News, Blog

Open Skills and Rich Skill Descriptors: CTDL Enables Connections and Collaboration

With growing momentum for skills-based education and hiring, we all need to work together on shared solutions for more equitable ecosystems that enable everyone to have the skills necessary to thrive in a fast-moving and ever-evolving workforce. The Open Skills Network has advanced this work by releasing the open-source Open Skills Management Tool. The Western Governors University (WGU) Skills Library, developed by a team of experts, is now freely available. And the Credential Registry provides over 51,000 open skills from hundreds of sources, combined with valuable contextual information in the Credential Transparency Description Language (CTDL). We’re primed for innovation, with more great work underway, and you can contribute! We get a lot of questions about how to combine these solutions, so here is a concrete example and a what/why/how for using open skills collaboratively.

The power of connected skills 

21st-century skills provide a great example because they are applicable in different contexts, with metadata to show the value of these skills connected to different types of credentials and courses. Education Design Lab (EDL) has published to the Registry their 21st-century skills and associated badges and aligned these rich skills to U.S. Department of Labor Building Block Model skills. EDL skills are also included in CTDL pathways linking people with job opportunities. Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) has published to the Registry rich skills from their general education curriculum, including 21st-century skills. They have aligned their skills to EDL skills. Transfer value specialists at SNHU can use the CTDL data associated with these skills to provide appropriate credit for EDL badges. SNHU skills are also aligned to occupations and Emsi skills to show their labor market value. Western Governors University (WGU) has published to the Registry their rich skill descriptors that are connected to their Value Based Care courses and credentials in CTDL. Among these skills are 21st-century skills that have different applicability in the context of healthcare, including connections to other healthcare credentials in the Registry such as the Certified Medical Assistant certification published to the Registry by the American Association of Medical Assistants.

The combination of data among connected skills, credentials, and courses from multiple sources is exponentially more powerful than information from any single source or system. And when all of the data is open, it can be used by everyone to elaborate on these connections and support the needs of evolving learn and work ecosystems.

Why Open? What are Open Skills?

Open skills are publicly available skills published using open standards, with each skill or collection of skills made available on the open web. Open standards enable interoperability among technology products as well as meaningful connections and exchange of information, both among systems and on the web. 

How does the Credential Transparency Description Language (CTDL) support open skills?

CTDL provides an open standard schema to give us all common ways to describe information about skills. It also enables connections among skills and across credentials, jobs, pathways, transfer value, and more.

What are Rich Skill Descriptors (RSDs)?

RSDs apply machine-readable, searchable metadata to individual skills in order to provide more information beyond the skill statement itself. This enables a richer context for communicating the definition and applicability of a particular skill. The CTDL open standard schema supports 66 different types of metadata for richly defining skills, conveying valuable information such as the skill’s occupational alignment, relationships to industry standards, educational levels, and much more.

Why are open skills important? 

Open skills support collaborative ecosystems for skills-based education and hiring, among many other important benefits. Skills-based education focuses on building a learner’s skills and making those skills evident across learning experiences and programs. Skills-based learning can help people capitalize on their skills, no matter where they have achieved them. Skills-based hiring focuses on a candidate’s verified skills rather than other subjective criteria. Skills-based hiring can help employers access talent that is generally overlooked and enable more equitable hiring practices. 

What are the Open Skills Management Tool (OSMT) and the Credential Registry?

OSMT is a free, open-source tool to facilitate creating collections of RSDs. It makes it easier to author, manage, and share RSDs with their metadata. RSDs can be hosted in OSMT either for an organization’s internal use or to share them as open skills on the web.

The Credential Registry is a public, cloud-based library that collects, maintains, and connects CTDL data on all types of credentials and skills. Information in the Registry comes from numerous diverse sources and can be combined to make an infinite array of linked open data connections, including between credentials, skills, pathways, jobs, and more. RSDs can be hosted in OSMT and also published to the Registry for connections to CTDL data from multiple sources.

Why and how did Education Design Lab create RSDs?

Education Design Lab (EDL) has curated two RSD collections connected to their 21st-century skills digital micro-credentials, which represent the transferable boundary spanning skills in high demand by employers. The Lab’s competency framework that is represented by these two RSD collections was originally in non-machine readable file formats with much manual manipulation to maintain and manage the competency statements. 

The Lab’s credentials and competency framework have now been available for years as machine-readable data in the Credential Registry, however, the specific metadata associated with the individual skills had not been integrated into additional information that is available in the Registry. As a result of the partnership between Credential Engine, Concentric Sky, and the Open Skills Network, the Lab has integrated the RSD collection to provide additional rich, open, web-accessible, machine-readable, and humanly consumable information in the Registry.

The CTDL format provides a means for establishing additional context to the RSD collections. The connections between competencies and alignments to other frameworks have been established to show how competencies/skills can span departments, programs, credentials, frameworks, and organizations. The Lab is excited to work with SNHU and WGU to showcase linkages between both technical programs and general education curriculum.

Why and how did Southern New Hampshire University create RSDs? 

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) has published to the Registry a collection of RSDs that represent aspects of their general education curriculum. These RSDs have been aligned directly with EDL 21st Century Skills in the Registry. While SNHU has been engaged with the Open Skills Network for years, this work marks their first official foray into publicly available RSDs.

This project furthers SNHU’s goals in a number of ways. They are actively exploring how linked open data can help to improve their processes, by making that information more readily available and leveraging new technology to automate basic workflows. The alignment between competencies and skills from multiple sources has the potential to be very powerful. Historically, SNHU programs align to a variety of external skills frameworks, but that information has not been easily accessible for learners, employers, or other partner organizations. By making this information available through the Registry, SNHU has enabled external stakeholders with additional context for these skills and potentially added credibility. For example, by working directly with EDL, they are mutually verifying these alignments by both aligning to each others’ skills, adding yet another layer of credence. 

SNHU used the OSMT RSD structure as a basis for adding rich contextual metadata to individual skills, then used Credential Engine’s freely available tools to publish the RSDs in CTDL in the Registry. After the skills were available in the Registry, SNHU and EDL used the Registry’s globally unique CTIDs to align to each others’ skills.

Why and how did Western Governors University create RSDs?

Western Governors University (WGU) has become a great use case for this work and has made an unprecedented commitment to a skills-based future. WGU has created a skills-based achievement architecture to map all competencies and credentials to high-demand skills using their Skills Library made of over 13,000 RSDs which they maintain in their own instance of OSMT. WGU RSDs are mapped into all educational experiences and credentials enabling WGU’s ability to surface these skills and competency achievements to students through a learner-owned record, where learners can see the skills they have demonstrated, represent their own unique talent brand, and explore pathways to career and educational opportunities based on their individual goals. 

WGU has continued to lead the way with a commitment to open, structured skills data by publishing the first nine collections from its Skills Library for open use. WGU will continue to release collections on a quarterly basis and welcomes opportunities to partner with other organizations on the refinement and enhancement of these skill collections.

Using the power of OSMT and the alignment of RSDs to digital credentials, WGU has leveraged the Credential Registry to show connections between RSDs from OSMT and WGU courses, competencies, and credentials. 

OSMT and the Registry support collaboration and connections for developing open skills as a public good. 

You and your expertise are essential for building equitable learn and work ecosystems that empower everyone with the ability to understand and communicate their own skills and abilities. We’re primed for innovation, with more great work underway, and you can contribute by publishing your skills and connecting your credentials and courses using linked open data!