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What + How: A formula for skills validation methods

How might we validate 21st century skills gained through work and life experience? The Education Design Lab’s Skills Validation Network proposes a (draft) formula for defining skills validation methods.

This is the first in a Skills Validation Network blog series. 

By Dr. Tara Laughlin, XCredit project lead at Education Design Lab


Andrea Rico joined the U.S. Navy immediately upon graduating high school, where she’s worked in IT for the past six years. She’s now seeking to transition into the civilian workforce.



Sandeep Singh has been working part-time and driving for Uber for the past 10 years. He’s looking for full-time, stable employment with benefits, preferably in customer service.



While Andrea and Sandeep are fictional personas, they represent the goals and characteristics of the learner-earners the Education Design Lab aims to serve.

Both individuals have gained valuable skills through their experiences. Each would benefit from the opportunity to validate and credential those skills to support their career transitions. However, their unique experiences mean that each might need to showcase the skills they’ve gained in different ways.

Through our XCredit initiative, we at the Lab have learned that diverse experience requires diverse opportunities to demonstrate the skills gained through that experience. By fostering an inclusive approach to skill validation, we strive to address systemic barriers and ensure that everyone, regardless of their background, has the chance to access meaningful career opportunities.

One year ago, the Lab launched the Skills Validation Network, a group of innovators from 15+ organizations across the skills-based ecosystem, with an ambitious mission: to expand the methods, tools, and opportunities available to validate skills gained through work and life experience for individuals who are Skilled Through Alternative Routes (STARs).

Knowing that STARs like Andrea and Sandeep require diverse ways to validate their skills, the Network has spent the past year exploring a single question: How might we validate 21st century skills gained through work and life experience?

Today, I’m excited to share a critical insight we’ve surfaced through this exploration: A (draft) formula for defining skills validation methods.


Established methods

Let’s apply this formula to a few established methods of skills validation to see how it works.

Emergent methods

The process seems obvious when shown through the lens of familiar, established methods. But this formula offers an opportunity to mix-and-match with different components, expanding our concept of both what we might consider “evidence” of skills (the what) and innovative ways of analyzing that evidence (the how).

Together, the Network has worked to define a set of 10 emergent components — 8 WHATs and 2 HOWs.

A brief description of each of these 10 components is shared in the Google slides below.

Leveraging the formula of METHOD = WHAT + HOW, these components point to 16 potential skill validation methods to explore.

  • For instance, how might AI be used (the how) to analyze Andrea’s experience in the Navy, compiled in her Joint Services Transcript (the what)?
  • How might trends in the ratings and comments Sandeep has received while driving for Uber (the what) be matched to specific competencies representing employer expectations (the how)?

Beginning in July 2023, the Network launched working groups to explore and prototype tools to enable three initial methods of interest.

  • Experience translation
  • Self-assertion
  • Skills demonstration

Stay tuned for Part 2, where we’ll share early insights and work in progress from the working groups.

We would love to hear from you!

Are you exploring skills validation? Do you have questions, comments, or ideas? Reach out to us at