead of the game (i.e. the masses) with skill capabilities that the general audience is unaware of, and thus, one reason they never ask for it, then there are others who follow the pack, and either add at the right time or fall behind and are just now adding it.

This post is focused on skill functionality – what is hot (based on a trend line) and what will get hot in 2022.

A caveat. One cannot base a trend line around skills capabilities and see the line stretch, based on anything before COVID. Those days are gone. Rather one has to look at during and now post-pandemic in the corporate environment. Hybrid work models are a result of the pandemic. They were not in play, prior to that (as a general rule of thumb). Skills are changing to meet the times and the expectations of employers and while there will still be companies who think this is just a blip, like the internet was going to be a fad (and yes, some big-time folks believed that), the reality is far different.

Thus, I am happy if you used skills tapped to content in your system back in 2007. Thrilled that you recognized you could learn a skill by reading a book. But let me ask you a question. Was it hardcover? Because those are freaking expensive. And cumbersome.

RED HOT – Fireball level – you know those jawbreakers you put in your mouth and experience immediate “Holy Moly”

  • Skill Self-Assessment. Can’t get any hotter than this feature. Skill assessment by the learner, skill review and assess by the manager. A few systems can do a comparison, so the admin can see a chart style if you will between the two. Some systems include comments from the manager on why that skill has not been met or met or exceeded.

Then there are systems that provide (which you can edit and change) to explain what 1-5 actually means, so that there is no confusion. These learning systems usually have details around them, one is a beginner and then a description of what is defined as beginner, and so forth. For example, at a five you have mastered the skill, expanded past the skill, found out that Valentine’s Day was created by Hallmark (a card company).

I am a fan of specific details and what each rating score means. It avoids ambiguity and, ensures that everyone is on the same page. Nobody has to think what does three mean? Or I am a two is that good or bad? Five by the way is a good number for the top number. This should be easy to recognize and strive towards, not a number list.

Nobody has yet tapped into a built-in sim capability that is for business skills or a way to get a better validation tied to the self-assessment, but there are systems that have a sim to develop skills – technical-wise.

  • Tagging Skills to a piece of content, a course or series of content/courses – This is where the system has a list of skills that comes with the system, and you can also upload your own skill library/taxonomy too. But the real power are those systems that have an extensive skills library (usually 3rd party – like EMSI, who just acquired Burning Glass). The admin goes to the content/courses and places “tags” – these are words in essence like “Leadership” or “Communication”, etc. to the courses/content. The plus of doing this, is that when the learner is searching in the catalog or wherever in the system they can see the skills associated with that course/content, and thus pick it if that is of interest to them. You can also depending on the metrics capability of the system – look to see what skills are tied to what pieces of content and identify what is the most popular of the combination. From there, you can identify what additional content/courses you will need, or do you have to tweak or add/remove skills.
  • Tagging job roles/levels to a piece of content, courses, etc. – and a plus if it includes the skills option too. In this scenario, someone is searching to be a data scientist and sees a bunch of courses/content (even free content if the system has that capability) that is information they need to learn/know to be a data scientist.
  • Courses/Content have attributes regardless of the delivery modality including – skill level (beginner, intermediate, advanced), specific skills/any prereqs and for those who can do these, they often include a job role as part of the equation. The challenge of course is that if you are in the customer ed/partner training side, job role isn’t always relevant, so there are systems, where you can remove that as an option, when folks search.

Overwhelmingly when it comes to a search for skills, using a system’s search bar or whatever mechanism it is based on you typing the skill (it can be by letter -meta) or job role of interest, in other words, keyword. However, one vendor, a big shout-out to Fuse, enables you to ask a question – sort of like, “How do I become a leader?” and out pops all the content tied to that question. The system uses AI as a part of this, and I like it because that is something all of us, have done using a search engine. Not, asking about being a leader, more about “Where to find outdoor dining?”.

  • Skill Channels/Playlists – Not just content with content tied around skills itself (which has been around for more than a few year), these new playlists are now combining multiple skills into one playlist. The Learner can select their own skills of interest, and then from there pick the content to place in not just one, but multiple playlists for themselves.
  • Skills tied to job role playlists – For those who think “Assigned” to a job role angle, playlists that show content tied to again, not just one skill but a set of skills for that job role. While the number of systems that offer the multiple variables for a job role playlist (that the system can recommend) is growing. This is not the learner selecting here, nor your manager picking content/courses based on the job role – and thus you see a wide variance. This is going even further along segmentation of courses/content because the system thru AI is learning more about the end-user then selecting content/courses for each of those skills for that role or roles.
  • Trending or most popular skill playlists – Another hot channel/playlist (depending on your vendor’s terminology) these playlists show up not focused on a topic or category (which let’s say is leadership), rather the system (hello AI) is identifying content tied to a skill, thus you could see a trending playlist around that skill or skills. What a system hasn’t done yet, but one that I believe will be a firestorm in 2022, is take a combination of the skills + levels – i.e. most popular content based on skill level – beginner, intermediate and so on. The key to the expansion of recommended, trending or similar with content tied to that skill and skill level is narrowing – as the system learns more about well, the learner.
  • System creates a playlist tied around validation of a skill or a set of skills, based on learner results – It’s hard not to see the win with this one. Validation is only as good as it being independent, which is why it is the system (via the AI) that validates the skill success (and thus level) based over a period of time, and continues to adapt (a part of this leads into the firestorm coming in 2022).
  • Skills mapped to a career pathway or job role pathway – Before I get slammed on “that has always existed”, sure it has, but it would involve whoever is overseeing the system (L&D or Training Exec, etc.) meeting with the learning system folks implementing your system, and they (not you) would set up the system and map those skills to the paths you wanted for your employees. You, yourself, if you had the power to do it on the back-end was limited. This new approach? All automated. Upload or add to a skills library, your own skill taxonomies (there are systems that actually come with sample taxonomies you can use, if you are starting out), then identify the paths and/or job roles and set one time matching those skills to each. After that. The system takes control, adapting as needed, based on the AI. Is it perfect? Let’s say it is a work in progress. I have yet to see a system that can get deep learning here at this stage.

There are two types of systems when it comes to the learner entering the platform (after logging in). Either the learner sees a type of dashboard (either made up of widgets/blocks or similar ilk) or it is a free-flow that has a variance, but it limited what can be seen. A widget can be a playlist for example, and some systems allow the learner to move that widget around (true personalization), other systems place the playlist in one area and tough jeebees you are stuck with it.

Dashboards to me, always look way better, especially if you can select your own widgets (admin allows) and especially if you can move them around (even if you can’t select your own). The first hot feature to get going was the skill playlists, now it is quite common, but what isn’t common, and it making a difference are those learner dashboards which list the top 10 skills or most popular skills. This isn’t shown as a playlist and thus specific content, rather it is just a top 10 list (as a widget or block). There are systems where you (the admin, have a couple of options – I surmise this will grow) for the lists of skills.

When I see a system that does this, I really like it. I mean, let’s say I want to be a manager in marketing. I can see based on what folks are selecting, as the top 10 skills for a marketing manager OR just the top 10 hottest skills (regardless of job role). Today, you hear over and over again about data scientists and coding, but is that true at your company or business? And if yes, will it stay the same in three months? Six months or a year? A constant seeing of top 10 skills (hot) would definitely be a plus. And just a reminder, this is occurring on the learner side.

Before bouncing into what will be a Firestorm in 2022, here is a short list of what other skill features are hot.

  • Administrator can compare learner to learner based on skill(s), tied to role
  • Administrator can assign specific skill or skills to a learner (to learn, develop, build, etc.)
  • Built in Skills Validation tool
  • Ability to add skills validation, prior to learner gaining access to content
  • Ability to identify proficiency levels within the skills validation component
  • Analytics directly tied to career development and acquisition of skills to specific job roles
  • Content playlist recommending skills needed (missing) that the learner lacks for that opportunity (appears more often in employee-focused systems, but I am seeing an increase in Combo systems (they tend to skew more employees vs customers, but they serve both markets)
  • Skills Analytics – The level and thus value is all over the place, some do an amazing job, some are fair, but at least vendors are starting to see the pluses of what this type of detail can lead to

Flamethrower 2022

I am going to let you in on a little secret. To me, the most important skill development capability which will drive your L&D and Training isn’t something the learner will “see” themselves. Nor is it something every vendor will do, but if they do, and I expect a lot will by the end of 2022, it will make such a major impact in your learning and training, that you will want to know even more.

That my friends are metrics tied to skills. Advanced analytical segmentation based solely on analysis(on-going) of skills data-related functionality and capabilities tapped to courses/content, digital coaching, experts within the system (I recommend this option, but that is for another blog, and how you can make it work), and even gamification – which you should BTW be doing right now with your skills courses/content.

I’ve always believed that “views” is about as valuable to identifying skill gaps in your system, as that piece of gum you just tossed out your car window (Polluter). Yep, worthless.

That data and similar tells you nothing, especially when it comes to skill analysis. There are really a couple of options a system can go with the advanced segmentation (and there will be systems who are not making you pay extra for this privilege, but plenty will) when it comes to free analytics – it often is very high-level, then you can do some drilling.

Advanced segmentation around skills, slices, and dices data in so many ways, that once the system taps into AI for the admin side (wouldn’t that be something if all systems did that), the power that can be unleashed will be impressive – but we are not there yet, so while I got you thinking about it, time to deflate and let’s bounce back to reality.

Anyway, excluding the very end area of the last paragraph, here is what will be part of the firestorm in 2022:

  • An analytics section specifically around skills – That’s right, one limit yourself to having all that data mixed with other data, when you can instead just click under analytics or however the system shows this data (beyond just high level on the admin dashboard) – under a sub-category for Skills.
  • One section is tied around skill ratings (self, manager) and includes a comparison total score by each learner; manager comparison for each learner, skills proficiencies, skill strengths and areas to improve with a score rating
  • Another section will enable you to go in more deeply with those top 10 skills list (which you the admin saw on your home dashboard, when you enter the admin side), with comparison of different content/courses, regardless if completed or not, to start to see trend lines. Systems today can show the top content (okay many can) and there are ones you can show that top 10 list, but to combine and slice – uh, download first please. By the end of 2022, this will change for quite a few systems – they will enable the combine in a skills section – offer it at least.
  • What I would love to see a system do is provide me a list of the top 10 skills people are not selecting and then the content it is tied to. Toss in for those on the employee side heavy with job roles – top 10 job roles selected tied to the skills and tied to the content. Three variables – the point of this entire skills section is it is all about skills segmentation.

Here are a few additional Analytics and Reporting that will light a fire for you by the end of 2022

  • Administrator can compare learner to learner based on skill(s), tied to role (Some systems already have this capability)
  • Identify by each learner, skills assigned to them AND skill(s) they selected (Ditto)
  • Data around skills content tied to each learner tied to skill proficiencies tied to skills self-validation and or combo (a wide variety of options) – For those curious, there are systems out there that have this capability
  • Skills tracking over a period of time, select by various skill filters, even job roles attached to that skill or skills (A recent analysis found this capability in “roadmap” for quite a few vendors)
  • Skill proficiency levels, top skills sought out by learners, skill comparison data (Yes there are systems that have it today, but the data levels are so-so. It will get better)
  • Analytics tied to playlists based on skills success ratio – tied to skills required, recommended, or attained.

Firestarter (not that awful Stephen King movie)

The challenge with skills validation (or assessment – you choose the term) is potential bias. A manager can review the employee (but bias may exist). But what if the system did it for you? With AI it is not only possible but already happening in the industry.

EdCast XP has this with their system. And there are other systems that have it on “roadmap”.

I like the capability because it now provides an independent perspective if you will.

Skills with Gamification?

There are plenty of systems where you can add points to content – that has been around since, well Gamification was launched many, many years ago.

Here is what’s coming

  • Skill Badges
  • Listing to Top Skills Selected/Acquired by points – Leaderboard with a Skill Point Spin
  • Points tied to skill acquisition or learning a new skill or set of skills

Bottom Line

Skills. Nowadays it is presented as though e-learning never offered it. That skill gap capabilities didn’t exist. Skill acquisition wasn’t attainable, and only thru the latest breakthroughs are L&D and Training people even thinking about developing and building skills for their employees, customers, members and so on.

It was all doable, and if you had an LMS, even a COP, you were using it for those reasons – to identify skill gaps, to find what people did nor did not know, and push the right courses/content to them, to attain and explore those new skills.

It wasn’t 100% handled by the system. It required you or your admin to be involved at a much greater level.

Which required you to have a set of skills to tap into or learn.

In 2021?

A new skill arrived.

Handled not by you, but by the system.


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