Best Practice

Assessing Spiky Profiles

As with any set of skills, a person’s set of Digital skills is largely dependent on personal and professional experiences, preferences, training and interests. This leads to people having different strengths and weaknesses across a range of areas. Consider for instance the following fictional profiles:


  • John – 18 undergraduate student in History: brilliant on social media, knows his way around the Internet through the use of browsers. Has only ever used word processing applications lightly, so doesn’t know how to use features such as Autocomplete, Footnotes, Table of Content creation, Macros. Has never used Excel, so unable to manipulate data.


  • Siobhán – Lecturer in SEFS: has been writing for years so very competent on word processing. Uses PowerPoint to create lecture slides and accesses Blackboard to view assignments and discussions. Occasionally browses news websites. However, Siobhán doesn’t know how to or why you would share documents on Google Drive, has never used Panopto and doesn’t use social media.


  • Arthur – Executive Assistant: uses email, Outlook calendars, spreadsheets, Word documents, Agresso, One Drive and other UCC software applications more or less everyday. Isn’t aware of polling tools such as Doodle. Has never used an instant messaging application such as Slack. Doesn’t know how to launch Vidyo in the local meeting room.


If we conceive of a range of digital skills on a horizontal axis and vertical bars above each representing proficiency in those areas, we can see how every person would have a different graphical representation of their digital skills. We would each have different high and low points across the continuum of digital skills. In layman’s terms, we all would have different spiky profiles. Note though that the accuracy of a profile depends on the learner’s honesty in responding to reflective statements/questions about their knowledge and skills. Once a learner has an initial indication of what to look for, they could then be directed to a specific diagnostic assessment piece, which would further identify the particular outcomes they need to work on. This approach can fit into a Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) process, and provide an efficient and effective to addressing learning and training needs.


This concept of spiky profiles is used in different educational domains and it is a useful framework as it allows educators to show learners how we are all unique in our learning needs. In the area of literacy education for instance, it allows literacy tutors to identify strengths as well as weaknesses and start learners on an individualized and more efficient learning path. In my previous role as Distance Education Co-Ordinator with the National Adult Literacy Agency, we used this concept in conjunction with to help develop approaches to blended learning where tutors in class settings were able to provide individualized learning support. In time, with proper research and teacher education, the one size fits all Victorian approach to education may become a welcome thing of the past.

Figure 1 Sample Spiky Profile from


UCC’s Instructional Design Team have begun work with the Department of Applied Social Studies, in a project funded by the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning to develop a spiky profile tool to identify the digital skills learning needs of social policy educators. We will then point staff towards existing learning interventions to address their learning needs, and where necessary develop bespoke training to fill in other gaps.

Figure 2 Sample Digital Skills Profile
Figure 2 Sample Digital Skills Profile

This tool will be freely and publicly available to all staff and students, and we encourage everyone to take a look and see what your spiky profile looks like.