Tools Educators Can Use to Help Students Bridge Skills Gaps and Build Soft Skills

Four college students working together looking at a digital tablet

What exactly is workforce readiness? The definition varies slightly depending upon what you are reading: a community college site, business coalition, or research study. It does seem to consistently include the reference to a set of common traits possessed by capable graduates as they enter the workforce. Change the definition slightly, and we can review “college readiness;” instead of workforce, think higher education.

So what does that mean, practically speaking? It would include functional reading, writing, and mathematics skills for the job or coursework; it would also include emotional intelligence skills, metacognitive strategies, time management skills, digital literacy, communication and collaboration skills, stress management/coping strategies, and more. Yet, research studies show that a large percentage of today’s high school graduates are underprepared for college, both behaviorally and academically.

Would you like to see the trends in national assessment? Check out the reporting on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) site—it is the largest (national) continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas. And, if you love more data, check out research at the National Center for Education Statistics. Take a look at your state and adult ed. What can be done to address the needs of all these learners?

For example, I read an article in Learning and Individual Differences a few years ago about vocational education success; time management is more important for part-time than full-time students. I suspect the same thing applies to those in the workforce juggling two (or more) part-time jobs. And many of today’s community college students do both!

Consider a displaced adult worker who is now returning for additional workforce training; this individual may be more a “digital native” than his or her colleagues in class. How can we teach in an environment with increasingly diverse needs demonstrated to us? What can we use to help students bridge the gaps?

Tools like MyStudentSuccessLab (MSSL) are a great place to start, even with students who appear academically ready for college. Resources in the course materials address topics like time management, digital literacy, note-taking, financial literacy, study skills, job search strategies, and much more; a powerful inventory—the Conley Readiness Index—is used to help both students and faculty identify students’ needs. No one is ever an “expert” in “soft skills.” Each topic in the MSSL Learning Path is organized by outcomes with peer-led video interviews, interactive practice exercises, and activities to help your students master skills.

You can combine MSSL with MyFoundationsLab, and add the key remediation components for reading, writing, and math skills. If you are working with GED students, there is even an MFL version designed to help them work on skills they need to enable success.

You can look at tools like Learning Catalytics to get students engaged and working; use adaptive features such as Learning Paths, the Companion Study Plan or Dynamic Study Modules (depending on your Pearson product).

Colleges also use tools like MyReadinessTest and MyMathTest for assessment of students’ academic skills and placement, as well as boot camps for remediation. These resources are not tied to a text.

Maybe you are reading this and thinking a software package is not the answer. By no means are we indicating it is the panacea; the software is a tool to enable improvement. We know that no one is ever an “expert” in “soft skills.” To get better at something, there’s no shortcut—you’ve got to practice! Each topic in the Learning Paths or the study plans is organized by what a student needs to know, complete with student video interviews, interactive practice exercises, and activities to help them master skills to build a foundation for success in academics, career, and life. All of this, however, has to be combined with “hard work and elbow grease,” as my grandmother used to say. Or, we can simply call it “grit.”

What is grit? “Grit in psychology is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or end state, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective,” according to Wikipedia. Notice it’s passion + motivation. You need them working synergistically. We all know stories of students who have been successful against all odds…..and sadly, we also know students who have given up when much lesser challenges arose.

And I really love GRIT the Mindset; the Mindset assesses four dimensions—Growth, Resilience, Instinct, and Tenacity. That’s an even more eloquent way to really take a look at an individual and their “stick-to-it-ness.” If you haven’t yet read about GRIT, take some time to visit an article and contemplate the research.

Not everyone’s cracked educational foundation has holes in the same place….so providing good building materials to “fill in the gaps” is key. Whether the learner is struggling with math, reading issues, interpersonal relation skillset, time management, or a host of other areas….or any combination thereof, there are great resources out there to help us bridge the gap. The building of a good bridge takes a lot of planning and effort….and when it’s built, then impacts the lives of so many more people.


About the Author
Diane Hollister

Diane Hollister

Diane Hollister has been teaching college courses since 1992. In June 2015, she resigned from her full-time position at Reading Area Community College in Reading, Pennsylvania, where all the math courses have undergone some level of redesign. She still teaches online there and now is part of Pearson’s Efficacy team, helping instructors to implement programs and strategies that bolster student success.

She is intrigued by neurobiological research and learning theory, and she was quick to adopt adaptive learning as a new tool in her courses. Not only does she strive to help her students succeed, but Diane enjoys the collaboration with her peers. She has taught a variety of courses and loves learning how new technology and resources can help students be more successful.

Read more of her articles about math, ICTCM, and quantitative reasoning.