Western Governors University Brings Skills & Labor Focus to New Program Development

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Joann Kozyrev, Vice President of Design and Development at Western Governors University, joins the podcast to talk about taking a skills-based approach to program development.

Skills can't be treated in isolation and while they can be they can be tracked as an individual skill, we really do have to understand the context in which they're being deployed and that's that's something that our competencies help us to do. You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university, a proud member of the connect Edu podcast network. I'm Eric Olson with Helix Education and we're here today with Joe and Kozarev, vice president of learning, design and analytics at Western governor's University. Jo and welcome to the show. Hi Eric, I'm really so glad to be here, so glad to have you here and so excited to talk with you today about taking a skills and labor focus to program development. But before we dig in, can you give the listeners a little background on both Western governors and your role? They're sure Western governors university is one of and perhaps the largest university in the United States, were fully online. We have at any we graduate students every month and we bring in new students every month to at any given time we are at a approximately a hundred and thirty thousand students enrolled. We focus on four main areas, with a college of business, a college of Health Professions, Teachers College and College of Information Technology. We have mastersgrees and bachelor's degrees. We are competency based and that means that for every course that we teach, we have identified the competencies and the assessments that will help our students prove that they have gained those competencies, and students are able to move...

...forward as soon as they prove those competencies and we can validate them with the assessment. You in your colleagues have been doing a lot of wonderfully innovative work over the last decade. Excited to talk about how you're thinking about innovating the future again, maybe, Joe, and to kick us off today, why do you believe that taking a skills based approach to program development is so important in proving the value of hire to an increasingly skeptical audience? Yeah, so I mentioned that we base all of our courses and assessments on a set of competencies. We derive those competencies from a set of skills. Those skills have been gathered and triangulated from employer requirements, professional requirements such as standard setting bodies, and we we triangulate those against our courses and all of our competencies are based on those high value skills and as data becomes more and more available, we can become much more labor market focused about identifying those skills and then bundling them into competencies that we can assess. So what does that mean in terms of value? Well, because we know what those skills are and we know their value in the labor market, we can tell learners this is what you're getting. It's kind of like having a nutrition label. It allows us to make sure that learners know what's in the courses and what's in the programs. I think a lot about value. I mean that that's something that we really want to really want to improve and increase and most people, especially those that we serve who sometimes are either economically or systemic or systemically kind of stuck, they really want to know whether the investment of time and money is worth it and they, unlike the more traditional student, may have some counter examples that...

...they're they're looking at and saying, well, it didn't seem to be worth it for so and so, or I didn't get very much out of it the last time I tried. So, given that that value is like proving to them that there is importance or usefulness or worth to the program or courses that they are considering and rolling in, we want to be able to show them the value of the skills that they gain in that labor market market place even before they start and and I think that for someone trying to make a decision, that's really powerful. I love that Nutritional Label Metaphor and I'm trying to think about it in terms of when you are developing a new program versus mixing up some new ingredients, as you learn more and more about where the market and where Labor is moving, talk a little bit about using this alignment, using market skills mapping strategies, both to develop programs and day ray on them. For instance, how how often should you be updating existing programs to ensure their continual high market relevance? So we're we are still somewhat in the early stages of this. We've got. We've got a couple of years under our belt, but it is only a couple of years and in the realm of scale as large as ours, it's it's still the early days. What did Amazon always say? It's the day one. Yeah, still day one exactly, but it's pretty close to still day one. Here's what we have so far. We have a library of skills that we have derived from multiple sources and we have gathered into collections. We have tagged those two all of the competencies and courses that we currently have. So we know what the what the skills content is in our courses and we know what the market value of those skills is. Our the market value is of those skills and we are...

...able to track whether those skills are rising or falling in importance. And so whenever we have a question about whether one of our programs is still as relevant to our students in the market as it can be, we can run that report and we can take a look. Now that is that is true of all of the programs that we've already developed. We are now working on developing courses with that built in and with a with a modularity to them so that when we notice that there is a rise or a fall, we can target particularly the ones that are falling for revision or replacement. This is a lot faster and more effective than we review our programs every three years, which is what I think a lot of people do and certainly what we used to do. So it's still evolving, but the potential for what it what it really makes possible for us to respond in real time and provide real value to our students and and share that message with them, is it's it's pretty incredible. Were thinking about it and you should be, and I'm just I'm curious to, you know, guard against any potential downside of how responsive to the market. Is Too responsive to the market could market skills mapping over way and relevel job requirements and perhaps under way longer tail career letter climbing competence. These that are really, really vital to make sure that our students can climb the ladders they initially grab onto once they leave our programs. I'm so glad you asked that question because to me, that's where the power of instructional design and assessment design really really come together. Skills can't be treated in isolation and while they can be, they can be tracked as an individual skill, we really do...

...have to understand the context in which they're being deployed and that's that's something that our competencies help us to do. If you're looking at excel and you're thinking about the excel skills, there are levels of a particular excel skill. Right there's the ability to make a pivot table, there's the ability to know when a pivot table is required and there's the ability to use the pivot table to inform decisionmaking, and those are different levels of a particular skill which we need to, from an instructional design perspective, understand how that maps out over a trajectory towards mastery and which ones are required at particular particular points over a lifetime of learning. Similarly, taking a patient medical history or any number of other skills that you know, some skills are mastered and they are mastered, and other skills are mastered and must be renewed and other skills are masterard and they evolve. I'm actually really obsessed by this idea of levels. I think it is amazing to think about what that trajectory towards mastery looks like and how it isn't just a bloomsy and experience, but there are lots of different ways of understanding how people move from being a novice to being an expert over over that that learning, that learning lifetime right, and so we work on that quite a bit and we've really kind of double down on that recently in our team. So more to come about how how we are making sure that we we really push ourselves in that direction. The other thing I would add is that we don't just pull our skills libraries from the labor market and we don't just create competencies from labor market skills and levels, but we also look at the standard setting bodies and we tag against those as well, and we gather input...

...from advisory boards and use some of the more traditional methods as well. So this is an added tool to our arsenal of tools, but not a it is not the only it's not the beginning and end of what do an instructional design. I appreciate the context and and perhaps how I'm asking maybe the opposite angle of the question this time, but I'm thinking about how a traditional universe to the liberal arts approach to a bachelor's degree really does focus on broad lifelong knowledge. And maybe, just for a thought experiment, What does the opposite look like? What does a skills focused, I want to make this student is marketable as possible degree look like? For instance, if you were trying to map this brand new degree program to make this student entry level, bulletproof over a wide range of careers, what would that degree look like? And or maybe resonate your last answer in terms of under saying how that's a silly and overly simplistic way to look at what this should be. Well, I don't think it's simplistic at all because it's not how we're used to thinking of things. But first of all, maybe I should come out as someone who really cares deeply about liberal arts, skills and education. I myself am a product of a Liberal Arts College and I wouldn't trade the education that I got there for anything. And I would, I would really I one of my passions is figuring out how to offer similar experiences to you know, that was was a really, really incredible opportunity that I had because of exposure that I had as a high school student, because of my willingness to go after scholarships, because I wouldn't have been able to afford what I achieved if I had not had the support of many people to help me pay for it. So I am really passionate about the skills and competencies that are aimed from the liberal...

...arts and I believe that they are a very high value, although we don't always talk about them that way. So here are a couple of the skills that I feel that I learned in my liberal arts education. Identifying and influencing cause and effect in history, policy, economics, education, media literacy, forming, supporting, defending an opinion and changing it if new information or data comes to life. Emotional intelligence, functioning when in a situation where the environment has a lot of diversity, promoting the skills that are involved in promoting equity in your context. Employers are actually really hungry for these skills, and you can you can read about it on almost every publication that has, you know, space to comment on the the link between employment and higher education. We have identified these skills, we have libraries associated with these skills and we include them in our programs. We are actively looking for the best evidence to help us assess them and we are working across our university with our teaching faculty and our program design to help our students acquire them. Tond such amazing, amazing, helpful nuance. Thoughts finally leave us with some next steps advice. Print sutions looking at that, at this hearing this trying to similarly strike that balance by being more market focused, more laper market focused. They want to develop new programs in alignment with it. They want to update their current existing degree programs with they better focus on skills. How should they approach the work? So here at Western Governors University we are all in on this. We are founding member and leading member of the open skills network, which is a group...

...of many people across this space who are interested in making skills interoperable. We have just launched open source software called the open skills management tool to help us manage the tagging and libraries that we are creating and doing at the scale that we function at and that, like I said, that's open source software. We've just launched eight open skills libraries, of libraries of skills that are available and open to the public public and we're working on a lot of tools to drive interoperability so that employers and education can communicate about these, but that's probably a topic for another day. So for most of your listeners, I imagine they are looking for, you know, a way in if this is something that would appeal to to the students that they're trying to attract and retain. Anyone can join the open skills network, so that's a good place to learn about this space. I think the simplest thing that can be done, which any individual teacher can do, is to identify what skills they are teaching and assessing and shine a light on them and just make sure that their students know this and they can communicate it in their course descriptions and syllabi and they can communicate it as they work their way through through the class. The libraries, as I mentioned, are open, so people can can take a look at those libraries and see what's in there and pick out the ones that they might be missing or that they want to focus on. I think it's always a good idea to return to your graduates and employers and learn where where you're strong and where you have gaps. And then the last thing I was thinking about this knowing that we were going to talk and you know how they say in real estate that there are there are three things that matter, and in skills based curriculum there are. There are three things that matter, and the those are application, application, application, because we don't really have a need to cover or transmit knowledge anymore. Knowledge is everywhere, but we do need to...

...teach our learners to locate knowledge, manage knowledge and, above all, apply it. Joan, thank you so much for your time today. What's the best place for listeners to reach out if they have any followup questions for you your team? Well, I'm always happy to hear from people on Linkedin. That's the platform I'm most active on. They can also, of course, take a look at the information on the open skills network dot org. That's where all of the information about the early work pilot projects that are underway, the open skills management tool and the launch of our new libraries and interoperability. So for people who want to dive deep, that's or even just decide whether they want to dive deep, that's a really great place to start. And otherwise I just love to hear from anybody who's passionate about the same things that I am awesome to a thanks so much for all the wonderful innovation work your team is doing and thanks so much for joining us today. Thanks so much for letting me share it. Attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educations data driven, enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges. Downloaded today for free at Helix Educationcom. Playbook. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show on Itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

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