Perhaps the single most important skill, a benchmark of higher education is critical thinking. I think the reasoning is with a solid competency in critical thinking, a young professional can learn most technical skills through job training and professional development.
In his book Our Underachieving Colleges, Derek Bok says:
It is impressive to find faculty members agreeing almost unanimously that teaching students to think critically is the principal aim of undergraduate education.
Our current process of assuming students will naturally acquire critical thinking in general education is not working. CLA+ is a standardized test meant to measure critical thinking and other transferable and thinking skills like problem solving, analytical thinking, and quantitative reasoning. In Academically Adrift, the authors share the results of a study of 2,300 students who took the CLA+ before college and two years of college:
No statistically significant gain in critical thinking, complex reasoning, or writing skills for at least 45 percent of students.
With so much focused on this skill, I think we should be keeping track of imparting (as teachers) and how students are learning the underlying methods and applications of critical thinking. I think we can and should cover this level of detail for all foundational skills and many technical skills. This is the depth I have started to incorporate in a skills database that feeds many of my applications: Skills Label℠, Skill Syllabi℠ and Skills-Based Approach℠. I have also started to integrate them as fields in the website and mobile applications.
The value is not only tracking what methods a user has learned throughout education and career (planning and building stage of Skill-Based Approach), but also signaling the chosen method(s) of an experienced professional (presenting and validating stage of Skill-Based Approach).
For example, I took courses in database design. In doing so, I learn to use applications to build relational databases (SQL) and non-relational databases (Non-SQL). Later in my career, I might choose a preferred application. Similarly, a writer might choose a style and method for their writing. Or an economist might use certain technologies and methods to apply their analysis.
Lets’ dig deeper with skills by understanding the underlying methods and applications behind them. In the process of building a UI for defining methods and applications of skills, stay tuned - more forethcoming...