Transversal. Transferable. Not soft.

June 12, 2018 in #skills

Buzzwords saturate our information channels, whether it is via social media and news, or the topics we address with our family, friends and colleagues. Skills are definitely one of those buzz words, especially in professional and educational settings. Here is why I do not use the buzzword "soft skills".

The most common adjective we hear in relations to "skills" is "soft". Of course, the relation here is that "soft" is the opposite of "hard". In business, "hard skills" are those that we can quantify and obtain a certificate or a degree at a certain level, such as a language degree, a programming certificate, or a university diploma.

soft vs. hard

Dictionary definitions of the adjective "soft"

"Soft", as defined in the Oxford English Dictionary

Easy to mould, cut, compress, or fold; not hard or firm to the touch.
Having a pleasing quality involving a subtle effect or contrast rather than sharp definition.
Sympathetic, lenient, or compassionate, especially to a degree perceived as excessive; not strict or sufficiently strict.
(of a market, currency, or commodity) falling or likely to fall in value.

"Soft", as defined in the Cambridge English Dictionary

Not hard or firm
Soft things, especially parts of the body, are not hard or rough and feel pleasant and smooth when touched:
Someone who is soft is not very healthy and strong.

"Soft", as defined in the Merriam-Webster English Dictionary

Pleasing or agreeable to the senses : bringing ease, comfort, or quiet
Demanding little work or effort
Rising gradually
Marked by a gentleness, kindness, or tenderness
Emotionally suggestible or responsive / unduly susceptible to influence / lacking firmness or strength of character / amorously attracted or emotionally involved
Lacking robust strength, stamina, or endurance / weak or deficient mentally

"Soft" in "Soft skills" is exactly the opposite of what we should be calling those essential competencies that help us excel in our professional and personal lives, those skills that take time and perseverance to learn, and that make our impact stronger. The skills that everyone is looking for, and even universities are starting to teach in the regular programs, to help their students adapt to our quickly changing world.

My approach to teaching transversal skills

Ever since I started teaching project-based learning, I noticed my students are developing not only the technical professional skills ("hard skills") that my science research courses intended to develop, but also many other skills, like teamwork, creativity, problem-solving, dealing with stressful situations and resolving conflicts. My goal was to quantify those "transversal skills", skills students can obviously use in other situations, outside of the classroom and in any field of work. I based my approach on my teaching experience, and after many iterations and useful feedback from students. I lean towards self- and peer-evaluation, backed up with teachers comments, to help each student determine their level and understand better their strengths and weaknesses. To increase motivation and engagement, my transversal skill teaching activities are always done in small groups, they are active and immediately applicable.

My research on skills development continued outside of science university programs because the tool I constructed was meant to be comprehensive and universal. But I wanted to go further, and bring about meaningful activities where students of any background are introduced to simple techniques and are guided to develop transversal skills through practice.

A series of workshops I have taught in the last 10 years in several formal and non-formal learning environments include activities that develop transversal skills:

  • digital literacy
  • problem-solving
  • communication
  • time and project management
  • learning how to learn
  • creative thinking
  • leadership and teamwork
  • understanding ourselves

To start teaching transversal skills in your educational program or in your company:

Contact me by email to discuss which content and format are the most suitable for the needs of your learners.

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