How skills models help reduce dropout rates

Nicolás Elton Assessment
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The job market has consistently criticized institutions of higher education for their slow response in making the adjustments needed to properly prepare graduates in terms of key abilities and capacities.

This concern is not without a foundation. Recent studies of the World Economic Forum have shown that there is a serious skills gap regarding the real graduate profiles of professional degree programs and the skills that employers are looking for. When we also consider that approximately 65% of students who begin their studies today will have professional roles that do not even exist yet, the picture becomes even more dramatic.

In such a scenario the importance of combining classic educational models centered on contents that use skills-based training notably increases. This is important not only to education departments, but also to accreditation agencies that view this new way of incorporating job skills as a key element for reducing dropout rates. This is how they do it.

Higher Education in Latin America is going through a transition from mere delivery of academic knowledge toward integrating skills that pertain to the job market. One of the biggest challenges in this change phase is balancing the curricula, i.e. aligning the curricular maps and the study programs with the graduate profiles, the institutional mission and, of course, what future professionals need.

According to the Observatory of Educational Innovation at the Tecnológico de Monterrey institute skills-based education has the following benefits:

  1. Focus on the needs of society and the job market

As we said earlier, this kind of training “connects student learning with the job market, addressing the needs of a society in constant flux that also addresses the needs of the productive sector,” (Tuning, 2007).

  1. Acknowledge prior lessons

“Education programs based on skills for the most part let students use knowledge they had previously acquired outside of the classroom so their educational process can be accelerated,” (Degree Prospects, 2015).

  1. Flexibility and accessibility

“The focus is placed on learning outcomes rather than the time invested in credit completion, meaning students need not follow academically rigid programs in terms of contents nor in predefined time periods such as semesters or quarters, etc.” (Degree Prospects, 2015).

  1. Self-managed learning

“This lets student improve their ability to continually assess, manage and build their own skills,” (Everhart, 2014).

  1. Transparency around graduates’ capacities

“This helps students effectively communicate what they know and can do,” (Kein-Collins, 2012)

  1. Comprehensive core education

“This aims to comprehensively prepare students by developing skills that will be useful in a general sense for accessing employment and exercising responsible citizenship through competencies such as: logical thinking, self-teaching, proper verbal communication and language, creativity, empathy and also ethical conduct,” (Tuning, 2007).

  1. Development of new teacher competencies

“One essential element is redefining and expanding the role of professors in student learning,” (Anderson, 2013).

All of these improvements have a positive impact on student engagement and boosts self-esteem since they feel more prepared for the future as they become protagonists in their own learning process through constant feedback. The level of employability associated with a given program is one of the primary factors motivating students. Such levels will undoubtedly increase as an institution works to incorporate new key skills for top performance from its graduates.

When students have a deeper commitment, it is easy to bring down the dropout risk. With early alert and support programs students continue with an institution until they successfully complete their programs.

Implementing skills models can be a big challenge in terms of the effort and time required from an education department and institutional costs. A growing number of educational institutions are incorporating automated education platforms not only for creating these models, but also for boosting efficiency and facilitating the work of students, teachers and administrators in managing and monitoring such models.

The use of new technologies for curricular management offers a range of improvements like:

  • Data gathering on content management helps improve class quality.

Collecting student performance and learning indicators through Big Data helps organize the instructional design process and also assess expected learning outcomes in terms of best practices.

Data mining can help uncover important patterns contained therein, which helps profile student behavior and enables professors to better focus their efforts. Furthermore, analyzing what goes on inside the classroom is essential for understanding what is working and what is not in the curriculum.

  • Help instructors find the best assessment methods

Inés Gil-Jaurena and Sandra Kucina Softic, in the el International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education provide an example of the use of tools for helping teachers decide which course performance testing methods are best and for automatically aligning the learning outcomes proposed by professors with recommendations made by software.

·       Include all stakeholders in curricular assessment

The California Center for College and Career summarizes the stages of what it calls “Multidisciplinary Integrated Curriculum Units”.

This lengthy process includes joining up with industry and higher education partners to create and share curricular and performance maps, prepare questions, assign duties, revise instructional sequences, set assessment methods and much more. Technological platforms can classify and organize data and return information that is key to curricular improvement.

The potential of this technology for supporting the enhancing and aligning of strategic planning is extremely high, especially for curricular design and improving study plans. According to NACADA, a North American foundation that provides academic support to universities:

“The best use of technology takes place when their capacities are in line with our support methodologies.”

Conclusion

The importance of including skills-based training models in higher education today is irrefutable, not only so that the programs address the true skills graduates will need when entering the labor market, but also for visualizing student achievements and making program improvements with an empirical foundation. The challenge is great. Skills models require a real investment of time on the part of education departments, which can be mitigated to a large degree by using specific technological tools.

Today the key is improving the relationship among education institutions, the job market and the public at large. Monitoring graduates, assessing skills, exploring trends, comparing and definitively and quickly incorporating program changes are all essential to modern institutions.

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