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The Future of Learning will be Built on Skills Maps

Skills mapping is coming into focus as the holy grail for translating employer needs to learner pathways. It was a hot topic at the SXSW and ASU+GSV conferences the Lab has attended over the past few weeks. And our partners are looking for help understanding this emerging tool in the landscape.

So, here’s a two-minute primer:

What’s a skills map?

A skills map is a foundational map or grid that charts three or more essential variables for an educational program or offering. The three variables are skills, level of mastery of the skill, and the translation of that to job positions in the workplace.

What’s an example of a skills map?

A skills map for a business program might show the the progression of skills necessary for  marketing, finance, sales careers or entrepreneurship careers. It would take all of the essential skills for these career pathways and organize them by levels of mastery that align with career milestones. A really good map will show shortcuts or forks in the path that could bridge to different roles. And it might show how the skills map back to more traditional learning outcomes or courses.

How do educators use these skills maps as a tool to map to courses, thinking about how skill development differs from student to student?

Lab partner Western Governors University (WGU) is taking skills mapping very seriously, seeing it as the course and program design manual to guide not only program designers, but also students who need to understand skills pathways leading to mastery for certain roles. Director of Program Architecture Kacey Thorne had a great interview about this recently in Inside Higher Ed. She includes other relevant variables in WGU’s skills maps such as mindset and context.

Hult International Business School is also developing skills maps, as we learned at ASU+GSV. When you have an skills map that underlies all of your curriculum, you can create cool tools like this Dream Job Mapper, which plots the learner’s current skills and proficiency level against the skills and proficiency levels needed for their “dream job.” Hult scaffolds competencies on a 4-level scale (Novice, Capable, Adept, Independent) and recommends pathways to help you build those skills.

Example of a skills map in a business program

Fox School of Business’s RoadMap “fitbit for business school” tracks student’s competency throughout the program

Another model we’ve been following for awhile at the Lab is the Fox School of Business at Temple University’s RoadMap. This dashboard, informed by employers, shows graduate students a picture of their competency development over time. As Christine Kiely, Associate Vice Dean, said, “No single grade for a single course can capture this kind of development.”

Many of the Lab’s partners are thinking about skills mapping.

According to our 21st Century Skills Badge Toolkit Survey, 78% of respondents are looking for methods to be more intentional about teaching of 21st century skills to all learners. Skills mapping is a way to make the skills more visible, intentionally surfacing pathways to development to reach career goals. While we’ve just shared three great examples, it’s not the Lab’s goal for every institution to create their own skills maps. These should be employment sector-driven, at least regionally, if not nationally. The Lab’s goal is to find a place of convergence. Through Tee Up the Skills, we are identifying the key skills “bundle” for entry-level roles and are feeding in to efforts by the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation and others. But that’s only part of the puzzle. Another key step will be to associate a level of mastery with those roles, for instructional designers and learners to use as a developmental road map.

If you are also interested in working on national prototypes, please email Lab designer Tara Lifland (