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How Comprehensive Learning Records Could Turbocharge Your Educational Offerings

The higher education-born comprehensive learner record, or CLR, helps track a person’s education and experience at a granular level—and it could have even more value for associations than colleges.

Workplace performance records and academic transcripts are nothing new, and they’ve been tracked on paper and digitally for many years. But these records have limits and are often difficult to evaluate outside of their original context.

Think about the complexity of entering a new field with seemingly incompatible skills on your resume—how do you measure an employee’s true skills consistently?

The comprehensive learner record (CLR), a concept from the world of higher education that has grown in prominence over the past decade, aims to help solve this problem by providing access to more granular records beyond pass/fail or specific grades.

Mike Simmons, Ph.D., the associate executive director for business development and strategic partnerships at the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO), says that its members—largely higher education institutions—have been taking steps to adjust to this approach for years to match the current state of education.

“There were colleges that were adding things to their transcripts like the student went on an internship, or this student did this—things that weren’t grades,” Simmons said. “And that’s sort of the basis of what the comprehensive learner record concept became.”

While the CLR concept, also known as a learning and employment record (LER), is closely associated with education, its best features could be translated to common association use cases in a professional-development context, such as credentialing.

“It’s tailor-made for associations because you don’t have the same academic overhead that you do in institutions,” Simmons said. “This is the low-hanging fruit.”

Why CLR Makes Sense for Associations

Associations, in many ways, are well-suited to leveraging this method for tracking education, in part because they’ve worked closely with similar approaches such as certification and credentialing to track education hours for members.

“CLR technology can help associations attract a wider segment of the workforce by focusing on skills their members have garnered in education or work versus focusing solely on the degrees or credentials earned,” explained Rebecca Busacca, vice president of business development at the education technology firm Territorium.

And unlike traditional education, where not every class a student takes will directly relate to a job, professional development is often conducted with employment and reskilling in mind—which means there are fewer nebulous areas.

CLRs are “generally well organized along a continuum of skill sets that if they build one of these stacks, they have an end goal in mind, they’re pointing toward a specific profession,” Simmons said. “They’re all the things that make that process easy. Whereas if I’m an English major, that’s a pretty random thing.”

The result is that CLRs arguably make even more sense for associations than for educational institutions.

The Importance (and Challenge) of Standardization

The secret sauce of making this type of approach work is standardization—which can be complicated to nail down across different organizations. (College admissions offices notoriously face challenges accepting credits from different schools, for example.)

Kelly Hoyland, the higher-education program manager at the education technology nonprofit 1EdTech, explained that standardization helps make credentials accessible across contexts.

“Without it, the credential is beholden to the organization or platform that issued it, and only useful to the [credential] earner in limited, specific contexts,” Hoyland said. “With standardization, the credential can follow the individual wherever they go. This also gives the organization they are sharing it with a better, well-rounded picture of the candidate.”

This has elements that can largely be seen as positive, but it does create some potential for disruption, AACRAO’s Simmons explained.

“With a comprehensive learner record/learning and employment record that has discrete skill sets indicated, I could have gotten those same skills somewhere else, so I don’t need the entire set of skills from the association training,” he said. The result, he added, is that “it undercuts the full ‘you’ve got to learn everything here’” mindset—meaning that it might be harder to charge for full programs in the future.

The Potential for Uptake

Simmons said that, while showing lots of potential, the CLR approach still has some barriers to overcome for employers, who say they’re interested in using more granular work and education histories in making employment decisions but have done so only in limited contexts—meaning that LinkedIn profiles, for now, still win the day.

“There’s more bark than bite to that because employers are not quite ready for that,” he said. “They don’t do as much skills-based hiring as they say they want.”

Despite this, Simmons is still bullish on the potential of CLRs, in part because once they find enough use in education, associations, and other credential-granting bodies that they mean something to employers, they’re likely to begin to see more widespread use.

“When firms and companies and associations that most of us work for start using and ingesting that, then that’s the tipping point,” he said.

(Visual Generation/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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