The current crisis is a big wrecking ball on our learning institutions, closing schools, colleges, and universities across the country and creating immediate needs: get students learning online (internet access); keep learners engaged; and deal with the effects of social isolation.

The rigidness of our current education and higher education systems is evident by the crisis. (I think) there is too much dependency on a semester (four months) and the credit hour system (time in and out of a classroom). This is the time to explore competency-based learning (“CBL”) programs – a movement gaining momentum since around 2014 and more specifically, define learning on a task level, design better pathways, and build ‘learner centric’ platforms.

Due to the pandemic, some colleges cancelled their Spring semester and others are stressing ‘more lenient’ grading for online courses (USA Today). The full effect on traditional college programs is uncertain as social gathering could be limited well into the summer. Some questions:

What students get credit for their spring semester? What is the result of students who cannot get the online experience? Is ‘lenient’ grading fair for preceding students? What is the main goal of education – a degree or job skills? Does the goal change in times of a crisis?

The obvious value in a CBL program is to keep moving students forward once the learning objectives are met; there is no direct linkage to a semester or time.

Define learning on a granular level. Rather than thinking in subjects and semesters, let’s define learning in skills, methods and applications, and levels of achievements on a task level – using the exact same education standards already in place. Take a scientific approach: map skills to learning like we map atoms to substances. Simply aggregate the results to get to a course or project level (where more meaningful learning takes place).

Create more effective pathways. Of course, one of the big goals in higher education is job preparedness. If we map skills to learning (the first point) and map skills to jobs, then combine the two to create better pathways. (Particularly in this type of crisis, I think the primary goal for professors must be to prepare seniors with jobs skills for a first job.)

Provide more ‘learner centric’ platforms. Remove the huge dependency students have on teachers and professors for their learning experiences. Put students in the ‘driver seat’ and let professors take ‘co-pilot’.

With these suggestions in place, the higher education system is nimbler. (Worth noting, higher education institutions remain the primary providers, regardless of the system in place.) Learners get more choices with their learning experience as there are more alternatives to get the same set of skills (a benefit of CBL programs and defining tasks in a uniform way). Furthermore, they will be agile, able to pivot into different pathways (tracks) as needed – not encumbered by four-month commitments.

Skills LabelTM is a system to manage and track skills; a framework to define learning on a task level. All subscriptions are now free.